Live and in person: Detroit Jazz Festival returns Labor Day weekend

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

What's the best way to hear the nuances and spontaneity of jazz? Live and in person, says Chris Collins, director of the beloved Detroit Jazz Festival, the world's largest free jazz festival.

And two years after COVID hit, that'll finally be an option this year as the popular festival returns in its regular format Labor Day weekend with four stages across the city for audiences to spread out at and enjoy dozens of acts. Three stages are at Hart Plaza and one is at Campus Martius.

There's nothing like being "there for that spontaneous moment that comes and goes in the air," said Collins.

Still, Collins and the rest of his team aren't abandoning what they've learned presenting the festival virtually over the last two years either. They had almost 2.5 million viewers from 32 countries last year alone.

Renowned jazz singer Dianne Reeves, a Detroit native, is one of this year's featured acts at the Detroit Jazz Festival.

That's why they'll have the in-person festival but they'll also livestream all four stages on its website.

"We're doing that at no cost and anyone from around the world can be part of it," Collins  said. "Between online and live and in person, anyone there will be part of one of the largest jazz listening audiences for a single event. It's going to be pretty huge. We're pretty excited about it."

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The popular free festival, presented by Rocket Mortgage, kicks off Friday in downtown Detroit and runs through Monday with more than three dozen performers, including some of the biggest names in jazz. Grammy-winner Cécile McLorin Salvant is scheduled to perform, along with the Soul Rebels, Detroit native Dianne Reeves, guitarist Julian Lage, and the Ulysses Owens Jr. Big Band.

This year's Artist-in-Residence, Chucho Valdés, the renowned Grammy-winning Cuban pianist, band leader and composer, also will perform throughout the weekend. Collins calls Valdés the "godfather" of Cuban jazz music. He's slated to open the festival with a large ensemble piece called "Creation." He'll also be part of a series of duet performances Sunday.

Cuban pianist, composer, and bandleader Chucho Valdés is the Artist-in-Residence at the 2022 Detroit Jazz Festival in September.

Valdés is "one of a kind," said Collins.

This year's youngest performer is rising jazz singer Anissa Lea, 17, of Livonia. Lea, who will perform at 4:30 p.m. Saturday on the Absopure Waterfront Stage, said it's an honor to be able to perform among such talented musicians.

"I've worked hard in my pursuit of being a jazz artist, and to be part of the Detroit Jazz Festival leaves me almost speechless," she said. "As I look at the lineup of performers and my name is on there with such talented musicians, there are no words to describe the emotion and excitement. Sometimes I think I need to pinch myself."

Lea said she said never set out to be a jazz singer but it drew her in with its tone, style and showmanship of talented musicians.

"I believe music should speak to you in a form that touches your soul and draws you in," she said. "In my quest of singing different genres of music, jazz was so powerful to me — it's where my love for music began."

Collins says Lea "has a real gift" and believes patrons will get swept up with her sound.

"She has got the voice and sensitivity, and wisdom, of someone three times her age," he said.

Other featured performers this year come from all over the world, including Nubya Garcia, an English musician, and drummer Antonio Sanchez.

This year's festival lineup "is a real combination of new things by known artists, some of the great legacy and legendary artists, along with these new perspectives from around the world that really is the future of this music," Collin said. "We really wanted to embrace it all and give people of all ages, whole families, something to enjoy, talk about and share with one another."

Detroit Jazz Festival

Friday through Monday on four stages across Detroit; also livestreamed at