The downside of attending the annual Detroit International Jazz Festival press conference is you have to listen to handful of uninspired speeches from City Council members, and corporate sponsors, babbling about why the jazz festival is relevant. The past two years, for example, a certain council member has recited the same speech, detailing how as a lad he looked forward to hanging out at the festival with his dad who was a big jazz fan. I bet most of the attendees at the press conference didn't care about his boyhood recollections.
I've been going to the festival for a decade. I've never seen him there! After the conference, I planned to test the council member to find out if he love jazz as much as he claims. I didn't get a chance because he left after his I-love-jazz-so-much speech. A genuine fan of the music would've stuck around to hear Mulgrew Miller, the festival's artist in residence, perform.
But the remarks from the Chase Bank rep really took the prize. She talked about how the media is guilty of bashing the banking industry! She alleged the media rarely reports all the good banks do. I guess the institutions' goodwill should trump charging their customers 29% interest on credit cards and hefty overdraft fees. Their customers, the ones they claim to love so much, could get lower interest rates from a loan shark. Her "bank bashing" remarks were asinine, and I wanted to boo her, but I decided to refrain.
After the speeches, the jazz festival's artistic director, Terri Pontremoli, announced the lineup. The festival theme is "Flame Keepers." The lineup is loaded with jazz all-stars. Pontremoli's bookings include Terence Blanchard, Branford Marsalis, Kenny Barron, Barry Harris, Bobby Watson, Tia Fuller, Randy Brecker, Maria Schnieder, Donald Harrison, Louis Hayes, Eddie Henderson, Danilo Perez and Gil Scott-Heron. That's enough music to last a lifetime, but there's more. Pontremoli has kept the festival smooth jazz friendly by including one of its most celebrated proponents saxophonist Kurt Whalum. He will perform the music of Donnie Hathaway. For avant-garde fans there's Trio M with Matt Wilson, Myra Melford and Mark Dresser. There are also tributes to Horace Silver, Ray Brown, Clifford Brown and Pepper Adams. Ånd Kurt Elling and Freddie Cole. And ... and ... and heck, just check the full list at the DJF site.
Pontremoli has done a bang up job since becoming artistic director, but she's not without faults. She didn't say which regional jazz musicians and bands would participate. Regional cats always complain about mistreatment from the festival brass. Not announcing which Michiganders will perform seemed odd. I wonder if the brass consider regional acts a priority.
Drummer Roy Haynes -- who's in his late 80s and who's still swinging -- will perform with his Fountain of Youth band. If we're lucky, Haynes will perform some material from his classic albums Cymbalism, Out of the Afternoon and Cracklin'. And fans of pianist Mulgrew Miller will be able to experience him in many incarnations. If you're unfamiliar with his prodigious chops, I recommend you track down his albums Live at Yoshi's Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. Someday, those are destined to be classics.
Pontremoli likes to end with a bang, so he left the news that the Manhattan Transfer will close out the festival for the end of the presentation. That’s a lot of music scheduled. You should bring an extra set of ears. Let me know if you spot a council member.
Manhattan Transfer: Closing the festivities...