Tuesday, April 19, 2016


Drummer Terri Lyne Carrington
Guitarist George Benson
Pianist Jason Moran
The annual Detroit Jazz Festival for many Jazzheads is regarded as sort of Christmas in early September, Four straight days of exposure to some of the most gifted national and international jazz talent the planet has to offer. Known as the largest free music festival the DJF is held in the gut of downtown Detroit over the Labor Day weekend. 

The DFJ's 2016 lineup was announced at the Detroit Athletic Club Tuesday afternoon. The lineup is major. Some of the headliners are George Benson, Terri Lyne Carrington, Omar Sosa, Randy Weston, Herlin Riley, Marcus Roberts, Freddy Cole, Roy Hargrove, Luciana Souza, and Jason Moran. 

The DJF’s artist-in-residence is the legendary jazz prophet bassist Ron Carter. Carter is a Detroit native, graduate of Cass Technical High School, and he's played on a staggering  2,000 albums. As a bandleader, Carter has blessed the universe with such memorable jewels as “Where?,” “Piccolo,” “All Blues,” and “Dear Miles”, Carter’s genius will be on display each day of the festival. 

The festival is full of badass jazz talent. What makes it extra special is the group of Detroit jazz musicians booked. Kirk Lightsey, Louis Hayes, and Charlie Gabriel will perform. 

There’s a long overdue tribute to one of Detroit’s beloved cultural warriors and jazz intellects the late pianist Kenn Cox. Such a world-class lineup makes it easy to understand why the fest is Christmas in September to many. For a complete list of the Detroit Jazz Festival's lineup visit Detroitjazzfest.com.

Sunday, April 17, 2016


Saxophonist Ernie Krivda
Saturday night the Dirty Dog Jazz Café was full with people celebrating birthdays and wedding anniversaries. More than the café has experienced in its eight-year existence. The general manager, Willie Jones, spent a good ten minutes before introducing tenor saxophonist Ernie Krivda’s band giving birthday shout-outs. Krivda ended a four-night stint at the DDJC by gifting the celebrants and the others attendees, who came out to hear some authentic red-blooded American jazz, an hour of music from his album “Requiem for a Jazz Lady”. Krivda is a central figure on Cleveland’s jazz scene who stylistically bears a kindred likeness to greats like Coleman Hawkins and Sonny Rollins told the audience the album wasn’t available for purchase after the show because they sold out after Thursday’s performance. Krivda made up for not coming to Detroit with extra boxes of “Requiem for a Jazz Lady” by performing extended versions of “Emerald,” “Great Lakes Gumbo,” and “Requiem for a Jazz Lady,” three stick-to-your-ribs cuts from the album. Krivda had a terrific band. Renell Gonsalves played drums. Glenn Tucker was on piano, and Jeff Halsey had his bass speaking in tongue. The sidemen took Krivda wherever he desired to go musically. Hands down, Halsey served the tastiest solos. The people who frequent the DDJC are too classy to dance around the club, but when Krivda soloed on the shake-your-money-maker tempo selection “Great Lakes Gumbo, “ there seemed to be this collective urge from the audience to cut loose.   

Monday, April 11, 2016


Pianist Barry Harris
The highpoint of the tribute to jazz pianist Barry Harris Sunday afternoon at the St. Matthew’s & St. Joseph Episcopal Church came when he was asked to perform one of his favorite Bud Powell compositions “I’ll Keep Loving You”.  Harris, 86, had the piano crying, and he received an ovation after he completed the tune. Harris wasn’t at the church to perform. He was there to be honored by the Societie of the Culturally Concerned for his contributions to jazz.

Far back as the 1950’s, Harris was the go-to specialist in Detroit for any hungry and serious musician wanting to become a professional jazz musician. Harris used to host a jazz boot camp in the basement of his home on Detroit's Northwest side. Back then, up and comers such as Charles McPherson, Teddy Harris Jr., Donald Walden, and Lonnie Hillyer were exposed to Harris’s encyclopedic knowledge of jazz.

In the early, 60’s Harris moved to New York to further his career. There he performed and recorded with many upper tier titans such as Coleman Hawkins,  Sonny Stitt, Max Roach, Sonny Rollins and Julian Cannonball Adderley. 

Harris also made some now-classic jazz albums on Riverside Records such as“Chasin' the Bird,” “Bull’s Eye,” and “Barry Harris Live at the Jazz Workshop”. Even though jazz underwent some radical changes with the advent of avant-garde jazz, and fusion, for example, Harris remained true to his bebop pedigree.

As Reverend Daniel W. Aldridge pointed out during his speech about Harris’s importance to jazz before presenting him with the Spirit of Detroit Award, above all else Harris is a universally revered jazz educator.  No matter where on the planet Harris dispenses his jazz knowledge he carries the spirit of his hometown, Detroit, with him.

The tribute to Harris went on for two-plus hours, and the mix of veteran and student musicians who participated such as Vincent Bowens, John Douglas, Ian Finkelstein, Kasan Belgrave, Cassius Richmond, D’Jallo Djakete Keita, and Marion Hayden showed Harris much love by presenting a program comprised of many of his original compositions as well as some of his all-time favorite bebop tunes written by Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk and Tadd Dameron. 

You couldn’t have asked for a finer love fest. Detroit veteran such as Hayden, Douglas, Richmond, Keita, and Bowens worked their asses off on Harris’s originals. Pianist Ian Finkelstein was the young buck among the vets.

I wondered if he was a bit intimidated because Harris was seated in the front row no less than twenty feet away from the piano. If Finkelstein had any butterflies, it didn’t show because he played the entire set flawlessly.

The Young Lions Band played the second set. The band was made up of students from the University of Michigan’s jazz program. They performed “Luminescence,” “’Round Midnight,” and “Dance of the Infidels”.  

Dare I say, the students were equally engaging as the vets were. The students were polished and on point, and proved the future of jazz is in good hands. What’s admirable about the youngsters is they don’t have a grandstanding bone in their bodies. The tribute concluded with “Dance of the Infidels”.  All the musicians joined in for a respectful jam session. It was joyous witnessing the young lions trading with the veterans. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016


Eric Alexander
Before saxophonist Eric Alexander’s first set began at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café Saturday evening, Angela Colon, the jazz aficionado who runs the informative facebook jazz group Detroit Jazzheads told Gretchen Carhartt-Valade, the Dirty Dog’s owner, the buzz around town was Alexander’s concert was a must-see.

Unfortunately, those jazz folks who didn’t pay heed to the buzz missed out on one of the best concerts in the Dirty Dog’s eight-year existence.  Alexander’s two-night engagement was his first time playing the club.

Because of the never-to-be-forgotten performance Alexander’s quartet pianist Harold Mabern, drummer Joe Farnsworth, and bassist John Webber gave the quartet should be given keys to the Dirty Dog so they can perform their whenever they please.

The quartet played mostly material from Farnsworth’s album “It’s About Time,” and the quartet was off to the races from the first selection, and they only broke stride late in the set when Alexander called the ballad “All The Way,” which was the only number he soloed on at length. The jazz saxophone Gods were with Alexander the entire set. 

There were many jaw-dropping highlights to brag about. One was Farnsworth’s goose-bump inducing solo on the third tune of the set. Although Alexander was the marquee attraction, Mabern was the biggest presence. 

At 80, Mabern still plays with exuberance and a sharp wit. When he soloed, I was convinced he was playing the piano with three hands. Apparently, Alexander masterminded this quartet around Mabern’s acumen and chops. 

Of the many concerts I’ve caught at the Dirty Dog in eight years, Alexander’s was the first time I witnessed where damn near every member of the audience was completely spellbound. Often, there's some disrespectful schmuck talking during a performance at the Dirty Dog, but not this time around.

There was a collective sigh from the audience when Alexander had to close the set. The audience didn’t want the quartet to stop playing. Alexander appreciated the love and let on that if not for contractual obligations the quartet would've played for ten hours straight.