Wednesday, September 5, 2012


Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis

I don’t envy the artistic director of the Detroit Jazz Festival Chris Collins one bit. Collins a working jazz saxophonist and an educator put together one of the most monumental Detroit jazz fest in recent memory. What the hell I’ll go one better. Collins put on the best jazz fest ever. Few, if any, longtime Detroit jazz fest goers would disagree with that statement. 

This was Collins’ first shot at the helm. At the height of the festival’s popularity Collins stepped in. Under the former jazz fest director Terri Pontremoli’s leadership the festival became an international hit. So, Collins had a lot to live up to, and he didn’t choke

Sonny Rollins, Terence Blanchard, Joe Lovano, Wayne Shorter, Charles McPherson, Pat Metheny, Wynton Marsalis, Kenny Garrett and Louis Hayes were headliners. Plus, Collins did some of Detroit’s leading jazz musicians a big solid. He made them a major part of the festival, vowing to continue that as long as he’s running things. 

For years, many Detroit jazz musicians have complained the former director’s shunned them, getting on the bill was damn near impossible. Well, Collins fixed that by booking more Detroit acts. Marcus Belgrave, Charlie Gabriel, George “Sax” Benson, Ursula Walker and Buddy Budson, Noah Jackson and Spencer Barefield were some of the Detroiter’s Collins showed love, and they showed they were deserving by being at top form.

For the first time, in years the Detroit jazz fest felt real. Midway through, his Saturday afternoon set, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis acknowledged that, and pointed out the Detroit Jazz Festival was truly an authentic jazz happening. Who better to make such a claim than Marsalis, the ambassador of jazz, who 's played at every important national and international jazz festival on earth? 

Collins served the festival straight with no chaser. There was no obligatory tribute to Motown, no crossover acts such as the Blind Boys of Alabama, and no jazz acts featuring big time rappers. In street parlance, Collins kept the jazz fest one hundred. 

So, why aren’t I envious of Collins because  he has the immense task of upping the antes next year? Collins set the bar really high, and the question must be asked did Collins blow his load prematurely.

 Time will tell. But, I bet future Detroit Jazz Festivals will be just as monumental  because Collins showed unequivocally he has the passion and vision to grow the festival.

Charles L. Latimer top jazz fest picks
The Wynton Marsalis’ Quintet: The trumpeter is a right wing jazz conservative. Love or hate him, Marsalis always delivers a great show. Detroiter Ali Jackson, Marsalis’ go-to drummer, had a good game and so did saxophonist Walter Blanding. Fundamentally, Jackson is solid, and he’s built a high swing sensibility piece by piece.

The Mack Avenue Super Band:
This could’ve been an epic miscalculation Tia Fuller, Sean Jones, Rodney Whitaker, Kevin Eubanks, Aaron Diehl, and Gary Burton crammed on the stage, trying to prove who’s the top of Mack Avenue Record’s artist but this Super Band never turned into a battle of egos. It was one of my favorite main stage shows. Besides, it proved that Tia Fuller is indeed a formidable voice on alto saxophone, and Aaron Diehl has an aggressive streak under those hand tailored conservative suits he sports.

Uncle June:
That’s the title of native Detroiter and drummer Gerald Cleaver's latest album, and he dedicated it and his Sunday afternoon show to his parents. For this project, Cleaver put together an ensemble that included a few of his longtime running buddies pianist Craig Taborn and saxophonist Andrew Bishop. The highlight of the hour plus set was the suite “Fence and Post,” which was part storytelling, part free-jazz and part swing. Unfortunately, the crowd for Cleaver’s set was small. Sometimes, Cleaver can be way out there and deeply experimental. I was totally into his music, but I did wonder if it would’ve worked better at the Pyramid stage  where free-jazz acts have historically performed.  
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