Since 1980, the mention of Labor Day Weekend inevitably turns to the Jazz Fest. Now in its 34th year, it is still the largest free jazz festival in the world. The Detroit International Jazz Festival annually shines a much-deserved spotlight on some of the most hard-working and influential artists in the spectrum of jazz styles alive in the world today. The historical significance and integrity of the festival has long been preserved by the very idea that it started with – that exceptional music should be available for anyone who loves live music and wants to watch and listen.
The lineup for the Detroit International Jazz Festival has once again been stacked with artists who represent a large vocabulary of jazz. The organizers of the festival have stated that it is their mission this year to “. . . [focus] on the language of jazz and the generations of musicians who have dedicated their lives to propagating its many dialects.” The festival serves as a gathering of both artists and jazz enthusiasts, and also serves Detroit itself, as just over 25 percent of the audience makeup is out-of-town guests of the city who come for the music and to embrace the education about jazz that the festival has always made a point to share with its audience.
Since its inception the Jazz Festival has strived to connect established jazz professionals with young musicians. Once again festival-goers will hear some of the most talented local high school and college bands performing in ensembles throughout the 4-day weekend. The Artist-in-Residence this year is Danilo Pérez, who will kick off the festival on Friday August 30 with music inspired by his Panamanian roots. Also performing Friday evening will be legendary tenor saxophonist David Murray with his Big Band, featuring soul singer Macy Gray on vocals. Saturday’s lineup has highlights that include Detroit native and vocal powerhouse Thornetta Davis, The Brubeck Brothers Quartet performing a tribute to the late legend Dave Brubeck, bassist and University of Michigan music professor Robert Hurst, and groundbreaking saxophonist Charles Lloyd performing with guitarist Bill Frisell. Another notable Saturday performance harmoniously fuses the art forms of jazz music and tap dance — McCoy Tyner is a revered pianist well known in the jazz world for his early work with the John Coltrane Quartet, and Savion Glover who created and choreographed Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk, works to reintegrate African roots back into contemporary tap.
The second half of the weekend will feature some prime performances, including The Real Ambassadors on Sunday, a story that takes place during the Civil Rights Movement and illustrates the important roles of jazz musicians as cultural ambassadors, written by Dave Brubeck and his wife Iola, and originally performed at the 1962 Monterey Jazz Festival. Detroit resident Karriem Riggins will also perform on Sunday, who is known for his work as a hip-hop producer as well as his jazz drumming. There is a wealth of tributes throughout the Sunday lineup which honor a range of musicians, from the saxophone sounds of Pepper Adams to the spirit of John Lennon. Rounding out Sunday are jazz-fusion group the Yellowjackets, influential pianist Ahmad Jamal, and modern jazz guitarist John Scofield and his Überjam Band. Labor Day Monday gives us grand orchestral tributes to the music of Duke Ellington and Dave Brubeck, as well as a fusion of jazz & hip-hop from the Robert Glasper Experiment, and an all-star gathering of jazz legends and former bandmates of Miles Davis, including his sole trumpet protégé Wallace Roney, jazz-rock pioneer guitarist Larry Coryell, and fusion drummer and original member of Weather Report, Alphonse Mouzon.
Labor Day Weekend has always meant a multitude of options for Detroit residents and visitors as far as music, food, and the spirit of celebration is concerned. The freedom to navigate through Campus Martius down to Hart Plaza and enjoy the performances at no cost is just one of the reasons the Detroit International Jazz Festival is a Labor Day must. Not only have festival organizers and sponsors staked their reputations on the quality of the performers, but the festival has helped to preserve an important part of music history by educating visitors through artist talks, information sessions, and workshops. Festival-goers all have a chance to share in and learn about the rich cultural history that makes jazz a compelling, emotional, and innovative art form. The mission of Jazz Fest founder Robert McCabe and major sponsor and philanthropist Gretchen Valade is to “Perpetuate Detroit’s significant jazz legacy through educational and collaborative opportunities accessible to all.” The free admission price year after year brings together people with a passion for music from all ages and stages of life inside the perimeters of downtown Detroit. For 2013, the artists, volunteers, sponsors, and organizers who participate in the Detroit International Jazz Festival will surely help influence those who may be disenchanted with the city to come out and support the structure of community and perseverance that is ever-present within the arts.
For more information about specific events going on within the festival, complete lineup, schedule, maps, and FAQs, visit the official Detroit International Jazz Festival website. Also check out some performance highlights from past installments of the festival below.