WBGO at Detroit
  • Detroit Street Musicians Play Funky Bird!

    September 3, 2011. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    Detroit's auto industry may be moribund, but its cultural life is alive and kicking: young creative types, including many jazz musicians, have been flocking to the city, drawn by cheap rents and an active bohemian scene.

    WBGO's Becca Pulliam was on hand to see some of these creative types enjoying a little Charlie Parker-inspired free improvisation in the street outside Tiger Stadium. Fortunately, she caught it all on her iPhone and shares it with you here. Enjoy!

    WBGO will broadcast "Sing The Truth!" with Angelique Kidjo, Lizz Wright and Dianne Reeves on Monday at noon. Click here to listen, and check back to our blog for more updates and exclusive insights from the festival all weekend long!

  • The Detroit Jazz Festival begins with a percussion discussion

    September 3, 2011. Posted by Becca Pulliam.

    Joe Locke .. photo by Jeff Forman
    Joe Locke .. photos by Jeff Forman

    Opening the festival, Jeff Tain Watts's Drum Club was a visual feast in itself with Tain upstage audience right, Joe Locke downstage left, and an ocean of percussion in between. One man on one instrument, Joe worked and danced and made melodies HAPPEN, climaxing solos with fully extended, 180-degree-arm-coming-down mallet strikes. Several times. In a row. He held his own and then some.

    Upstage, Tony Lewis, Horacio Hernandez and Tain played kits on platforms left, center and right. In the middle tier, Rafael Statin played saxes, Susie Ibarra was at her beautiful kulintang -- a Philippine instrument of inverted, knobbed metal flower pots (an improvised description at best); conguero Pedro Martinez (in the photo); and bassist Bob Hurst. And the rest was all Tain’s turf, including a beautiful tympani down front. But he stayed mostly at his drumkit. Imagine rhythms flying, at first more abstract, then in deeper grooves, which the audience loved. The festival has begun.

    Pedro Martinez .. Photo by Jeff Forman
    Pedro Martinez .. Photo by Jeff Forman
    Jeff Tain Watts .. Photo by Jeff Forman
    Jeff Tain Watts .. Photo by Jeff Forman
  • We Are In Detroit for the Jazz Festival

    September 2, 2011. Posted by Becca Pulliam.

    Tigers over the entrance to Comerica Park .. Royals beat Tigers 11-8 yesterday

    We are here! With the Tigers and the Lions. It's hot, in the low to mid 90s yesterday and pushing higher today. The heat is a shock to my system. Yesterday the DJF crew put up the Chase Stage - platform, sound, lights, canopy. Sound check at noon, concert tonight opens the Festival with Artist in Residence Jeff Tain Watts's Drum Club at 7:30, and then Sing the Truth! headlines. We're crossing our fingers that you'll tune and listen for them, in Monday at noon.

    Yesterday, as fans streamed out of Comerica Park (though fewer fans than in NY), the Detroit Bucket Boys were sitting in the street playing great music. They try to be there after every Tigers game. I asked if I could put them on the blog and how many words is "Bucket Boys," and they said .. sure! but it's never been in print before, so do what you want!

    Detroit Bucket Boys and a fan who gives to support them
    Detroit Bucket Boys and a fan who gives

    Walking back toward the hotel, I passed a historical marker about Detroit's history as a northernmost point in the Underground Railroad. And today in the Free Press, the front page above-the-fold article is about Rosa Parks' keepsakes. There is great history in Detroit.

  • Angelique Kidjo Speaks

    August 31, 2011. Posted by Becca Pulliam.

    KidjoWe won't meet until tomorrow or Friday, but I had an opportunity to ask Angelique Kidjo, the great singer from Benin in West Africa, about SING THE TRUTH! .. the three-woman concert coming to WBGO from the Detroit Jazz Festival, Labor Day at noon. You do not want to miss it!

    SING THE TRUTH! is Kidjo, Dianne Reeves and Lizz Wright with a list of 40 songs that they pare down to about a dozen. They make some of the choices while they're onstage.

    "We do it as we go along, as we feel. That’s the beauty, it’s not written in stone. . . there is a variety of ways we pick and choose depending on how we feel.

    "I’m thinking about 'Both Sides Now' from Joni Mitchell and '32 Flavors' from Ani di Franco, Tracy Chapman’s song 'All That You Have Is Your Soul,' 'How I Got Over' from Mahalia Jackson about how everybody struggles on a daily basis, Miriam Makeba’s song 'Savuda' from her really important last concert she made in South Africa before she left. She said, 'Jazz is my music but I will sing my ancestor’s song.' 'Saduva' means nobody can kill my spirit, you might try to think I’m not a human but I am, as a human being I deserve respect, nobody’s going to crush me."

    Angelique continues, "Women have shown us through the music, writing, craft how hard it is to be a woman in a man’s world, and how you can keep your femininity, your identity ... We are all about love."

    Kidjo is more than a singer; she dances! Her mother had a theater group. The performances were sufficiently long that she had to insert an intermission, but "when you put an intermission in Africa, you come back, the public is gone! So she put an African ballet in the middle of [the show], [and to do so] she went and learned the dancing and brought it back. And me, I was six years old,  ... I was sitting down there as 'Miss Curious' and I learned everything by heart," including the dances. "Because of my curiosity, there's no dance I can't repeat. I put my own stuff in, it's my way, I cannot move as you move because my body's different than your body."

    "One [more] thing, in Africa they  don’t call for an encore. [Instead,] they ask you to sing the same song three times back to back. When it comes to playing music, the concept as you know it here is not an African concept. There’s a moment that we need a release, a good time moment, to express a feeling, to remember the good time we spent with a person, the best way is through music. Gather together, dance, sing, and then we part."

  • What's ahead at the Detroit Jazz Festival? Terri Pontremoli has The Plan

    August 25, 2011. Posted by Becca Pulliam.

    Terri Pontremoli and Rhonda Hamilton
    Terri Pontremoli and Rhonda Hamilton, Sept 2009

    This woman has the big picture and all the  details in her head, just like last year and the year before, when WBGO made our first trip to the Detroit Jazz Festival. Now Artistic Director Terri Pontremoli and the rest of us are about to see the vision get real. And it's only a week away.

    The first sounds might be thunder, as Artist-in-Residence Jeff Tain Watts gathers his Drum Club. They're Tony Allen (Afrobeat), Susie Ibarra (avant garde), Horacio Hernandez (Cuba) , Joe Locke (vibes),  and Pedrito Martinez (Cuba).  "I can't believe we have enough drum kits and percussion instruments in Detroit" for this spectacular, says Terri. "It will be creative and spirited." I imagine that the Detroit audience will listen with open ears. That's what they're known for -- their love of the groove and willingness to stretch.

    "You have to feel out the audience. But at the end of the day," Tain says in a Q&A with Mark Stryker of the Detroit Free Press, "people are ready for a lot of stuff. It's about how you present it to them."

    The arm of Joe Louis near Hart Plaza, site of stages
    Joe Louis's fist near Hart Plaza, site of DJF stages

    "Tain is of the age where he needs to be heralded, asked to do things with a bigger organization," says Terri. And that's why she called him up and asked him to come to Detroit. He has already performed in the city several times this year, building toward these FREE festival shows. Yes, thanks to philanthropist Gretchen Valade, the  Detroit International Jazz Festival Foundation, and others, it is still free. "It's the most miraculous thing," says Pontremoli.

    Saturday, you can zigzag from Warren Wolf to Luciana Souza, have a bite, see Detroit's own Curtis Fuller with Eric Alexander and Mike LeDonne, catch the last half of Sean Jones, then go between two stages for this uninterrupted sequence: Toots Thielemans, Sun Ra Arkestra, Jason Moran & Bandwagon, Dave Holland Octet. Sunday on the Waterfront Stage alone, see Amina Figarova; Paquito D'Rivera; Aaron Diehl, winner of the 2011 Cole Porter Fellowship, with Dominick Farinacci, Yasushi Nakamura and Lawrence Leathers; Regina Carter & Reverse Thread (opposite Tain in the Amphitheater!); Vijar Iyer Trio (opposite Joe Lovano's Us Five). Decisions, decisions. Sometimes where you land is dictated by where you can find a seat. Away from Hart Plaza, toward the end of the evening, hike up Woodward Ave to the Chase Stage for Ivan Lins .

    "Detroit is known for bebop and small groups," says Terri. "This year we bring in the world. Not so much world music as recognizing and celebrating how our music has influenced people all over the world." One example from the Jazz Talk Tent (check for day and time): WBGO's Bob Porter and Paquito explore "Cubano Be, Cubano Bop - Dizzy Gillspie's Cuban Connection." The Talk Tent runs every day, takes you to school, with some delicious food vendors nearby, I've discovered.

    The city from the top of a skyscraper, images by David Tallacksen
    The city from the top of a skyscraper, images by David Tallacksen

    Monday: Helen Sung and, later, Anthony Wilson play on the Waterfront. Gary Burton and, later, Kevin Eubanks play in the Amphitheater. In the evening on the Chase, hiphop artist COMMON and Detroit-born drummer Karriem Riggins create an original set of spoken word and jazz. (Last year at this time and location, I saw Allen Toussaint do a one-man, talk-and-music show. I like the continuity.) With COMMON and Karriem, Terri says the festival is taking a "step out of the box [to] attract a new audience while maintaining the connection to the festival’s artistic core.”

    Monday's finale is hard core. The Detroit Jazz Festival Orchestra plays new music by Christian McBride (soon to release his big band CD from Mack Avenue) with Ernie Andrews singing. If you came to the WBGO Gala in 2009, you saw Ernie Andrews with an orchestra and it was so swinging, you probably want more, so we'll see you in Detroit!