One of my favorite times of the year is the annual Detroit Jazz Festival which happens every Labor Day Weekend. This year’s edition got off to a fantastic start at the JP Morgan Chase Main Stage at Cadillac Square. The opening set was a one of a kind performance entitled “Benny’s Threads”. Author Douglas Preston offered spoken word, Gordon Goodwin and his Big Phat Band played original compositions, and the entire affair featured a lineup of superstar clarinetists including Eddie Daniels, Paquito D’Rivera, Ken Peplowski and Anat Cohen. The theme of the gig was inspired by the artistry of Benny Goodman, and four of the suits that were actually worn by Goodman were displayed on stage on mannequins. The weather was perfect, the music swung, and the Detroit crowd seemed to enjoy itself immensely.
Let’s get this out of the way up front. The opening set had Chris Collins’ fingerprints all over it. Chris Collins is the current Artistic Director of the Detroit Jazz Festival, and a fine clarinet player in his own right. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen such a large tribute to jazz clarinet playing open the festival in any other year. I’m not sure any other Artistic Director would have thought to organize such a party, but what a party it was. All four of the soloists were top quality jazz stars, and the performance was a good example of the creative and smart programming Mr. Collins has brought to the festival during his tenure.
Alas, I have a feeling the audience was not there to see the old suits that Benny Goodman wore. The crowd of people was already huge when I arrived 40 minutes before the first notes of the festival. People were already lining up to hear Pat Metheny, this years Artist in Residence, who wasn’t performing for another three hours. I had no idea Metheny was so incredibly popular with Detroit jazz fans. I have to confess, I have little idea what is “popular”. I don’t pay any attention to what is popular, only what sounds good and is interesting to me. One day I am listening to a Renaissance era mass by Palestrina, the next day tunes by Bella Figura (an unsigned Irish rock band with an Italian name), and currently, I am listening to an album by the Pat Metheny Unity Group entitled “Kin (<—>)”. I knew Metheny has been a fixture in jazz for over 30 years, but I didn’t realize how big the audience was going to be.
The people who heard his set were not disappointed. Metheny is featured all four days of the Detroit Jazz Festival, in four different settings. Friday night was the Pat Metheny Trio, with the addition of hometown Detroiter Kenny Garrett on saxophone. Garrett is a master musician who has played with the Duke Ellington Orchestra as well as with Miles Davis for five years. His own Quintet plays on Saturday night on the Chase Main Stage, and that will be another performance not to miss. The other musicians on stage were Antonio Sanchez and Scott Colley, and those four men together put on a show that was well worth the wait.
If you missed Friday night, don’t fret. There is continuous music on all four stages of the festival Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Get there and experience the Detroit Jazz Festival for yourself.