[JPL] BLOG: Detroit Jazz Festival Day Three

Russ Davis davispro at nyc.rr.com
Tue Sep 8 11:29:00 EDT 2009

Russ Davis
105 East 16th Street
# 7 South
New York, NY 10003
russ at mojaradio.com
		jazz-america at voa.gov

Detroit Jazz Fest 2009

Day Three: 6 September 2009
My third day in Detroit for the “World’s Biggest Free Jazz Festival”  
began with a brunch for the writers and broadcasters covering the  
festival and a few other special, invited guests.  We were greeted by  
the charming Executive Director of the Festival, Terri Pontremoli,  
whose warm welcome just continued the friendly feelings that I’ve  
felt since I first set foot in the city.  Now here’s a woman who is  
as busy as anyone you can imagine during the run of this festival who  
actually took the time to direct me to one of the architectural  
treasures of the city, a beautiful building downtown built in 1929  
with one of the most impressive and ornate lobbies I’ve ever seen.   
Now here’s a person who loves her city and wants you to know it.  She  
told me the lobby was just as beautiful as jazz itself and I’m glad I  
took the time to check it out because Ms. Pontremoli was absolutely  
right. One of the special invited guests at the brunch was the 9 time  
Grammy-winning vocalist Janis Siegel.  I always love talking to Janis  
and we found a quiet place to talk on the record about her latest  
project with her two old friends Laurel Masse and Lauren Kinhan  
called JaLaLa as well as the soon to come Manhattan Transfer release  
that features vocal versions of Chick Corea’s songs with Chick  
joining the group on piano.  It’s always exciting to get a scoop like  
this and especially when it comes from the person doing the work, and  
one as wonderful as Janis.

After the brunch it was off to the Jazz Talk Tent to hear three jazz  
legends talk about Cannonball Adderley.  Those legends were Jimmy  
Heath, Louis Hayes and Christian McBride.  These comments and  
recollections from two of Detroit’s living jazz legends, who knew and  
worked with Cannonball, and the young turk who, like it or not, is  
quickly becoming a “veteran” himself.  I say that jokingly because  
Christian will be forever young, just like Jimmy and Louis and many  
other jazz greats who stay young by staying active and involved with  
this great art form. I caught a quick word with Christian as I always  
try to do.  He’s a great life force as well as a talent of course and  
he really appreciates my desire to get in the trenches with the  
artists and do interviews on the run and in the artist’s environment,  
backstage, in the studio, or in this case after a panel discussion.   
Christian calls me “The Howard Cosell” of interviewers in honor of  
the famous sportscaster who was known for this kind of on site  
interviewing.  Listen for this one on MOJA Radio and VOA as Christian  
does his best Muhammed Ali impersonation. Following this bit of  
levity I was off to do more interviews and of course hear more great  
music and today was a tough one because there was more music than one  
could take in beginning, for me, with Detroit legend Marcus  
Belgrave’s All-Star Ensemble on the Carhartt stage.  Geri Allen,  
another of Detroit’s own, was the guest pianist for this set and she  
was really shining to begin what would be for her a very long and  
wonderful day of playing in her home town.  After the performance I  
caught up with Geri for a nice 10 minute interview which you can hear  
soon on MOJA Radio and VOA and then stuck around for the premier of  
the brilliant commissioned work by Gerald Wilson titled “Detroit.”   
It is a series of songs inspired by his time spent in the town to  
which his family moved from the south when he was a youngster. Gerald  
still calls Detroit his hometown because so many of his important  
personal changes happened there.  The songs touch on the history of  
the city as well as everything from impressions of Gerald’s old high  
school, Cass Tech, to jumping into the Detroit River from a very high  
diving board.  The music is as exuberant as Mr. Wilson himself and  
the performance was an absolute celebration of the city and the life  
of one of the greats of jazz who at 91 is getting a lot of the  
attention and adoration he’s always deserved.

Standing beside me during the performance of “Detroit” was the dapper  
and handsome saxophonist Ron Blake.  After taking in the show we took  
15 minutes to catch up on what’s going on with this dynamic player,  
composer, bandleader and educator.  He’s working with television’s  
Saturday Night Live Band, a collaboration with an old friend from his  
childhood in St. Thomas in a group called “21st Century,” freelancing  
on various other projects while his work with the Christian McBride  
Band is on hold, teaching in the jazz department at Julliard in New  
York City, working of compositions for his next solo recording and  
raising a family.  Some people have NOTHING to do!  Again, listen for  
all the details on MOJA Radio and VOA.

The next few hours were spent taking in some fabulous musical  
performances by Geri Allen’s Quartet which featured a dancer who  
improvised his tap dancing to match the improvised music, Wayne  
Shorter’s Quartet, featuring Brian Blade, John Patitucci and Danilo  
Perez, who wowed the huge crowd at the Carhartt Amphitheatre with  
Wayne’s unique, free-flowing style and mystical presence on stage.   
There is only one Wayne Shorter!  I followed that with an hour spent  
with Larry Coryell and his talented son Julian, as the festival’s  
theme of “family” continued.  Larry and Julian were relaxed backstage  
before the show so I caught about 15 minutes of conversation with  
them that you can certainly hear on MOJA Radio and VOA in the near  
future.  It was a spirited conversation between father and son that  
was absolutely priceless.  Larry is always the “big kid” and Julian,  
who I was meeting for the first time, has a lot of that same  
lighthearted attitude with a deep, cerebral side too.  On stage the  
two of them just completely enjoyed playing together with the full  
quartet and as a duo.  There was plenty of rock, funk, fusion, swing,  
blues and a little world music influence too.  Finally the night, as  
well as my time at the festival, came to an end with a bang.  There  
is a lot of big band sound in many of the shows at the DJF but none  
was better than the debut of the Detroit Jazz Festival Orchestra  
directed by Dennis Wilson and including a number of all-star players  
like Geri Allen on piano.  Special guests included the great Janis  
Siegel on vocals and a little saxophone work by Ron Blake and another  
man from a family of jazz royalty, Jimmy Heath.  Mr. Heath may be  
small in stature but he fills up the stage wherever he goes with his  
great talent and enormous spirit!  When he took over the baton while  
Mr. Wilson played his signature trombone the joint was jumpin’!

If you’ve followed all of my blogs from Detroit hopefully you’ve  
gotten an idea of the stylistic scope of the festival which has a  
decidedly more “straight ahead jazz” bent than most festivals  
although there is something for everyone.  Hopefully you’ve also  
gotten the fact that the festival is pure enjoyment on every level.   
I’ve honestly tried to find something not quite so positive to tell  
you but can’t.  I had a marvelous 3 days in the Motor City and never  
even got in a car except to go to and from the airport.  My only  
regret is having to get back home to work and missing the last day,  
Labor Day, and performances by this year’s festival “artist in  
residence” the great bassist John Clayton, Stefon Harris & Blackout,  
John & Bucky Pizzarelli, Thelonious Monk’s son T.S. Monk, Chucho  
Valdes’ son Chuchito and much more.  Oh well…there’s always next year!

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