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Detroit Jazz Festival, Day Three: Music & Fireworks

MOJA radio's Russ Davis reports on performances by Amina Figarova, Regina Carter, Sammy Figueroa, Anat Cohen, Aaron Diehl, Vijay Iyer and Richie Goods

Richie Goods and Nuclear Fusion performing at 2011 Detroit Jazz Festival
Sammy Figueroa performing at 2011 Detroit Jazz Festival
Russ Davis and Sammy Figueroa at 2011 Detroit Jazz Festival

My third day at the 32nd Detroit Jazz Festival began with a fiery conversation and ended with an awesome fireworks display. In the middle I heard as much music as a man can, and as a jazz fan and advocate felt about as satisfied as possible. The theme of the festival this year is “We Bring You The World” and this was most certainly true as in the course of a few hours I was able to hear a European-based pianist, an American who took us to Africa, the blending of New York, Miami & Puerto Rico, the marriage of American jazz with Middle Eastern overtones, and some good, old American funk & fusion. And I didn’t even get to hear 2/3 of the music available to festival-goers on this day!

I began the day with a spirited conversation with the great percussionist Sammy Figueroa who’s played with a list of artists in every genre imaginable, from David Bowie to Miles Davis, Mariah Cary to Sonny Rollins. After years as a sideman he’s now taken on the title of bandleader, and reluctantly at that by his own admission. This talented percussionist with the winning smile and effervescent spirit is a natural leader no matter what he says and he’s gathered a great band from all over the globe to realize his musical vision of putting the Jazz in the forefront of Latin Jazz. He was born in the cultural melting pot that is The Bronx, New York, raised part of his life in Puerto Rico in a section of the country that was equal parts African and Latin, now lives in Miami and has loved jazz from the beginning though he’s open to any and every kind of music. It certainly shows in the music he’s made which has been described as “Latinized Jazz Messengers.” In our conversation I learned how all those elements come together in his life and music and how he cared for Miles Davis in a very personal way after being part of his band that marked his return after hiatus for The Man With A Horn in 1981. Besides laying down the grooves that Miles needed to create this important project that got him back on his feet, Sammy gave Miles some personal support that was most important at a time when Miles was physically and probably spiritually weaker than he’d been in some time. So we can thank him for that as well as his musical efforts. The performance by Sammy & his Latin Explosion at sunset on the largest of the festival’s stages among the downtown Detroit buildings was an explosion indeed marked by virtuoso playing by the entire sextet with Sammy out front, entertaining the crowd with his wit and pounding of the congas. The fact that dozens of fans felt compelled to salsa dance in front of the stage says it all!

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