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, 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.