2010 Detroit Jazz Festival

Sept. 4 - 6, 2010

Allen Toussaint

Jaleel Shaw

Dominick Farinacci

Donny McCaslin

Gerald Wilson

Branford Marsalis

Review and Photos by James Walker, Jr. - Copyright 2010

What a refreshing experience to attend the 31st Annual Detroit International Jazz Festival over the Labor Day weekend. This was an event that truly lived up to the expectations of a first class musical happening. During this joyous weekend , not only does one experience world class jazz masters, but also a touch of R&B and Gospel, is included. Throughout the festival grounds, located adjacent to the Marriott at the Renaissance Center, vendors with an array of clothing, food and jazz paraphernalia were in abundance.

Each day's music begins at noon and conclude around 11pm. In addition to the main amphitheater stage, three smaller venues simultaneously host world class acts in an intimate environment. Three venues are within five minutes of each other with the fourth a short ten minute walk through the "Vendor Village."

This year's Fest paid homage to some of the trailblazers of modern jazz - Art Blakey, Horace Silver, Betty Carter, Ray Brown, Miles Davis , Gil Evans and the living 92-year-old legend, Gerald Wilson. In addition, maestro pianist Mulgrew Miller was this year's artist in residence and was seen throughout the weekend sitting in with many of the bands . One of the many highlights was his "side by side" duo with the great pianist Kenny Barron. In total, there were over 70 performances plus a nightly "jam" session in the Marriott lobby.

Obviously, it was impossible to attend most of the sets, nevertheless, this listener was able to check out 23 acts over a three day period. Highlights include the following.


Saxophonist Tia Fuller and her quartet rendered an outstanding set at the Absopure Stage. Tia is a rising star but also featured her exceptional band that included her sister pianist Shamie Royston, drummer Rudy Royston, and bassist Mimi Sullivan.

On the main stage,Mulgrew Miller sat in with the Michigan State Band that featured vocalist Tamara Mears vocalizing on "I Just Found Out About Love."

One of the most anticipated sets of the day was saxophonist Kirk Whalum's sterling tribute to the late Donny Hathaway. What really made this tribute special was the participation of Donny's daughter Lala . The overflow crowd at the Chase Stage was heated up on this chilly September evening by some torrid hot sounds from Kirk and Lala.

Sunday :

Maria Schneider's Orchestra, featuring saxophonist Donny McCaslin and trumpeter Greg Gisbert occupied the main stage early to the delight of the audience.

Vocalist/pianist Johnny O'Neal , appearing at the Mack Avenue Records stage was joined on stage and at the piano by Mulgrew Miller. Seeing the Detroit native along side Miller on the piano really thrilled this hometown crowd.

It's always a pleasure of seeing Chicago native Freddy Cole perform and Freddy vocalized and played the piano demonstrating to the Motor City audience that although he may evoke memories of his brother Nat, he has developed a style of his own.

What a sight to see Mulgrew and Kenny Barron on the large Amphitheater Stage and only their pianos side by side. These modern jazz piano giants played so well together.

R&B vocalist Ledisi rocked the Chase Stage with some of her songs from her Grammy nominated CD Lost and Found. She's a dynamic performer and had the audience dancing in the aisles.

The evening came to climatic conclusion as bassist Christian McBride led a group of pianist Benny Green and drummer Karriem Riggins in a tribute to bassist Ray Brown. This was arguably one of the most outstanding performances of the weekend as they did justice to the legendary Brown's music. Special mention must be given to Detroit native Riggins as he surprised many in attendance with his exceptional drumming.

After Saturday's music, the sky of downtown Detroit were lit up with a spectacular 30 minute fireworks display.


Ageless drummer Roy Haynes (85-years-old) worked the main stage with his "Fountain of Youth Band" during the early afternoon. Just watching this wonder attack the drum kit is amazing. It's difficult to believe that he's been playing the skins for eight decades. Roy still can hold his own with the best.

Second Ebenezer Majestic Voices rendered a highly inspirational performance with some "hand clapping", "foot tapping" spirited gospel music. It was like being at a Baptist church on Sunday morning.

Branford Marsalis did not disappoint the capacity Amphitheater crowd, as he and bassist Eric Revis, drummer Justin Faulkner and pianist Joey Calderazzo held court. This set was so hot that bassist Christian McBride "begged" to sit in for a piece of the action. The crowd appreciated these giants jamming together.

Horizon, featuring saxophonist Bobby Watson and trumpeter Terell Stafford was a pleasant surprise to this listener. Passing by the Mack stage, their soulful sound drew me closer as these guys were having a ball. Hopefully they'll continue to perform together.

Manhattan Transfer/Detroit Jazz Orchestra and Gerald Wilson brought this magnificent four day festival to a climatic conclusion. The ageless (92) Wilson conducted this group with the flair that he's noted for. Just watching him interact with these groups was a sight to see. In addition, they were joined on stage for a jam session by saxophonist Ernie Watts, Trumpeter Randy Brecker, saxophonist Bobby Watson, and trumpeter Terell Stafford.

It was a beautiful conclusion to four wonderful days of music along the banks of the Detroit River that this listener certainly will make an annual event.

Jonathan Batiste

Manhattan Transfer

Christian McBride

Benny Green

Mulgrew Miller & Johnny O'Neal

Karriem Riggens

Wayne Escoffery

Gerald Wilson

Allen Toussaint

Kirk Whalum

Ernie Watts

Branford Marsalis

Eric Revis

Maria Schneider & Orchestra

Dave McMurray

Bobby Watson

Tia Fuller

Tamara Mears Mich. St. UN Band

2nd Ebeneezer Choir

Lala Hathaway

Kirk Whalum

Kevin Turner (Whalum)

2nd Ebeneezer vocalist

Steven Walker (Ledisi)

David Wong (Roy Haynes)

Mimi Sullivan (Tia Fuller)

Branford Marsalis

Kurt Elling

Dpminick Farinacci

Mulgrew Miller & Kenny Barron

Freddie Cole Quartet

Donny McCaslin

Maria Schneider

Dave Murray's guitarist

Johnny O'Neal

Greg Gisbert

Shamie Royston (Tia Fuller)

Jam Session Finale

John Stoddard

Detroit Jazz Orch. member


Danilo Perez

Ed Simon

MSU saxophonist

Idris Davis (Ledisi)

Jaleel Shaw (Roy Haynes)

Laurence Hobgood (Kurt Elling)

Roy Haynes

Bobby Watson

Adrienne, Bobby Watson, Diane, James

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