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

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.