Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Battle of the Upper-Midwest Labor Day Weekend Jazz Festivals!

Foreshadowing the Bears vs. Lions season opener on September 12, Chicago and Detroit are staging a Labor Day Weekend battle of the jazz festivals, and we're all over it at AccuJazz. We've created channels devoted to the two fests, and you can listen right now!

While it's pretty clear who the favorite in the game will be, I'll leave it up to you to decide which jazz fest wins.

Detroit has a slightly larger lineup and possibly more big-name mainstream acts, but Chicago has a lot going for it, too. Chicago's lineup will appeal to the more adventurous listener. The contrast is made clear in the two fests' choices of Artists in Residence. Detroit selected straight-ahead jazz pianist Mulgrew Miller, a veteran of Tony Williams and Art Blakey's groups. Chicago has Nicole Mitchell, a lesser-known (though that's rapidly changing) local flutist and composer known for her rough, edgy sound and long-form conceptual compositions.

Joining Miller in Detroit will be heavy-hitters like Branford Marsalis, Terence Blanchard, Maria Schneider, Tia Fuller, Benny Green and Roy Haynes. Less jazz-intensive listeners hoping for something a little more mainstream can catch Tower of Power or the Fabulous Thunderbirds, too. As usual, a nice amount of local talent will also fill the stages throughout the festival's 4 days.

While Nicole Mitchell is playing five performances at the Chicago Jazz Fest, she still left room for a few other artists to perform. The Jazz Institute of Chicago, who programs the festival, leans slightly left-of-center and very much towards Chicago. The final lineup, however, includes a little something for everyone. Headliners include broad-appeal vocalists Kurt Elling and Rene Marie, as well as big-name legends like Ahmad Jamal and Ramsey Lewis. Modern jazz stars Brian Blade and Brad Mehldau are also showing up on Sunday, and avant-garde master (and former Chicagoan) Henry Threadgill is playing the main stage Sunday night.

Detroit has a rich history of incubating some of the greatest talents jazz has ever known, turning out the famous Jones Brothers, Paul Chambers, Milt Jackson and Tommy Flanagan. But from what I can tell, Chicago has the more vital scene circa 2010 (though I might be biased, considering myself a small part of that scene). If they show up early enough in the day, Chicago Jazz Festival attendees will get a taste of the world-class jazz being created by local players. Highlights of Chicago artists performing at the fest include first-call drummer Dana Hall with special guest Nicholas Payton, avant-garde pianist/composer Paul Giallorenzo, Gen-Y post-afrobeat group NOMO, trumpeter Corey Wilkes and vocalist Saalik Ziyad.

Elling and pianist Mike LeDonne have the distinction of being the only artists playing both the Detroit and Chicago fests in the same weekend (and Elling's also playing the Tanglewood jazz festival in Massachusetts on Saturday! Somebody's got an ambitious agent). I'd imagine some sidemen might also be trucking between the two fests, but that info's not on the publicly posted schedules.

Whether or not you're going to be attending one of the fests, head over to and give the channels a listen. They're full of great music and offer up a lot of variety. And if you are going to the Chicago Fest, hopefully I'll see you there!