“What I realized this weekend is that jazz is musician’s music,” said Rodney, a security guard at the Detroit Jazz Festival (and recent jazz convert), on Monday (Sept. 5) as the festival drew to a close. “That means it’s not about race — it’s totally multicultural! Everyone’s together.” As the festival saw its final performances, including both local legends and national acts on the front edge of the genre’s evolution, thousands of people from across the city gathered on closed-off streets — for free — to bear out that observation.
Below are a few highlights from the festival’s last day.
12:50 p.m. Though it wasn’t a Sunday, the crowd still gathered for a rousing performance by the Motown Legends Gospel Choir, who’ve earned their name as alumni of groups like The Contours and The Original Vandellas. In keeping with the festival’s theme, the all-star group performed a version of “This Little Light Of Mine” arranged by none other than saxophone giant Joshua Redman.
1:26 p.m. A drum circle (sans percussion) including Nasheet Waits, Louis Hayes, and more, gathered to talk about the instrument’s future in jazz — but the topics of conversation quickly became more universal.”It’s amazing,” said Hayes, who made his name in the bands of Horace Silver and Cannonball Adderley during their ’50s and ’60s heydays. “We came from a certain place in life, and then made *history* with these instruments. This is the hippest stuff that ever happened in the world.” One reason he thinks artists today might have a tougher time? Not enough places to play.
2:02 p.m. Harold Lopez-Nussa, a Cuban pianist whose next album, El Viaje, is due this Friday (Sept. 9) on Mack Avenue Records (one of the festival’s presenting sponsors), delighted the crowd with a four-hands piano performance alongside his brother Ruy Adrián López-Nussa (who plays drums in his trio). Even on keys, though, percussion was never far away — below the piano sat a kick drum pedal attached to jam block.
3:32 p.m. “Music is a gorgeous bitch,” said singer Charenee Wade over the improvisations of The Mosaic Project, an ensemble led by drummer Terri Lyne Carrington dedicated to the promotion of female jazz musicians. Wade was reciting an apt poem by none other than Duke Ellington — but the performance was hardly just an exercise in reverence for the classics. Fresh, modern (but of course, jazzy) versions of The Beatles’ “Michelle” and Al Green’s “Simply Beautiful” gave the set a pop flair.
4:08 p.m. Even John Scofield, Brad Mehldau and Mark Guiliana — as pedigreed a jazz trio as you’ll find in 2016 — lightened up to suit the festival’s sunny mood, playing a reggae-inflected, vibe-heavy tune called “Shuffle 7.”
4:45 p.m. Jason Moran brought an extended version of Thelonious Monk’s “Friday The 13th” to his set, throwing the audience for a bit of a loop when he introduced some electronic elements. The breakdown, though, turned the performance groovy and made it even better suited to the home of techno. Naturally, by its conclusion, it had returned to a burnin’, traditional swing.