Last weekend’s Detroit Jazz Festival, which had a most promising lineup, was not disappointing. It is no small task to find festivals with artists like David Murray, Macy Gray, McCoy Tyner, Savion Glover, Charles Lloyd, Joshua Redman, Geri Allen and Danilo Perez. And every show is free — yes, free. Detroit combines high quality with limitless access.
This week, The New York Times reminded us that Detroit is officially bankrupt (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/03/us/dreams-but-little-consensus-for-a-new-detroit.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0), but every year, the city is most vibrant during Labor Day weekend. The festival is free in part thanks to Detroiter Gretchen Valade, who has decided to spend some of her Carhartt fortune on music (http://bridgemi.com/2012/08/savior-of-jazz-festival-sees-better-times-for-detroit/).
The Detroit Jazz Festival celebrated its 34th edition this year and young female singer Cecile McLorin Salvant again gave a lovely performance on the Carhartt Amphitheatre Stage. But this time she did not perform with Aaron Diehl; she sang with the David Berger Jazz Orchestra.
McLorin Salvant already has style and class. She knows her tunes, and she tells a different story every time she starts singing a new tune. To New Yorker David Berger, who conducted his own orchestra on Saturday night, Salvant is better than Ella Fitzgerald. “She is probably the best singer I have ever worked with, in 50 years,” he said during an interview at the end of the festival. “A bunch of us after the rehearsal said , ‘I think she’s the best thing I have ever worked with.’ She tells a story. She’s so expressive. The next note she’s very sassy.”
In “The Return of the Storytellers,” (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324577904578559241125703464.html), Wall Street Journal jazz writer Will Friedwald writes : “Ms. Salvant uses her upper register to convey optimism and drops down to an exaggerated basso profundo to sing the blues. There’s something of Betty Carter in the tone of her voice, and of Nina Simone in her folk-song interpretations (like her version of “John Henry”), but Ms. Salvant actually has better intonation and a prettier voice than both.”
In fact, the most frustrating aspect of the Detroit Jazz Festival is that one has to make painful choices among equally talented artists performing on four different stages: the J.P. Morgan Chase Main stage, the Absopure Pyramid Stage, the Carhartt Amphitheater Stage and The Mack Avenue Waterfront stage.
Lee Konitz performed on Monday afternoon, with Dan Tepfer on piano, Matt Wilson on drums, and Ray Drummond on bass on the Pyramid Stage. Pianist Johnny O’ Neal also played on that stage, the day before, and gave a fun blues performance, singing and playing the piano at the same time. The crowd was delighted.
Ahmad Jamal performed on the Carhartt Stage on Sunday night, where arranger David Berger conducted the Detroit Jazz Festival Orchestra, featuring the music of Duke Ellington, with guest soloists Alice Tillman, Shahida Nurullah and James Carter. The Carhartt Stage is also the stage where the Wayner Shorter Quartet performed last year.
Freddy Cole performed on the Mack Avenue Waterfront stage on Sunday afternoon. He was followed, later during that day, by Trio de Paz and Friends.
How is it possible to choose between Sheila Jordan and Romero Lubambo (who played with Trio de Paz and Friends)? Between James Carter and Freddy Cole? Between Gregory Porter and Benny Green?
Panamenian pianist Danilo Perez was the artist in residence for this year’s festival. Allen, a Detroit native, also performed on numerous occasions, and she gave one of her most outstanding performances with Detroiters Kareem Wiggins, JD Allen (on the tenor saxophone), Robert Hurst (bass), Sheila Jordan, Dave McMurray (tenor saxophone) and George Bohanon (trombone). The set had a powerful energy; it was extremely rhythmical and at the same time melodic — something very organic overall. And Allen, too, has a most beautiful sound — very swingy. The band played a tribute to late Cedar Walton by playing “Cedar’s Blues,” introduced by George Bohanon. It was a moving moment.
Ahmad Jamal, who played a lot in Detroit in the 1950s and ’60s, was given a warm welcome by the Detroiters, who really responded to his music. At times Ahmad Jamal gets up (during his show) and plays standing.
The pianist played tunes such as “Poincillana” and “Blue Moon.” He has lost nothing of his class, panache, talent and musical intelligence. Jamal also played “Saturday morning,” the title tune of his new album. He is having fun with the melodies: he not only plays the tunes but also plays with their melodic lines. He directs his musicians (Herlin Riley on bass, Reginald Veal on drums and Manolo Badrena on percussion) by pointing a finger at them. There is a real architecture in his melodic turns (his music is extremely structured), and at the same time he is definitely the king of improvisation.
Thank you, Gretchen Valade, for your generous contributions to jazz, and for allowing the festival to keep existing, and offering some of the most impressive performances in the history of jazz.