Hot sun, cool beverages and sublime music were the order of the day at the Detroit Jazz Festival on Sunday. I wandered into a set entitled “Jazz at the Shamrock Shore”, put on at the Pyramid Stage, for my first music of the day. This was a small group fronted by Artistic Director Chris Collins on clarinet/flute/tenor saxophone (in a small bit of self-indulgence). He was backed by a rhythm section of local musicians and also three gents from Ireland on traditional instruments (tin whistle, fiddle, box accordion, etc). I suppose Collins (a county
Cork Limerick name, I’m told) lured the native Irish lads over with the promise of a pint of Guinness and a Motown good time. The concept of the performance was to meld some traditional Irish music (Reels and such) with American Jazz Music, somewhat in the fashion Dizzy Gillespie did with Afro-Cuban music and jazz. It was a successful endeavor, but the crowd was exceptionally large in part because of the next set on the Pyramid Stage, which featured Artist in Residence Pat Metheny with Ron Carter in a duo performance.
Just when you thought it was impossible to fit more people in the audience, everyone and their cousin and sweaty neighbor, piled into the seating to give a huge hometown welcome to Ron Carter (a native Detroiter) and Metheny. In spite of some initial difficulties with the sound system, the two master musicians put on an incredible set of subtle beauty. There were plenty of jazz standards, including “Freddie Freeloader” and “Autumn Leaves”, as well as Mr. Carter in a solo performance of “You Are My Sunshine” that brought down the house. I was sitting in full sun, on a hot and humid 90 degree day, but once the music started I didn’t think of the heat one bit. Once again, I was amazed at the popularity of Pat Metheny and his ability to draw huge crowds. The Detroit audience clearly appreciated the once in a lifetime nature of the performance. This was the kind of thing that makes the Detroit Jazz Festival one of the world’s great live jazz venues.
I escaped the mass of humanity at the Pyramid Stage in time to find a good seat in the Carhartt Amphitheater stage for the last two sets of the evening. By then the sun had gone down enough to make things a bit more comfortable, weather wise. I caught a unique jazz version of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, featuring a string orchestra, a jazz rhythm section, spoken poetry, and Eddie Daniels as solo clarinet. The poetry, written by Douglas Preston, was intended to customize Vivaldi’s work for the city of Detroit. The order of the concertos were rearranged to start with Summer, and end with Spring and its sense of rebirth. This was more than a swing version of Vivaldi, but rather large sections of the Vivaldi were fairly accurately recreated, interspersed seamlessly with sections of swinging jazz improvisation. Mr. Daniels showed a great deal of virtuosity on the clarinet, especially considering the Four Seasons are a set of VIOLIN concertos. One must realize that the solo part, now adapted for clarinet, was not written with the player’s need to BREATHE in mind. The entire experience was sublime and original, and well received by the people in the Amphitheater.
The final performance of the day was by the John Scofield – Joe Lovano Quartet. Straight ahead Jazz by two old friends and master musicians. John Scofield is a master guitarist, whose résumé is as long as the Detroit river. He added the ubiquitous Jazz Guitar element of this year’s festival to the performance, and Joe Lovano broke pattern and played tenor saxophone rather than clarinet. (Imagine, a Detroit Jazz Festival weekend that I have had a hard time finding a tenor saxophone to listen to. 🙂 ) As is the pattern in programming for the multi-stage festival, the last act of the evening is at the big Amphitheater stage, after all the other stages have finished, and features a big name headline group. This insures a great crowd for the day’s finale, and this crowd was treated to a fantastic performance. I have heard live performances by a long list of jazz legends at the Amphitheater stage, and can now add John Scofield and Joe Lovano to the list. It was well worth the wait, competing for my seat in the audience, and holding my one too many bottles of water inside, to hear. (Once you give up your seat in the big crowd, you are not going to get it back. Be warned. )
Monday looks to be another day of hot weather and cool music for the last day of the Festival. Last chance to attend this year’s edition!