Detroit Jazz Festival Moves Forward 'Full Steam Ahead' for 2020

Herbie Hancock
Douglas Mason/Getty Images

Herbie Hancock performs during the Newport Jazz Festival 2019 at Fort Adams State Park on Aug. 2, 2019 in Newport, Rhode Island.

Things are proceeding "full steam ahead" for the 41st annual Detroit Jazz Festival despite the novel coronavirus pandemic that's forced the postponement and cancellation of so many other music events.

Herbie Hancock, Robert Glasper, Pharoah Sanders, Bob James, the Manhattan Transfer, Take 6 and artist-in-residence Dee Dee Bridgewater are among the big names that will play at the world's largest free (as in no-charge) jazz festival during Labor Day weekend, Sept. 4-7, in downtown Detroit. Bridgewater will perform each day including sets with the Woodshed Network Ladies and Bill Charlap. Bridgewater will also be part of Kurt Elling's "Big Blind," a narrative two-hour piece that will also feature Ben Vereen and others, and she'll close the festival leading an all-female big band.

Other DJF highlights include: Keyon Harrold presents Jazz and the Birth of Hip-Hop with Elzi, Georgia Anne Muldrow and Chris "Daddy" Dave on Sept. 5; A Dave Brubeck 100th Anniversary Tribute with the Brubeck Brothers, Jerry Bergonzi and the Detroit Jazz Festival Orchestra and Choir, Sept. 6; Fly Higher: Charlie Parker @ 100 with Rudresh Manhathappa and Terri Lynne Carrington, Sept. 6; a pairing of Eddie Daniels and Bob James, "Exploring New Worlds," Sept. 7; and two performances by Abdullah Ibrahim with the Detroit Jazz Festival Orchestra on Sept. 6 and with Ekaya on Sept. 7.

"We ARE a jazz festival; Everything falls from the jazz tree, from the jazz perspective," DJF president and artistic director Chris Collins told Billboard in making the announcement, online rather than at its usual luncheon rollout. A performance by Bridgewater scheduled for Monday night was also canceled. "Everything is very much based on the history and language of jazz and the community sensibilities of sophisticated improvisation.

"But it's also about evolution, which is a tenant of jazz music itself. It's an ever evolving, living, breathing art form. Every year we try to reflect that in the programming."

Collins added that DJF organizers are "keeping a very close eye on and reacting to" developments in the pandemic but feel the best course of action is to proceed on pace. No artists, he said, have canceled their appearances, and he raised the possibility that the DJF may add performers who lost gigs at European and North American festivals that have been affected by the pandemic.

"I'm looking forward to this as a shining light at the end of the summer and a challenging time, and one where we all gather around together to celebrate the beauty of the music, the city, the artistry. I think joyous information needs to get out there -- especially after some challenging information."

In addition to the DJF lineup, Collins added that the Detroit Jazz Festival Live app will begin webcasting performances starting this week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, at least this week and possibly beyond. Check here for more info.

The full announced DJF lineup includes:

Friday, Sept. 4

2020 Artist-in-Residence Dee Dee Bridgewater and the Woodshed Network Ladies
Herbie Hancock

Saturday, Sept. 5

Matthew Whitaker Quartet
Kenny Barron Trio
Alicia Olatuja – “Intuition: Songs From The Minds of Women”
Etienne Charles – Creole Soul
David Binney Angeleno Quartet
Keyon Harrold presents Jazz and the Birth of Hip Hop with special guests “Elzi”, Georgia Anne Muldrow and Chris “Daddy” Dave
Pharoah Sanders: Icon
The Summit: The Manhattan Transfer Meets Take 6
Kurt Elling’s Big Blind; featuring Kurt Elling, 2020 Artist-in-Residence Dee Dee Bridgewater, Broadway Legend Ben Vereen and others

Sunday, Sept. 6

Michael Mayo Quartet
Roberto Fonseca (100%) – YESUN (70%)
Alfredo Rodriguez & Richard Bona Sextet
2020 Artist-in-Residence Dee Dee Bridgewater and Bill Charlap
Abdullah Ibrahim and the Detroit Jazz Festival Orchestra
Anat Cohen Tentet/Musical Director, Oded Lev-Ari
Sean Jones: “Dizzy Spellz”
The Dave Brubeck 100th Anniversary Tribute; featuring the Brubeck Brothers, Jerry Bergonzi, the Detroit Jazz Festival Orchestra and Choir, and others
Fly Higher: Charlie Parker@100 Co Music directors: Rudresh Mahanthappa & Terri Lyne Carrington
Gregory Porter

Monday, Sept. 7

Abdullah Ibrahim & Ekaya
Joey Alexander Trio
Jimmy Greene Quintet
Eddie Daniels and Bob James; Exploring New Worlds
Omar Sosa & Marialy Pacheco Piano Duo
Robert Glasper
2020 Artist-in-Residence Dee Dee Bridgewater and her all-female big band