The Detroit Jazz Festival Goes Virtual: Conversation With DJF Director Chris Collins

Aug 27, 2021

Credit KNIGHT FOUNDATION/ CREATIVE COMMONS / DETROIT JAZZ FESTIVAL

WEMU's Michael Jewett chats with the Director of the Detroit Jazz Festival, Chris Collins on the Festival's recent decision to go virtual.

Michael Jewett: Hello, I'm Michael Jewett and I've got the pleasure to speak with the director of the Detroit Jazz Festival, Chris Collins. It was announced just within the last week that the festival is moving to a virtual presentation, a streaming presentation, much like last year as well, basically last year as it was originally planned for this year to be a traditional open air live event. But there's a lot of things that went into this decision. So to get us updated and to find out everything that's happening with Detroit Jazz Festival wise, the man himself, fellow Chris Collins, how are you doing? How are you in the staff doing? Maybe I should ask.

Chris Collins: The staff is doing great. Thank you, Michael. You know, everyone is working 24/7 because this change would have typically been done some time ago. And, you know, we've been we've been staying in touch with our state and city health departments and and our advisors and everyone since, you know, since the end of last year. And we've been very careful with our moves. When the mandates were lifted by the governor, we were even careful not to just go back to normal. We took our time, we investigated things, and there were a lot of reasons to go in person. And that was the decision we made. But, you know, ultimately, there were some logistic challenges in the city and some, of course, the the quote I always like to mention is, was Marie Wilson, president of Wayne State at a town hall, said, you know, we're optimistic, but any institution would be foolish to turn their back on the potential threat. And we really have to think of that, how you were dealing with it and we dealt with it and really creative ways. We had different all different levels of involvement that patrons could have at the festival. And we had all sorts of passive physical distancing things and things like that nature. But once we got through the challenges of thought of all the things that were coming down upon our footprint in our particular situation, a couple of things became obvious to me. One was we were going to lose a big chunk, about half of our real estate. And whether it's covid or just people being able to move around and not get hurt, that was a big concern to me. And then it also really impinged on our our physical distancing, our program, our overflow sites, all the things that we had in place to do everything we could that was appropriate for the for the current situation. So additionally, you know, AIG by donation, a lot of sports teams now are moving to it. This idea of outdoor events requiring faxing cards and or negative tests, you know, as an open free footprint for 42 years in Detroit, we didn't have that capability and that was the gold standard. So all taken together, I made the decision that we if we can't do something at the very highest level, we simply don't do it. And we're fortunate in that we you know, we don't have the admission tickets and we have a huge investment in technology. So we were able to do something that you could do and we wanted to take advantage of it for the betterment of all and quite frankly, never to put our the jazz festival in front of community and the citizenry. There are always going to come first. And in this case, this is exactly what this ticket did. As far as the staff goes, I have an incredibly creative group of craftsmen and and thinkers and administrators, and they're all putting all that wisdom and energy towards what I think will be once again, like last year. So that is a historic event for jazz, something I'm not even calling necessarily virtual, but rather it's broadcast only because everyone is going to see like they did last year. It's the highest level.

Michael Jewett: When we spoke last a couple of months ago in the run up to the festival, you talked about the huge number of viewership numbers for last year's festival. And I think one of the one of the blessings or one of the really cool things about a broadcast only a streamed festival is that you just have this reach that. Oh, it's I mean, it's global, really. It's I mean, and of course, the festival already attracts this big regional, you know, local, regional, national and international audience. People come to, you know, travel to Detroit to be part of it. But being able to stream the Detroit Jazz Festival really anywhere on the planet is. Yes. Is is really kind of like, well, you know, it's a cool thing, without a doubt.

Chris Collins: It is special and, you know, we do all year round, we do a lot of international exchange programs, work with professional artists and students, and that that helps. So we have a strong relationship in Japan and in parts of Europe and Panama and these kind of things, which which goes a long way in developing our global crowd, of course, suggests Detroit. Jésus itself is a premiere world jazz festival. You know, in any year it's 300,000 plus come about a third from outside of our region. So it's it's a pretty huge crowd. That being said, you know, we have about five screens going where we're monitoring all the metrics. And so when we say there's, you know, nearly a million viewers, I can assure you it's not a hyperbole. We really counted that many people in the different outlets. And, of course, we watch to see, you know, where what the trends are so we can improve this this year. It'll be that much better than last. And lastly, you know, we we we make this statement that we build custom huge down stages that are similar in size with Hollywood lighting and, you know, multiple cameras and cameras on cranes and all kinds of stuff to make the experience for the patrons as high as it can be. And that it's going to be like watching a very high quality television broadcast. But for 40 plus hours of jazz performances live from Detroit. And in real time, you cannot call these up later. They're not going to be up on YouTube later. You got to watch them in real time. So as close as we can mimic the jazz social experience is, is what we produce. And I think that has a lot to do with the High Wachusett and the excitement over over this year's group as well. Yeah.

Michael Jewett: Now, first of all, it's happening. It's Labor Day weekend, Friday, September the 3rd, through Monday, Monday the 6th. You are working on getting the final well broadcast schedule really together. And you have like a timeline on when that's going to be released in the next few days or weeks.

Chris Collins: Yes, it'll be within the next few days. It'll go up on our website. We'll make sure all the media get a hold of it. I can tell everybody, though, that we're starting earlier on Friday. We start about six, ten on Friday, the third, and then Saturday, Sunday and Monday, we go live about 11:00 in the morning and go till after midnight every single day. So 12 hours plus. Wow, every day, every Sunday, Monday. And it's clear it's all back to back. You don't miss anything. There's no overlapping performances. And while we really want people to have the best experience to our at Detroit Jazz Fest, why that will play in Appstore, because we are only broadcast we are going to be providing on our website and our YouTube channel and various other outlets, including some public television and public radio, the entire festival entirely for free. So even if you don't have Wi-Fi, you can listen to it on the radio, check out out on television. We want everyone. It is our mission to have access and free access. And so we're going to stand by that. But of course, if you want the if you want the app experience and all that comes with that and of course, support the festival, it's a twenty dollar subscription for the whole year. We do streams and concerts and things all year round, so we encourage that as well. Yeah.

Michael Jewett: The Detroit Jazz Festival happening Labor Day weekend streaming broadcast live Friday, the third through Monday the 6th. We look forward to the broadcast schedule, performance schedule of being released in the next few days. Director Chris Collins, thank you for all your work. Congratulations. Give your team, you know, all the credit and everything. I I'm sure I'm speaking for a lot of people. We're all pulling for for all of you and the whole festival. This is one of the most loved events, you know, anywhere on the planet, you know, jazz wise. And we'll be there watching it and presenting it and presenting it with you. So anyway, we will talk to you in a few the next time around and be safe. And, hey, we'll catch you at the festival.

Chris Collins: Thank you, Michael. We'll talk to you guys soon.

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