Detroit Jazz Festival strikes the right chord with famed guitarist Pat Metheny

By: K. Michelle Moran | C&G Newspapers | Published May 5, 2015

 An alumni band made up of graduates of the competitive J.C. Heard Jazz Week@Wayne program — seen here performing April 28 at the Detroit Athletic Club for Detroit Jazz Festival supporters — will take the stage at the festival itself.

An alumni band made up of graduates of the competitive J.C. Heard Jazz Week@Wayne program — seen here performing April 28 at the Detroit Athletic Club for Detroit Jazz Festival supporters — will take the stage at the festival itself.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

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DETROIT — The Detroit Jazz Festival has been attracting some of the top jazz players in the world for years, but the 36th annual festival scored a particular coup this year with artist-in-residence Pat Metheny.


The jazz guitarist and composer, who has won 20 Grammy Awards and has sold more than 20 million records, will be performing with a number of other jazz greats — including Kenny Garrett, Ron Carter and the Gary Burton Quartet — during the festival, which takes place over Labor Day weekend, Sept. 4-7, in downtown Detroit.


During a preview event April 28 at the Detroit Athletic Club, Tony Michaels, president and CEO of The Parade Company, called this year’s roster of talent “one of the great lineups of all time.” And once again, it’s a lineup rich with Detroit talent, including, as DJF Artistic Director Chris Collins noted, the aforementioned Garrett and Carter.

Other artists scheduled to play include the Richard Bona Mandekan Cubano Ensemble, the Paquito D’Rivera Quintet, Jungle Funk Trio, Arturo Sandoval, the Maria Schneider Orchestra, Brian Blade and The Fellowship Band, Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra featuring conductor Carla Bley and bassist Steve Swallow, the John Scofield and Joe Lovano Quartet, the Ken Peplowski Quartet and the Jon Irabagon Quartet, to name just a few.

Collins said the festival enables them to “celebrate who we are in the jazz community.” And with unexpected pairings of artists and premieres of new works, the festival is “a once-in-a-lifetime gathering of spirits … to uplift, engage, inspire (and) challenge.”


Among those unique performances: Eddie Daniels will helm a jazz version of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons featuring a Detroit spin, with the 21-piece Detroit Jazz Festival String Orchestra and original narration by Douglas Preston. Collins said it features “a powerful message about the rebirth of Detroit.” Collins said Preston — whose grandmother inherited Benny Goodman’s suits — will also provide narration for “Benny’s Threads,” a new work that will open the festival. Inspired by Goodman’s music, the work will feature new compositions by Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band and performances by clarinet greats Anat Cohen, Eddie Daniels, Paquito D’Rivera and Ken Peplowski.


The commissioned Detroit World Suite by 2013 artist-in-residence Danilo Pérez will be debuted during the festival, and a new work by Metheny — a 30-minute suite that pays homage to German bassist Eberhard Weber and that will feature the Detroit Jazz Festival Orchestra — will make its North American debut.


“Detroit is a very special place to me personally,” Metheny said. “I don’t think I’ve ever played a gig in Detroit where the audience has not been incredible. … Detroit is a very unique place for me as a performer because of the enthusiasm and the intensity and the looseness audiences here have. It’s very inspiring.”


Born in Kansas City, Metheny said he has fond childhood memories of his family’s annual trips to Detroit to get corporate cars for his dad’s dealership, which Metheny said was the smallest Dodge dealership in the country.


“So much of … my consciousness as a musician was born here,” he said. “It’s a thrill, a real honor for me” to serve as the festival’s artist-in-residence.


During the preview, Metheny performed with acclaimed jazz bassist Rodney Whitaker, a Detroiter and friend of the jazz guitarist.


This year’s festival is particularly special because Detroit is making headlines for its comeback. Echoing “I choose Detroit,” a slogan coined by a Quicken Loans staffer, Detroit Jazz Festival Foundation Board Chair Gretchen Valade, of Grosse Pointe Farms, said, “Everybody is choosing Detroit.”


“This is the largest free jazz festival in the world,” Michaels said. “It is exciting. We do great things in this city, and this is right there at the top.”


Deputy Mayor Isaiah “Ike” McKinnon said the festival brings millions of dollars into the city as visitors dine and enjoy other city amenities.


“The Detroit Jazz Festival is without question one of the truly great events in this region,” he said. “It’s inspiring to see the positive effects this festival has on our city.”


And with year-round education and other programs for students, the festival’s impact lasts well beyond Labor Day weekend, said Lloyd Jackson, communications director for Wayne County.


“It touches the lives of young people and enriches lives,” he said.


That will be audible and visible to attendees this year when a band made up of students who’ve completed the J.C. Heard Jazz Week@Wayne program will take the stage during the weekend. Collins said the competitive program at Wayne State University, which is free and open only to the best young musicians, has now been around for eight years.


“I’m glad to report that almost all of the (program’s alumni) are in universities or in the street school of jazz,” Collins said.


JPMorgan Chase Executive Director Jason Tinsley, of Grosse Pointe Park, said the festival’s many community benefits are why his institution is a sponsor.


“This is a very critical time for the city,” he said. “We believe in investing in things that make the city look better.”


Organizers are confident that they’ve got a strong lineup, and Metheny believes that, too, saying he feels 2015 is “going to be one of the best ever” for the festival.


“It’s going to be great,” Valade said.


The festival will take place from Hart Plaza to Campus Martius in downtown Detroit. For more information, visit www.detroitjazzfest.com or email info@detroitjazzfest.com.

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