Detroit Jazz Festival

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

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!

Angelique Kidjo Speaks

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."

The Detroit Jazz Festival begins with a percussion discussion

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

Saturday at the Detroit Jazz Festival .. hot and stormy

Warren Wolf, the young vibes man from Baltimore with the strong new CD, played for keeps in overwhelming heat. Warren’s on the fall schedule for Josh Jackson’s Live from the 92Y series. Buy your ticket.

Warren Wolf .. Photo by Jeff Forman
Warren Wolf .. Photo by Jeff Forman

Sean Jones on the amphitheatre stage was “killin” says Josh, in fact JJ tweeted “best set of the festival so far.” Listen for Sean, Labor Day at noon on Jazz 88 and WBGO dot org.

Sean Jones .. Photo by Jeff Forman
Sean Jones .. Photo by Jeff Forman

After Sean, a serious storm blew in. The Sun Ra Arkestra squeezed a brief acoustic set between the first storm and a second that came barreling in from the west. To save the night, the Festival moved some music to the hotel as a HIGH WIND JAM SESSION, and the Dave Holland Octet delivered a performance I won’t forget!

The bar was crowded and noisy, yet Dave’s acoustic bass reached out to everyone. He’s so musical and projects without forcing, and as for Chris Potter, his tenor is like a ribbon and a knife at the same time. Gary Smulyan crooned on bari. With great writing and solos all around, people – on their feet – turned to face and love the band, all the way to the end.

Later Dave told me a good story. When he played with Miles, he experienced how a musician could quiet a noisy room. On the intro to the ballad “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” for example, Miles would start alone, playing naturally, not raising his trumpet. The band would join in, and somewhere in the second or third chorus, Dave says, the people stopped talking and started listening, because - through his music – Miles had insisted.

Dave Holland in the Volt .. Photo by Jeff Forman
Dave Holland in the Volt .. Photo by Jeff Forman

Sing the Truth! - "With near record breaking heat and high humidity, I felt chills"

Rhonda Hamilton writes:  The Detroit Jazz Festival got off to a spectacular start Thursday evening with fireworks in the sky and on the stage, as the voices of Dianne Reeves, Angelique Kidjo and Lizz Wright rang out into the night and captivated the opening night crowd.

With near record breaking heat and high humidity in the Motor City over the last few days, the word perspiration doesn’t fit the bill.  We have all been sweating but within the first few seconds of Sing The Truth!, I literally felt chills. These three incredibly gifted artists, each with her own distinctive style, put on a show that energized the audience and made us glad to be alive.

Dianne Reeves sings with the clarity, confidence and passion of an artist who has earned diva status. In complete command of her instrument, she knows how to weave a spell, create drama and take the music higher.

Dianne Reeves .. Photo by Jeff Forman
Dianne Reeves .. Photo by Jeff Forman

Angelique Kidjo carries the spirit of Mother Africa within her soul. Her voice, her dance, her exuberance have the power to make you scream.

Angelique Kidjo in motion .. Photo by Jeff Forman
Angelique Kidjo in motion .. Photo by Jeff Forman

Lizz Wright embodies youth and beauty and grace.  Despite her young years she has the heart of a woman and the wisdom to match.  With a voice like warm honey she digs deep and brings up a well of emotion with each performance.

Lizz Wright .. Photo by Jeff Forman
Lizz Wright .. Photo by Jeff Forman

During their months on tour, Dianne, Angelique and Lizz have developed a strong bond, clearly inspiring and learning from each other.  They share the love and they “Sing The Truth.” Don’t miss our broadcast Labor Day Monday at noon.

Photo by Jeff Forman
Photo by Jeff Forman
Thanks, Jeff! Great photos
Thanks, Jeff! Great photos

WBGO Going to Detroit

Detroit International Jazz Festival_MulgrewMonday, September 6, from 2-6pm, Rhonda Hamilton hosts a Labor Day special from the Detroit Jazz Festival, where Mulgrew Miller is Artist in Residence and the theme is Flamekeepers: Carrying the Torch for Modern Jazz. See more about Mulgrew here.

Downtown, outdoors, free, with five stages rolling for three days from noon to 11pm or so, Detroit is a jazz lover's dream.  That's why we partner with the Festival.  Josh Jackson will blog and bring home music for The Checkout.  Bob Porter is moderating a session on the career of Ray Brown and contributing to other panels in the Talk Tent.  Dorthaan Kirk always makes the trip to hear music and see friends.  And contest winner and WBGO member Jim DiFeo of Union, NJ, is bringing his 25-year-old son with him.  David Tallacksen will post photos -- musical and non- --  like these two from last year . . .

Food_TallacksenFireworks_Tallacksen