The 33rd Annual
Detroit Jazz Festival
August 31 – September 3, 2012
“A True Jazz Festival”
Story and Photos by Robert Putignano
Labor Day Weekend with near-perfect weather for four solid days helped with setting attendance figures, but when the promoter’s book top-named artists, what else could you expect? Names like the truly legendary Sonny Rollins, who at age eighty-two still roars and soars with a powerhouse band that includes longtime bassist Bob Cranshaw, who is no youngster himself. Other outstanding artists that graced the four stages included Chick Corea, who reunited with vibe player Gary Burton with the Harlem String Quartet mesmerized. Plus, Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Wynton Marsalis, Wayne Shorter, Joe Lovano with Dave Douglas, Terence Blanchard, Pat Metheny, the Godfathers of Groove (Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, Reuben Wilson, Grant Green Jr., with Donald Harrison sitting in), Poncho Sanchez, Larry Golding‘s classic trio with Peter Burnstein and Bill Stewart, Kevin Eubanks, the vivacious Tia Fuller, and the list goes on and on. Oh, did I mention that all of this top-shelf entertainment is free to the public?
It’s not easy, but if I had to select one performance that grabbed me the most it would have been the band that now calls itself “Formerly known as the Godfathers of Groove,” whose grooves, soul, funk, and blues had the crowd dancing, singing, and eating out of their hands with fiery syncopations by the great drummer Bernard “Pretty” Purdie. Reuben Wilson rolled, and Grant Green Jr. excelled on guitar and with his fine vocals. For me the highlights of their set included an energetic “Everyday I Have the Blues” and a flashback cover of Don Covey and Steve Cropper’s “Sookie Sookie,” a tune Grant Green Jr.’s father covered on his classic 1970 Alive recording for the Blue Note recording label. This cover tune had everyone in a frenzy with it’s over-the-top funk lines that were further enhanced by dizzying soul-drenched sax solos from Donald Harrison, who pushed these Godfathers into the stratosphere. Enough said, I just hope that Harrison thinks about joining this sumptuous and incredibly percolating band!
There was also a tribute performance to the extremely underrated (Detroit native) Johnnie Bassett that was not announced, and I did not see it. But I heard from colleagues that it was a glorious segment, one which I would have enjoyed seeing. The Mack Avenue Superband consisted of musical director Rodney Whitaker, plus Carl Allen, Alfredo Rodriguez, Aaron Diehl, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Evan Perri, Gary Burton, Kevin Eubanks, Sean Jones, and Tia Fuller, and I was told that they concluded their set with an inspiring homage to the recently deceased Johnnie Bassett who passed just a few weeks prior to this festival.
Other related highlights included a festival-sponsored trip to the Motown Museum, a must see if you visit the Motor City. Plus there were “Jazz Talk” sessions in the Chrysler Tent that also included Bob Porter talking about “The Forgotten Man of Bebop, Don Byas.” Additionally intriguing was how many featured bands also included guest spots by other standout artists who were in town and performing their own gigs throughout this outstanding Labor Day Weekend of jazz. Last but not least there were nightly jam sessions at the nearby Marriott hotel, where I met and chatted with many performers. Many of these stars readily made themselves available for engaging conversations. Speaking of which, I had a delightful dinner with the great Joe Lovano who seemingly enjoyed talking about when he first moved to New York City where he jammed and made friends with the Brecker Brothers (Randy and Michael) and a bunch of the New York City regulars who formulated and developed their craft in the late seventies and early eighties.
In summary, there are a lot of festivals who dub themselves as “Jazz Festivals,” and I would like to make known that the Detroit Jazz Festival is truly the only all-jazz festival that I am aware of. Don’t believe me? Keep checking www.DetroitJazzFest.com for a history of this festival and, more importantly, for next year’s 2013 edition. This festival is also a great hang with friends of the jazz (and blues) community, DJs (check out www.JazzWeek.com for their annual DJ get together, and other jazz information), journalists from all over the world, record labels, and of course the performers. This was my first, but it won’t be my last visit to the Detroit Jazz Festival. I hope to see you there in 2013!
Be sure to check out this week’s Photo Page to see some of Len Katz’s photos of this year’s Detroit Jazz Festival.
Bob Putignano is a senior contributing editor at BluesWax, a contributing writer at Blues Revue, and the heart and soul of Sounds of Blue.
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