Wednesday, November 6, 2013


Drummer Ralph Peterson
Jazz at The Centre is a new concert series that opens in Detroit Friday November 8th at the Paul Robeson Theatre in the Northwest Activities Center. Three concerts are scheduled. First up is the enterprising drummer Ralph Peterson. In December, the All-star jazz band The Cookers plays, followed in January by trumpeter Roy Hargrove.

The JATC's Artistic Director Skip Norris promises a world-class series comparable to Jazz at Lincoln Center. Norris, a native Detroiter and a longtime concert producer, who eats, drinks, and sleeps jazz, believes Detroit needs an ongoing, affordable jazz series headlined by some of today’s acclaimed jazz musicians and bands.  

If you attend jazz concerts around Detroit, you have probably seen Norris, a tall man with a clean-shaved head who wears well-tailored suits.  I Dig Jazz shot Norris some questions about the hotly anticipated series and his long term goal for it.
Skip, what motivated you to start Jazz at the Centre?

The JATC concert series was started to fill a definitive void in presenting internationally known jazz artists in Detroit. In recent years, I’ve found that a severe malaise was creeping into the environment and venues didn’t really address the tastes and wants of their core audiences.

 How will JATC be different from the Paradise Jazz Series, and the University Musical Society’s jazz program?

 What makes JATC different is that you will have the finest artists in the jazz idiom playing in a great room at a fantastic price point. It’s actually the best of both worlds.

 What were some of the challenges organizing the series?

 To be candid, very few if any. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve worked with major jazz artists over the last 25 years. It usually takes me about 2-3 hours to conceptually book a series. Unlike pop music promoters, I don’t need the media to tell me what’s hip. I trust my ears over any magazine or radio sound byte.

 Why is the Paul Robeson Theater the right venue to host the series?

The Paul Robeson Theater is an acoustically perfect room which boasts 488 seats with no obstructions and superb sight lines. More importantly, the room lends itself ideally for Jazz music because of its similarity to Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Allen Room. The biggest advantage the theater has its located in the largest community center in the City of Detroit – and, in one of the most economically viable areas in the city.

How long have you promoted jazz concerts?

I’ve been producing shows for more than 25 years. I’ve been fortunate. I have worked closely with many of the greatest artists in the idiom. People like Branford Marsalis, Ralph Peterson, Wallace Roney, Mulgrew Miller, Tony Williams, and Cyrus Chestnut gave me great opportunities to work with them on projects. In the last few years, I’ve really done more writing and advising artists like Victor Goines, Eric Reed, and Joe Locke.

What inspired you to become a concert promoter?

I think the more accurate term is producer. I’ve been around jazz musicians my whole life and worked as a road manager on a number of tours. I simply wanted the music to be presented correctly and the audience be engaged in an intelligent manner. To be totally candid, I’ve worked with a number of jive people who dishonored the music and the artists in a bad way. I simply decided I could do it better and have integrity as my primary focus.  

You have drummer Ralph Peterson, The Cookers, and trumpeter Roy Hargrove booked. They don’t come cheap. Who’s sponsoring the series?

We have several sponsors who have come on board – MGM Grand Casino, Intunes Rentals, Yamaha, and a few private individuals. It really says a lot about their support of me. I’ve been doing this for a while and people simply believed in me.

 Was it difficult getting sponsors?

Not really, sponsorship is simply people and organizations seeing your vision, your objectives, and simply aligning their framework with yours. Believe it or not, there is no magic formula. We just simply articulate our cause.

What will it take for Jazz at The Centre to be a big hit, and what are your long term goals for the series?

I believe that if you bring in the best artists, in the right room, at a great price, and act with integrity, success is eminent. I don’t think you can play people short. If you just bring the real goods, people will come and support the music. The Detroit Jazz Festival proves that every year. No one has ever brought world class jazz artists into the heart of the city in a concert setting. My argument is that the jazz audience is hip enough to see that this is where the music truly should be.

Jazz at The Centre Friday November 8th with jazz drummer Ralph Peterson. Northwest Activities Center 18100 Meyers Rd. Detroit, MI 48235 general admission tickets $30.00. For more information call 1-248-238-8102

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