Detroit’s deep jazz roots will see the spotlight during festival

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published August 23, 2016

 Legendary jazz bassist Ron Carter embraces Grosse Pointe Shores artist John Osler after seeing Osler’s painting of Carter, which was used for the 2016 Detroit Jazz Festival poster.

Legendary jazz bassist Ron Carter embraces Grosse Pointe Shores artist John Osler after seeing Osler’s painting of Carter, which was used for the 2016 Detroit Jazz Festival poster.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran


DETROIT — Detroit’s significant jazz roots will be evident during the 37th annual Detroit Jazz Festival, the largest free jazz festival in the world, when the festival takes over downtown during Labor Day weekend, Sept. 2-5.

Hundreds of musicians will perform on four stages, including homegrown greats like Ron Carter.

“This man is a hero to me and probably everyone in this room,” said Detroit Jazz Festival Artistic Director Chris Collins, of Grosse Pointe Shores, during a press conference at the Detroit Athletic Club this spring for the festival. Collins also is the president of the Detroit Jazz Festival Foundation board of directors. With more than 2,000 recordings to his credit, Carter is the “bona fide No. 1 recorded bassist in history,” Collins said.

Carter, this year’s artist-in-residence, grew up in Detroit and Ferndale. He graduated from Cass Technical High School in 1955.

“Thank you, Chris,” Carter said after being introduced by Collins. “Thank you, Detroit. I’m happy to be the artist-in-residence.”

Carter, who has performed with artists ranging from Miles Davis to Billy Joel, left Detroit as a young musician, but the city remains dear to him.

“There’s one place that’s always home — that’s here in Detroit,” he said.

Grosse Pointe Shores painter and photographer John Osler, who has created the festival’s poster art for the last two years, featured Carter on this year’s poster. Osler said he wasn’t able to sit down with Carter prior to the painting, so he worked from videos, still photos and his own memory of having seen Carter perform “a number of times through the years,” most recently at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

“The jazz tradition in Detroit is iconic and known worldwide,” said Gretchen Valade, of Grosse Pointe Farms, chairwoman of the Detroit Jazz Festival Foundation board of directors, in a prepared statement. “Today it’s a vibrant scene that is constantly evolving and growing, and our festival continues to nurture and support it. With the wonderful Ron Carter as our artist-in-residence, we are taking the music to a new level of Detroit connection. And once again, we hope the festival transcends the music itself and gets people downtown to see and experience Detroit’s distinct flavor. We look forward to adding to Detroit’s jazz tradition and another Labor Day weekend to remember.”

Besides Carter, who will be performing with his own trio and quartet, along with performing in other ensembles, throughout the weekend the impressive lineup includes George Benson, Omar Sosa Quarteto AfroCubano, Charlie Gabriel Quintet, Roy Hargrove Quintet with Strings, The Soul Rebels, Chris Potter Underground Orchestra and Chris Potter Quartet, John Abercrombie Organ Trio, Stanley Cowell Quintet featuring Billy Harper and Charles Tolliver, Barbara Ware Quartet, Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, United States Air Force Airmen of Note, Cyrille Aimée, Harold López-Nussa Trio, Roberta Gambarini and Jimmy Heath, and Freddy Cole with Detroit Jazz Festival String Orchestra —  The Cole Family Legacy — Remembering Nat and Natalie.

“It doesn’t get any better than this the biggest, the best festival in the (country),” said WJR-AM personality Paul W. Smith during the press conference this spring. “This event is so intrinsically Detroit. It (was) bringing people from around the world to downtown Detroit before it was popular to come down to downtown Detroit.”

Smith noted that businesswoman and philanthropist Valade — who saved the festival when it was in danger of ending several years ago — deserves thanks for what she has done for the city and its music community.

“Her love of jazz is immense; her commitment is infinite,” Smith said.

His words of gratitude were echoed by recently retired Deputy Mayor Ike McKinnon, who said he spoke to people from Argentina, California, Texas and the Philippines at one festival.

The festival’s now year-round educational efforts are not only aimed at student musicians, but also at musicians well into their careers, Collins said.

“Jazz is such an important part of the history of Detroit, but indeed, it’s an important part of the future of Detroit,” said Collins, noting that the city’s cultural treasures play an important role in luring young people back to the city. “Arts and culture is the way … (to) make the world a better place.”

Legendary Detroit bassist Ralphe Armstrong — who has performed with artists like Sting, Aretha Franklin and Eminem — was among the musicians working with the next generation of jazz stars as part of the festival’s education and outreach efforts.

Armstrong said the festival “is a blessing to all of the professionals that have emerged from Detroit going back to Ron Carter, Tommy Flanagan and myself. We produce maybe more jazz musicians than anywhere else in the world, (and) the greatest jazz musicians in the world come from Detroit.”

Those who can’t attend in person will be able to enjoy the festivities remotely thanks to a new mobile app that will live-stream performances.

The app, made possible thanks to a gift from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, also provides users with a festival map and schedule, artist information, and other festival details. It can be used on any computer, tablet or mobile device, and can be downloaded from the festival’s website. It will cost $30 to download.

From a shuttle between Ann Arbor and Detroit for festival attendees, to recycling containers and a reduction in the use of plastic and packaging, the DTE Energy Foundation is once again helping to make the festival as green as possible, said Faye Nelson, vice president of DTE Energy and vice president of the DTE Energy Foundation.

For a full schedule and more information about the festival, visit