Marquee names make a festival for the masses, and this year’s free Ford Detroit International Jazz Festival has those for its 24th year. There are crossover names that have left some diehards scratching their heads: Chaka Khan, Roberta Flack and Natalie Cole! There are elder statesmen of the mainstream such as saxophonist James Moody, vibraphonist Terry Gibbs, vocalist Freddy Cole (Nat’s brother and Natalie’s uncle) and bassist Ron Carter. There are now midcareer musicians who came on the scene with the post-Wynton Marsalis “young lions” era: the team of guitarist Russell Malone and pianist Benny Green, and saxophonist Greg Osby. There are still newer names with only a record or so under their belts, such as vocalists Ilona Knopfler, Lizz Wright and Peter Cincotti. (Vocal fans have a cornucopia this year.) And as the festival backbone, there’s a full roster of the Detroiters from Marcus Belgrave to the Brothers Groove.
It’s also worth noting that any number of the members of the bands are names who don’t show on the marquee at all. Among them Hubert Laws (appearing with Knopfler and pianist Eugene Maslov), saxophonist David “Fathead” Newman (appearing with Terry Gibbs), the rhythm section of bassist Rufus Reid and pianist David Hazeltine (with Moody), and the members of the Caribbean Jazz Project (including vibraphonist David Samuels and the much-lauded drummer Dafnis Prieto).
Beyond the fest
The music typically spills out beyond Hart Plaza during the jazz fest and this year is no different. Some notables: Baker’s Keyboard Lounge presents Gerard Gibbs and ORGANized Crime on Friday, Donald Walden’s Detroit Jazz Orchestra on Saturday and, along with Bert’s and the Serengeti, an extension of Marcus Belgrave’s trumpet summits Sunday. The Harlequin Café has quartets led by guitarist Spencer Barefield on Friday and Saturday. The Serengeti Ballroom has a grand reopening Friday at its new location (2757 Grand River, near the Motor City Casino), with concert and jam sessions through Monday featuring pianist Mulgrew Miller and former Detroit trombonist George Bohanon. Meanwhile, saxophonist Larry Smith and pianist Teddy Harris lead jams at Bert’s Marketplace Saturday and Sunday nights — and into the wee hours.
How a trumpeter from Chester, Pa., became the face of Detroit jazz.