Music in the news

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Detroit Jazz Festival pivots to become a virtual event

The Detroit Jazz Festival, the world’s largest free jazz festival, is typically held outdoors in downtown Detroit on Labor Day weekend, but it has been forced at the last minute to become a virtual event again this year as a result of a surge in COVID-19 cases. The four-day event will be streamed live from three soundstages at downtown’s Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center under COVID-19 protocols. “We’ve got a highly diverse roster of acts ranging from legends to serious up-and-comers, and a number of very special projects,” said Chris Collins, president and artistic director of the Detroit Festival Foundation, and a professor of music at Wayne State University. “And we’re excited about the format we’re working in. We’re so uniquely positioned to do a top-quality virtual festival because, first of all, our festival has been free admission for 42 years. Second, we’ve invested in the technology to do this right. The jazz festival team is doing a herculean effort here, and it’s not simple or cheap. This is a serious pivot…when people tune in, they’re getting extremely high-quality audio and video by leading Detroit professionals, and when you’re experiencing this jazz, you’re experiencing the spontaneity. You’re experiencing the moments at the same time they’re happening, live. It’s a true, live jazz experience.”   
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WSU endowment scholarship community bolstered by alum

Out of her passion and devotion to high school and college students, Detroit philanthropist Carolyn Patrick-Wanzo is working to protect the future of social work and music through the creation of several endowment scholarships at Wayne State University with her late husband. Patrick-Wanzo, 76, became interested in the world of endowment scholarships when she and her husband, Mel Wanzo, a trombone player best known for playing in the Count Basie Orchestra decided to give back to the community. “He would say, ‘You can give your life to the music and in 10 years nobody would know you existed,’” she said of her jazz musician husband who played the trombone in the big band. “We would talk about, ‘Let’s do something sustainable,’ when we retired.” That sustainability came in the form of endowment scholarships in the music department at WSU – the first one in 2003.  

Learning a thing or two about jazz with lecturer Vincent Chandler

Vincent Chandler is native Detroiter, who was a protégé in Detroit’s jazz scene during one of jazz music’s peaks in the city. He studied under some of Detroit’s most influential jazz musicians and is now passing on what he has learned as a lecturer in jazz studies, trombone, at Wayne State University. Chandler joined Jackie Paige on Community Connect to talk about the importance of passing on the history of jazz to the next generation and how jazz music has influenced the Black community since the genre’s conception. While speaking about jazz music’s history, Chandler points out the opportunities that the popularity of jazz gave to Black musicians, as the music helped start a foundation for eroding racial prejudice and breaking down barriers. Although the fight for racial equality continues today, jazz fueled the Civil Rights Movement in a way that no one thought music could. “What the Black community has done for music when it comes to America… you’ll see that throughout history it has given us opportunities that transcend even slavery.”
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'More like a story than a song': How Marvin Gaye's 'What's Going On' remains relevant 50 years later

Fifty years ago, vibrating with agitation and energy, Marvin Gaye headed down the wood steps into a Detroit studio and made his anthem for the ages. “What’s Going On,” a poignant musical masterpiece crafted in a season of unease, persists as a timely backdrop to another heated time, half a century later, when the world feels upside down. Racial tensions, police controversy, environmental anxieties, a globe on edge — they were the topics on the front burner when Gaye rebooted his musical career and took control of his creative vision inside Motown. “People always talk about various influences out of Detroit. This really was a hometown effort that went worldwide. It captured that community sensibility and coming-together during a challenging time,” said Chris Collins, a music professor and director of jazz studies at Wayne State University. “The production — the openness of the music involved — was a pretty spectacular example of what can come out of that.” Collins said his 20-something son is enamored with the song and album. “It's in his musical life as a young person,” said Collins, also director of the Detroit Jazz Festival. “I think that speaks to the power and sincerity of that recording. It spans generation and communities.” At Wayne State, ethnomusicologist Josh Duchan’s course on 20th century popular music zeroes in on “The Message,” the pioneering 1982 rap hit by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. “A song like that — which is much more explicit in its lyrics — is kind of the extension of what Marvin Gaye and ‘What’s Going On’ did years earlier,” he said. “It’s looking around at the world and saying: These are not the conditions we all hoped for.”