The Detroit Jazz Festival is often proudly hailed as the world's largest free jazz fest, but until I finally attended last year, I didn't quite grasp what that means. Taking up an enormous swath of urban downtown real estate for the duration of Labor Day weekend, it's as much a grand civic tradition as it is an artist showcase. This will be its 39th annual edition, and I've met folks older than me who have gone every year, since they were children.
Because there's so much local pride in the festival, and because Detroit was and still is an important jazz town, the feeling on the ground is different than at so many other events of its kind. Every single set is free of charge, but audiences take the music seriously, no less than if they had paid top dollar. Last year, the artist-in-residence was Wayne Shorter, and I was serving as an emissary of Jazz Night in America, which documented him there, in an all-star group with Esperanza Spalding on bass and vocals and Terri Lyne Carrington on drums. This year, Spalding and Carrington will anchor a resident ensemble in tribute to the late Geri Allen; the artist-in-residence is Chick Corea.
One small but terrific innovation of the Detroit Jazz Festival is its Talk Tent, a dedicated space on the main thoroughfare that features interviews and discussions throughout the weekend. Programmed by Jim Gallert and Lars Bjorn, it's a great environment for close-up interaction with artists and writers. The photo at right is a pic I snapped last year: Detroit's own critic and historian Mark Stryker speaking with Danilo Pérez, John Patitucci and Brian Blade, about the mysterious ways of playing with Wayne. (Something I write about in the book, as a matter of fact.)
I'll be at the Talk Tent on Sunday afternoon, discussing Playing Changes. Right now I'm not at liberty to say who, but I'll be joined by a very special guest. The event, like all programming at the Detroit Jazz Festival, is free and first-come, first-served. Come say hello!