High note: Our picks for Detroit Jazz Festival

Susan Whitall
The Detroit News

The bittersweet appeal of Labor Day weekend is that it marks the end of summer, and yet there’s still beautiful weather and a wealth of music on offer, much of it downtown at the 36th Annual Detroit Jazz Festival.

Locals can stay home, beat the holiday traffic jams and mingle with out-of-towners to hear world class jazz Friday through Monday, for free, amidst the beauty of downtown Detroit’s pre- and post-Depression skyscrapers. The music starts Friday afternoon and goes all day and into the night Saturday-Monday on four stages located from the Detroit riverfront to Campus Martius.

If there’s a lovelier place to be in early September than the Absopure Waterfront Stage, with river breezes wafting over the audience, we don’t know about it.

There’s so much good music at hand, you wouldn’t do badly if you just wandered aimlessly from stage to stage, but here are a few highlights to add focus to your day. For a complete schedule go to detroitjazzfest.com.


7 p.m. “Benny’s Threads.” JP Morgan Chase Main Stage. Inspired by big band legend Benny Goodman, this festival-opening set features original compositions by Gordon Goodwin, who is accompanied by his Big Phat Band and features clarinet soloists Anat Cohen, Eddie Daniels, Paquito D’Rivera and Ken Peplowski, with special guests Barry Harris and the Wonder Twins. There will also be a small group element in the middle featuring Gayelynn McKinney and others. According to jazz festival artistic director Chris Collins, “On Benny’s deathbed he was asked who would carry the torch after he died. He said Eddie Daniels and Ken Peplowski.”

9 p.m. Pat Metheny Trio with Antonio Sanchez, Scott Colley and special guest Kenny Garrett. JP Morgan Chase Main Stage. Metheny’s debut appearance should set the tone for his stint as artist-in-residence. He’s playing with his trio; a nod to his host city is that Detroiter Garrett will sit in.

11 p.m.-1 a.m. Marcus Belgrave Celebration Jam Session. Mackinac Ballroom, fifth floor of the Detroit Marriott. Belgrave, who died in May, was beloved as a mentor and teacher as well as an esteemed trumpeter, and his legacy will be celebrated by many of those he mentored with the weekend’s first after-hours jam session, in the Mackinac Ballroom. Among those taking part will be Detroit saxophonist James Carter, Belgrave’s saxophonist son Kasan, trumpeter Dwight Adams, trumpeter Rayse Biggs and others. They and other guest artists will join the Detroit House Trio: bassist Robert Hurst, percussionist Gayelynn McKinney and pianist Michael Malis.

“I’m sure there will be plenty of other surprises,” Collins said, of the celebration jam. “It’s a social moment, for all of us to get together as a Detroit jazz family.”


1:15 p.m. Steve Carryer & Friends featuring the Detroit Guitar Ensemble. Carhartt Amphitheater Stage. This combo consists of five guitars and a rhythm section with Buddy Budson on piano, in a set of original tunes by Wayne State guitar instructor Carryer.

2:30 p.m. Bright Moments: Discussion of Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Jazz Talk Tent. A talk featuring Dorthaan Kirk, Steve Turre, James Carter and Betty Neals, moderated by Kim Heron.

5:45 p.m. Rudresh Mahanthappa “Bird Calls.” Absopure Waterfront Stage. Alto saxophonist Mahanthappa pays tribute to bebop’s Charlie “Bird” Parker, while retaining the essence of his own sound, a synthesis of Indian music with jazz.

6 p.m. James “Blood” Ulmer & the Black Music Experience featuring Queen Esther. Carhartt Amphitheater Stage. The master of “harmolodic funk,” having apprenticed with Ornette Coleman, guitarist Ulmer lived in Detroit for several years during the musically fertile ’60s.

6:45 p.m. Trombonist Steve Turre and Detroit saxophonist James Carter pay tribute to multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk in a special birthday celebration. JP Morgan Chase Main Stage.

Saxophonist James Carter performs at the Jazz Tent and JP Chase Morgan Stage.

9:30 p.m. The Maria Schneider Orchestra. Carhartt Amphitheater Stage. There are more than a few notable women on the schedule this year, and bandleader Schneider and her orchestra is one act fans won’t want to miss. Her new album, “The Thompson Fields,” inspired by the farmlands of her native Minnesota, has drawn raves.

11 p.m.-1 a.m. Jam sessions. Volt Lounge, Detroit Marriott. The Jon Irabagon Quartet is the house band at 11 p.m., while Donny McClaslin and some of the players from the Maria Schneider Orchestra will perform at 12:15 a.m.


1:15 p.m. Discussion: “Dizzy and Me.” Jazz Talk Tent. Detroit jazz producer/record company impresario Dave Usher will unspool many of his great stories, including his work with Dizzy Gillespie in the early ’50s, including running Dizzy’s Detroit-based record label DG. Moderated by jazz historian Bob Porter.

5 p.m. Panamanian pianist/composer Danilo Perez performs the world premiere of his commissioned “Detroit World Suite.” Carhartt Amphitheater Stage. The former Detroit Jazz Festival artist-in-residence will be accompanied by an ensemble made up of Detroit and Panamanian student musicians. Perez’s father, Danilo Perez Sr., a vocalist of renown in his home country, will also appear.

6:45 p.m. Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra featuring Carla Bley and Steve Swallow. JP Morgan Chase Main Stage. Conducted by Haden orchestra alum Bley (who also plays piano), with special guest, bassist Swallow.

7 p.m. Eddie Daniels’ jazz version of Vivaldi's “Four Seasons.” Carhartt Amphitheater Stage. Performed by a full orchestra, including Alan Broadbent on piano, Sean Dobbins on drums and bassist Ralphe Armstrong, the work has an “urban, Detroit approach that serves as a powerful message about the rebirth of our great city,” Collins says. Douglas Preston wrote several sonnets that precede each movement; narrating those will be Stephen Henderson and Shahida Nurullah.

11 p.m.-1 a.m. Jam Sessions at the Volt Lounge, Detroit Marriott. 11 p.m. New Orleans’ Tuba Skinny is the house band; 12:15 a.m., the Mack Avenue All-Stars featuring the Aaron Diehl Trio with Stanley Jordan.

The JP Morgan Chase Stage is one of several venues for this year’s Detroit Jazz Festival. Here’s the Northville Jazz Band, seen last year.


1:30 p.m. DJF All-Star J.C. Heard JazzWeek@Wayne Youth Ensemble. Carhartt Amphitheater Stage. The talented teenaged members of this year’s jazz camp at Wayne State will perform with alumni of the program. Watching them will be Detroit area elementary and middle school children on a special backstage tour. “Members of the Tuba Skinny band will meet the kids and talk about New Orleans. We’ll have some food for them, and then they’ll watch the Detroit Jazz Festival’s Youth Ensemble,” said Collins.

3 p.m. “Before Motown: The Detroit Jazz Scene, 1920-1960.” Jazz Talk Tent. Authors (and Jazz Tent organizers) Lars Bjorn and Jim Gallert give an overview of the Detroit’s jazz movers and shakers, inspired by their excellent book of the same name, published by Wayne State Press.

4:15 p.m. Tuba Skinny. Absopure Waterfront Stage. Tuba Skinny are a group of youngish New Orleanians, many of whom started out as street musicians in the Big Easy, and they are devoted to the musical heritage of their city. Their name is an homage to Tuba Fats, the late tuba player for the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.

5 p.m. Ron Carter Trio. Carhartt Amphitheater Stage. A member of Miles Davis’ quintet from 1963 to 1968, along with Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams and Wayne Shorter, Carter is one of Detroit’s classic bassists an incredibly harmonic player. Rounding out his Trio are Russell Malone on guitar and Donald Vega on piano.

6:45 p.m. The North American premiere of artist-in-residence Pat Metheny’s “Hommage” written for composer/bassist Eberhard Weber. Carhartt Amphitheater Stage. The first part of the set will be a performance of Alan Broadbent-written arrangements of some classic Metheny tunes, with a string orchestra. “The second half is the Detroit Jazz Festival Orchestra big band style doing the Hommage,” said Collins. “Pat created moments and grooves, threaded it together in this 35, 45- minute video, and orchestrated the piece to that. The video is central and Eberhard’s playing is central to the performance. It’s a really elegant use of technology.”