Monk

During the 2007 Labor Day Weekend, I traveled from the Bay Area to attend my first Detroit International Jazz Festival (DIJF), despite being a Detroit native. The DIJF is arguably the best straightahead Jazz festival in the land. Admittedly, when it comes to presenting live Jazz, I’m definitely a Jazz ‘club’ person versus a Jazz ‘festival’ person. When given a choice, I much prefer the intimacy, ambiance, acoustics, feel, and sound quality of a nice Jazz club, characteristics that are often lost in open-air festival venues, auditoriums, or large town halls, although I totally understand the economics involved. (Three notable exceptions: Sonny Rollins at S.F. Masonic Auditorium in October 2006; Alice Coltrane w/Ravi at S.F. Masonic Auditorium in November 2006; Pharaoh Sanders & William Henderson Duo at S.F. Grace Cathedral in October 2007. WOW!!!). Plus, over the years, ‘Jazz’ festivals have evolved from featuring mostly straightahead/bebop Jazz to Jazz Fusion to Smooth Jazz to R&B/Funk nowadays, although continuing to promote and advertise themselves under the banner of ‘Jazz’. If one compares line-ups from the early days of Jazz at the Philharmonic, Montreux, Newport, Playboy, and Monterey to those of today’s popular summer/fall ‘Jazz’ festivals, there’s a stark difference. Don’t get me wrong; I love my 1970s P-Funk just as much as the next funkateer, I cheer and salivate when Chaka Khan croons “Sweet Thing”, and I think I know “What time is it?” (The Time), but not necessarily at a ‘Jazz’ festival! Come on, Man!!! That being said, the one Jazz festival in particular that has remained a venue for presenting mostly straightahead Jazz artists since its inception in 1980 is the DIJF, initially named the Montreux-Detroit Jazz Festival, which is held over Labor Day weekend. The best and unique feature is that it’s absolutely FREE to attend! Ironically, I left town in January of 1981 for my first job out of college and had never attended this much heralded and talk-about Jazz festival before; that is, until some 27 years later. Even though I usually visited Detroit two or three times each year to see family and close friends, targeting Labor Weekend for Jazz was very low on my priority list. Besides, I was getting my adequate fill of Jazz (clubs) on my own wherever I lived. Fact is, I don’t think that my parents, brother, five sisters, nieces, nephews, aunts, and uncles would have tolerated my going AWOL each Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday afternoon/evening of Labor Day weekend at the expense of precious quality time with family. After all, I ran the risk of being “disinvited” from any and all future family picnics, cookouts, and holiday gatherings (Christmas, Easter, Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, New Year’s), not to mention birthday parties, graduations, weddings, family bowling, movies nights, game nights, etc. So whenever I was in the vicinity of Detroit, or word got out that I was in town, I would have had to find a healthy and happy balance between family and Jazz. So in 2007, after my west coast buddies convinced me to go for it, I did so. In fact, I attended the DIJF from 2007 thru 2010, and in 2013. I had a wonderful time each year, hearing great music at the four outdoor stages, hanging out with my west coast Jazz buddies (Faye & Ralph), meeting new Jazz enthusiasts from all over the country, running into old friends from the neighborhood, chatting with favorite Jazz artists in informal settings, enjoying the delicious foods offered by local vendors, and, of course, watching the colorful and breath-taking fireworks. I especially liked the evening jam sessions at the Renaissance Center Marriott where Jazz artists, young and old, performed and then mingled with Jazz fans. I also enjoyed welcoming Jazz artists to my beloved city as an unofficial city spokesperson. Even though there were so many amazing musical highlights over the five years that I attended the DIJF, far too many to mention, these non-musical moments stand out for me: (a) chatting with Mulgrew Miller and his wife while sitting on a couch during a jam session; (b) briefly speaking with Mike LeDonne at the bar during a jam session about his soulful playing on organ, reminding me so much of my favorite Hammond B3 “burner”, Charles Earland; (c) watching Warren Wolf hover over piano players, studying their every move and technique (besides being an amazing vibist, he’s also an outstanding pianist and drummer!); (d) chatting with Roy Hargrove at the corner of Jefferson and Woodward while he was just wandering around, taking in the sights and scenes of the Motor City; (e) greeting Christian McBride outside the hotel as he arrived as I was leaving a jam session; (f) checking out meet-the-artist interviews under the big tent; and (g) by chance, standing next to bassist Gerald Cannon’s two BIG brothers from Milwaukee, all 6’3” and 6’4” of them, and chatting with them during a concert (I’ve since had mad respect for Gerald!). Yes, with the DIJF, I somehow found a way to balance visiting with family (while staying with my sister) and nurturing my passion for Jazz… quite a feat! :v)

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