Detroit native Karriem Riggins, who has made a name for himself in jazz as well as hip-hop, is the Detroit Jazz Festival’s 2023 Artist-in-Residence. Here, he performs at a DJF preview event April 12 at Wayne State University.

Detroit native Karriem Riggins, who has made a name for himself in jazz as well as hip-hop, is the Detroit Jazz Festival’s 2023 Artist-in-Residence. Here, he performs at a DJF preview event April 12 at Wayne State University.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

Detroit Jazz Fest to spotlight legends, honor legacy of Gretchen C. Valade

By: K. Michelle Moran | Metro | Published August 22, 2023

 A work by musician, composer and arranger Russ Miller will be performing during the Detroit Jazz Festival.

A work by musician, composer and arranger Russ Miller will be performing during the Detroit Jazz Festival.

Photo provided by Russ Miller


DETROIT — A Detroit native who’s won acclaim for his work in multiple musical genres is returning home as the Artist-in-Residence for the 44th annual Detroit Jazz Festival.

Drummer Karriem Riggins has been mentoring local jazz students and will be performing during the Detroit Jazz Festival, which takes place over Labor Day weekend — Sept. 1 to 4 — in downtown Detroit. Riggins is a jazz artist who has worked with the likes of Diana Krall and Ron Carter, but he’s also an Emmy Award winner, a DJ and a producer who has teamed with artists from Paul McCartney to Erykah Badu to Common to The Roots.

“I’m so honored to do this,” said Riggins, who called Detroit “my beautiful city.”

Riggins performed for festival supporters during a preview event April 12 at Wayne State University.

“As a native Detroiter, I am so thrilled to see him come home (and) have this honor bestowed upon him,” KimArie Yowell, chief diversity officer of Rocket Companies/Rocket Mortgage, said during the April 12 event.

Other headliners who’ll play the festival this year include Regina Carter, Kenny Garrett, Louis Hayes, Danilo Pérez, John Patitucci and Brian Blade, among many others. Detroit natives Carter, Garrett and Hayes are all newly minted National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters, making their appearances this year especially significant.

“It is truly amazing on so many levels,” said Detroit Jazz Festival Foundation President and Artistic Director Chris Collins, of Detroit having three Jazz Masters. “I do not believe any other city has had this honor before. … Many of our youths have gone on to stunning careers. Our great culture and environment continues to produce some of the greatest artists in the world.”

The festival will feature a rare performance of Russ Miller’s composition “Sweet Justice: A Jazz Setting of the Beatitudes for Big Band and Chorus.” Miller, of Harper Woods, is a saxophonist, flautist, composer and arranger who has worked with many other acclaimed artists, including Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy DeFranco, J.C. Heard, Rosemary Clooney and Sammy Davis Jr. He’s also an associate professor and interim chair of jazz studies at Wayne State University.

Collins called Miller “a wonderful educator” and “one of the finest jazz arrangers in our community.” He praised “Sweet Justice” as well.

“It’s a very textured, creative piece of music,” Collins said.

“Sweet Justice” has only been staged once before, in 2009, when the WSU Jazz Band and WSU Concert Chorale performed it.

“It’s not something that’s easy to program because of the size of it and the complexity of it,” Miller said.

“Sweet Justice” will be performed by a 16-piece big band and 16-member chorale at 2 p.m. Sept. 4 on the festival’s Carhartt Stage. Miller said he’s using a religious text, but the composition is nondenominational.

“The intent is to hopefully have the audience enjoy it and hopefully feel good about it,” Miller said of the roughly hourlong work. “There’s lots of jazz and vocal solos in it. There’s something for everyone.”

This year’s festival will honor the legacy of businesswoman and philanthropist Gretchen Carhartt Valade, a lifelong jazz lover who rescued the festival from shuttering in 2006 and continued to support it through her foundation, the Gretchen C. Valade Endowment for the Arts. Valade died Dec. 30, 2022, at her Grosse Pointe Farms home at the age of 97.

News anchor Roop Raj, who hosted the April 12 event remotely, called Valade a “fierce supporter, benefactor and advocate of jazz.”

“Her legacy will forever be celebrated,” Raj said.

Valade’s endowment continues to provide generous support for the festival — and this year, Valade’s Dirty Dog Jazz Café in Grosse Pointe Farms is also the festival’s presenting sponsor — but Collins hopes others will consider supporting the festival, so that they can continue to introduce audiences to jazz. The festival also engages in year-round educational programs. Collins said 87 cents of every dollar given to the festival foundation is used for jazz programming.

Although the festival remains free, jazz lovers can purchase VIP tickets — available for a single day or the whole weekend — to support the festival while also enjoying premium seating and other benefits. People can also text DJFF to 243725 to make a gift of any amount.

Opening night Sept. 1 will feature a tribute to Valade. She was a musician and songwriter as well, but Valade never sought the spotlight for her own work, Collins said. The tribute is expected to feature some of Valade’s compositions, which in the past have been recorded by artists like Freda Payne and the late Tom Saunders.

“I don’t know if anyone will ever know her commitment to make life better for everyone,” Collins said of Valade’s philanthropy, which also included gifts to hospitals, animal shelters and nonprofits that battle homelessness.

He remembers Valade contributing ideas and suggestions each year to improve the festival and remembers how she would be at the festival or the Dirty Dog enjoying the music.

“You can go several lifetimes without experiencing someone like Gretchen C. Valade,” Collins said. “But her legacy lives on.”

This month, festival organizers will announce the creation of the Angel of Jazz campaign, named for the nickname Collins gave to Valade. For a $50 donation, festival supporters will receive a pin with a musical note flanked by angel wings.

“We’re trying to inspire the global community,” Collins said. “It’s a way everyone can come together. Gretchen’s vision was so pure and so giving. … We want to make sure her mission of keeping (the festival) free and keeping it jazz (continues).”

Producing the festival costs about $4.5 million a year, Collins said. In turn, the festival draws more than 325,000 visitors each year to the city and generates an estimated $30 million in revenue for local restaurants, hotels and more, Collins said.

There are also as many as 2 million others who’ve enjoyed the festival virtually through a free livestream. Collins said they just ask those who’d like to stream the festival to register, something that can be done by visiting the festival’s website. A continuous broadcast over the weekend on YouTube will feature interviews as well as performances, Collins said.

“This is the world’s premier and the largest free jazz festival,” Yowell said. “I cannot wait to hear Karriem and the other artists who will make Detroit the center of the (jazz) universe.”

For a full festival schedule or more information, visit