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Chris Collins: Detroit Jazz Festival Change Agent And Guardian Of Tradition

Marilyn Gouin
89.1 WEMU

If you’re jazz fan in Detroit, Labor Day weekend means visiting Hart Plaza or strolling Woodward Avenue for the Detroit Jazz Festival.   What a way to wrap up summer!  Over the years, the festival has evolved, grown and changed just as the music itself.  Chris Collins, Artistic Director of The Detroit Jazz Festival and President of the Detroit Jazz Festival Foundation Board has been a chief change-maker for the annual jazz party. 


Through his deep local musical relationships arising from his position at Wayne State University, Chris has expanded the large ensemble and string orchestral role at the festival.  He has welcomed unknown international talent to the Detroit stage who then become major jazz names.  Case in point:  Hakuei Kim from Japan with one of his first American appearances to promote his debut CD Trisonique, the two gifted up-and coming Cuban pianists Harold Lopez-Nussa and Alfredo Rodriguez or the French representatives: Cyrille Aimée and Gregoire Marét are on the varied line-up.  Collins has added special post-festival sessions such as film screenings in the 42 North suite in the Marriott Hotel.  This year will feature 4 star-studded episodes of “The Nat King Cole Show” on Saturday and Sunday nights hosted by Nat’s brother Freddy Cole and Chris Collins. 

Along with the changes, Detroit jazz tradition and strong, straight-ahead jazz remain the major focus for the festival.  Detroiters love to celebrate home town heroes.  This year we welcome artist-in-residence Ron Carter back home with open arms along with Kirk Lightsey, Louis Hayes, Charlie Gabriel and Dave McMurray.  The local legacy of Detroiter Kenn Cox will be a major focus this year for three performances including one session led by Ann Arbor’s senior dean of jazz, Ron Brooks.   If you want to know more about Detroit jazz history, make sure you hear the Legacy Series concerts and listen to the conversations and memories shared in the Jazz Talk Tent.   As has been a Detroit Jazz Festival tradition, jazz education has a prominent role.  Tomorrow’s jazz stars such as the winners of the vocal jazz competition, The Detroit Jazz Festival Ron Carter National Jazz Bass Competition winner will perform, plus there will be a special presentation for Detroit Jazz Festival Jazz Educator of the year. 

There is so much more – and the best person to make sense of it for you is Chris Collins.  Enjoy our conversation and a sneak preview of some of the music to be heard this weekend at The 37th Annual Detroit Jazz Festival.  If you haven’t made your WEMU shuttle reservation, there still is time, but I’d do it quickly if I were you!  I’ll see you there and we’ll share an experience together with America’s musical gift to the world:  jazz.
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— Linda Yohn is the WEMU Music Director, and host of 89.1 Jazz. Contact WEMU at 734.487.3363 or email her at


Linda Yohn simply cannot remember a day in her life that was not filled with music. Her early life was full of changes as the daughter of a well-respected cancer research scientist who moved his family about, but one thing was constant: the love of music instilled by her mother. So, when it seemed life was too hard to bear, young Linda would listen to her radio, play her guitar, dance her heart out and sing at the top of her lungs. So, it isn’t so strange that “older” Linda still does all those things!
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