Sunday, August 31, 2014


Cyrus Chestnut
Saturday, marked the first full day of concerts at the 35th Detroit Jazz Festival. Although I got an early start, I didn’t catch all the concerts I planned to. I started the day at the Absopure Pyramid Stage. I caught Hallady/Schunk Latin Experience set. The group of Detroiters played from Doug Halladay’s latest album “Celebrando!”.

I bumped into Halladay’s wife opening night of the festival. She implored me to check out the set, promising it would be smoking. She was right although there was some overkill. The soloing was too long. I wondered if the first two numbers would ever end. Hallady is a fine composer and he put together a solid group of Detroiters to play his music. If this band stays together, it will be one of the best in Michigan.

After Hallady’s set, I shot over to catch alto saxophonist Phil Woods’ set at the JP Morgan Chase Main Stage. Woods is one of a handful of remaining players from the bop era, and although he had to me wheeled onto the stage and he carries an oxygen tank to help him breathe, he still sounds wonderful. His chops hasn’t aged one bit.

His band trumpeter Brian Lynch, pianist Bill Mays, bassist Steve Gilmore and drummer Bill Goodwin sprinted through a number of goodies from the American Songbook. Woods had to take a break after a couple of meaty solos. Emphysema has slowed him down some. Woods made light of his medical condition, joking that when a saxophonist is hit with emphysema it’s a sure sign he plays too many notes.

I stayed at the Chase Stage. Pianist Cyrus Chestnut followed Woods. Chestnut had a young band with him who looked like high school music students, but they swung like veteran players. Chestnut set was a tribute to the late great jazz pianist Dave Brubeck. 

Chestnut did an excellent job remaking many of Brubeck’s signature tunes. The crowd had a collective orgasm when Chestnut broke into the hippest take of “Take Five” I ever heard, a classic written by Brubeck’s band-mate Paul Desmond.

Before the set started, Chestnut warned the crowd he did not intend to play Brubeck’s music as originally written. It was Chestnut's first stop at the Detroit Jazz Festival since 1992. 

Saxophonist Pharoah Sanders was the musician I wanted to see the most. I wondered if Sanders was still deep into his free-jazz bag. Sanders played a straight-ahead set with little of the antics on the sax he’s known for. 

Sanders didn’t announce the tunes his band played. The crowd was so wrapped up into the performance they really didn’t give a damn. Sanders gave them what they wanted undiluted jazz and brilliant soloing from his staff drummer Joe Farnsworth, pianist Will Henderson and bassist Nat Reeves.  So far, my favorite set of the festival
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