On the stage of the Schaver Music Recital Hall in Old Main are a drum set, a guitar amp and an upright bass. The hall is filled with Wayne State students and faculty awaiting the start of the music convocation.
2018 is a special year for the department of music as it celebrates its 100-year anniversary. The convocation ceremony is held in celebration of the new semester, new students and the department’s centennial.
Four students walked on stage: A drummer, a bassist, a guitarist and a tenor saxophonist. They were introduced as the new additions to WSU’s Jazz Big Band II by Vincent Chandler, a WSU lecturer and a trombonist with a history of performing with legendary jazz musicians.
After this ceremony, the Detroit Jazz Festival was scheduled to take place in Hart Plaza — celebrating its 39-year anniversary of being the largest free jazz festival in the world.
WSU has had a close, collaborative relationship with the festival for the past 10 years.
“It is the only university that has the privilege of having a stage at the festival,” said Christopher Collins, the artistic director for the festival.
On Saturday afternoon, WSU’s Jazz Big Band joined the influential multi-instrumentalist, Omar Sosa, on the festival’s largest stage to perform a big band rendition of his Afrocubano music.
The band was led by Russell Miller, an instructor for WSU’s Jazz Studies Program. The music was highly energetic and prompted spectators to stand up and dance — even Sosa left his piano at one point and performed some dance moves himself.
“These guys are really, really good!” Sosa said, praising the band.
An hour later, many gathered under the scorching sun at the Carhartt Amphitheater stage to watch the Julian Lage Trio performance.
Among the audience, Charles Newsome and his wife were seeking shelter from the heat in the underground pathway leading to the stage. Newsome is the director of all three guitar ensembles at WSU, he also oversees WSU’s School of Music’s jazz guitar program.
The three of us were admiring the young prodigy guitarist and his astounding career.
“It restores my faith in humanity to see acts like this at a free jazz festival,” Newsome said after praising the WSU’s big band — which featured two of his own students, David Dunham and Thomas Bartelmay.
On the third day of the festival, Sept. 2, Russell Miller was directing another band, this time at the Wayne State Pyramid Stage.
The J.C. Heard JazzWeek@Wayne All-Star Youth Ensemble also performed. This program is organized by WSU and features talented high school musicians. These high school jazz-heads performed standards such as Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo” and Joe Henderson’s “Black Narcissus” — as well as two original compositions titles “Rooftops” and “Habanera.”
Other notable performances included WSU virtuosic music students, alongside the legendary Karriem Riggins. The alumni band was comprised of Jeffrey Trent, Ian Finkelstein, Jonathon Muir-Cotton and Louis Jones III.
The show also featured guest artist Mahogany Jones, a renowned rapper, songwriter and activist.
“This will be the highlight of the day,” WSU percussion student Ben Yost said.
The alumni band was also the house band for the late-night jam session. Such sessions often feature WSU alumni such as Nate Winn, a drummer who graduated from WSU before relocating to Boston for his master’s degree.
The distinguished and eclectic jazz pianist, Chick Corea, performed last with the Detroit Jazz Orchestra.
Although weather conditions led to cancelling his performance on Saturday and delayed another on Monday, the amphitheater stage was nonetheless packed for the conclusion of this year’s festival. The music featured composed, articulated and orchestrated versions of Concierto de Aranjuez and Spain, which were worthy of the crowd’s long-lasting standing ovation.
Next year’s Detroit Jazz Festival is scheduled to begin on Aug. 30, for more information, visit detroitjazzfest.org.