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” 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!


2015 Detroit Jazz Festival, Friday Night

2015 Detroit Jazz Festival, Friday Night

Paquito D'Rivera

Paquito D’Rivera

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.  

Pat Metheny

Pat Metheny

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.

Kenny Garrett

Kenny Garrett

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.

Home Away From Home

Jazz FestI guess I am a creature of habit from time to time.  Just about everyone who knows me knows where to find me on Labor Day weekend in Detroit.  One of my favorite events of the year is the Detroit Jazz Festival at Hart Plaza, and now expanded all the way up to Campus Martius Park and Cadillac Square.  I have been going every year, minus a few in the dark ages, since before I was old enough to drive.  I date myself sometimes by still calling it Montreux, from the days it was the Montreux-Detroit Jazz Festival.  Over the years I have seen some of the greatest legends in the world of jazz play live, and best of all, for free.

Dizzy Gillespie.  Jon Faddis.  Wynton Marsalis.  Terence Blanchard.  Roy Hargrove. Randy Brecker.  

Weather is sometimes a friend and sometimes not.  I have sat in the amphitheater stage while it misted rain and the show still went on.  I have been there when it was 93 degrees out, and when it was 47 degrees on the waterfront.  Actually, that was all in the same weekend!  It was the only year I know of where an act actually had to be cancelled, when a thunderstorm with lightning forced the Sun Ra Arkestra to relocate indoors away from Hart Plaza.

Sonny Rollins.  Wayne Shorter.  James Moody.  Branford Marsalis.  Charles McPherson. Joe Lovano.

PyramidEveryone’s experience at the festival is different.  With four + stages of music all happening at once, no one can hear everything.  I am in the habit of pouring over the schedule when it comes out and trying to pick out what I think I want to see.  Aficionados know some of the best sets are with the local artists on the pyramid stage or the waterfront stage.  The absolute best moments are some of the unscheduled, spontaneous events, like when world class friends and musicians sit in with each other on stage.

Paquito D’Rivera, Poncho Sanchez, Max Roach, Dave Brubeck, Ron Carter, McCoy Tyner

My favorite source of food is the Slow’s to Go stand for barbeque, with the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe stand up at the Cadillac Square stage being a close second.  A short walk from the festival map at Campus Martius Park will lead you to Detroit’s dueling Coney Islands, the National Coney Island and American Coney Island that are right next to each other.  They were started by brothers, and each claims to have the best hot dog smothered in chili and onions in the world. Try them both!  I’m too much of a beer snob to pay $7 for a Bud Light at the festival, so I usually try to pack in my own.  I’m not above drinking cheap beer, but not when it’s expensive!  Likewise, it’s easy to find a fella hustling drinks from a cooler to get cheap bottled water, tea or soda.  Shop smart, not hard!

Kevin Eubanks, Tom Harrell, Sean Jones, Kenny Garrett, Pat Metheny, Gerald Wilson

Spirit of Detroit

Spirit of Detroit

This year the one set I am most excited about is the very first music opening the festival.  The Bad Plus is a trio I have followed for a few years now, and they are starting the festival with Joshua Redman sitting in on saxophone.  Redman is this years Artist in Residence, and will play on several sets over the weekend.  I’m actually not familiar with too much of Joshua Redman’s output, but hearing new stuff is one of the great things about the Jazz Fest.  Check out their web site and come on down to check out the music.

Detroit Jazz Festival Official Site

I’m actually really looking forward to the “surprise guests” that will be there on Saturday at 7:00pm at the Pyramid Stage to be with the Detroit Jazz Festival All Stars.  Jazz Festival surprises are always good!