Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Jazz singer Champian Fulton
I asked a handful of people I ran into at the Detroit Jazz Festival every year their thoughts about this year’s fest. The consensus was the fest felt different. Honestly, I did not know what to make of that. Did they mean the fest didn’t meet expectations. Or did it exceed their wildest dreams. The only difference to me was the weather was shitty.

Back stage before the Detroit Jazz Festival Orchestra’s set began, I overheard a female DJF staffer tell Maxine Gordon—tenor saxophone God Dexter Gordon’s wife—the DJF is the only music fest in the world where you get to experience summer, autumn, winter, and spring in the same weekend. Friday it was hotter than Arizona in July. Monday, it felt like winter.

Mother Nature had a chip on her shoulder. Or she was testing us, wanting to weed out the real jazz fans from the people who attended the fest because they did not have other plans. The shitty weather did not keep the real jazz fans away. 

I bounced from the Carhartt Stage to the Pyramid Stage, to the JP Morgan Chase stage. As I hammered out this last jazz fest review, my dogs were aching something awful. I heard some fantastic jazz music Monday. 

I caught Gary Burton’s performance at the Carhartt Stage. Burton played with his new band Julian Lage, Antonio Sanchez, and Scott Colley. They worked out on material from Burton’s first album for Mack Avenue Records Common Ground.

During the set, I almost lost my cool. A jerk sitting to my immediate right was yelling while Burton played the most beautiful solo I’ve ever heard a vibraphone player play. I couldn’t hear the name of the tune, and when Burton was wrapping up the solo, the jerk tapped me on the shoulder. He told me if I cut off my mustache, I’d look exactly like news reporter Bill Proctor. 

Honest to God, it took all the strength I could muster not to slap the shit out the jerk. One of the greatest jazz vibraphone players ever  was 50 feet from me spilling his soul on the bandstand, and I could hardly enjoy.

The crowd loved Burton. They begged for an encore. Burton obliged. He played a slick version of the Milt Jackson's jewel Bag's Groove.  I darted over to the Pyramid Stage to hear jazz singer Champian Fulton’s  hour-long set. It was her first time in Detroit. She came with her A game

I never heard of her. But when I spotted Andy Rothman of the Detroit Groove Society and  the Detroit Free Press jazz critic Mark Styker sitting in front of the stage, I knew I was in for something special. Fulton didn’t disappoint. I sat next to Rothman and a fellow named Jose S. DaCosta. The business card he gave me said he runs a jazz program in Rochester, New York called Exodus to Jazz

After Fulton sang The Song Has Ended, and Love So Much, Rothman whispered in my ear Fulton plays the piano like the great Erroll Garner. Then DaCosta whispered in my left ear Fulton plays like Detroit piano player Johnny O’Neal. Rothman and DaCosta had a point.

I was sold on Fulton after she sang If I Had You. Diana Krall sang the song on her breakthrough album All for You A Dedication to the Nat King Cole Trio. Krall’s take was my favorite until I heard Fulton sing If I Had You

I arrived at the JP Morgan Chase Stage roughly 20 minutes before jazz drummer and hip-hop producer Karriem Riggins was scheduled to perform with Grammy winning rapper and raising move star Common.  This was the second year Riggins put together a jazz and hip-hop hybrid concert. Last year, Riggins presented Karriem Riggins and Virtuoso Experience with special guest Slum Village. It went over big. This time, Riggins collaborated with Common. 

Riggins showed a rapper free styling is the same as a jazz musician improvising. Both are creating on the spot. That is what Common did when hit the stage. He free styled about how much he loves Detroit. “Detroit has so much soul even the white people has soul,” Common rapped. My favorite jazz fest solo was Riggins free styling at the end of his set. His rapping skills are nearly as amazing as he drumming. 

Back at the Carhartt Stage, the Detroit Jazz Festival Orchestra, played the music of Christian McBride. Singer Ernie Andrews was the special guest.

The DJFO premiered four songs from McBride’s upcoming album That Good Feeling. I got my hands on an advance copy of the album. It’s McBride’s first shot at a big band album, and he nailed it. The jazz fest finale was a ploy to promote the date..

Andrews’s performance wasn’t nearly as amazing as his set last year. This time, Andrews traipsed through the Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn songbook. Andrews’s interpretation of Sophisticated Lady and Take the A Train wasn't half bad.

Adding to the mix Anat Cohen, Regina Carter, and a group of teenage trombone players was overkill, , which the Detroit Jazz fest has been guilty of before. I would have loved an other taste of McBride’s new album.This just my opinion, the finale felt spur of the moment. It was McBride’s coming out party, and he deserved more of the spotlight.

The festival met expectation no more no less. The only disappointment was I didn’t get to hear Dave Holland, the Sun Ra Arkestra and Jason Moran. Those performances were cancelled because mother nature had a chip on her shoulder. 

Bass player Christian McBride

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