This Labor Day weekend — for the first time since 2019 — the Detroit Jazz Festival presented by Rocket Mortgage is back in person. And like in years past, Wayne State University’s Department of Music will be there to represent from the very first note.
Kicking off the 43rd annual Detroit Jazz Festival on Sept. 2 from the Carhartt Amphitheater Soundstage in Hart Plaza will be Shannon Powell and Dr. Valade’s Brass Band procession. While Powell is a legendary New Orleans drummer and historian, his bandmates will consist entirely of J.C. Heard Jazz Week@Wayne students — ranging from eighth grade to incoming first-year college students — who participated in the summer Jazz Week workshop/student showcase and earned a spot on the 2022 Detroit Jazz Festival All-Star Youth Ensemble.
As per festival tradition, all Jazz Week students open the festival as players in Dr. Valade’s Brass Band (named after Gretchen Valade’s honorary doctorate from Wayne State), which will be led by Powell, who comes to Detroit every year to teach the history and tradition of the New Orleans bands’ jazz style.
“Opening the festival with such a pronounced performance and, ultimately, with young people connecting to the deepest roots of this music with a master such as Shannon Powell, I think it’s easy for the audience to relate and dance to,” said Charles Newsome, faculty member in the Department of Music in the College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts and coordinator of the university’s jazz guitar program. “And all these things create, definitely, a party-like atmosphere.”
Guided by Newsome — who has been part of the free J.C. Heard Jazz Week@Wayne since its second year and took over in 2020 as the program’s educational director — other WSU jazz faculty, guest artists from the Detroit community and national artist/educators sponsored by the Jazz Festival, the J.C. Heard Jazz students study improvisation, theory and ensemble playing. They also work in master-class settings, jam sessions, and small and large ensemble rehearsals, culminating with the two public performances.
“Every time I walked into the room the band sounded incredible, in terms of what Shannon was getting out of them,” Newsome said. “The performance is very energetic, and the kids seem to be having fun. They also seem to have internalized the music on a level that I hadn't heard yet in previous years. I'm really excited about the potential for that band opening the festival. It’s the kind of energy they can bring.”
Jazz Week combines the artistic and educational forces of three jazz entities — WSU’s Department of Music, the Detroit Jazz Festival Foundation and the J.C. Heard Legacy. Approximately 40 local high school students are chosen for the jazz showcase, which caps a tuition-free, weeklong workshop that provides students with an intensive and rewarding jazz education experience.
In addition to Newsome and the opening ensemble, the list of sets featuring Wayne State faculty, students and alumni stretch the entire festival weekend:
Friday, Sept. 2
- 6 p.m. Hart Plaza Festival — Opens with Powell and Dr. Valade’s Brass Band procession
- 7 p.m. Carhartt Amphitheater Stage — Artist in Residence Chucho Valdes’ The Creation. The Big Band includes Detroit All-Stars, led by Collins and featuring several WSU faculty.
Saturday, Sept. 3
- 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. Carhartt Amphitheater Stage — WSU Big Band featuring Legacy Artist Alvin Waddles and conducted by Russ Miller
Sunday, Sept. 4
- 12:15 to 1:15 p.m. Pyramid Stage — J.C. Heard Jazz Week@Wayne Youth All-Stars, conducted by Newsome, featuring the best students of 2022 Jazz Week
- 2 to 3 p.m. Absopure Waterfront Stage — Tom Bartelmay 4 (WSU Gretchen Valade graduate assistant)
- 5:45 to 7 p.m. Pyramid Stage — Tottori-Detroit Reunion Band (Japanese/USA collaboration) co-led by Collins and including WSU Jazz Studies Alumnus Trevor Lamb on bass
Monday, Sept. 5
- 4 to 5:15 p.m. Pyramid Stage — Signal Quartet led by Sean Perlmutter (WSU Jazz Studies alumnus)
“I am so proud of the annual Wayne State presence at the Detroit Jazz Festival. Students, faculty and alumni can be heard throughout the four-day, world-class event,” said Chris Collins, Detroit Jazz Festival president and artistic director, and Valade Endowed Chair in Jazz, professor and director of jazz studies in the Department of Music. “It is a powerful display of the unique connectivity between WSU and Detroit's premier jazz event.”
This year, the festival features its first Cuban Artist in Residence, Chucho Valdés. In this role, Valdés will support Detroit Jazz Festival Foundation educational initiatives for students and community engagement activities across the region throughout the year, in addition to leading multiple diverse performances during Labor Day weekend.
“Chucho Valdés’ selection as the 2022 Artist in Residence is an immediate reflection of our ongoing international outreach initiatives, profoundly grown global audience during the pandemic, and our ongoing commitment to present jazz artists and performances that showcase the diverse tapestry of jazz including legendary artists and the next generation of jazz leaders,” Collins said. “His artistry at the festival, coupled with his monumental career and status as a worldwide leader in Afro-Cuban jazz, will make the perfect statement as we transition back into an in-person format with a new perspective.”
Continuing the tradition of featuring artists and performances that reflect the talent and roots of Detroit’s rich jazz heritage, the Jazz Festival also includes a roster of hometown artists who will hit the stages. "We look forward to presenting an exciting lineup of hometown artists that reflect Detroit’s phenomenal and diverse jazz culture and talent,” said Collins.
Returning this year is “Detroit Jazz Fest LIVE!” now available for free through the festival’s website at live.detroitjazzfest.org. Those unable to make it to the festival in person can livestream performances from all four stages, all four days via their smartphone, tablet or desktop.
Additionally, the livestreaming services features select performances throughout the year from the Foundation’s year-round initiatives, Festival schedules, maps and more. Since the Detroit Jazz Festival started livestreaming its shows — reaching nearly 2.5 million viewers in two years — Collins said they are able to connect with audiences that they would not otherwise be able to.
Sets can also 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 its social media channels — Facebook and Instagram — and through the smartphone app, Detroit JazzFest LIVE!
Wayne State will also have a non-musical presence at the four-day event, serving as the presenting sponsor of the Detroit Jazz Festival's Information and Accessibility Booth. The booth will be in a prime location with WSU signage and includes maps, wheelchairs, hearing enhancement devices and calls for golf cart shuttles.
The full Detroit Jazz Festival schedule is available at DJFF 2022 Program Schedule.