[JPL] Fest honors Detroit's jazz legacy
drjazz at drjazz.com
Tue Jan 27 13:03:15 EST 2009
January 26, 2009
Fest honors Detroit's jazz legacy
Grant will pay for major new work
BY MARK STRYKER
FREE PRESS MUSIC WRITER/
In the past two years the Detroit International Jazz Festival has
showcased Detroit's jazz tradition alongside those of Chicago and
Philadelphia. But the 2009 festival -- the 30th anniversary of the event
-- is all about the home team.
The annual Labor Day weekend festival is marking its landmark birthday
by doubling down on its celebration of Detroit. Most notably, the
festival has commissioned its 2009 artist-in-residence, bassist and
composer John Clayton, to write a major work that pays homage to icons
of Detroit jazz history and the city's architecture -- the Pontiac-bred
Jones brothers (Hank, Thad and Elvin) and the Guardian Building in
The commission, funded by a $50,000 grant from the Joyce Foundation of
Chicago, will be given its world premiere on the closing night of the
festival Sept. 7 by the Clayton Brothers Quintet and the Detroit-based
Scott Gwinnell Jazz Orchestra. The piece will be cast as a concerto
grosso -- a small body of soloists working within the fabric of a large
ensemble. The commission, the first of its kind for the Detroit
festival, represents another step forward in its expanding artistic
The 2009 festival will also focus on great families in jazz and include
at least one other commissioned work, according to festival executive
director Terri Pontremoli. The lineup will be announced in April. The
2009 festival will be Sept. 4-7 at Hart Plaza and the downtown core.
Admission is free.
Pianist Hank Jones, a leading figure who turned 90 in 2008 and was
scheduled to perform at last year's festival but canceled, is on the
festival's want list but not yet confirmed. His younger brothers, Elvin
Jones (1927-2004), a drummer, and Thad Jones (1923-86), a composer,
trumpeter and bandleader, are both recognized as innovators.
The Joyce Foundation grant, which will be announced Tuesday, will also
support residency activities for the Los Angeles-based Clayton, who will
visit Detroit six or seven times to work with college and high school
students and mentor Gwinnell, 34, an accomplished young composer,
pianist and bandleader on the local scene.
Clayton, 56, is a bassist with a sound as big and warm as a bear hug.
But he's best known as a charismatic composer and arranger and coleader
of the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, one of the finest big bands in
jazz. He's a logical choice for the Detroit festival because he was
deeply influenced by the big band writing of Thad Jones, is himself part
of a notable jazz family -- his brother Jeff plays saxophone and his son
Gerald is a fast-rising pianist -- and because he's a natural communicator.
"You want someone who is wonderful with people and students and are just
pied pipers of a good time," said Pontremoli. "John makes people smile,
and he's got chops like mad and can do all kinds of things."
The Detroit Jazz Festival, the largest free jazz festival in North
America, is recognized nationally by critics and audiences as one of the
country's leading festivals devoted to unadulterated jazz. Produced by
the Detroit International Jazz Festival Foundation, founded by
philanthropist Gretchen Valade, the quality of the festival has risen
steadily since Pontremoli took the artistic reins in 2007, with thematic
programming, an artist in residence and a broader menu of significant
jazz musicians and styles.
The commission grew out of Pontremoli's desire to honor Detroit's jazz
legacy. She brought the Guardian Building, an art deco masterpiece that
symbolizes Detroit at its zenith, into the equation to enhance the
appeal to the Joyce Foundation, which encourages cultural groups to
reach beyond their core audiences. In this case, the festival is hoping
to attract architectural aficionados.
The foundation supports the creation of new works by artists of color
for cultural groups in Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis,
Milwaukee and Minneapolis-St. Paul.
Festival leaders are also planning events under the umbrella of "Another
Great Day in Detroit," including noontime concerts at the Guardian
Building beginning in April and lectures and tours of the building. The
first is a meet-the-artist party with Clayton at the Guardian Building
on Feb. 10.
/Contact *MARK STRYKER* at mstryker at freepress.com
<mailto:mstryker at freepress.com>./
Dr. Jazz Operations
Oak Park, MI 48237
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