The global pandemic of a novel coronavirus has changed how we can experience and enjoy music in 2020. It is impossible to safely gather people together for a live audience to a performance. Summer concerts have been cancelled, music tours not embarked on, and musicians left without gigs to play. Cultural organizations have had to improvise, adapt and use technology to overcome barriers to providing live performances to listeners. The beloved Detroit Jazz Festival, the largest free festival of jazz music in the world, had been no exception.
The 41st edition of the Detroit Jazz Festival will not happen with live audiences at stages in Hart Plaza in downtown Detroit, where I have traveled to almost every Labor Day Weekend since I was 15 years old. Instead performances will be streamed and broadcast live from sound stages to every outlet possible. You can enjoy the music on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Detroitjazzfest.org, WJBK FOX 2 via fox2detroit.com, WDET 101.9 FM, WEMU 89.1 FM, and Detroit A&E Channel 22. In addition, select performances will air on Detroit Public Television and WRCJ 90.9.
My preferred way to connect with the festival this year will be with the Detroit Jazz Fest LIVE! app available on the App Store (Apple) and Google Play (Android). My investment in high quality speakers and earphones will pay off this year, as the entire festival will be available from the app. Weather permitting, I will sit out on my deck and enjoy the music. I hope by this time next year, the 42nd edition of the festival will be back at Hart Plaza, Cadillac Square and Campus Martius Park. The interaction of audience and artist brings something different to a live performance that is impossible to recreate in a studio.
Every year there is a performance that stands out for me that truly elevates the festival t.o world class status. In 2020 the set by Pharoah Sanders scheduled for Friday, September 4 at 9:30 pm is one not to miss. I first heard Pharoah Sanders’ playing on the John Coltrane albums Ascension and Meditations, where his sound was dominated by harsh overblowing, multiphonic techniques that felt like he was going to blow the pads right off the tenor sax. Through the late 1960s and early 1970s, Sanders released several albums on the Impulse label with deeply sincere spirituality, including albums titled Tauhid, Karma, Jewels of Thought, and Thembi among others.
Throughout the 1970s and later decades, the talented tenor saxophonist continued to evolve his personal voice. On theDetroit Jazz Festival site, Pharoah Sanders is said to have “developed into a more well-rounded artist, capable of playing convincingly in a variety of contexts, from free to mainstream. Some of his best work is his most accessible. As a mature artist, Sanders discovered a hard-edged lyricism that has served him well.”
Pharoah Sanders time this year at the festival is one of over forty sets that the Detroit Jazz Festival has to offer. Performances start on Friday evening and continue through Labor Day on Monday, as they have for the last 41 years. With the music streaming and broadcasting wider than is ever has, you can enjoy the Jazz wherever you are this weekend.