Detroit Jazz Festival To Light Up The Riverfront Labor Day Weekend


DETROIT (Tell Us Det) – The 33rd annual Detroit Jazz Festival hits on Detroit’s riverfront at 12 Noon today with an all-star line up. The roster for the free event, which runs from Aug. 31 through Sept. 3, features jazz legends Sonny Rollins, Chick Corea and Gary Burton, Wynton Marsalis, Wayne Shorter, Pat Metheny and trumpeter Terence Blanchard, the festivals 2012 artist-in-residence.

These artists and others performers at this year’s Jazz Fest have won a combined 100 Grammy Awards.

“This year, we wanted to focus on going back to traditional jazz roots,”said Chris Collins, artistic director of the festival and the director of Jazz Studies at Wayne State University, in a release. “Bringing together these world-class jazz artists gives festival-goers the opportunity to experience jazz at its finest — a collaboration between artists with history, experience and a style all their own.”

The event will also feature a Jazz Talk Tent where festival-goers can learn more about featured artists and music history from jazz experts.

For many people Labor Day serves as the unofficial end of summer and their thoughts turn to chilly fall days. However thanks to a long standing Detroit tradition, Labor Day packs plenty of summer heat especially during the melodic days and nights of the Detroit Jazz Festival.

The festival started out in 1980 in partnership with the Montreux Jazz Festival of Switzerland. When that partnership ended the festival was able to continue on with the generous support of various donors but when financial support reached a critical point the festival found itself on the brink of extinction. It was during this period that the festival received an enthusiastic supporter in Gretchen Valade of Mack Avenue Records.

This year marks another phase in the festival’s development when Chrysler serves as a sponsor for the event. It seems a fitting union between the fabled comeback automaker and the musical festival that could. Though the festival has endured many changes throughout its history, the one thing that has remained constant has been the wide variety of talented artists that have played at the festival over the years including Sarah Vaughan, Dave Brubeck as well as a host of others. This year’s festival will continue the tradition with performers that include Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter and Pat Metheny among others.

Here is the complete line-up starting today:


Carhartt Amphitheatre
Noon DSO Civic Jazz Orchestra with Terence Blanchard: Beyond his festival residency, Blanchard is the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s Creative Jazz Chair for 2012-13. The trumpeter joins the DSO’s student band.

1:15 Kris Johnson Group: A young trumpeter and 2012 Kresge Artist Fellow, Johnson spent three years with the Count Basie band and is now making his way as a locally based performer, composer and teacher.

2:45 Ron Kischuk and the Masters of Music Trombones with guest Curtis Fuller: Kischuk’s ensemble of six leading Detroit trombonists and rhythm section will be joined by a seventh trombonist — the Detroit-born Fuller, 77, a hugely influential figure.

4:15 Rick Margitza Quartet: A brawny and boisterous post-bop tenor saxophonist, the Dearborn-born Margitza has come through many times in recent years with the Moutin Reunion Quartet, but here he gets a spotlight gig. Joining are Detroit heavies Gary Schunk on piano and Rodney Whitaker on bass and former Detroiter Gerald Cleaver on drums.

6 Steve Wilson with Strings featuring music from Bird with Strings: Wilson, a versatile, first-call New York alto saxophonist, takes on bebop genius Charlie Parker’s famous partnership with strings. David O’Rourke is music director, with 18 strings and a Rolls-Royce rhythm section of Renee Rosnes, Peter Washington and Bill Stewart.

7:45 Mack Avenue Superband with music director Rodney Whitaker: An all-star band drawn from the roster of the Mack Avenue label owned by festival benefactor Gretchen Valade. Featuring Kevin Eubanks, Carl Allen, Alfredo Rodriguez, Aaron Diehl, Tia Fuller, Gary Burton, Sean Jones, Cecile McLorin Salvant and Evan Perri

9:30 Chick Corea and Gary Burton with Harlem String Quartet: The pianist Corea and vibraphonist Burton have honed a special rapport as duet partners dating back 40 years. Their upcoming album “Hot House” (Concord) focuses on standard material, but here the two stars fold the Harlem String Quartet into the mix.

Mack Avenue Waterfront Stage
12:30 p.m. Noah Jackson Six: Jackson, a bassist and Michigan State University alum, has been making his way in New York while retaining ties to Detroit.

2:30 Gregoire Maret: A Swiss-born virtuoso of the chromatic harmonica, Maret has become a leading figure on his instrument, working with a diverse array of musicians including Youssn’Dour, David Sanborn, Cassandra Wilson, Pat Metheny and Herbie Hancock.

4:15 Harvey Thompson and Friends: Thompson, a silky Detroit-born singer who has been based for years in Tokyo, swings easy, delivers a ballad with sophistication and soul and can dip into the blues.

6 Ellery Eskelin Trio: Eskelin, a stalwart on the left-of-center New York scene, is a tenor saxophonist with a burly sound and blustery attack. He favors a freedom-with-structure aesthetic, and this trio posits an outward-bound take on the classic organ trio, with Gary Versace on the Hammond B3 and Detroit native Gerald Cleaver on drums.

8 Bernard Purdie, Reuben Wilson and Grant Green Jr., featuring Donald Harrison: Old school soul-jazz and funk from well-traveled stalwarts Wilson on organ, Green on guitar and Purdie, a master of groove, on drums. Harrison, an animated saxophonist, joins the party too.

Absopure Pyramid Stage
12:45 p.m. 2012 Saxophone Competition Winner: Two co-winners of this festival initiative will share the spotlight: Danny Janklow (alto) from Los Angeles and Geoff Vidal (tenor) from New York.

3:15 Louis Hayes Jazz Communicators: Hayes, a fleet drummer with a driving cymbal beat, came roaring out of Detroit in the ’50s, joining Horace Silver as a teenager, before making more history with everyone from Cannonball Adderley to McCoy Tyner. He still swings magnificently at 75. The younger sidemen include saxophonist Abraham Burton.

5 Jon-Erik Kellso and the Ear Regulars Plus, featuring James Dapogny: Detroit-born trumpeter Kellso, a creative voice within the neo-swing scene in New York, leads a band stocked with players associated with his regular Sunday gig at the Ear Inn in SoHo, along with Ann Arbor treasure James Dapogny on piano.

7 Papo Vazquez Mighty Pirate Troubadours: A high-energy Latin-jazz octet from New York.

8:45 The Trio: Larry Goldings, Peter Bernstein, Bill Stewart: An A-list organ trio that takes its cue from the more progressive post-bop associated with organ pioneer Larry Young. Goldings is a gifted organist, with Bernstein providing tart and incisive guitar solos and Stewart a lithe, muscular presence on drums.

JP Morgan Chase Main Stage
Noon A. Spencer Barefield Trio: A 2010 Kresge Artist Fellow, Barefield is a veteran Detroit guitarist and composer making a long overdue return to the festival. He’s a musician who always looks forward. With Dave Young on bass and Djallo Djakate Keita on drums.

1:30 University of Michigan Latin Jazz Ensemble and Vincent Chandler’s University of Michigan Jazz Septet.

3:15 Jerry Bergonzi Quintet: Bergonzi, a Boston tenor saxophonist, remains under the radar of most fans, but he’s a cult figure in certain circles, revered for his teaching and command of the post-Coltrane language.

5 Wynton Marsalis Quintet: The world’s highest-profile jazz musician has been no stranger to Detroit, appearing at least once a year in the metro area with his Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. But concerts by his small group are rare, and it’s been 25 years since he last played the jazz festival. His quintet should give him plenty of elbow room. With reedman Walter Blanding, pianist Dan Nimmer, bassist Carlos Henriquez and Detroit-born drummer Ali Jackson.

6:45 Chuck Israels Jazz Orchestra: As a bassist, Israels is still best-known for his work with Bill Evans in the ’60s, but he’s become a strikingly inventive composer-arranger for larger ensembles. His Portland, Ore.-based nine-piece group (plus two vocalists) promises exquisitely crafted charts rich with color and nuance.

8:30 Charles McPherson Quintet featuring Tom Harrell: Few sounds in jazz are as exhilarating as the Detroit-bred alto saxophonist McPherson in full flight, as he marries a gorgeous, singing tone with soaring bebop melodies. The news here is also Harrell, a trumpeter with the soul of a poet, riding shotgun. With pianist Jeb Patton, bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Jonathan Blake.


Carhartt Amphitheatre
Noon MSBOA Showcase: Detroit School of Arts and Northview High School.

1:30 Michigan State University Jazz Orchestras.

3 Kevin Eubanks Trio: After stepping away from his 18-year gig with “The Tonight Show,” Eubanks has been re-establishing his jazz bona fides as a versatile, inventive guitarist equally comfortable pushing the post-bop envelope or exploring a smart strain of fusion.

4:30 Arturo O’Farrill Septet with Donald Harrison: O’Farrill, a pianist and stalwart of the Latin jazz scene, is joined by guest Harrison in the second of the fertile saxophonist’s four festival appearances.

15 Cecile McLorin Salvant featuring the Aaron Diehl Trio: The newest signee to Mack Avenue Records, the 23-year-old Salvant is the real deal: A mesmerizing singer who won the Thelonious Monk competition in 2010 and whose plummy voice and exquisite command of time can evoke influences from Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith to Betty Carter without sounding like a copy. Label mate and pianist Aaron Diehl leads the trio.

7:45 A Tribute to the Music of Wayne Shorter: The Detroit Jazz Festival Orchestra performs newly commissioned arrangements of Shorter classics by Renee Rosnes, Ellen Rowe, Scott Gwinnell and others. Guest soloists include Jerry Bergonzi, Steve Wilson, Lew Tabackin, Rick Margitza, Sean Jones and Donny McCaslin. Followed by a festival-produced video about Shorter.

9:30 Wayne Shorter Quartet: The sage tenor and soprano saxophonist and hugely influential composer, who turned 79 last week, leads one of the preeminent groups in jazz. Shorter’s enigmatic compositions, full of poetic detail and harmonic-melodic mystery, provide the canvas for devious group improvisations in which the telepathy among the quartet — with pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade — reaches a rarified and breathtaking level of abstraction.

Mack Avenue Waterfront Stage
Noon MSBOA Showcase: Monroe High School and Warren Mott High School.

2:15 Geoffrey Keezer and Donny McCaslin: Keezer (piano) and McCaslin (tenor saxophone) are working with other groups at the festival, but they also have a history of performing duets.

3:45 George Benson and Rick Margitza Quintet: Benson, a veteran Detroit saxophonist in his early 80s, was a mentor to Margitza when he was a student. The two share a stage to highlight the apprenticeship ideal so critical to the jazz legacy.

5:15 Fred Hersch Trio: Hersch, an imposing pianist and composer with a deeply lyrical strain, reconciles a studied formalism with an intuitive go-for-broke approach to improvisation. His superb trio with bassist John Hebert and drummer Eric McPherson radiates those same values, creating music filled with still-aired beauty one moment and free flowing intensity the next. The group’s latest recording, “Alive at the Vanguard,” is due Sept. 11 on Palmetto.

7:30 Gene Parker and Rob Pipho: Part of the festival mentor/disciple series, Pipho, a vibraphonist, teams with his former teacher Parker, a multi-instrumentalist (saxophone, vibes and more).

9:15 Poncho Sanchez and his Latin Jazz Band with guest Terence Blanchard: A Latin jazz stalwart, Sanchez, a percussionist invites Blanchard’s trumpet into the mix.

Absopure Pyramid Stage
12:15 p.m. Bowling Green State University Vocal Jazz.

1:30 David Binney Quartet: An alto saxophonist, composer and foot soldier on the New York scene, Binney brings a deep book of original music, experience and stylistic sweep to his vision of contemporary jazz, rooted in the tradition but always looking for a way forward. The quartet’s keyboardist, Jacob Sacks, is a native of Monroe.

3:30 Ursula Walker and Buddy Budson Quintet: A Detroit wife-and-husband team makes a welcome return to the festival. Walker’s urbane phrasing blend with Budson’s sensitive accompaniment and invigorating solos.

5:15 Brian Lynch and Unsung Heroes: A dynamic post-bop trumpeter with a deep resume, Lynch qualifies as an unsung hero himself. His quintet’s book includes originals and compositions by overlooked trumpeters. With alto saxophonist Vincent Herring, tenor saxophonist Alex Hoffman, pianist Rob Schneiderman and others.

7 Charlie Gabriel’s Birthday Celebration featuring the Preservation Hall Jazz Band: We like to think of the great multi-reedman Charlie Gabriel, who turned 80 in July, as a Detroiter, since he moved here at 14. But he was born in New Orleans and in recent seasons has been touring with the Crescent City’s landmark Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

8:30 Alfredo Rodriguez Trio (presented by Quincy Jones): Rodriguez, a Cuban-born pianist in his mid-20s, has a prominent champion in Jones and a bright debut album, “Sounds of Space,” on Mack Avenue Records.

JP Morgan Chase Main Stage
1:30 p.m. Gerald Cleaver and Uncle June: Cleaver, a Detroit-born drummer, composer and mainstay on the progressive New York scene, likes big ideas. Uncle June’s superb 2011 recording “Be It As I See It” (Fresh Sound) took inspiration from the Great Migration of African Americans from south to north in the early 20th Century. The music was eclectic and limber, marrying composition and improvisation in intriguing ways and folding spoken word, grooves, electronics, group dialogue and more into the mix. The ensemble includes reedmen Andrew Bishop and Tony Malaby, bassist Drew Gress, violist Mat Maneri and others.

3:15 Walter White Small, Medium @ Large: White, a native who recently returned to Detroit, marries the strong chops of a lead trumpeter with the imagination of a born soloist. He’ll showcase his original compositions.

5 Pat Metheny Unity Band: It’s not clear why it has taken 33 ears for Metheny to play the festival, but the great guitarist finally made it. He’s got a new quartet and a fine new record out with the same name, “Unity Band” (Nonesuch), that brings together virtuoso saxophonist Chris Potter, drummer Antonio Sanchez and young bassist (and Michigan State graduate) Ben Williams. The chemistry is strong on the CD, but Metheny is better live, where his fluid, intuitive approach tends to galvanize those around him.

6:45 Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas Quintet: Sound Prints: A starry new band co-led by two of the more imaginative leaders in jazz, saxophonist Lovano and trumpeter Douglas, with peer Joey Baron on drums and younger colleagues Lawrence Fields on piano and Linda Oh on bass. Though the group is dedicated to the exploratory spirit of Wayne Shorter — who is being feted by the 2012 festival — the leaders’ creative original material takes precedence over a recapitulation of the Shorter songbook.

8:30 Marcus Belgrave’s Homecoming Band, featuring Curtis Fuller and Louis Hayes: Belgrave, the patriarch of the Detroit jazz scene and a peerless trumpeter and teacher, teams with two of the all-time greats to come out of Detroit in the ’50s — Fuller on trombone and Hayes on drums — to perform music by the iconic hard bop composer Horace Silver. The rest of the sextet consists of Belgrave protégés of varying vintage, including Detroit veterans Marion Hayden on bass and Vincent Bowens on tenor saxophone and young pianist Ian Finkelstein. Singer Harvey Thompson also will appear.


Carhartt Amphitheatre
Noon JC Heard All-Star Youth Ensemble with guests: The festival’s auditioned youth band named for the remarkable drummer who settled in Detroit for the last decades of his career.

1:30 Wayne State University Big Band with Joe Lovano and Judy Silvano: Led by festival artistic director Chris Collins, the Wayne State band welcomes the husband-and-wife pair of saxophonist Lovano and singer Silvano.

3:15 Kenny Garrett Quintet: The Detroit-born Garrett’s recently released “Seeds From the Underground” (Mack Avenue) is the alto saxophonist’s strongest recording in years, balancing post-Coltrane improvising of ferocious intensity with original compositions that pulsate with populist appeal. A lot of younger saxophonists now ape Garrett’s sound and approach, but the original is always best.

5 A Night in Treme (Musical Majesty of New Orleans) featuring Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Donald Harrison and Christian Scott: A tribute to the Crescent City with multiple generations of the city’s musical products.

6:45 A Tribute to Art Blakey: Musical director Terence Blanchard, featuring Curtis Fuller, Jean Toussaint, Geoffrey Keezer, Peter Washington, Lewis Nash: Festival artist-in-residence Blanchard directs this tribute to a drummer whose Jazz Messengers was a hard bop rite of passage for generations of young musicians from the 1950s until Blakey’s death in 1990. Most of the forces here played with Blakey in the ’80s, including trumpeter Blanchard, tenor saxophonist Toussaint, pianist Keezer and bassist Washington. The Detroit-born Fuller worked with him in the early ’60s. Nash holds down the hot seat at the drums.

Mack Avenue Waterfront Stage
12:15 p.m. Mike Karoub Trio: A local cellist rooted in early jazz and swing styles leads a trio.

1:45 Tia Fuller’s Angelic Warrior Album Release Party: Alto saxophonist Tia Fuller, an inventive modern mainstream player, celebrates the impending September release of her Mack Avenue CD “Angelic Warrior.”

3:30 The McKinney Zone: Drummer Gayelynn McKinney, a scion of Detroit’s first family of jazz, favors a broad eclecticism while also honoring the legacy of her family.

5 Lew Tabackin Quartet featuring Randy Brecker: Tabackin, a rabble-rousing veteran tenor saxophonist, teams with Brecker, a well-traveled trumpeter who always brings his A-game, with a quartet anchored by one of New York’s first call bass-and-drum teams of Peter Washington and Lewis Nash.

Absopure Pyramid Stage
Noon Detroit Jazz Guitar Ensemble: Detroit guitarist Steve Carryer leads an ensemble of five guitars plus rhythm section.

1:30 Scott Gwinnell Dectet: Stocked with some of Detroit’s strongest players, this 10-piece led by an indefatigable and inventive Detroit arranger, composer and band leader offers the tonal and textural possibilities of a big band with the flexibility of a small group.

3 Donny McCaslin Group: A muscular New York tenor saxophonist with technique to burn, McCaslin walks the acoustic-electric fault line with a quartet of like-minded peers, including keyboardist Jason Lindner, electric bassist Tim Lefebvre and drummer Mark Guiliana.

4:45 Jerry Gonzalez y el Comando de la Clave: Gonzalez, a trumpeter, pushes Latin jazz beyond bebop into more harmonically open and adventurous climes.

6:30 Schunk, Star, Dryden Band: One of Detroit’s secret weapons, pianist Gary Schunk leads this high energy electric trio with Schunk on synthesizers and keyboards, Jack Dryden on bass and Tom Starr on drums.

JP Morgan Chase Main Stage
12:15 p.m. MSBOA Showcase: Meridian High School and Northville High School.

:45 Donald Harrison Quintet: The fourth and final appearance at the festival for a vivacious saxophonist who can slip easily from the swinging modern-mainstream to funkier rhythms and gumbo fusions rooted in his native New Orleans.

3:30 Sacred Music of Duke Ellington, conducted by David Berger: Written mostly in the 1960s near the end of Ellington’s life, his unparalleled sacred music is deeply spiritual but also sensual, bluesy and celebratory as only Ellington can be. Berger, a noted Ellington scholar, leads the Detroit Jazz Festival Orchestra, a 100-voice choir and vocal soloists. The remarkable tap dancer Jared Grimes makes a cameo. The same army of forces gave a glorious performance of this music in February at Orchestra Hall.

The festival runs from August 31-September 3, 2012. For further information visit the festival’s website at


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