[JPL] BLOG: Detroit Jazz Fest Day Two

davispro at nyc.rr.com davispro at nyc.rr.com
Mon Sep 7 09:53:07 EDT 2009

Detroit Jazz Fest 2009

Day Two: 5 September 2009
If you are looking for lots of friendly, smiling faces, a beautiful setting, perfect (and I do mean PERFECT) weather, good food and excellent performances by some of the greatest jazz musicians in the world then you need to be hanging out with me at the 30th edition of the Detroit Jazz Fest.  I’ve been to festivals from Montreal and Montreux, New York to New Orleans, Atlanta to Amsterdam and Barcelona and I must say I’ve had as fine a time here as anywhere I’ve been.  The word is friendly, the people, the atmosphere, the festival crew, the musicians (who are obviously enjoying themselves playing for a happy, knowledgeable and appreciative audience) and the place itself.  It’s easy to get around from stage to stage, it’s casual and you can come and go as you please from place to place with no hassle.  Knowing that all this great stuff is free helps the attitude too.

I had a very busy day from the beginning to end and for a radio/journalist type who is “covering” the festival this is heaven. You can listen for my interviews and special shows about the festival on MOJA Radio (www.mojaradio.com) and on my Voice of America show “Jazz America,” for weeks to come.  The day began with another visit with a Detroit jazz master who is now 91 years old and still going strong, the NEA Jazz Master Gerald Wilson. We talked for about 40 minutes about his life and career in jazz and his brilliant new project “Detroit” for which he was commissioned just for the festival.  The recording is out on Mack Avenue on the 29th but I picked up a copy already to make sure I have it when it’s time to program it with the interview.  Just for your information, Gerald eats oatmeal every morning for breakfast in case you were wondering how to stay young at 91.  He corrected me with that information after I accused him of eating birthday cake as there was one in his room since his birthday was the day before, September 4th.

My next stop was a wonderful sunken little amphitheatre, The Mack Avenue Pyramid Stage, where I had a chance to talk face to face with one of my favorite people in jazz, or make that people in general, the brilliant Stefon Harris.  We talked awhile before his guest performance with a group of student players from Western Michigan University and Stefon was in high spirits.  He showed me a picture of his little son who was wearing a little outfit that read “I’m The Man Of Your Dreams” and he’s a great looking little kid.  I met Stefon’s beautiful wife too and I just know this boy is going to be smart, talented and handsome.  How’s it going to be when he goes to school and tells his friends his Dad is a famous jazz artist?  Now that’s cool!  Stefon talked about his new release “Urbanus” with the electric band Blackout and things in general. He’s so intelligent that you always know you’re getting valid info from one who is in the jazz trenches and at the center of what the music is all about.  Again, listen for that conversation on MOJA Radio and VOA. Stefon and Blackout play on Labor Day Monday here in Detroit.

Next, I  was off to do a little work for the festival as emcee for two shows at maybe the most appealing setting in the whole festival, a stage that is literally right on the banks of the Detroit River, the Absopure Waterfront  Stage.  It’s a shady spot with trees all around that is constantly cooled by the wind that comes from the water.  It was a place of peace and for the next few hours the site of some fabulous music.  Chris and Dan, the sons of the great Dave Brubeck, have been known as The Brubeck Brothers Quartet for a couple of decades and they became a Quintet for the day as an old friend from the Detroit area joined them on stage to play the harmonica and lend some bluesy vibe to the proceedings.  These guys prove that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree as they played mostly in odd meters and make jokes about playing the occasional tune in 4/4 time.  They played tunes from their albums as well as some new things still to be recorded.  BBQ, as they’re also known, thrilled the crowd with inviting compositions and top-notch playing.  The brothers joined their Dad on stage at the end of his set later in the day at the largest of the Hart Plaza venues, the huge Carhartt Amphitheatre. 

I stuck around the Absopure Waterfront Stage to introduce the great trumpeter Sean Jones who has spent a lot of time in Detroit as well as his current base of New York City.  He’s got 5 recordings on Detroit’s Mack Avenue Records and he’s established himself as one of the major young voices in jazz trumpet for the 21st century.  His set was filled with fiery blasts from his horn as well as soulful leads accompanied by a great band of professionals including solo artist and up and coming pianist Orrin Evans.  The tunes were mostly straight ahead in nature but Sean is delving into new ground too and the guy can write.  I had a wonderful conversation with the dynamic and personable young dude that you can also hear on MOJA Radio and VOA soon.

I returned to the Mack Avenue Pyramid Stage to talk more with two great artists, one just establishing herself and the other quite established, and to hear their performances.  First, California-born and now New York-based vocalist Gretchen Parlato took the stage with a trio of keys, acoustic bass and drums to deliver a unique set featuring a stripped down, minimalist musical setting for her breathy and understated delivery.  Gretchen proved she knew her stuff as a jazz singer with her versions of Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter tunes as well as jazzy versions of Michael Jackson and other pop tunes.  A lady sitting next to me made mention of her similarity to the voices of jazz singers like Julie Christy and Blossom Dearie and I wouldn’t disagree, but I think this lady has a style all her own.  I enjoyed a nice conversation with Gretchen that you can hear on VOA and MOJA Radio soon.  Between the sets I caught up with the gentleman who was preparing to take the stage next and was kind enough to spend a delightful 15 minutes in conversation with me, the wise and witty Englishman and keyboard master Brian Auger. Mr. Auger, we in the audience were informed, was just turning 70 and he roared from the stage that he was still “Kicking Our Ass!”  Yes, indeed he was doing just that with an hour on stage that was mostly rocking as he bounced between his electric keyboard setup and organ with power and groove.  There was a magical moment during the playing of one of his most famous pieces, his classic treatment of Wes Montgomery’s “Bumpin’ On Sunset,” that brought the energy level down but created a delightful atmosphere.  With the help if his delightful daughter Savannah on vocals and his son Karma, a powerful presence on drums, this quartet rocked the house for a full hour and continued the theme of this year’s festival of a “family affair” with this family band’s great show.

The rest of the day’s lineup included lots of Detroit’s finest musicians, a major feature of this and every DJF.  The Carl Allen/Rodney Whitaker Project, young drum master Karriem Riggins Virtuoso Experience, Louis Hayes with a salute to Cannonball Adderley and Bennie Maupin’s salute to Eric Dolphy were all on the slate for the day and the hard part of this and many festivals is that the shows can overlap a bit and you just can’t be everywhere you want to be all the time.  You’re bound to miss something cool sometime though the festival organizers and programmers do as good a job as I’ve seen of staggering the lineup to try to make it as easy as possible to see and hear as much as you want.  The topper of the night was Christian McBride, last year’s artist in residence, who just seems to be everywhere at this year’s event too, leading one of his many projects, tis more acoustic, straight ahead-leaning group Inside Straight, through a brilliant set that thrilled the large gathering at the huge Carhartt Amphitheatre.  After the music the sky was filled with the most outrageous fireworks display I’ve ever seen over the Detroit River.  It was over 30 minutes and non-stop.  Outrageous is the word that comes to mind and fireworks were an appropriate end for a day filled with musical fireworks all over the festival grounds on day two of the Detroit Jazz Fest.  To think that there is still two days to go with the possibility of more of the same is a jazz lover’s delight!

Russ Davis
MOJA Radio/Voice of America

More information about the jazzproglist mailing list