It has been branded as the world’s biggest “free” jazz festival, and in a grand annual tradition, the Detroit Jazz Festival will once again take off with the sound of music over the Labor Day weekend (Sept. 1 to Sept. 4) in downtown Detroit. Approximately 60 performances will be rendered by jazz singers, musicians, bands, and orchestras on three stages: the JPMorgan Chase Main Stage in Campus Martius, the Carhartt Amphitheater Stage in Hart Plaza, and the Absopure Waterfront Stage in Hart Plaza.
Headlining this year’s festival are jazz legends and native Detroiters Regina Carter (violinist), Kenny Garrett (saxophonist), and Louis Hayes (drummer). The three are recipients of the 2023 National Endowment of the Arts Masters Award, the highest and most prestigious honor a jazz artist can receive in the United States.
In addition, the 2023 Detroit Jazz Festival’s “Artist-in-Residence” is Karriem Riggins, the renowned jazz musician, producer, DJ, and Emmy Award winner. The native Detroiter is known nationally and internationally for pushing the boundaries of music through new and older generations of musicians and recording artists in the genres of jazz, hip-hop, and R&B-soul. Riggins will perform three times during the festival, including on Sunday, 9:15 p.m., with special guests Jessica Care Moore, Beej, T3, and Common on the JPMorgan Chase Main Stage.
“We are extremely excited to feature three newly awarded NEA Jazz Masters – Regina Carter, Louis Hayes, and Kenny Garrett, who are also Detroit jazz icons, on the stages of the Festival this year,” said Chris Collins, president and artistic director, Detroit Jazz Festival Foundation. “Their presence, along with the unique energy and vision of Karriem Riggins, will highlight an incredible showcase of diverse talent and revolutionary jazz from around the world.”
While there will be jazz emanating from three stages the entire Labor Day weekend, some “must-see, must-hear, must-experience” artists are Kenny Garrett (Saturday, 7:00 p.m.), followed by Regina Carter “Gone in a Phrase of Air” (8:55 p.m.), both on JPMorgan Chase Main Stage; Dee Dee Bridgewater and the DDB Quartet (Sunday, 7:15 p.m.), on the Carhartt Amphitheater Stage; The Rodney Whitaker Group: Spirituals of John Coltrane (Sunday, 8:45 p.m.) on the Absopure Waterfront Stage; Dafnis Prieto with the Collegiate Jazz Festival Orchestra (Monday, 2:15 p.m.) on the JP Morgan Chase Main Stage; and the Louis Hayes Quintet (Monday, 4:00 p.m.) on the Carhartt Amphitheater Stage.
Since its inception in 1980, The Detroit International Jazz Festival, as it was called at the time, has continually grown to bring people to the Motor City to see, hear, and experience both legendary and up-and-coming artists performing jazz in its many variations. In 2005, Detroit philanthropist and Mack Avenue Records Chairwoman Gretchen Valade took the festival to even higher levels as its major sponsor. Valade passed in December 2022 at the age of 97, but not before her creativeness greatly impacted the growth of every aspect of the festival, including expanding its presence to cover multiple blocks, adding more stages, presenting smaller events and activities leading up to the Labor Day weekend of jazz, and, of course, assuring that the three-day festival presented many of the world’s most elite jazz stars, while giving lesser known artists major platforms to shine.
“Due to her singular commitment to jazz, Gretchen was dubbed Detroit’s ‘Angel of Jazz’ by the global jazz community,” said Collins, a jazz artist who was appointed artistic director in 2011 and ultimately president of the Detroit Jazz Festival Foundation. “Gretchen’s passion, commitment, and vision were a legacy in itself.”
And the beat of the festival goes on and on, as it faithfully stays true to its mission and jazz in the Motor City.
“It’s one of the only free, big jazz festivals in the world, and it’s actually a real jazz festival,” jazz star Regina Carter said. “So many jazz festivals, because of finances, bring in musical talent across other genres, like R&B, to help increase the attendance. But The Detroit Jazz Festival is different; it’s all jazz. And the people who come out know jazz, appreciate jazz, and they let the performers know they appreciate the performances.”
For this year’s full lineup of artists, complete with the day and time of respective free performances, visit DetroitJazzFest.org.