The Detroit Jazz Festival 2012, Friday, August 31 through Monday, September 3. A wondrous, joyful celebration, a triumph for jazz and for the city of Detroit.

I saw, among many others, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Gary Burton, Curtis Fuller, Louis Hayes, Chuck Israels, Wynton Marsalis, Terence Blanchard, Anthony Wonsey, Vincent Herring, Lew Tabackin, and Brian Lynch. Four days with four stages, some of them going simultaneously; it was more jazz than any one person could take in. It would have been a great festival just counting all the players I missed; Kenny Garrett, Randy Brecker, Steve Wilson, Dave Douglas, Fred Hersch, on and on. And all of it was played completely free to the public in the parks of downtown Detroit. All you had to do was walk up, take a seat, and dig! After the concerts, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights there were jam sessions in the bar of the Marriott right down the street.

I don’t offer here a review or a reporter’s commentary. I attended not as a critic or journalist, but rather merely as a jazz lover and photographer in love with the subject. Just a few of the highlights for me are only sketched here:

Sonny Rollins plays with the most magnificent tenor saxophone sound I’ve ever heard. It’s a sound as big as a tree trunk. It’s a sound that comes in sublimely absurd and ecstatic, rhythmic waves. There doesn’t even seem to be a saxophone or mouthpiece or even lungs involved; just a sound filling the night, a great volume from the center mass of the man himself. Sometimes he walks to the edge of the stage and plays right at you. A crazy babble spoken directly to you: Blahdeeblahbahdebahdadabedooblah! Utter fluency in a personal language made from sixty-five years of playing jazz at its most artistically and spiritually demanding level. Jazz art that is quintessentially crafted, passionate, and ingenious. Sonny Rollins, beyond sui generis.

Later that night, as I walked back into the Marriot hotel, Diego Rivera was sounding real good on tenor. Fast and melodic and inventive. Then Sean Jones and Etienne Charles each on trumpet. I hope the hotel has damage insurance, because those guys blew a hole in the roof! The three of them – Rivera, Jones, and Charles – sounding as damn good as one of those Prestige ’50s jam sessions. Then Rivera gestured as if to say, “Have at it, trumpeters …” And what a trumpet battle it was! On Gigi Gryce’s “Minority” they outdid each other at every four bar turn. I only wished that Rivera would have gotten in back in to do battle too.

On Saturday, I dug the drummer Louis Hayes group. The tunes had fresh and groovy twists and every solo was a pleasure.

Then trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and his band. Beautiful stuff from all the players, especially the sweet and pungent alto saxophone of Wes “Wamdaddy” Anderson. Marsalis himself sounding great, and I liked his patter with the audience. He introduced one of the songs by saying that Carlos (Carlos Henriquez, the bass player) complains that Marsalis’s Latin tunes are “corny,” so Marsalis said the song about to be played is an attempt to overcome this limitation. This wry self-deprecation got a good laugh. And the tune was a beaut – some real nice exotic minor bluesy twists in the plot. Totally satisfying.

Next was bassist Chuck Israels’s group – four man rhythm section with trumpet, trombone, bari, tenor, and alto with the reeds doubling on clarinet and flute. The arrangements, phrasing, and dynamics were exquisite. The basic feel of the beat and the dynamics reminds me of Basie (though not the harmonies). So much to relish – the warm and understated blends makes this group a treasure. Then Jillian Israels did such an endearing job of Bill Evans’s “Waltz For Debby” and beautiful job of Duke Ellington’s ethereal wordless vocal “Transbluesency.”

On Sunday, I especially dug trumpeter Brian Lynch’s group with Vincent Herring on alto. They played tunes written by trumpeters from the history of jazz, getting really specific and into it with tunes by people like Tommy Turrentine. This was all top notch, swinging jazz.

Then Charlie Gabriel with some beautiful assertive tenor and clarinet solos. Then he was joined by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. And this was, for me, without doubt, the hardest swinging moment of the festival. They were stomping great!

Sunday night, Brian Lynch hosted the jam session back at the hotel. I dug his playing, of course, but also his sardonic manner, both on-mic and half on, as he managed the jam session. And then Lew Tabackin dropped in and I dug his complex and hard charging tenor solos.

On Monday, my favorite moments were Geoff Keezer’s hard swinging piano solos as he played with the Art Blakey tribute band. And the band sounded fine, playing that great repertoire – “Moanin'”, “One By One”, “Three Blind Mice”, et. al.

Finally on that last night, when the all the music was over, the crowds spread from the great park back onto the streets of downtown Detroit, these streets with the more modern architecture mixed with the old skyscrapers from the ’30s, all sandy off white and pale brown and the color of rust and tan, this city of such historical depth of pain and joy. With the crowds, I walked down the street in the night that seemed to open in unspoken congratulations to itself for so warmly hosting the conclusion of this great event. And I shouted out loud, “Yes! Yes!” And I cried in joy for a great city, a great people, and in the spirit of jazz.

I took courage from the spirit of the people of Detroit – their determination to overcome the decades of devastation to their city. Renewed pride springs eternal. In the downtown parks, even at the end of four days of festival, I saw barely a spot of litter. Litter? “Oh no you DIDN’T.” I got a sense from many people that might be said something like this: “Yes, we know that over the years, parts of our city look like bombed out WWII; but we will rebuild this city; we are the people and we will rebuild this city.”

I should mention also that in the two days before the festival the Marriott was the location for Jazz Week Summit, an annual conference of jazz radio programmers. I hosted one of the panel discussions, a panel on jazz radio for satellite and other delivery systems. On the panel with me were jazz programers Tom Mallison, Ken Irwin and Bob Rogers. One of the themes that emerged was the importance of programming music not so much from surveys but rather from the heart.

That night, Jazz Week gave its annual awards for jazz programming. I was honored to find that my jazz programming for DMX was among the five nominees in the category of Non-Terrestrial Radio.

About these photographs…my purpose was not to provide music photojournalism, but rather, as best I could, to find creative, or at least expressive, compositions to convey my love of the music. (Therefore this disclaimer: In some cases, the pictures are digitally edited so that certain distracting background objects are darkened out.)

These are some of the pictures from the first two days of the festival. Stay tuned for more pictures from the festival.


Terence Blanchard

Joshua Crumbly (with Terence Blanchard)

Saul Rubin and Bob Cranshaw (with Sonny Rollins)

Sonny Rollins

Sonny Rollins

Sonny Rollins, Saul Rubin and Bob Cranshaw

Sonny Rollins and Saul Rubin

Kobie Watkins. (jam session at the Marriott)

Diego Rivera. (jam session at the Marriott)

Geoff Vidal. (jam session at the Marriott)

Sean Jones. (jam session at the Marriott)

Etienne Charles.(jam session at the Marriot)

Sean Jones and Etienne Charles. (jam session at the Marriott)


Dezron Douglas (with Louis Hayes)

JD Allen (with Louis Hayes)

Anthony Wonsey and JD Allen (with Louis Hayes)

Anthony Wonsey (with Louis Hayes)

 JD Allen and Dezron Douglas (with Louis Hayes)

[If you know who this player is, please email us to identity him] (with Ron Kischuk)

Curtis Fuller (special guest with Ron Kischuk)

Geoff Vidal (with Geoff Vidal and Danny Janklow)

Gary Burton (with the Mack Avenue All-Stars)

Gary Burton (with Chick Corea and Gary Burton)

Chick Corea (with Chick Corea and Gary Burton)

Chick Corea (with Chick Corea and Gary Burton)

Wynton Marsalis

Wynton Marsalis

Wynton Marsalis

Chuck Israels

Chuck Israels

Paul Mazzio (with Chuck Israels)

John Moak (with Chuck Israels)

Dave Evans (with Chuck Israels)

Jessica Israels (with Chuck Israels)

Jessica Israels (with Chuck Isreals)

– Submitted by Mark Shapiro, Music Design