2015 Detroit Jazz Festival, Muggy Monday

2015 Detroit Jazz Festival, Muggy Monday

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.

11489617-largeThose 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.

soul-to-soul-thumbMonday 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.

Ron Carter trioIt’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.

hommagePat 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.  

2015 Detroit Jazz Festival, Sublime Summer Sunday

2015 Detroit Jazz Festival, Sublime Summer Sunday

ireland-mapHot 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.

Ron Carter

Ron Carter

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.  

Eddie Daniels

Eddie Daniels

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.

Joe Lovano and John Scofield

Joe Lovano and John Scofield

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!

 

2015 Detroit Jazz Festival, Saturday

2015 Detroit Jazz Festival, Saturday

Saturday was another fantastically successful day at the Detroit Jazz Festival.  The crowds seem bigger to me than they have in years.  The music was top shelf, and the weather was sunny and warm.  I should have become a weatherman, because I don’t know another job where I could be wrong all the time and still be successful.  The weather forecast had called for a greater than fifty percent chance of storms and rain.  Instead I am nursing a bit of a sunburn that I received while sitting at the Pyramid stage.  We have a saying in Michigan about the weather.  If you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes, as it will probably change.  

Duets

“Duets” on Spotify

Because the Labor Day Weekend weather gods smiled on our outdoor music festival, I was able to hear music all afternoon and into the evening.  The first set I attended was by one of my favorite musicians of all time, the guitar virtuoso Stanley Jordan.  He played a solo set on the Wayne State University Pyramid Stage in Hart Plaza.  Experienced DJF veterans know that the Pyramid Stage is a wonderfully intimate setting with some of the best acoustics of the entire festival.  It was a perfect setting to hold a solo performance by Jordan, who uses his unique approach to the guitar to sound like three musicians at once.  He plays with a “touch” technique, a two-handed tapping approach with the strings set very close to the fretboard.  Notes sound when he taps or hammers a finger down on the fretboard, rather than having to pluck or strum a string.  This technique allows him to play notes with each hand separately, and play multiple parts at the same time on one guitar.  It is truly magic to see, and certainly not a gimmick, Stanley Jordan is an artist of the highest musicianship.  I have witnessed him play live three times now, and each time I am moved by the experience.  His latest recording is an album entitled “Duets”, with another amazing guitar artist, Kevin Eubanks.  

Bird Calls

“Bird Calls” on Spotify

The second set I caught was by a saxophonist I have never heard before, Rudresh Mahanthappa.  Yes, I had to look up his name to spell it correctly.  His parents are from India, and his birth took place in Italy during their travels for their academic career.  He was raised during his early life in Boulder, Colorado, which I only know from the old Mork and Mindy television show.  Somehow, this cat plays jazz on the alto saxophone, and currently lives in New York city.  Not just plays jazz, but is an award winning saxophonist who is respected at the highest levels of the jazz community.  I heard most of his set at the Absopure Waterfront Stage, and was very impressed. His playing is full of fire and energy, harmonically advanced and rhythmically complex.  He has an individual, personal musical voice on his instrument, which is about the highest compliment one can pay a jazz musician.  His latest album is “Bird Calls”, and if you haven’t heard it yet, it is well worth checking out.  

Jazz Meets the Classics

“Jazz Meets the Classics” at Amazon

Moving on towards the big Carhartt Amphitheater Stage, I got a prime seat for the Paquito D’Rivera Quintet.  There aren’t enough good things in my vocabulary to say about the music of Paquito D’Rivera.  He is entertaining, intelligent and funny, warmly inviting the audience into his world in the manner of Dizzy Gillespie, one of his mentors.  You feel like you are a personal friend of the master musician.  His set was full of virtuosity, driving rhythm, swing and FUN, as he effortlessly showed us the musical possibilities of both his alto saxophone and the clarinet.  His group played a number of tunes from his latest album, “Jazz Meets the Classics”, which is an absolute gem.  My favorite portion of the performance was when he brought out Anat Cohen as a special guest to join his group.  The genuine affection and respect the two jazz clarinet masters have for each other was immediately apparent, and the pairing was a true collaboration and interplay of two musical voices.  That kind of exchange is so much more satisfying than the technical fireworks of a cutting contest, with players trying to outdo each other.  The entire audience was moving their feet and feeling the rhythm deep inside.  If you weren’t moving your body to this music, you were probably dead, and even then your leg was probably twitching in time.  

Thom Fields

“The Thompson Fields” at Artist Share

I stayed at the Amphitheater Stage, because once you give up your seat, you may not get it back.  I rounded out the evening with a performance by the Maria Schneider Orchestra, another group I am sad to admit I have not heard before.  Schneider is an award-winning composer and arranger who leads a top quality large ensemble.  Her compositions are beautiful, full of lush harmonies and richly scored sonorities.  The conception is truly orchestral, and her music is atmospheric and impressionistic at times.  The musicians in the group are top quality, and each soloist was masterful.  The most recent recording by the Orchestra is entitled “The Thompson Fields”, and is full of evocative pieces inspired by imagery from a farm near her hometown of Windom in southwest Minnesota.  It is no surprise to me upon reading more about Ms. Schneider, that she has collaborated with Gil Evans and studied with Bob Brookmeyer.  She has taken whatever lessons she learned with those two legends and expanded them, adding her personal voice and artistry, creating a magical musical experience in the process.  It kept me out at Hart Plaza later in the night than I have been in years.  

I can’t imagine how Sunday and Monday at the Jazz Fest are going to top all of that!