September 2, 2021

Detroit Jazz Festival pivots to virtual, features 40-plus hours of entertainment

Typically held outdoors in downtown Detroit on Labor Day weekend, Chris Collins (right) and crew had to quickly decide that the world’s largest free jazz festival would become a virtual event again this year.

Chris Collins was on the West Coast, recording a studio session, when he got the call. It was at the 11th hour, figuratively, of his team’s preparations for the 42nd annual Detroit Jazz Festival and the news was not good.

“There were some challenges with the Hart Plaza renovation and, of course, we want the finished plaza to be great because we’re looking forward to using it in its new form like everyone else is,” said Collins, Detroit Jazz Festival president and artistic director, and Valade Endowed Chair in Jazz, professor and director of jazz studies at Wayne State University. “But despite careful planning and communications, it was something we did not expect, which created a timeline that suggested we were going to have only half of our footprint. In addition to COVID and the increase of the delta variant, trying to put 300,000 people over four days on half of our regular space would have been disastrous for many other safety reasons.”

Kicking off this year’s festival from the Carhartt Soundstage will be artist-in-residence Dee Dee Bridgewater and the Woodshed Network.

Typically held outdoors in downtown Detroit on Labor Day weekend, Collins and crew were left with no choice but to quickly pivot. It was decided that the world’s largest free jazz festival would become a virtual event again this year. The four-day event, sponsored by Rocket Mortgage, will be streamed live Sept. 3-6 from three custom-built sponsored soundstages at downtown’s Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center under COVID-19 protocols. Audiences will not be present for the performances, which can only be experienced in real time.

“When it’s gone, it’s gone,” Collins said. “It’s a true, live jazz experience. What’s happening onstage is what you’ll see in the same moment with no delay, and it won’t be available to stream later.”

Requiring the installation of more than 18 miles of fiber-optic cable and a plethora of streaming tech through the Marriott complex, Collins said those who tune in can expect to receive extremely high-quality audio and video. He also feels this year’s event will be able to match (or exceed) last year’s first-ever virtual Detroit Jazz Festival numbers of a million unique viewers from 32 countries. “That, to me, is so exciting,” Collins said. “Even from the safety of our homes, there could be millions of us watching and listening together.”

Sets can be heard/streamed locally on WDET-FM (101.9), WRCJ-FM (90.9), and WEMU-FM (89.1), and seen on detroitjazzfest.org, Detroit Public Television’s website and via Detroit’s arts and entertainment outlet, Channel 22. The festival also can be viewed worldwide on the festival’s social media channels (Facebook and Instagram) and through the festival's smartphone app, Detroit JazzFest LIVE!

Kicking off this year’s festival from the Carhartt Soundstage will be artist-in-residence Dee Dee Bridgewater and the Woodshed Network. Immediately after the performance — preceding the Matthew Whitaker Quartet and the legendary Herbie Hancock, who closes out the night — WSU President M. Roy Wilson is scheduled to speak live from the event’s anchor desk.

Legendary pianist Herbie Hancock will close out the first night of the 2021 Detroit Jazz Festival.

“He is going to be doing something we love to do, which is celebrate Gretchen Valade and all she's brought to the world of jazz,” Collins said. “President Wilson will also be talking a little about the future of the Gretchen Valade Jazz Center, along with some special announcements. It's about Gretchen — what she’s done, where she is now and some things in the future that are going to keep her resonating for generations to come, in this case, on Wayne State’s campus.”

And that’s just the first night’s festivities. Hometown favorites such as Zen Zadravec, Pamela Wise, the Scott Gwinell Jazz Orchestra and Tyson Haynes are in the lineup as well as international acts like the Anat Cohen Tentet with musical director Oded Lev-Ari and Omar Sosa and the Havana-Detroit Jazz Project.

The weekend will also include unique presentations like Kurt Elling's “The Big Blind,” a 1950s musical radio drama that will be played out live onstage; “The Summit: Manhattan Transfer Meets Take 6”; Keyon Harrold presenting “Jazz and the Birth of Hip Hop” with special guests Black Milk, Georgia Anne Muldrow and Chris (Daddy) Dave; the Charlie Parker centennial “Celebrating Bird @ 100”; “Exploring New Worlds” with Eddie Daniels and Bob James; and the “100th Anniversary of Dave Brubeck” with the Brubeck Brothers and Jerry Bergonzi.

“It’s a very joyous thing, and I think people will find it to be quite an engaging broadcast,” Collins said. “There's nothing in the world, before or after, that’s 40 hours plus of live jazz programming at the television broadcast level we're doing. We’re very proud of it and look forward to 2022 being back in person. But where we’re at now, we feel great about the decision and everybody's going to have a safe, live and free Detroit Jazz Festival 2021.”

Below is the full Detroit Jazz Festival schedule

FRIDAY, SEPT. 3

6:10 p.m. Festival opening from the anchor desk

6:30-7:45 p.m. Carhartt Soundstage

Dee Dee Bridgewater and the Woodshed Network

7:45-8:00 p.m. WSU President M. Roy Wilson from the anchor desk

8-9:05 p.m. Absopure Soundstage

Matthew Whitaker Quartet

9:10-10:25 p.m. JPMorgan Chase Soundstage

Herbie Hancock

SATURDAY, SEPT. 4

11:35 a.m.-12:35 p.m. JPMorgan Chase Soundstage

Collegiate Combo Competition Winner: L Stop

12:40-1:40 p.m. Absopure Soundstage

Etienne Charles & Creole Soul

1:45-2:45 p.m. Carhartt Soundstage

Alicia Olatuja, “Intuition: Songs from the Minds of Women”

2:50-3:55 p.m. Absopure Soundstage

Kenny Barron Trio

4-5:05 p.m. JPMorgan Chase Soundstage

Keyon Harrold presents "Jazz and the Birth of Hip Hop" with special guests Black Milk, Georgia Anne Muldrow and Chris (Daddy) Dave

5:10-6:15 p.m. Absopure Soundstage

Omar Sosa & the Havana-Detroit Jazz Project

6:15-6:55 p.m. Awards presentation from the anchor desk

6:55-8:55 p.m. JPMorgan Chase Soundstage

Kurt Elling’s "The Big Blind" featuring Dee Dee Bridgewater and Allan Harris, a jazz radio play written by Elling and Phil Galdston

9-10:05 p.m. Absopure Soundstage

Jerry Bergonzi Quintet

10:10-11:20 p.m. Carhartt Soundstage

"The Summit: The Manhattan Transfer Meets Take 6"

11:25 p.m.-12:35 a.m. Absopure Soundstage

David Binney Angeleno Group

SUNDAY, SEPT. 5

10:55 a.m.-11:25 a.m. Tottori Japan Generations Band

11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. JPMorgan Chase Soundstage

Scott Gwinell Jazz Orchestra

12:35-1:35 p.m. Absopure Soundstage

Randy Napoleon Quartet

1:40-2:50 p.m. Carhartt Soundstage

Sean Jones’ Dizzy Spellz featuring Brinae Ali

2:55-3:55 p.m. Absopure Soundstage

Michael Mayo

4-5:05 p.m. JPMorgan Chase Soundstage

Anat Cohen Tentet with musical director Oded Lev-Ari

 5:10-6:30 p.m. Absopure Soundstage

"The Brubeck Brothers Quartet: 100th Anniversary of Dave Brubeck featuring Jerry Bergonzi"

 6:35-7:40 p.m. Carhartt Soundstage

Kenny Garrett and Sounds from the Ancestors

 7:45-8:45 p.m. Absopure Soundstage

Dee Dee Bridgewater with Bill Charlap

 8:50-9:55 p.m. JPMorgan Chase Soundstage

Gregory Porter

 10-11:10 p.m. Absopure Soundstage

AZIZA featuring Dave Holland, Chris Potter, Lionel Loueke, and Eric Harland

 11:15 p.m.-12:15 a.m. Carhartt Soundstage

Play!

MONDAY, SEPT. 6

 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. JPMorgan Chase Soundstage

Brandon Rose & Soul Therapy

 12:35-1:35 p.m. Absopure Soundstage

Dave Sharpe Worlds Quartet

 1:40-2:50 p.m. Carhartt Soundstage

Keyon Harrold with the Collegiate Detroit Jazz Festival Orchestra

 2:55-3:55 p.m. Absopure Soundstage

Tyson Haynes

 4-5:05 p.m. JPMorgan Chase Soundstage

"Celebrating Bird @100," co-music directors: RudreshMahanthappa and Terri Lyne Carrington

 5:10-6:15 p.m. Absopure Soundstage

Pamela Wise Ensemble

 6:20-7:30 p.m. Carhartt Soundstage

Dee Dee Bridgewater with Big Band

 7:35-8:40 p.m. Absopure Soundstage

Eddie Daniels and Bob James, "Exploring New Worlds"

 8:45-9:50 p.m. JPMorgan Chase Soundstage

Monty Alexander, HKX

 9:55-10:55 p.m. Absopure Soundstage

Jimmy Greene Quintet

 11 p.m.-12:05 a.m. Carhartt Soundstage

Zen Zadravec

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