Jazz Fest 2018
Clarinetist/saxophonist Eddie Daniels joins Chick Corea, Alvin Waddles and more at the Detroit Jazz Festival — plus other Labor Day fun.
In the heart of Detroit, jazz fans will get a sense of the heart of Brazil.
That’s the musical mood intended when clarinetist-saxophonist Eddie Daniels appears with a group of instrumentalists at this year’s Detroit Jazz Festival, where they will perform selections from their just-released album, Heart of Brazil: A Tribute to Egberto Gismonti, for Resonance Records.
“The music is fabulous,” Daniels says. “It will make the audience happy.”
Daniels and his quartet — featuring pianist Josh Nelson, bassist Kevin Axt and drummer Mauricio Zottarelli — will be joined by the Grammy-winning Harlem Quartet on strings. The performance pays tribute to Gismonti’s 1970s work as composer and multi-instrumentalist.
“I’ve been to the festival several times and know that a lot of great jazz musicians come out of Michigan,” Daniels says. “It’s been a mega-center for the growth of young, great jazz musicians for years and years and years.”
In its 39th year, the upcoming event, running Aug. 31-Sept. 3 on multiple stages in Downtown Motown, continues as the largest free jazz festival in the world and includes those with hometown roots.
“I like the fact that you have people right in front of you at outdoor festivals,” Daniels says. “The programming in Detroit is wonderful because you can go from one venue to another and listen to different bands and different music.”
In an earlier Detroit performance, Daniels had to contend with rain, but it enhanced his outlook toward Detroit jazz fans.
“The stage had a covering and people sat there with their umbrellas,” he recalls. “People are so into it that they will sit there no matter what.”
Daniels is a longtime friend of Christopher Collins, president of the Detroit Jazz Festival Foundation and artistic director of the event. Collins, an internationally performing saxophonist, has been recognized for his work as director of Jazz Studies at Wayne State, where Daniels has been a guest artist.
Pianist Chick Corea — also composer, bandleader and multi-Grammy winner — will be the 2018 artist-in-residence. He will appear with the Detroit Jazz Festival Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Steven Mercurio, whose wide range of musical bookings includes work with the Michigan Opera Theatre, where he was conductor of The Passenger, a production about the Holocaust.
Both Mercurio and Daniels have personal connections to Leonard Bernstein, whose monumental career as composer, conductor, pianist and teacher will be highlighted in a program being staged by Alvin Waddles, a pianist, singer, composer and director. Waddles, with a long career that began in Detroit, became a Bernstein fan as an Interlochen student appearing in the Bernstein-composed musical West Side Story.
The Waddles concert, marking the 100th anniversary of Bernstein’s birth, features vocals by Shahida Nurullah, also accompanied by famed instrumentalists Marion Hayden, Dave Taylor and Gene Parker.
While Mercurio knew Bernstein as a teacher and role model “very generous with his musical spirit,” Daniels connected by means of a friend, who knew Bernstein and provided him with “Breakthrough,” Daniels’ first recording. Bernstein’s written response, posted on Daniels’ website, reads: “Eddie Daniels combines elegance and virtuosity in a way that makes me remember Arthur Rubenstein. He is a thoroughly well-bred demon.”
Daniels especially appreciates the comments as he considers Bernstein an amazing icon of our society and one well deserving of the anniversary tributes being scheduled at festivals around the country.
“Leonard Bernstein wrote songs that are part of our culture,” says Daniels, who highly values Bernstein’s television programming that taught viewers about music. “He brought the music alive.”
Daniels, comfortable playing classical works as well as jazz, first was drawn to the saxophone. There was one at home, saved by his father who had played it in younger years, and Daniels’ asked for private lessons that began when he was 9.
“I wanted to be a musician from the first time I started playing,” says Daniels, 76, married to jazz vocalist Mirabai Daniels. “I practiced, and here I am.”
That practicing, which led to a varied stage and recording career interspersing his own compositions, also included mastery of the clarinet, defined as an “add-on” at 12, and the flute after that.
He studied and performed in bands and orchestra at the High School of Performing Arts in New York and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Brooklyn College and a master’s degree at Juilliard. While earning classroom credits, there were professional bookings with notable appearances at the Village Vanguard.
“In my early days, I played bar mitzvahs and weddings,” says Daniels, who has celebrated his roots by performing klezmer with Giora Feidman, an Argentine-born and later Israeli clarinetist with a career that includes concerts arranged by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.
Daniels, whose early work with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra remains important to his career, has another recent — this one updated — recording, “Just Friends.” It remixes and remasters Village Vanguard numbers that include composer-pianist Roger Kellaway, who has appeared with Daniels at an earlier Detroit Jazz Festival.
Between appearances, Daniels accepts private students and holds master classes.
“I practice, meditate and play tennis,” says the New Mexico resident who relocated from New York to experience a different environment. “I’ve been able to have a career wherever I’ve lived.”
The Detroit Jazz Festival runs Aug. 31-Sept. 3 in Downtown Detroit. The Eddie Daniels segment is scheduled 5:15-6:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 2, at the Carhartt Amphitheatre Stage along Hart Plaza. The Bernstein tribute will be performed 4:45-5:45 p.m. Monday, Sept. 3, on the Wayne State University Pyramid Stage in Hart Plaza. A complete schedule and event information are available at detjazzfest.org. While festival attendance is free, listening to it through streaming opportunities costs $10 and can be set up through live.Detroitjazzfest.com.
More Labor Day Fun
Stepping out on Labor Day weekend can take Metro Detroiters to live music, carnival rides, eating specialties, original art, even walking challenges planned for exercise enthusiasts who want to share the Mackinac Bridge momentum without traveling far north in Michigan.
Among the walking destinations are the South Lyon Labor Day Bridge Walk and the Paint Creek Trail Labor Day Virtual Bridge Walk and Run in Rochester.
Festival-goers — and walkers — can enjoy one or more events beyond the Detroit Jazz Festival.
- The Michigan State Fair, Aug. 30-Sept. 3 at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, adds a Drone Light Show and Shrine Circus in addition to animal attractions as part of the country-based setting.
- Arts, Beats and Eats, Aug. 31-Sept. 3 in downtown Royal Oak, showcases various media and musical entertainment as visitors sample foods from popular restaurants and relax at a yoga station.
- The Hamtramck Labor Day Festival, Sept. 1-3 along Joseph Campau, has a so-called Yacht Race, a fun event involving pushcarts that look like canoes on wheels, among the traditional foods, music, art and carnival fare.
- The Romeo Peach Festival, running Aug. 30-Sept. 3 in Romeo, gives foodies a chance to enjoy peaches in all kinds of creative ways with plenty of sports competitions — tennis, running, golf, softball — to offset the calories. Music, arts and carnival rides also are offered.
- A one-day experience, the Franklin Roundup and Art in the Village on Sept. 3 has food, music, art and children’s activities for a Labor Day tradition in the center of town, near to the Franklin Cider Mill. Franklinartinthevillage.org.
Note: It is advisable to check event updates before stepping out.