Ever wonder how you’ll celebrate your 91st birthday? Ever wonder if you’ll even be around for your 91st birthday? Yeah, well, composer and bandleader Gerald Wilson will turn 91 on September 4, and he plans on ringing it in with a very melodious bang before a large audience at the 30th edition of the Detroit International Jazz Festival. Specifically, Wilson will premiere a six-part suite dedicated to Detroit that he composed after being commissioned to do so by Festival organizers. A press release calls the suite “a musical sonnet to the city where [Wilson] spent five very important formative years in the late ’30s.”
The suite, simply titled Detroit, begins with “Blues on Bell Isle,” written for a public park on the shore of Lake Michigan where Wilson spent time during his youth. It proceeds to “Cass Tech” which, according to the aforementioned press release, celebrates “the school whose rigorous and comprehensive musical training prepared [Wilson] for the real world.” And then it’s on to the “slightly melancholy ‘Detroit,’” followed by the “brisk and brash ‘Miss Gretchen,’” an homage of sorts to Mack Avenue Records owner and Festival benefactor Gretchen Valade. The suite winds toward its conclusion with “Before Motown,” a nod to the Native Americans who first inhabited Michigan, and finally ends on a swinging note with “The Detroit River.”
Wilson has recorded Detroit while utilizing both his New York and Los Angeles orchestras, along with flutist Hubert Laws, trumpeter Sean Jones and guitarist Anthony Wilson. The album, set to drop on September 29, marks Wilson’s fourth release on the Mack Avenue imprint. For more information, go to www.detroitjazzfest.com and www.mackavenue.com.