Despite a last minute cancellation of some of the final performances, the free 38th Annual Detroit Jazz festival provided a ray of light shining down on the festival goers experiencing new and familar regional and national acts all Labor Day weekend in downtown Detroit.
From the cutting edge Untitled series presented by Quicken Loans, the Legacy series honoring George Sax Benson and Curtis Fuller, a tribute to the late Geri Allen, and the variety of performances that Artist-In-Residence Wayne Shorter presented, the 2017 Detroit Jazz Festival expertly showcased the depth and dedication this year's festival organizers and performances brought to crowds in Hart Plaza and Campus Martius Park.
Couldn't make it to this year's festivities? You can catch all the highlights from WEMU hosts and staff from the 2017 Detroit Jazz Festival in the slideshow above! (click on the first picture).
Linda Yohn: Despite this afternoon’s cool and gloomy weather, I am still feeling a warm glow from the 2017 Detroit Jazz Festival. It is always a special experience to share music of the highest caliber with a diverse and very well informed audience, but this festival was extra-special. The programming – ranging from NEA Jazz Masters Wayne Shorter, Benny Golson and Herbie Hancock to LA’s brightest new voices of improvised music in Miles Mosely, Cameron Graves and Kamasi Washington – was diverse, challenging, entertaining and surprising. I had a quick chat with Tom Robinson of the festival foundation and shared that opinion with him. He agreed and noted that if you are going to produce a festival, you must present events and acts that transcend a standard club performance or a traditional concert. The listener is to experience one-time events that cannot be sampled through media or records, but only enjoyed in live performance.
A prime example of a unique festival presentation was pianist and composer Gil Goldstein’s “Ode To Michael Brecker” concluding with “Speaking Of Mike” with its rapidly shifting tonal colors, moods and rhythms. This NEA commissioned work featured a saxophone summit of Donny McCaslin, Joe Lovano and Rick Margitza and the ace Detroit Jazz Festival Orchestra on The Carhartt Amphitheater Stage. The trio shared the limelight and the spirit of Michael Brecker without ego in service to the music and the audience. Another occurrence of ego-less musical cooperation was the Ron English Jazz Band on Sunday at The Absopure Waterfront Stage. Guitarist Ron English shared stories from his long and varied musical life and fleshed out many of his original compositions for a multi-generational little big band of Detroit’s finest. The band’s cooperation and communication was an illustration of respect and appreciation for the leader’s vision. Yet – as Ron recalled anecdotes, it was if he was just hanging out with friends.
The late Geri Allen was originally to occupy the piano chair backing up Wayne Shorter on Sunday evening along with Esperanza Spalding and Teri Lynne Carrington. Leo Genovese did a masterful job in her stead, yet we could not help but feel the giant hole in the fabric of the Detroit and international jazz community since Geri Allen passed in June. There were three tribute events to Ms. Allen over the weekend. The Carr Center presented a Detroit and national all-star jam in her honor on Saturday night. On Sunday Geri was remembered in The Mack Avenue Records Jazz Talk Tent by Jana Herzen of Motema Records, Teri Lynne Carrington, Danilo Perez and Geri’s long-time manager and dearest friend, Ora Harris. Sunday also included a reverential video tribute on the Carhartt Amphitheater Stage and a solo performance by one of Geri’s most gifted piano students, Ian Finkelstein.
Monday’s music was unfortunately cut short due to the dangerous thunderstorm, but even so there was time to take in stimulating and swinging sets from two Detroit natives and bassists – Rodney Whitaker and Robert Hurst. Both are fully grounded in Detroit’s great jazz tradition and both have a vision for a jazz future. No wonder jazz students come to Michigan from all around the world to study at Michigan State University and The University of Michigan.
I could go on and on – The WEMU 40th Anniversary of jazz radio commemoration, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dayme Arocena, Henry Butler, T.K. Blue, The Urban Transport Reunion and the ballroom jam sessions. Suffice it to say – I had a sublime experience at The 2017 Detroit Jazz Festival. I will never forget this weekend where I met jazz fans (and WEMU streaming listeners) who came from all around the world to share the unique experience of live jazz in Detroit. - Linda Yohn
For a full look at even more pictures from the festival, check out Jessica Webster's flickr album.
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