2013 Detroit Jazz Festival creates unity in jazz community

By: K. Michelle Moran | C&G Newspapers | Published April 30, 2013

 Bass player Dan Pliskow and pianist Charles Boles — legends on the Detroit jazz scene — perform for Detroit Jazz Festival supporters during a preview for the 2013 festival April 23 at the Detroit Athletic Club.

Bass player Dan Pliskow and pianist Charles Boles — legends on the Detroit jazz scene — perform for Detroit Jazz Festival supporters during a preview for the 2013 festival April 23 at the Detroit Athletic Club.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

DETROIT — The Labor Day weekend is still a few months away, but already it’s promising to be another great one for jazz lovers and the city of Detroit.

During a preview luncheon April 23 at the Detroit Athletic Club, several dozen Detroit Jazz Festival organizers and supporters gathered to see the unveiling of the poster and hear about performers in the lineup so far for the 34th annual event, which takes place Aug. 30-Sept. 2 downtown. The poster — of the Dodge Fountain, which was designed by Isamu Noguchi — is an artfully shot nighttime image of the lighted landmark by famed photographer Balthazar Korab.

“This is a tradition and it’s something I think not only Detroiters but (also people throughout the world) look forward to. … With so many negative things being said and written about our city, this is the one thing you can’t say anything negative about,” said Mayor Dave Bing. “It brings all of us together for that weekend.”

The headliners this year include the David Murray Big Band with quirky R&B/pop vocalist Macy Gray; Joshua Redman Quartet; Robert Glasper Experiment; Ahmad Jamal; Yellowjackets; Gregory Porter; Sheila Jordan with strings and the Alan Broadbent Trio; John Scofield Überjam; Charles Lloyd Quartet featuring Bill Frisell; the Saxophone Summit featuring Ravi Coltrane, David Liebman and Joe Lovano; Eddie Daniels and Roger Kellaway; McCoy Tyner with dancer Savion Glover; and a tribute to David Brubeck featuring the Brubeck Brothers Quartet and a rare performance of David Brubeck’s orchestral compositions.

“It’s going to be great,” said Gretchen Valade, of Grosse Pointe Farms, chair of the DJF Endowment and DJF Foundation. Valade salvaged the festival when it fell on hard times a few years ago.

“She generously created an endowment seven years ago to save this great festival,” said WJR radio personality and DJF preview announcer Paul W. Smith, who lives in the Grosse Pointes.

Besides Valade, festival organizers also thanked other longtime supporters, including Bob McCabe, of Grosse Pointe Woods, the former Detroit Renaissance president and festival founder.

“God bless you, Bob,” Smith said. “He started it all.”

While frail, McCabe was again on hand for the DJF’s kickoff.

“It’s grown so well from the very beginning,” McCabe said of the event that started as an offshoot of the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. “And as the founder, I’m very happy.”

Thanks to its many sponsors, the DJF remains free — something that’s become increasingly rare for major festivals. Jason Tinsley, vice president of J.P. Morgan Chase — one of those sponsors — said it’s important that the festival be accessible to everyone.

Reducing the DJF’s carbon footprint has been the mission of the DTE Energy Foundation, which has led recycling efforts for the last five years. DTE Energy Foundation Chair Joyce Hayes Giles said they diverted more than five tons of materials from landfills last year alone by recycling glass, plastic and the like.

The DJF is the largest free jazz festival in the world and is a major boon for the economy.

“Chicago, you better watch out: Detroit is on the march,” Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano said of the longstanding jazz heritage in both cities.

Organizers point out that 25.8 percent of DJF attendees come from outside of Michigan, with visitors traveling from all over the globe that weekend. But it’s more than that.

“When we recruit companies (to locate in Wayne County), it’s not just about business — it’s about culture, as well,” said Ficano, noting that amenities like the festival are attractive to firms. “It adds to the quality of life here in southeast Michigan.”

The festival’s commitment to year-round education is evident in its selection of Panama native Danilo Pérez, a pianist and composer, as the 2013 artist-in-residence. Pérez, a Grammy Award winner and the UNESCO Artist for Peace, is working with students in local schools and sharing his knowledge and love of jazz, a music he said “brings us together.”

“You guys in Detroit are doing something fantastic,” Pérez said of the festival and its related programming. “I promise I will be here to commit … and build relationships.”

Another example of the festival’s nurturing of new talent is the divas competition, a contest for young female jazz vocalists that will again include a concert at the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores shortly before the festival.

“We’re excited about this being at the Ford House again this year,” Ford House President Kathleen Mullins said.

There are competitions for promising young instrumentalists and composers, as well.

DJF Artistic Director Chris Collins, of Grosse Pointe Shores, said he’s most excited about “the sheer depth of the programming” this year, along with once more spotlighting Detroit talent and jazz masters alongside up-and-coming artists.

The festival has become known for unexpected collaborations and musical pairings.

“Being able to hear great jazz that you cannot hear anywhere at any price … is one of the things that makes this year spectacular,” Collins said.

For example, pairings such as Macy Gray with David Murray, or the McCoy Tyner Trio with Savion Glover, are performances audiences would never otherwise see, he said.

“The best part of it all is that the artists are starting to bring unique programming to Detroit,” he said. “The way they’re bringing the music together for Detroit audiences is special.”

Even people who aren’t big jazz aficionados can expect to have a great time.

“Whether you love jazz or not, the sheer cultural vibe … is something you will not experience at any other festival,” Collins said.

For a complete schedule and more information, visit www.detroitjazzfest.com.