2022 Detroit Jazz Fest: A Bright Renewal

It was a delight to see so much live jazz again in the Detroit Jazz Festival after a pandemic break in 2020 and 2021. There was music on three stages at Hart Plaza and also at Campus Martius from Friday through Labor Day; and all of it was live-streamed, so we expect an audience of millions was watching world-wide thanks to the visions of festival director Chris Collins and the Detroit Jazz Festival Foundation.

The choice of Chucho Valdes (left) as the artist-in-residence for the 43rd festival was a wise one by Collins. Valdes has been a major figure in the world of jazz since the formation in the 1970s of Irakere, which included trumpeter Arturo Sandoval and altoist Paquito D’Rivera. Valdes did not disappoint on opening night when he presented his composition “The Creation” for piano, big band and plenty of percussion. His considerable keyboard skills were enhanced by his colorful arrangements, and I pray that it was all recorded for posterity. Valdes was also in his prime Sunday night in exhilarating duets with tenorist Joe Lovano and vocalist Dianne Reeves.

First on the Amphitheater Stage on Friday was drummer Shannon Powell leading Dr Valade’s Brass Band (top) with New Orleans chants and Crescent City notables like Jason Marsalis on the bass drum. The weather created delays on Saturday but when things cleared after dinner time I was once again impressed by Abdullah Ibrahim (right) and his Ekaya band on Campus Martius. Sunday also presented two shining lights in the world of vocal jazz on the same stage: José James and Cecile McLorin Salvant. Both singers have impressive voice ranges and their choice of material put them apart. James impressed with a blues program of Billie Holiday songs while Salvant was more ecumenical with anything from Mozart to musicals to jazz standards.

Labor Day featured Ethan Iverson’s all-star trio with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Nathaniel Waits (son of Detroit drummer Fred Waits). Ralphe Armstrong (below) presented his unique show on the Waterfront Stage with plenty of funk on his electric bass, Gerard Gibbs backing him on organ and Gayelynn McKinney kicking it on her drums. Armstrong also showed off his salty sense of humor to the delight of the audience picnicking in the grass by the Detroit River. Pianist Emmett Cohen was delighted to be back in Detroit for the festival and his performance on the Pyramid Stage with his trio was stellar.

photographs by Lars Bjorn