In a manner of speaking, the Detroit Jazz Festival, now in its 34th year, is the crowning glory of summer in the Motor/Music City. It’s about the music, true enough, but that is just part of the story.
The Detroit Jazz Festival is a celebration, a diverse coming together of people — jazz lovers or not — from the city, from the suburbs, from outstate, from out of the country.
Everyone wants to unwind, have a good time listening to the music, mingle, enjoy good food, “people watch,” and perhaps even reflect on the events of the year up to that point as the sweet sounds of jazz waft through the air.
This Labor Day weekend tradition is special — and, yes, something for Detroit to be proud of.
The festival begins on Friday, Aug. 30, and concludes on Monday (Labor Day), Sept. 2. Those who come to downtown Detroit for the festival will be entertained by hundreds of first-rate musicians and vocalists who promise to give the very best they have to offer.
“JAZZ” IS a word heard with great frequency, but what exactly is jazz?
Its roots can be traced back to the earliest days of the 20th century and, like blues, R&B, rock and roll and gospel, it developed in the African-American community.
What these pioneering Black musicians did was combine their African-based music with European form and harmony. As the music continued to develop, it also absorbed elements of rhythm and blues. The music, as would be expected, spread around the world, having a major and enduring influence wherever it was heard.
An array of jazz styles came into being, including bebop, big band swing, Latin jazz, cool jazz (the word “cool” emerged from the jazz world), New Orleans jazz, chamber jazz, avant-garde jazz, soul jazz, ragtime, jazz fusion, smooth jazz and numerous others.
The legendary, iconic bandleader, musician, composer Duke Ellington said simply, “It’s all music.” That is, to be created and enjoyed, not analyzed and debated ad nauseam.
AMONG THE greatest names in jazz history are Ellington, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Betty Carter, Jelly Roll Morton, Count Basie, Dexter Gordon, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Herbie Hancock and Billie Holiday.
Also, Cannonball Adderley, Freddie Hubbard, Lester Young, Dave Brubeck, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Stan Getz, Wes Montgomery, Lionel Hampton, Chick Corea, Wynton Marsalis, Ella Fitzgerald and Ramsey Lewis.
The importance of jazz was illustrated when, in 1987, Congressman John Conyers proposed a bill to the U.S. House of Representatives to define jazz as a unique form of American music.
The bill, which passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, said jazz was “hereby designated as a rare and valuable national American treasure to which we should devote our attention, support and resources to make certain it is preserved, understood and promulgated.”
The Detroit Jazz Festival makes a point of presenting an array of jazz styles, as well as music that is not jazz per se, but can be effectively presented in this setting.
THE DETROIT Jazz Festival, which is presented at no charge, was founded in 1980 by Robert McCabe and the Detroit Renaissance. From that year to 1991 the festival thrived with a connection to Switzerland’s famed Montreux Jazz Festival.
In 1991 a partnership was formed with the Music Hall Center For The Performing Arts, an arrangement that lasted until 2005.
At that point Gretchen Valade, president of Mack Avenue Records and Detroit philanthropist, became a major sponsor with support from the Knight Foundation.
Today, the Detroit Jazz Festival is produced and managed by the Detroit International Jazz Festival Foundation.
The 2013 lineup is as exciting, and as diverse, as any in the past.
The performers include the Dave Murray Big Band featuring Macy Gray, the David Berger Jazz Orchestra, the McCoy Tyner Trio with special guest Savion Glover, the Brubeck Brothers Quartet, Rodney Whitaker, Kirk Whalum, Gary Burton, Bill Charlap and Renee Rosnes, Theo Croker, David Liebman, Ravi Coltrane, the New Breed Be Bop Society, the Four Freshman and the Toledo Jazz Orchestra.
Also, Ahmad Jamal, the Alan Broadbent Trio featuring Sheila Jordan, Geri Allen, Bill Frisell, the John Scofield Uberjam, the Joshua Redman Quartet, Jon Faddis, Francisco Mora, Johnny Trudell, Richie Birach, the Yellowjackets, the Detroit Jazz Festival Orchestra, Robert Hurst, the Robert Glasper Experiment and George Bohannon, among many others.
Many high school and college bands will also play.
Danilo Pérez is artist in residence.
The Detroit Jazz Festival also offers Jazz Talk Tent, presented by Chrysler, which “brings greater depth to the music heard at the festival.”
That is in addition to the Jazz Infusion Program, the flagship of the festival’s educational wing created “to help foster the growth of young musicians from the city so they can better compete for college scholarships, pursue careers in music, and continue Detroit’s rich jazz tradition.”
Jazz Week @ Wayne is a workshop conducted in conjunction with the Wayne State University Department of Music.
For more detailed information about the Detroit Jazz Festival, visit detroitjazzfest.com. — SVH