Detroit Jazz Festival overflows with big names, inventive programs

Susan Whitall
Detroit News Music Writer

Just in time for a long, lazy weekend before the bustle of fall, the Detroit Jazz Festival is gearing up for its 35th year of providing free, world class music in five venues from the Detroit riverfront to Campus Martius, Friday-Monday.

“We’re good to go,” promises artistic director Chris Collins. “We’re feeling really confident that not only structurally is it together, but artistically, it’s a very different and unique festival.”

He’s looking forward to not only the scheduled performances, but the “spontaneous interaction” that is at the heart of jazz culture.

“I’ve always tried to be a viable commercial musician,” Collins adds. “But the real joy here is our primary sponsors. Particularly Gretchen Valade has given me the leash and the creative license to program a festival with the same level of creativity. That’s why I tell the musicians we book to think of Detroit as an opportunity to do something new, maybe that project you always wanted to do. There’s a venue for that now.”

The festival has the same footprint as last year, four stages plus the Jazz Talk Tent. “The biggest addition is, I’ve exploded the jam session element,” Collins says.

The post-festival jam sessions at the Marriott hotel’s Volt Lounge are part of the spontaneous interaction he’s talking about, “the biggest hang in Detroit,” with national acts and locals jamming from 10:30 on. Last year, so many jazz lovers crowded in, there wasn’t room. “We got a little over-populated,” Collins says. “We’re spreading it out on Sunday with a Nicholas Payton event down the hall.”

That Sunday night gig at 42 Degrees North at the Marriott features the Nicholas Payton Trio with Bill Stewart. “They’re playing (Miles Davis’) ‘Sketches of Spain’ Saturday at the festival; this is a way to see the trio up close and personal.”

Note: The $100 daily Jazz Pass that allows you to have VIP seating all day is necessary to get into the special Payton Trio set at 42 Degrees North. The club seats 110.

The Volt Lounge jam session schedule includes a Friday night “RAPA House Revisited” Detroit jam that pays homage to saxophonist Ernie Rodgers. On Saturday and Sunday, there will be a different house band during the jams, featuring “all the main cats, Sean Jones, Joey DeFrancesco, Joey Lynch — the local cats, young and old, will sit in with the national guys,” Collins says.

Go to for the entire festival grid, but here are some picks:


2014 DJF Artist in Residence: Joshua Redman, “The Bad Plus Joshua Redman.” 7-8:15 p.m. JP Morgan Chase Main Stage. Redman returns to the same stage at 3:15 p.m. Sunday with his Quartet, and at 4:15 p.m. Monday, he’ll be at the Carhartt Amphitheater Stage to perform the civil rights work “Jazz for Life,” joined by the Wayne State University Big Band and the Motown Legends Choir.

A Night at the Apollo with Ted Louis Levy, Kevin Mahogany, Margot B, the Wonder Twins and David Berger's NYC Big Band. Chris Collins: “If you can imagine going to the Apollo Theater in 1930, with an emcee who can tap dance and sing, Nicholas Brothers-style dancing, a killer Duke Ellington style big band out of New York, this is it. This is jazz of the highest level, but will also remind people that jazz is about dance, not just ‘the dark side.’ ” 8:45-10 p.m. Friday. JP Morgan Chase Main Stage.


Pharoah Sanders Quartet. Jazzfest-goers have been able to see legends such as Dave Brubeck and Sonny Rollins perform in recent years. This year, Pharoah Sanders is that kind of must-see. 6-7:15 p.m., Carhartt Amphitheater Stage.

Nicholas Payton: Sketches of Miles & Gil with Vicente Archer, Bill Stewart and conductor Norah Duncan IV. Payton’s homage to Davis’ “Sketches of Spain” is “reminiscent of Miles, but with a new twist,” Chris Collins says. Members of the DSO comprise much of the orchestra. 9:30-10:45 p.m. Carhartt Amphitheater Stage.

“To Miles, From Wayne” — Wallace Roney with Orchestra, featuring Wayne Shorter's “Universe,” “Legend,” and other rarely heard large jazz works. The music was written when Shorter was young, as a gift to Miles. 9:30-10:45 p.m. Saturday, Carhartt Amphitheater Stage.

The Detroit Jazz Festival All-Stars Celebrate the Musical Inventions of Detroit legend Sonny Red and Jazz Legend Horace Silver. Led by the DJF’s Artistic Director Chris Collins, the 2014 All-Stars are: Dwight Adams-trumpet, Gary Schunk-piano, Ralphe Armstrong-bass, Nate Winn-drums and Ursula Walker-vocals. Absopure Pyramid Stage.

Christian McBride Trio. McBride’s Trio has a swinging, bluesy sound that will please his Detroit fanbase. 8:45 p.m., Absopure Pyramid Stage.


Joey DeFrancesco Quartet with George Fludas, Jeff Parker and Ralphe Armstrong. 7:30-8:45 p.m. Mack Avenue Waterfront Stage. There is a lot of great organ quartet music this weekend; DeFrancesco’s rhythmic style is a treat.

Louis Armstrong's Musical Legacy featuring Marcus Belgrave, Nicholas Payton and Wendell Brunious. 3:45-5 p.m. Mack Avenue Waterfront Stage. A Detroit icon and his peers pay homage to the ultimate jazz trumpeter.

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band. DDBB bring an element of New Orleans, with their funk and bebop-infused jazz. 5-6:15 p.m., JP Morgan Chase Main Stage.

Regina Carter’s Southern Comfort. The Detroiter’s “Southern Comfort” project brings elements of folk, blues and country into her worldly style, in homage to her Alabama-born grandfather. 6:45-8 p.m. JP Morgan Chase Main Stage.

Straighten Up and Fly Right -- The Nat King Cole Tribute featuring Ramsey Lewis and John Pizzarrelli. 8:30-9:45 p.m. JP Morgan Chase Main Stage


Homecoming Big Band: Jimmy Wilkins Conducts the Music of Ernie Wilkins featuring the DJFO and Detroit Homecoming, wrapping up their “Coming Home” series. Guests: Barry Harris, Regina Carter and Tim Ries. 1:45-3 p.m. JP Morgan Chase Main Stage.

Diane Schuur — a Tribute to Frank Sinatra and Stan Getz. Chris Collins: “I’ve always loved the energy and the swinging quality of Diane Schuur — most know her big band stuff, but she’s coming back on the scene with a rebirth artistically.” Allan Broadbent conducts a string orchestra. 3:30 p.m. JP Morgan Chase Main Stage.

Bill Evans Soulgrass. The saxophonist brings his unique fusion of jazz and bluegrass music to the festival. 4:15-5:30 p.m. Mack Avenue Waterfront Stage.

Stanley Clarke. The bassist pays tribute to his 1975 jazz fusion classic, the “School Days” album. 5:15-6:30 p.m. JP Morgan Chase Main Stage.

John Pizzarelli Quartet with special guest Bucky Pizzarelli. Guitarist/vocalist John Pizzarelli will be joined by his father, the legendary guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, who played on so many classic Frank Sinatra recordings. 6:15-7:30 p.m. Absopure Pyramid Stage