When the Love Boat that is the 2001 Ford Detroit International Jazz Festival pulls up to the riverfront this coming Labor Day weekend (Aug. 31-Sept. 3), one thing it won’t do is sink. Rather, it’ll give a long, lovely toot on its horn and the aromas of real home cookin’ (of the musical kind) will waft up for a passionate rendezvous with your brain. By the time the four days are done, ads will appear all over town featuring a picture of one happy cerebrum, kicked back and glowing with delight, surrounded by happy dancing notes and floating blue ones: “This is your brain on jazz … “
Well, that’s what the deep and tasty lineup promises, what with headliners the Jazz Crusaders, Jimmy Smith, Herbie Mann & Dave Valentin, Marcus Belgrave & the Detroit All-Stars anchoring the Ford Motor Company Amphitheater Stage all weekend. Add a few carefully chosen lifeboats captained by Tommy Flanagan, Monty Alexander, Toshiko Akiyoshi & Lew Tabackin and Jane Bunnett & Spirits of Havana and you’ll be sure to make it safely into paradise.
But those without a detailed guide to this year’s fest might miss what can truly be called buried treasures: the often unpublicized sidemen who can make any band’s set memorable, even legendary.
So, by way of further incentive, to make sure fans know what they could be missing, here goes:
Ex-Detroiter Tommy Flanagan, that exquisite piano craftsman, will be joined by veteran great Tootie Heath on drums and Peter Washington on bass. Hammond organ godfather Jimmy Smith brings along, among others, guitar hit man Phil Upchurch for extra firepower. Homey saxophone sensation James Carter fields two different aggregations, one being his Chasin’ the Gypsy band (interpreting the music of legendary guitarist Django Reinhardt) and the other his Electric Project — Carter’s crews feature none other than monster electric bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma, as well as violinist Marlene Rice and pianist Craig Taborn, both adventurers who hail from these parts.
Helping make trumpeter Wallace Roney’s tribute to Miles Davis qualify as a must-see are saxophonists Benny Maupin (brilliant ex-Detroiter) and Gary Bartz (the killer soprano soloist on Miles’ Live Evil), along with Billy Drummond on drums and Adam Holzman on keyboards. Whew! Sounds like a bitch of a brew on tap.
Then bassist Christian McBride brings in saxophonist Ron Blake, and the Sun Ra Arkestra features saxophonist Marshall Allen and bassist Juni Booth, along with a host of intergalactically motivated others. There’s no way to give props to all the assembled talents and sensibilities, the worlds of experience and inspiration colliding in Detroit at summer’s end, but this is “just a taste,” as jazz DJs have whispered over the late-night airwaves for longer than anybody can remember.
One or two critics of this year’s lineup have faulted it for ignoring the “left wing of the avant-garde,” and though there aren’t any Peter Brötzmanns or Matthew Shipps on board, there’s certainly evidence of some high-energy, unorthodox navigating. Friday (Aug. 31), the Absopure Waterfront stage presents Detroit outer explorer Faruq Z. Bey & Speaking in Tongues (at 5:15 p.m.). And Monday (Sept. 3), the Motor City Casino Pyramid Stage becomes a hotbed of radicalism, with the Creative Arts Collective’s presentation of guitarist Spencer Barefield’s Quartet, featuring saxophonist David McMurray and bassist David Young (5 p.m.), the James Carter Electric Project (6:30 p.m.) and the Sun Ra Arkestra (8:15 p.m.) in immediate incendiary succession. At noon of the same day on the same stage, Focus: HOPE presents Jazz for a New Generation, followed by hip vocalist Ramona Collins (1:15 p.m.) and burning Detroit alto saxophonist Larry Smith & Company (3:30 p.m.). So one could conceivably meditate all day in this selfsame zendo, with only breaks for stretching, food, etc.
Other can’t-miss highlights include living legend Claude “Fiddler” Williams on the Amphitheater Stage (Monday, 4:15 p.m.), Detroit trumpet star Dwight Adams on the Waterfront Stage (Sunday, 5:30 p.m.) and the George Davidson Quartet on the Kowalski Jefferson Avenue Jam Academy Stage (Sunday, 10:30 p.m.).
Word is that a number of local musicians declined to play the festival this year because they felt the fees they were being offered were insufficient. With the issue of the festival’s solvency (and ultimate survival) on the front burner of organizers’ minds, honoraria were apparently balanced with other considerations. And the large number of Detroit-area musicians playing the festival again this year seems to affirm that, in sickness and in health, whether richer or poorer, it’s our festival.
Let’s support it.Hot & Bothered was written and edited by George Tysh. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org