The show stoppers

Saturday was offiicialy the first full day of music at the 29th Detroit International Jazz Festival. It was also the day I realized it was impossible for anyone to hear all the music the festival organizers had scheduled. I bet other journalists assigned to cover the four-day event felt the same way. But, hey, that's not the worse problem someone could have -- and the concerts I attended were outstanding.


But music fans did have to make some hard choices. For example, I wanted to hear the Ellen Rowe Quartet at the Mack Avenue Records Pyramid Stage. The pianist’ set was at 3:30 p.m., but the Philly-Detroit Summit was scheduled for 3:45. I chose the Summit but thought I'd then shoot over to hear part of Rowe’s Quartet. That plan fell through because Philly saxophonist Bootsie Barnes’ horn cast a spell on me. I couldn’t move.


At any point, the summit could’ve turned into an everyman-for-himself battle. But massist Christian McBride -- the fest artist in residence -- kept things under control. McBride behaved like a dinner guest. He never tried to upstage the Detroit musicians, and the sextet played mostly songs written by noted Detroit jazz musicians, such as Milt Jackson’s "Bag’s Groove," saxophonist Joe Henderson’s "Recorda Me," and Kenny Burrell’s "Bass Face."


For the finale, three members of the musicians played a ballad unaccompanied. Gerri Allen's fingers moved leisurely across the piano keys on "A Child Is Born." Sax man Bootsie Barnes wailed on "Soul Train." On the standard, "I Can’t Get Started," Perry Hughes' guitar melted in his hands; that's how hot he was. After the summit ended, I had only 10 minutes to get to the Chase Main Stage to catch vocalist Dee Dee Sharp’s set.


I wasted time trying to decide if I should spend $6 on a jumbo size sugary lemonade. I passed and instead purchased a 20 ounce bottle of Lipton Green Tea from a street vendor wearing a lime green straw hat. When I arrived at the Chase Main Stage, the stagehands were still setting up. So I settled in, flipped open my reporters notepad, just as Sharp sauntered out.


The 63-year-old vocalist put on a show. Her background singers wore matching form-fitting gold sequined dresses, and Sharp a gold pantsuit. I was shocked when Sharp said that she'd had a stroke in 2004 because she worked the stage like a 20-something fitness instructor!


Between songs, she poked fun at her pianist and blew kisses to her husband seated in the front row. And she joked about having menopause. She even got a little raunchy when she grabbed a white hand towel off the piano and fanned her private parts. The menopausal diva confessed that the lower part of her anatomy still gets hot, and that’s why her friend called her “hot mama”. The crowd roared with laughter.


Sharp’s band and background singers had a tough time keeping up with her. She even gave them a "coffee break" while she sang the classic Leiber & Stoller song, "Stand By Me" unaccompanied. On her signature song, "Mashed Potato Time," Sharp became so animated that I thought she was maybe going to remove her suit-jacket and start break dancing. The crowd gave the vocalist a standing ovation, and begged for an encore. She obliged. Sharp was so overcome by the crowd enthusiasm that she cried.


I was even on time for the Christian McBride Band's 7:30 set at the Carhartt Amphitheatre. Before the master of ceremony introduced the band, Al Pryor of Mack Avenue Records, announced that McBride had recently signed a recording deal with the record company. The crowd cheered and then band came out.


McBride played with pianist Geoffrey Keezer, drummer Terreon Gully and saxophonist Ron Blake. The latter especially stood out. He blew with such unbridled energy that I thought his horn might explode.


Friday night at the Marvin Gaye tribute, McBride was low key. At the Philly-Detroit Summit, he adjusted his style to fit with the Detroit jazz musicians. With the Christian McBride Band, however, people got a chance to experience the bassist raw and uncut. The festival organizers got the money worth from McBride, that's for sure.


But of the concerts I attended Saturday, including sets by the Godfathers of Groove and the Sonny Fortune Quartet, vocalist Dee Dee Sharp’s performance was actually the most memorable.--Charles Latimer




Ms. Sharp owned Saturday's festivities...


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