Day 2. I guess it says enough about yesterday (and last night. and this morning…) that I’m writing not writing about Saturday’s adventures until nearly 2pm on Sunday afternoon. Overdoing it, much?
Made my way down the fest around Noon yesterday, still in the upper 80s but no humidity...sunny and very hot but much more comfortable than Friday.
The day started at one of the waterfront tents: Ted Nash, Ben Allison, Matt Wilson and Fred Kimbrough in a Henry Mancini tribute. If there is a more entertaining drummer than Wilson on the scene now I don't know who it is. He has such a great time with everything he plays! An impression reinforced by seeing him at the after-fest jam at a local lounge last night, where he backed up a bunch of highschool players who had come to sit in with the headliners. Several times the young players stepped aside just to watch and interact with Wilson's laughing, smiling, and scatting from the kit. The best! Around 4pm I parked it on the stone steps of the Carhartt amphitheatre. Sunny, temps topping 88, stone steps. (So that's how flatbread feels...) The 4:45pm act was Javon Jackson's band with Les McCann. They hooked up about a year and a half ago. Javon and I went to highschool together, we've kept in touch but I hadn't had a chance to see him with the new lineup yet. It was terrific. "Compared to What" tore it up, got the crowd on its feet, and would have been the most memorable moment except for the guy who was carried out by paramedics (heatstroke) during the "Amazing Grace" duet: McCann singing all-out from the keyboard, with Javon with some very soulful tenor support, all while the stretcher made its way down the aisle across the front of the stage. An absolutely unforgettable scene.
I should mention, the whole reason I came to the Detroit Jazz Fest this year (of all things to do over Labor Day weekend) is because of the focus: each year the Fest pays tribute to another city by way of that city's culture, and musicians. This year’s event is called the Philly/Detroit Summit: A Love Supreme, and it’s a tribute to Philly, and Coltrane, and his profound legacy. I didn’t grow up in a house that listened to jazz. It wasn’t part of my world at all until I was around 12, when I had a chance encounter with my new FM radio. And the first jazz piece (what an introduction!) I ever recall hearing was that day: “Naima” – it was being played on Denver’s terrific commercial station KADX (owned and operated by local jazz impresario Dick Gibson). I was awestruck by its soulfulness and the sheer intensity of its expression. (Around that same time I heard opera for the first time – Kiri Te Kanawa, at the MET Opera. Also life-changing. And another story.) Don’t we all have experiences like that, at some point in our lives? If we’re lucky enough! So it was a short step from there to ‘Love Supreme’, though I had to save up a lot of allowance dollars before I had enough to ask mom to drive me down to WaxTrax on Colfax ave. and buy the LP. And then talk mom and dad into letting me borrow their stereo to play it. Over, and over, and over again. I still remember cracking the album open for the first tiem (a used copy of the original 1964 recording, which I still have) and appreciating the completeness of its vision, with the interior sketch of Coltrane and his poem. I even tried to learn some of the sax parts on my French Horn. That didn't work out too well but in the spirit of artistic adventurousness, I'd like to think Coltrane would have forgiven me for mangling his masterpiece. "A Love Supreme" has been an experience I've visited and revisited throughout different times in my life and it never fails to offer something new and insightful and completely rewarding. So that’s the background…
Back to the Fest: after Javon’s smoking performance, the early evening held a panel discussion about Coltrane's music and influence, with Jimmy Heath, Benny Golson, Detroit native son and poet/performer Farug Z. Bey (also a former bandmate of Coltrane), author Ashley Khan and Philly jazz writer/guitarist Dave Adler. It was a very special session, and one of the main reasons I had come here. Lots of personal stories about Trane, especially from Heath who shared recollections from times playing together in the 1940s at the "421" and Showboat clubs in Philly, where he had met up with Coltrane after they had both just arrived in the city from N. Carolina. Lots of highlights from the talk: Heath talking about how Coltrane didn't make music "24/7", he made it "24/10"; and how Naima, John's 1st wife, described him as being made of "90% saxophone". Artistic excellence and dedication were the recurring themes in all of the Trane memories and thoughts on the longevity of his influence. Benny Golson had the final word of the day on Coltrane noting that "his engine was curiosity. And that led to imagination. The creative mind never retires, you know." At the end during the Q&A I mentioned I had read that Trane (like a lot of folks) had been turned on to Babatunde Olantunji’s landmark “Drums of Passion”, and that it had some influence on his music. I asked the panel if they knew what other world music Coltrane had been known to listen to. Not surprisingly, Ashley Khan (author, “A Love Supreme”; “The House That Trane Built”) came through with an illuminating insight: after Trane died, it’s widely known that Alice renounced all worldly possessions in pursuit of a spiritual life. It’s less widely known that among the possessions she renounced were Coltrane’s collection of LPs. They were found in a dumpster behind the couple’s CA home – a collection that included many, many recordings of Indian classical music. Long-form ragas, extended (yet still structured) sets of musical searching, expression and contemplation,…’Love Supreme’ anyone? That one single, crystallized insight made my journey to Detroit worthwhile. And there are still two more days to go!
Other notable performances yesterday: Esperanza Spalding's Trio, Bonerama, Sonny Fortune, Christian McBride, and grand finale evening Latin jazz Hilton Ruiz blowout featuring Ray Vega, Pete Escovedo, Steve Turre, Arturo O'Farrill, and Dave Valentin. Now, THAT'S the way to end a Sat. night! Final stray thoughts here before heading out for day 3: I woke up last night to sirens. That's never happend to me in Vermont. And smoking is big here. Inside, outside, no matter...it's just part of the culture. Cigarettes are sold everywhere and I guess I had forgotten that ashtrays used to be a regular fixture of tables in bars and restaurants. There aren't many women who are really into jazz. Performers or fans, it seems. The talks, master classes, and non-headliner performances I've seen are overwhelmingly male populated. So’s the audience. Why aren't more women into jazz?
Looking forward to the day ahead, at the same time it's hard to think about enjoying music with all of the pre-Gustav evacuations, press conferences, and warnings I've been watching on TV. Three years after Katrina/Rita, and it’s looking like it could happen all over again. God help the Gulf Coast. Since we found out the last time the government won’t. Yours truly, from the land of sparse public transportation (it's evident nowhere more than in that practical detail: in Detroit, it's all about the cars.)