In jazz, few Labor Day traditions are anticipated with such eagerness and enthusiasm than the Detroit Jazz Festival. It’s among the premier musical events of the summer and a crown jewel in the city’s cultural events calendar. This year, the Detroit Jazz Festival presented by Quicken Loans turns 40 years old, and as you’ll see, organizers have elevated the musical proceedings to match this milestone occasion. Jazz fans in the know have already booked their flights to the Motor City, but for those of you unfamiliar with Detroit’s many cultural charms, here are your 5 Reasons to Check Out the Detroit Jazz Festival.
1. It’s the largest free jazz festival in the world
The Detroit Jazz Festival celebrates a milestone 40th anniversary this year, which means that for four decades it has been presenting world-class jazz in the heart of downtown Detroit – absolutely free of charge to listening audiences. Taking place annually across Labor Day Weekend (this year’s fest falls across Aug. 30 – Sept. 2), the Detroit Jazz Festival has played home to some of the biggest names in jazz, from Dave Brubeck to Wynton Marsalis. They continue that tradition today with 30-plus performances by top-tier jazz artists taking place across four stages in downtown Detroit’s Hart Plaza. Add in the local food and wine stands, music vendors and scenic vistas, and you’ve got a phenomenal way to spend a holiday weekend.
The lineup celebrates Detroit’s rich jazz heritage
To commemorate its 40th anniversary, the Detroit Jazz Festival has added two special programs to its lineup: the Homecoming Series presented by Ascension and Hometown Series, both of which are designed to honor Detroit’s jazz legacy and reflecting the panoramic display of Detroit’s jazz culture. After all, the number of standout jazz artists to have emerged from the Motor City is astounding. Dee Dee Bridgewater, Kenny Garrett, Rodney Whitaker, Regina Carter Sheila Jordan and Ron Carter are all natives, and all will be performing during their hometown fest.
You can catch the world’s most incredible jazz musicians in action
Each year, the festival selects an Artist-in-Residence, who appears throughout the fest in various guises. Past Artists-in-Residence have included Pat Metheny and Wayne Shorter. This year, the honor goes to electric bass pioneer Stanley Clarke. Among many performances, he’ll be recreating his classic School Days album from 1976 in a special concert titled “Back to School Days” during the festival’s opening night.
He’ll join a program that also includes appearances from Macy Gray, Dennis Coffey, Terence Blanchard, John Pizzarelli, Luciana Souza and Pat Metheny, among many others. The festival will also host a number of thematic performances, including a celebration of 100 years of Art Blakey, a tribute to Johnny Trudell and a showcase for the music of Duke Ellington.
You can watch jazz stars on the rise
One of the great joys in attending any jazz festival is discovering new and up-and-coming artists. But few festivals afford audiences the opportunity to brush up against tomorrow’s jazz talent the way the Detroit Jazz Festival does. A nice cohort of breakout stars are poised to appear, including vocalist Veronica Swift, pianist Connie Han, keyboardist (and frequent Kamasi Washington collaborator) Cameron Graves and pianist Emmet Cohen. Han and Graves both recently released albums on the Mack Avenue Records, and Swift and Cohen both have records due out on the label soon. The Detroit Jazz Festival presents listeners with the rare chance to see these artists live (and for free!) before their careers enter warp speed.
You can explore the Motor City
Detroit is in the midst of a cultural renaissance, and the creative energy of the city is palpable. The Detroit Jazz Festival is an excellent opportunity to explore everything the Motor City has to offer, from its unparalleled museums and historical institutions to its exciting restaurant scene and architectural delights. While you’re there, be sure to visit the Henry Ford Museum, where you can immerse yourself in the history of technological and industrial inventions. Or stop by the Detroit Institute of Art and view masterpieces by European and American artists, including Van Gogh and Picasso. Catch a baseball game at Comerica Park (home of the Detroit Tigers) or enjoy the natural beauty of Belle Isle, a small island located in the Detroit River that offers stunning views and scenic hikes. Of course, for music fans, no trip to Detroit is complete without a trip to the Motown Museum.
For more information, including a full festival lineup, visit the Detroit Jazz Festival website.