Archive for September, 2009

Detroit Jazz Fest September 2009

September 12, 2009

The Detroit Jazz Festival just celebrated its 30th anniversary.  I’ve been attending since the beginning.

There’s always a lot of quality free music, in Detroit, in the Summer.  This year I’ve seen a lot of good shows including, Buddy Guy, Willie Nelson and Aaron Neville.  There was an all-star Motor City Revue at the Concert of Colors.  That was pretty wonderful.

I got to 3 days out of four, of this year’s jazz festival.  Friday, there were two second-line parades (a few hours apart).  These featured some “giant puppets” from Ohio (pictured).  They also had a lady dancing around on stilts (wearing flashing lights) and a few other additional participants.
"the Divas" from Cleveland

"the Divas" from Cleveland

My old friend James O’Donnell (on trumpet) led a marching-band ensemble.  They wove their way throughout the crowd (with the dancers) in grand style.

band getting ready to lead a second-line parade

band getting ready to lead a second-line parade

Friday night featured a piano trio led by 91-year-old Hank Jones.  He has Michigan roots (from Pontiac).  His late brothers Thad and Elvin Jones were also jazz greats.  George Mraz was on bass and Carl Allen on drums.  I love his music and he sounded great.

That was followed by Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White.  It was a good set (I heard most of it).  I’m a fan of Corea’s experimental jazz group Circle and his work with Miles Davis.  There were some beautiful moments here.

I missed Saturday entirely.  I almost caught the last three hours.  I waited a whole hour for a bus that never came and that was that.

Sunday, I got there early.  In the “jazz talk tent” I caught an interview with Wayne Shorter.  It was led by his biographer, Michelle Mercer. 

He opened by saying he was 76 but feels like 17.  She asked him to name a letter and he said “A.”  She went through all his musical compositions whose titles begin with “A.”  He was often very funny and it was a lively interview.

He told of Bud Powell sitting in with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in France.  Later, Powell visited Shorter in his hotel room and asked him to play a bit for him.  This puzzled him and he wondered about it for years.  Later, Powell’s daughter (Celia?) said that he’d do this saying it was because he was concerned about the future (the future of jazz.). 

After the interview, they took questions from the audience.  He spoke of playing  jazz solos like Humphrey Bogart, like a “John Wayne punch.”  He remembered Miles Davis (commenting on someone’s playing) by asking “Do you dance with your girlfriend like that?”

He reads a lot and talked about that (sci-fi, history, good fantasy etc.).

He also spoke of “standing alone and dealing with the unexpected” and trying to “give back something original” to life.  It’s important to be spiritual, creative and daring.   “To dare!” is central.

Marcus Belgrave (right) and his band

Marcus Belgrave (right) and his band

Next I caught most of a strong set by Detroit music hero, Marcus Belgrave.  I used to see him play in New York and he’d recognize me here, and say “Been to New York lately?”  I just saw an old photo of him when he was quite young.  He’s played in a wide variety of contexts, in Ray Charles big band, as a leader and much more.

I caught a bit of Charles McPherson’s set.  Then I caught a good part of the Gerald Wilson Orchestra.  He was premiering a six-part suite called Detroit (dedicated to our city).

In the “jazz talk tent” again, I caught an interview with Sheila Jordan.  She talked about Charlie Parker and growing up as a young be-bop fan in Detroit.  She believes that one should “do your thing with heart and feeling and try to do it well.”

There were other good acts playing at the same time.  Yet I had to catch Wayne Shorter’s entire set.  It was amazing.  This was my favorite set in a festival that had its share of strong performances.  He was with his regular quartet and they seemed to have a real “ESP thing” going.  Wow!

I caught some of the Heath Brothers, the Pete Escovedo Latin Jazz Orchestra and the Detroit Jazz Festival Orchestra, then headed home.

On Labor Day, the rain came in.  It was sprinkling off and on all day and I got a bit wet.  Yet it was tolerable, never a big downpour.

A year ago, Barack Obama spoke at the jazz festival site, on Labor Day.

Sheila Jordan sang with the Tad Weed Trio.  Weed plays piano, Kurt Krahnke played bass and Sean Dobbins drums.  I really enjoyed this a lot.  I remember Kurt from years back.  He’s been on the local scene for ages, in many contexts.  Jordan has a unique style and still sounds great.

On the same stage Bucky Pizzarelli played duets with his son, John Pizzarelli.  They also did some songs with John’s band.

John Clayton, Christian McBride and Rodney Whitaker played a trio of stand -up bases,  The bass switched from lead to back-up to “chorus” to rhythm (just like that).  This was really something.

I closed out the fest with the T.S. Monk sextet.  Thelonious Monk’s music was played by this group led by his son (on drums).  The band included Helen Sung on piano and Howard Johnson on tuba and baritone sax.  Everyone was swinging.  They closed out with a wild, raucous version of Four In One.  It was beautiful chaos in ways but very precise and on point. 

a Detroit Jazz Festival History:

The Detroit Jazz Festival website:

A review of Wayne Sorter’s set:

Here’s a nice History of the Montreux Jazz Festival (including the posters).  Not too much information about the partnership with Detroit, but interesting: