Detroit Jazz Festival 2012 Day One: A Real Jazz & Heritage Festival

Russ Davis reports from the 2012 Detroit Jazz Festival

I have a friend from Louisiana who is a major music fan and an active consumer who puts out the effort to support live jazz quite often. I asked him this past spring if he was going to attend this year’s New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. His answer was a little surprising. He said the festival was too crowded, too expensive and that there was little jazz and not much heritage to be enjoyed there. Though I’ve been to over 10 editions of the NOLA festival I have not been there since 2005 so I can’t confirm my friend’s assertion. I do remember there being lots of locals playing Zydeco and Cajun music on certain small stages, plenty of rocking blues and New Orleans beat all over the place and gospel under the gospel tent. Certainly after hours the famous Big Easy clubs were filled with New Orleans’s finest until dawn and maybe some of those things have changed, but again, this is something I can’t confirm. As I prepare to take in the events of the 33rd Detroit Jazz Festival I CAN confirm that there will be plenty of jazz to be heard and as always the jazz heritage of Detroit is prominently displayed with great pride.

Friday, 31 August 2012 is the kickoff date and two great shows begin the Labor Day holiday weekend of activities that take place on four stages on the riverside Hart Plaza and across the street among the beautiful, old downtown buildings of old Detroit. Those first show features the great trumpeter from New Orleans Terence Blanchard, who is serving as this year’s “artist-in-residence” with appearances at various shows and other events including a panel of Grammy-winners for which I will serve as moderator. The second show features the great “saxophone colossus” himself, the legendary octogenarian Sonny Rollins who turns 82 on September 7th. It’s a triumphant start to what should be a celebration of mostly traditional or mainstream jazz. There won’t be a lot of electric or experimental music performed over the four-day event and that seems to be the intent of the proceedings this year maybe a little more than in previous years.

Last year’s Detroit Jazz Festival had a theme of “We Bring You The World” featuring artists from around the world, as well as Americans of course, with a special emphasis on the effect of jazz on the musicians from overseas who practice the art of improvisation, and vice versa. At festival’s end the 2012 theme was announced to place a special emphasis on New Orleans and its effect on jazz from the past and the present. Since last year there has been a change in the directors for the festival so the special theme has been deleted but the lineup still features a large number of greats from “The Crescent City.” Along with Terence Blanchard festival attendees will have a chance to hear Wynton Marsalis, Donald Harrison, Christian Scott and The Preservation Hall Jazz Band featuring long time member and former Detroiter Charlie Gabriel. There may be more New Orleans Heritage on display this year in Detroit than at recent New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festivals!

As for the Detroit heritage aspect of things, there’s the aforementioned Charlie Gabriel, who is celebrating his birthday at the festival, Marcus Belgrave, Kenny Garrett, Louis Hayes, Curtis Fuller, Charles McPherson and young guns Rodney Whitaker and Marion Hayden and others that I’m surely overlooking that will take the stage in their hometown to certain thunderous applause. Detroiters love their music, its history and their musicians. They also love the fact that their hometown festival is “The World’s Largest FREE Jazz Festival” with the help of the many sponsors and most especially the philanthropic efforts of Gretchen Valade, chairperson of The Detroit Jazz Festival Foundation who puts her money where her heart is, in total support of the arts and most especially this event. With the current state of things economically around the world this is an amazing event to stage and present for free and the fact is not lost on those who come from all over the Detroit metro area and the world to take in the music.

In addition to the great array of artists I’ve already mentioned the crowds will gather to hear the likes of Chick Corea & Gary Burton celebrating 40 years of collaborations together, Pat Metheny’s new Unity Band, Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas and their new project “Sound Prints,” Wayne Shorter, George Benson, Randy Brecker, Larry Goldings great trio with Steven Bernstein and Bill Stewart and so many more. So if you’re free for the Labor Day weekend and have a few extra coins in your pocket come to Detroit for a jazz celebration in a beautiful setting that features plenty of food, arts & crafts, music and cool festival merchandise to purchase, family events to take in, lots of informative “Jazz-Talk” events with the artists and all those wonderful performances by some of the greats of jazz from Detroit, New Orleans, and all over the world. It’s Jazz and Heritage indeed for four glorious days and you won’t even need a ticket!

Russ Davis produces and presents the only jazz program – “Jazz America” - for the U.S. Government Service, Voice of America. He also programs and presents the online modern jazz channel MOJA Radio, a subscription service. You can hear a number of free programs, including the latest Jazz America show by visiting MOJA Radio's website.

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