Chris Collins' Detroit pride
Saxophonist-educator re-centers fest on straight-up jazz, especially from Detroit
Published: May 30, 2012
One of the capstones of this year's festival will be the tribute to Marcus Belgrave, which features former and current Detroiter's Curtis Fuller, Kenny Garrett, Louis Hayes and Marion Hayden. Detroiter Charlie Gabriel, now a regular with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, will be featured with the famed New Orleans group and honored on his own in a special 80th birthday set.
The aforementioned Garrett and Hayes will lead their own bands during the fest, as will homecoming Detroiters, including Rick Margitza, Walter White, Gerald Cleaver, Harvey Thompson and Charles McPherson, not to mention city stalwarts such as the team of Buddy Budson and Ursula Walker.
What this festival won't have are big non-jazz acts like Chaka Khan or Common, or crossovers like Take Six or roots performers like the Blind Boys of Alabama. In the past, some festivals have gone so far from their jazz traditions — whether to stay afloat or cash in — that they've been pilloried by loyalists; some have dropped jazz from their titles. Collins understands why some programmers take that road, but he believes a pure jazz festival can survive and grow without a lot of non-jazz attractions.
And he points to gospel, blues and R&B influences in his lineup, although in a jazz context, in the organ trios, for instance. (Saxophonist Ellery Eskelin's organ trio is slated, as is the trio of organist Larry Goldings, guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Bill Stewart.)
For instance, he said, "We're doing a series of organ trios, and we're doing that because blues, gospel and R&B are important to Detroit music. Those genres feed jazz and jazz feeds them. Will we have traditional blues, gospel music at the festival? That's possible in the future."
Asked if he's worried the festival will lose many attendees by returning it to a relatively pure jazz format, Collins said no.
Collins believes "that by preserving the art form, ultimately artists and people around the world will see Detroit as the place where jazz is served in its pure form.
"I want the festival to be seen as the Detroit Jazz Festival not just a jazz festival in Detroit".
The Detroit-Torino Urban Jazz Project links together two auto cities in the post-industrial century. Chris Collins' quartet teams with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra to play commissions by Wayne State University composer James Hartway and Torino's Carlo Boccadoro (against a backdrop of time-lapse and still photos of the two cities, no less). 7:30 p.m., Friday, June 1, at Max M. Fisher Music Center, 3711 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-576-5111. Admission is free with tickets from the Max box office; 313- 576-5111, or visit dso.org; limit four per person. Box seats available for $99.
The Detroit Jazz Festival is Aug. 31-Sept. 3 in downtown Detroit. The full lineup to-date is at detroitjazzfest.com.
Charles L. Latimer writes about jazz for Metro Times and writes the blog I Dig Jazz. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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