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The Detroit Jazz Festival Returns: Conversation With DJF Director, Chris Collins

Detroit Jazz Festival
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 announcement on the return of live performances to the public:


Michael Jewett [00:00:03]  Some very welcome news for music fans, jazz fans, live event fans of the past week or so with the announcement that the Detroit Jazz Festival will return to live happenings Labor Day weekend. We're thrilled to talk about that with the man that puts this all together, the director of the Detroit Jazz Festival. Hello, Chris Collins. And hey, thanks for joining us. And hey, congratulations and welcome. I don't know if it welcome back is the right thing to say, but anyway, it's very exciting news. Labor Day weekend downtown Detroit, as always, where it's at for the Detroit Jazz Festival. 


Chris Collins [00:00:38] Super exciting stuff. Thank you so much for doing this, Michael. We want to get the word out to everybody. You know, in 2020, we were able to say live free and safe, doing a broadcast only event, but live from Detroit. And this year, we add to that in person back where jazz belongs. 


Michael Jewett [00:00:56] So now. So looking ahead to Labor Day weekend, we'll be back at Hart Plaza Ampitheater, Pyramid Waterfront, Campus Martius, the stages. And you know what? Maybe we should also point out is you get a lot of return customers or, you know, veteran listeners or whatnot. But there's always every year there's a certain amount of your audience that this is their first time ever at a Detroit jazz festival. I'm assuming that's the case. 


Chris Collins [00:01:22] It is indeed, and we do a lot of studies to make sure we're first and foremost, you know, being inclusive and inviting everyone to the party and knocking down barriers. And we find that we're equally impressed with how many people come back every year from around the country. And then, of course, all those folks who come for the first time, either their face or their jazz lovers, have just never been to Detroit. It's it's a it's quite an amazing thing. And we want to make sure we you know, we outline the experience for everyone. So they come here knowing exactly what to expect and how to enjoy themselves. 


Michael Jewett [00:01:55] You know, I got to tell you, as an endorsement, you know, WEMU, one of the, you know, founding partners with the Detroit Jazz Fest, was in fact, the Detroit Jazz Festival is one of, I think, a couple of things that actually predate my tenure throughout history. It's been around for a while and it's a great is a great institution, living, breathing institution. But one of the things I like to point out to people like you will have such beyond just the being able to, you know, enjoy these World-Class artists, great, great array of music, you will get such a great vibe from being part of the audience and being in the city. And it's just a great, I mean, it's really like a holiday thing for jazz. I don't even know how--it's hard to describe. I just always feel so great being part of the jazz just as an audience. I mean, it's like, yeah, it's oh, it's a great treat to, you know, work as a broadcaster or whatnot or maybe as an emcee or whatever. It's just great to be able to listen to music in these venues, in these open air venues with the very, very cool crowds that come out for the jazz festival. So for anyone who's maybe listening to Chris right now, that has never been to the Detroit Jazz Fest. I mean, really, really come on out. You will really get a great, great feeling. And here's some world class music. So some basics. Go ahead. Go ahead. 


Chris Collins [00:03:04] Well, what I was going to say is, you know, it's you got your finger on it, whatever, I'm asked about my favorite part of any year, man, it's the palpable positive energy in the air, man. You know, you're actually in one of the great jazz cities. You're in the city, in downtown. You're not out in a park somewhere. You know, you're in where it all happened and you're outside and you're mingling with that wonderful mix of jazz aficionados and folks that just come down to the footprint because of course, it's the only large free festival of its nature. And of course, it's all jazz. People who maybe don't even know what to experience come down in. The first thing they're going to feel is this marvelous energy, the family vibe. And there's these great audiences that that even the artists tout around the world. They love to come to Detroit. They love the record in Detroit because the audiences are are so fantastic. And I tell you what, it's a tribute to being open and inclusive and aiming to have, you know, the party open to everyone who creates an audience like none other. 


Michael Jewett [00:04:10] Yeah, absolutely. You will. You know, I'm on record as saying you're my faith. Oh, I always going to like that. Faith in humanity. Feeling is always restored. I you know, it's really it sounds like a cliche, but I don't mean it as a cliche, you know, I don't mean it lightly. You just feel better about just really everything because it's like, hey, this is happening. This is you know, I don't know what the audience numbers, but this is tens of hundreds of thousands of people come into to hear music, to celebrate this great cultural celebrate, you know, freedom of expression, everything, just freedom of assembly. It's a great, great time. So, yeah, by all means, if you've never been to the Detroit festival, come on out. Labor Day weekend, definitely happening in the city of Detroit. So we'll be back. You know, first of all, we'll be back. And it's is everything active waterfront is every venue or is it going to be what is going to be like? 


Chris Collins [00:05:01] We are still yeah. We're still working through some details. As everyone can imagine. We were working with the state and the city and the health offices all throughout the city and everywhere else to make sure that we do everything to to, as always, ensure that health and safety is priority one at the festival and the artists and the audience. And so the, you know, things about, you know, having a footprint to spread outside. It's we have typically over 300000 people over four days this year, September 3rd through six. So we we want to be very careful to have the programing set so that people are spread out among the stages. They have plenty to explore and listen to, although the final format, those announcements will be made over the upcoming weeks as we zero in on, you know, the the some some of the logistic challenges that are inherent to the city and some of the projects going on, along with the health and safety matters that are, you know, upon us all. And, of course, you know, we're also excited about the you know, the the evolution of of the positive direction of of the of of the virus at this point, especially with the vaccine stuff. But we have to, you know, is a smarter man than I of President Wilson or Wayne State said in a town hall meeting, you know, I'm paraphrasing, but basically it would be a sin for any institution to turn its back on the potential threat of something coming down the road. So we're being very, very conscious of that as well. In addition, all the other health and safety matters. So those final decisions in exactly all of the venues and how they're going to be dealt with will be will be introduced as we go through the weeks. People can get all the information that Detroit Jazz Fest dot org, or they also can go on Google Play or the App Store and get our app, which is Detroit Jazz Fest Live, which, by the way, it's a free, free app with a lot of stuff. But if you pay the twenty dollars subscription fee you get all year, you get all kinds of videos and live streams. And of course, during the festival you can live stream all four stages in real time. In addition to that, this year, we're also going to be doing something of a companion broadcast similar to what we did last year will be free and that will allow people to get a taste of everything throughout the festival throughout the weekend. So we're we're just doing everything we can to, you know, to make it available to everyone and in as many locations as possible so that people are you don't have a lot of space and they can they can enjoy everything that's going on and feel safe and comfortable. So those those details will roll out, but at this point, we're just happy to be in person again. We will be on Hart Plaza and up Woodward, and into Campus Martius, we know that, the footprint will be there and and plenty of plenty of stages and extra activities and of course, good food and drink and everything that goes with it. 


Michael Jewett [00:07:59] All right. All right. I'll talk to you in terms of like in terms of the good news we've been waiting to hear we've been longing for this, this certainly I know, I'm sure it tops the list for you and certainly at the top for for a lot of people, I'm sure. You know, I do want to mention any lessons that were learned. Was last year's festival, technically the virtual Detroit festival? You didn't really change the name technically, but were the lessons learned of doing? Because I know the audience numbers. I remember talking to you that you were really very, you know, happy that so many people were were checking out the Detroit Jazz Festival, albeit virtually. Do you think that that may be kind of like a marketing boost for the festival? Because he had so many, you know, national or international viewers that maybe you didn't have in previous years? 


Chris Collins [00:08:46] Well, you put your finger on it, I mean, you know, the the wonderful news was, over the course of four days, we had nearly a million unique viewers at 32 countries around the world. 


Michael Jewett [00:08:56]That's million with an M viewers.


Chris Collins [00:09:01] That's right. Yeah. And I was I will say that, you know, that is first and foremost a really good statement about the interest and excitement around Detroit in our region and this great music that emanates from here. You know, most festivals bowed out last year. We had two very important things. One is, you know, we are free, so we're not relying on ticket income, although we do rely on donor income. Like so many people.


Michael Jewett [00:09:27] Yes, I'm familiar with that. 


Chris Collins [00:09:32] We have a huge investment we made over several years now and in video technology. So we had each stage, we built custom soundstages. You know, it's four cameras on every stage was a television level production for 40 hours plus over four days. And, you know, it was a very high level of production, and it was all live from Detroit. It was not, you know, zoomed in from different people's places or whatnot. So we won some awards, we're very thankful of, you know, for the quality of that piece. And we, you know, virtual is a funny word because people you see virtual people think of it all the zoom conferences were on and things. This was more of a more of a broadcast to go out on television as well as the online sources. We wanted to make it available even if people didn't have one Wi-Fi. So the lessons learned really do speak to the interest in jazz, the interest in our in our community in Detroit. And of course, you know, as always or as is typical Detroit, you know, we do things specifically around jazz. We try to go that extra mile to make it a very high level of video and audio delivery. So the experience for the artists and for the audience is very special. And I think that's that's something we carry with us. And we'll be carrying that forward not only at the festival proper with the companion broadcast again, the Detroit Jazz Fest live app, but also, you know, every month now we do Jazz from the Cellar, which is a live concert program on the third Friday of each month. And we also do jazz chat live with national artists, whether it's a live program once a month, the fourth Tuesday typically. And people can ask questions of artists like Dee Dee Bridgewater and Keyon Herald and the Brubeck brothers and Robert Hertz just last week. These are all things that eventually can be seen to the Detroit Jazz Fest YouTube channel. So there's a lot of a lot of wonderful material there and on the app that people can get geared up for the festival and enjoy all year round. And and I think it's a it's a it's a dimension of activity in the digital realm that is certainly here to stay and something we want to not use to replace lives by any means, but to to add to it, to give a flavor, to give background information, backstage tours, things that really give people an insider's look at what this music and this art form is all about, and particularly for the neophytes or people that just want to come down and they don't know really what jazz is. And in this day and age, it's hard, you know, for anyone to know what anything is the term thrown around. But Detroit Jazz, as you know, is a real jazz festival. It's about the art form, the history, and the language. And, without fail, people who come down not knowing what to expect are just, you know, thrilled with the excitement and the energy of the music, the communicativeness, the community sensibility of the music and that can be captured in the digital and broadcast realm. And we're committed to developing the quality and content of that echelon, along with all of the in-person stuff we do all year. And I think there'll be all those options available this year at the festival in a big way to, you know, you have friends down in Kentucky. You don't believe how great the festival is, man, buy them a subscription to the app for an early Christmas present. And they'll they'll check it out. And I promise you they will be thrilled so that those are the things we're trying to tap into and learn from it just get better and better at so we can be on the cutting edge of how to deliver that medium and how to how to respect the music, respect the artistry and make it something that the audiences can really enjoy is a memorable experience. 


Michael Jewett [00:13:16] Fantastic. Well, here we are. You know, we're looking ahead to summer's end already. September 3rd through the 6th, downtown Detroit Heart Plaza. Come to Campus Martius, the Detroit Jazz Festival back live. That's where it's at, where it's going to be. Festival director. Chris Collins, what a treat. Always a pleasure to talk to you. Look forward to seeing you working with you, WEMU. Of course, you know, you know, media partner, whatnot. Just thrilled.


Chris Collins [00:13:43] A great media partner 


Michael Jewett [00:13:44] Thank you. Thank you. And really, really just fantastic news. Keep up the good work. We look forward to seeing the Labor Day weekend downtown Detroit. 


Chris Collins [00:13:52] And I look forward to seeing all the audience, and we all always a special shoutout to our angel of jazz, the great artist, Gretchen Bolade, who, as you know, is the visionary and the jazz lover behind this that makes sure that it's free and available to everyone, along with our presenting sponsor Rocket Morgage, which is back for another year. These people step up every year. And the reason it's free, it's reason it's available. And it's it's something that we're all very proud of. It's another great statement about how invested our community is in this event. 


Michael Jewett [00:14:22] Fantastic. Hey, I think we're good, we got something really good, we're going to play a bunch of Dee Dee Bridgewater. 


Michael Jewett is the long-time host of 89.1 Jazz every weekday afternoon. Besides his on-air work; Michael is WEMU’s Operations Manager. Mr. Jewett started working for WEMU in 1983. He’s been on the air longer than any other current WEMU music host.
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