Detroit Jazz Festival Day 2 Highlights: Roy Hargrove, Freddy Cole & More

Freddy Cole photographed on Sept. 4, 2016 at Detroit Jazz Festival.
Tony Graves

Freddy Cole photographed on Sept. 4, 2016 at Detroit Jazz Festival.

“Lots of people think Detroit is de-stroyed! What do you guys think about that?” quipped pianist (and Motor City native) Kirk Lightsey, who led the Homecoming Band through a swinging set on the second day of the Detroit Jazz Festival (Sept. 4). The audience’s scoffing reply was supported by the fest’s massive turnout and high-energy sets, offering lesser-known names (like Lightsey) the chance to get the ovations they’ve long deserved. Even a few very vocal proselytizers couldn’t dampen the mood -- the revivals happening onstage were more than enough to sate any weary traveler. 

Below, find some of the highlights of Day 2 (omitting only the fried Oreos).

2:45 p.m. After running through a raucous original, Ron Carter National Jazz Bass Competition winner Cole Davis -- a student at the Manhattan School of Music -- offered a reverent rendition of “Darn That Dream” with enough lyricism to dissuade anyone who might be tempted to complain about “kids these days.”

3:31 p.m. His hands on his hips, Kirk Lightsey surveyed the crowd: “It's been a long time since I've been through here - and this is my hometown! Wooooeeee…” The pianist, who’s performed with everyone from Chet Baker to Dexter Gordon, has lived in Paris since 2000. Joined by the Homecoming Band -- Robert Hurst and Louis Hayes, who still plays with the same enviable precision that earned him a spot in Cannonball Adderley and Horace Silver’s bands -- Lightsey ran through hard bop tunes with urgency that belied his and Hayes’s age: 79.

4:24 p.m. Cyrille Aimee, a French singer who’s helping reinvigorate the often-tradition-driven vocal jazz scene (she taught the audience how looping machines work during her set), performed a mix of covers and originals, including a reggae-inflected (!) tune called “Nuit Blanche.” “In French, a ‘white night’ is when you’re out all night because you’re having too much fun,” she told the crowd. “I wrote this song about a white night that I...pulled.” As Aimee took an extended solo that slowly grew from humming to belting, the performance became as memorable as that night must have been.

6:30 p.m. Roy Hargrove brought both the noise and the funk for his second set of the festival, as his band The RH Factor took the mainstage Sunday evening. Sporting a Basquiat t-shirt and Nike Dunks with an iridescent logo (a change in tone from the grey suit he wore the night before), Hargrove led his band through a party-starting set driven by grooves so deep it was actually hard to clap offbeat.

8:39 p.m. Anyone who believes bebop is dead probably just hasn’t seen a Herlin Riley set. The New Orleans native proves that 90% of the drummers described as “explosive” are simply victims of their publicists’ enthusiasm (and critics’ cliches). His energy had the crowd rapt, completely earning every classic drummer description: burnin’, driving, and yes, explosive. 

9:44 p.m. Freddy Cole summoned the spirit of his older brother Nat King Cole (and niece Natalie) with sweet performances of “It’s Only A Paper Moon” and “Unforgettable,” backed by a full orchestra -- but the set’s highlight was when he sat down at the piano for a hilarious tune called “The Best Man,” delivering its punchline with well-practiced restraint: “They say the best man always wins/Yes, I was the best man...when she married my best friend.” 

12:01 p.m. A jam session in the Renaissance Center ballroom capped off the evening, as the Harold Lopez-Nussa trio played Joe Henderson’s classic “Recorda-me,” inspiring a few local upstarts to take the stage -- and bring down the house.

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