The Big Easy pays a three-day visit to Detroit
More than 1,000 miles separate Detroit and New Orleans, but the two towns are close in spirit.
The Detroit Symphony Orchestra will explore the cities' kinship in a three-day event June 2-4 at The Max called "A Musical Tale of Two Cities: Motown Meets the Big Easy." It kicks off with a Bourbon Street Party featuring Big Sam's Funky Nation and continues with a master class and performances by youth groups from the Motor City and the Crescent City.
Then comes a free screening (with reserved tickets) of Spike Lee's 2006 HBO film about the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, "When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts," complete with a panel discussion.
On the last night is a performance by members of the DSO and trumpeter/composer Terence Blanchard's quintet of "A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina)," music that Blanchard wrote for Lee's film. But he and his quintet added additional music to the score to create a 13-part performance piece, which was released on CD in 2007.
After that concert, an outdoor jam session with the DSO's Civic Jazz Ensemble and the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts Quintet will serve as a celebratory nightcap to the three-day affair.
Both Detroit and New Orleans were settled by the French, but another thread that ties the towns together is a rich jazz tradition. New Orleans is the cradle of jazz, but Detroit has produced some stellar jazz musicians, too, including Tommy Flanagan, Ron Carter, Yusef Lateef, Milt Jackson and Kenny Burrell — to name just some. Among jazz cognoscenti, Detroit is famous for its contribution to the genre, Blanchard, a Big Easy native, says.
"Jazz musicians think of Detroit as a jazz city, for sure," he says from New Orleans. "There are Detroit musicians whose names are synonymous with the development and evolution of jazz, just like New Orleans. It's one thing they have in common.
"Another interesting thing is that one of the guys who taught me when I was kid was a musician from Detroit named Willie Metcalf. He used to host a summer jazz camp on the weekends."
And to continue this cozy tale of two cities, Leonard Slatkin, who will conduct "A Tale of God's Will," has a New Orleans connection. From 1977-80, he was the music adviser of the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra, which morphed into the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra.
Their Detroit concert will be the first time Slatkin and Blanchard will meet and make music together.
"I've known of him for many years and admired him, but this is our first chance to work together," Blanchard says.
Residents of Detroit and New Orleans share another trait: Resilience. Detroiters endured economic devastation and bankruptcy, while those from New Orleans suffered through the wrath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But neither city threw in the towel.
A decade after Katrina, Blanchard recognizes the rugged courage of his city's people.
"Strength, resilience, a willingness not to give up, a passion to get back to the norm: that's what I see in the citizens of New Orleans," he says.
"The city could have fallen apart, but nobody here believed that was going to happen. It wasn't an option."
But 10 years ago it was a much grimmer picture. Lee's film includes a segment where Blanchard and his heartbroken mother return to her ravaged home after Katrina.
Blanchard's score for "A Tale of God's Will" contains, he says, "the full range of emotions — sadness, anger, fear, longing."
But he adds another word that defines both cities.
"There's hope, too," Blanchard says.
'A Musical Tale of Two Cities: Motown Meets the Big Easy'
8 p.m. June 4: Performance of "A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina)" with the Terence Blanchard Quintet and members of the DSO. Tickets: $18-$99.
Orchestra Hall inside The Max
3711 Woodward, Detroit
For a full schedule of events, go to dso.org/motownbigeasy