The woody plucking of an upright bass. The “ting ting-a-ting” of a ride cymbal. The rhythm that makes your foot tap and head bob. Full force swing. The cheer of the crowd. The knowing “yeah!!” called out by the audience, in acknowledgement of a soloist quoting a jazz standard.
Those are the kind of things that make live jazz music great. Fresh improvisation at every performance. Master musicians working together in artistic improvisatory excellence. I never get tired of it. That is what is the best of the Detroit Jazz Festival. Large ensemble, small group, straight ahead swing or Latin infused rhythm. There is an outline, but no one knows exactly what is going to happen.
Monday was oppressively hot again for the closing day of the festival. That’s better than rain, but makes for very thirsty work sitting at Hart Plaza. One has to realize there is no assigned seating at the free festival. If there is something you really want to see, like the Ron Carter Trio at five o’clock, you should show up for whatever performance precedes it. In this case, it was the set by vocalist and composer Carmen Lundy, who had people dancing in their seat. Stake out your spot and hold onto it. Don’t go to the restroom. Don’t leave for snacks. Ron Carter is a jazz legend and it will be worth the sweat, the wait, the heat and thirst, to have a seat for his set.
It’s all about the music. Great American music, Jazz Music. Detroit loves Jazz, and the Detroit crowd is willing to sweat it out, especially for the hometown legend, Ron Carter. The dapper Mr. Carter plays in suit and tie, in spite of the incredible heat and humidity. His set starts, and no one feels the weather. He played with Miles Davis FORTY years ago, and has had an incredible career since that time. I assumed that the Ron Carter Trio would be a standard jazz trio of piano/bass/drums, but I was wrong. A guitar was substituted for the drums, to great musical effect. It also helped keep up the 2015 unofficial theme of the festival, which was jazz guitar or clarinet.
Hang on to that seat. Pat Metheny is on after that. Nevermind it will start a half hour late. The crowds have been huge for Metheny all weekend. Keep your place. The Detroit crowd is nice enough, but someone will claim your spot if you leave. The only way to run out is to come with friends. One of you can leave while the other holds the seats. Bring back food for everyone. Drinks from the vendors. Real estate in the amphitheater is a prime commodity.
Pat Metheny played his fourth and final set of the festival as Artist in Residence. I heard three of them, and each was different and outstanding. The festival finale was an original composition by Metheny, “Hommage”, written in tribute to Eberhard Weber. Pat Metheny recorded the album “Watercolors” in 1977, with Weber, the distinctive bassist and composer from Germany. Musicians performing together have a unique human connection, especially jazz musician improvising together. Weber had suffered a stroke a few years ago, and I don’t believe he has been able to perform since then. Metheny clearly has a great deal of respect and admiration for his old friend and colleague, and the DJF performance of “Hommage” was the North American premiere of his tribute.
That was it for another year. The Detroit Jazz Festival is healthy and strong, and certainly will be back for another great year in 2016. I’m one Detroiter who will be waiting for it like the Christmas holiday.