From left, jazz bass legend Stanley Clarke performs with Detroit violin player Evan Garr during a preview event for the 2019 Detroit Jazz Festival April 2 at the Detroit Athletic Club. Clarke is this year’s artist-in-residence for the festival, which will take place over Labor Day weekend.

From left, jazz bass legend Stanley Clarke performs with Detroit violin player Evan Garr during a preview event for the 2019 Detroit Jazz Festival April 2 at the Detroit Athletic Club. Clarke is this year’s artist-in-residence for the festival, which will take place over Labor Day weekend.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

Anniversary edition of Detroit Jazz Festival embraces past while looking to future

By: K. Michelle Moran | C&G Newspapers | Published April 17, 2019


DETROIT — His performances were canceled in 2014 and 2017 because of foul weather, but this year, Stanley Clarke seems to have come up with a way to outsmart Mother Nature: He’s the artist-in-residence for the 2019 Detroit Jazz Festival.

With several different performances by Clarke slated to take place during the festival, which will run Aug. 30 to Sept. 2 at outdoor stages in downtown Detroit, the Grammy Award-winning bass pioneer should be able to entertain audiences this time around.

Clarke is one of many high-profile jazz artists scheduled to perform during the festival, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Other headliners include former Detroit Jazz Festival artists-in-residence Ron Carter, Pat Metheny, Joshua Redman, Danilo Pérez and Terence Blanchard. The lineup was announced during a festival preview event April 2 at the Detroit Athletic Club.

News anchor Huel Perkins, who emceed the preview, said the Detroit Jazz Festival attracts more than 300,000 people annually to Detroit, more that 25% of whom are from another state or country.

“That puts us on a par with the best jazz festivals all over the world,” he said.

Perkins was among the many festival supporters who praised Gretchen Valade, a Grosse Pointe Farms businesswoman and philanthropist who rescued the festival from going under and established what Perkins said was a $15 million endowment to keep it going — and keep it free — for years to come.

“Were it not for the endowment she created … we would not be here today,” Perkins said.

Tony Michaels, the president and CEO of The Parade Company, has been affiliated with the Detroit Jazz Festival for the last nine years; he’s the festival’s brand adviser.

“This is so fabulous for Detroit,” Michaels said of the festival. “The commitment of Gretchen Valade and what she does, and the sponsors — it’s so amazing. … It’s the best (jazz festival) in the world, and it’s in our backyard.”

Valade founded the jazz label Mack Avenue Records in 1998, and through the label started being a festival sponsor in 2003, said Tom Robinson, who serves on the Detroit Jazz Festival Foundation Board. Valade is chair of the Detroit Jazz Festival Foundation Board.

Because it’s the festival’s 40th anniversary, Detroit Jazz Festival Foundation President and Detroit Jazz Festival Artistic Director Chris Collins said they’re also hoping to “bring the family back to Detroit, kind of a reunion” by featuring a number of jazz stars who have roots in the city, including Carter, Kenny Garrett and Sheila Jordan. Collins, a musician and director of Wayne State University’s jazz studies program, got his own start at the festival, having performed at the very first one — then known as the Montreux Detroit International Jazz Festival — when he was in high school.

Clarke, who was Rolling Stone’s first Jazzman of the Year and has recorded more than 40 albums, said the Detroit Jazz Festival reminds him of European jazz festivals, in that it incorporates all forms of jazz, including traditional.

“There’s a lot of jazz festivals now that are mainly R&B festivals … which is fine, but this jazz festival has all of the various genres and instruments, which distinguishes it from other festivals (in the United States),” Clarke said.

Being free makes the festival more accessible. In Europe, Clarke said, jazz festivals are often subsidized by the cities hosting them, in order to offer audiences a chance to experience the music at little or no cost.

“That’s very important,” Clarke said. “The thing that has propelled jazz music over time is not record sales or radio, but young people.”

Audiences who come to see Clarke perform will be able to experience music spanning his career. He’ll be accompanied by musicians he’s been working with of late, including young violin virtuoso Evan Garr, of Detroit, and percussionist Salar Nader.

Collins said the festival no longer has an education stage, as it once did for student musicians. Now, school bands are featured on the same stages as their professional peers.

“It’s about opening the doors to every generation and giving opportunities to those who deserve it,” Collins said of the musicians selected to play. “The Detroit Jazz Festival is about excellence.”

The Detroit Jazz Festival also has year-round education initiatives that bring musicians such as the artist-in-residence into local schools to work with and mentor the next generation of jazz artists.

“I think it’s one of the jewels of Detroit,” said Wayne State University President M. Roy Wilson. “Wayne State is very proud to be affiliated with it. For students to be able to participate and be mentored is huge.”

DTE Energy is once again a Detroit Jazz Festival sponsor, and last year marked the 10th year for a green initiative for the festival, said Lynette Dowler, president of the nonprofit DTE Foundation. She said the company has focused on “making it the greenest and cleanest festival in the state,” including generating zero waste on opening night.

Clarke, who’s one of the artists scheduled to perform on opening night, is hoping for better weather this year.

“I can’t imagine there’s a rain cloud following me around,” he said with a laugh.

For more information about the festival or its livestream, which includes all festival performances and exclusive content, visit