Author: Mike Stratton
Date: September 7, 2010
The theme of this year’s Detroit International Jazz Festival was Flame Keepers, and the heritage and jazz history on display at the festival shows the music to be very much alive and in good hands.
Where else can you see Barry Harris watching Mulgrew Miller from a front row seat? Or young Tia Fuller grab a chair to make sure to catch Roy Haynes’ burning set? Or watch Gerald Wilson grow young before our eyes leading a dynamic big band through some punchy arrangements?
Highlights of the last day of the festival included an amazing set of music by Branford Marsalis Quartet. Caught backstage and asked, “What’s your personal highlight of the festival?” Wess “Warmdaddy” Anderson answered, “This right here.” When questioned what he thought of Branford he answered immediately and authoritatively: “Branford Marsalis is the greatest living saxophonist.”
Blazing through a set that featured music that bracketed influences from New Orleans through Ornette Coleman, Marsalis’ band exhibited a level of dynamics and musicality that was inspiring. Cameos by Christian McBride and Robert Hurst, on different turns on bass, and Wess Anderson and Diego Rivera on saxes, only accented the integrity of the quartet.
Joey Calderazzo handed in some powerful piano solos. And 19-year-old Justin Faulkner on drums may be the next protege of percussion.
The Detroit audience is so amazingly hip. Time and again one hears them applaud, not just at the end of a solo, but just at the cresting of the climax of the solo, giving the soloist a wave to ride to the end of their improvisation.
So many moments that are worthy of mention: Kurt Elling bringing tears to the eyes of his audience with a tender ballad. His presence and ownership of the stage are nearly unique in current jazz singers. Maria Schneider Orchestra’s transcendent performance. Allen Toussaint’s solo piano outing, his N’Awlins style of piano rolling it’s way through a medley of hits. The late night hangs, the jam sessions, and Steve Turre and Christian McBride without gigs on Monday but backstage because this is where everyone was!
“At the festival, everybody there is a flame keeper,” said Pontremoli. “The students. The teachers. The radio stations. The reviewers. The funders. The members. The music will go on.”