The Yellowjackets Ensemble has been together for 35 years.

Diverse Jewish musicians share love of teaching and performing at Detroit Jazz Festival, which runs Aug. 30 to Sept. 2.

The Yellowjackets and the Sencalar/Glassman Quintet share a love for jazz performance and teaching about their favorite style, but they bring a range of differences to music stages and classrooms.

While the Yellowjackets ensemble has built a 35-year career with 24 albums (two winners out of 17 Grammy nominations) and its members work with college students, the quintet is in its early phase with preparing the group’s first album and conducting elementary school programs.

Their approaches add to the diversity to be spotlighted during the 40th annual Detroit Jazz Festival, which runs Aug. 30-Sept. 2 on multiple stages in the hub of the city.

Headliners include artist-in-resident bassist Stanley Clarke. Also appearing will be former artists-in-residence, such as double bassist Ron Carter, guitarist Pat Metheny, saxophonist Joshua Redman, pianist Danilio Pérez and trumpeter Terence Blanchard.

“The festival has been a mainstay of jazz performance for a long time, and it’s always nice to be part of that festival,” says Bob Mintzer, Yellowjackets saxophonist, arranger and composer who works with pianist Russell Ferrante, drummer William Kennedy and bassist Dane Alderson.

“I’ve been to the festival at least three times with Yellowjackets and at least once myself as part of the big band that’s the mainstay of the festival. The band had a tribute to pianist and composer Dave Brubeck.

“This year, we will be featuring our latest recording, Raising Our Voice, done with vocalist Luciana Souza, who will join us in Detroit. The title is our personal way of saying things could be better in the world through art and music.”

Mintzer says “Strange Time” has special meaning for him. It is a double entendre with time understood as both meter in music and the current span in our lives.

Besides the Yellowjackets, Mintzer is chair of the jazz studies program at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music in Los Angeles, where Ferrante and Kennedy also are faculty members.

Mintzer, who next year is having his 50th anniversary as a graduate of Interlochen, also is chief conductor of the WDR Big Band in Cologne, Germany. He writes, arranges and conducts between two and five productions a year and is preparing for new recordings.

“One of the defining qualities of the Yellowjackets is the openness in terms of style,” says Mintzer, raised in Judaism and who has performed at festivals in Israel. “We incorporate a lot of different styles of music — straight-ahead jazz, R&B, gospel, classical, African, Brazilian. That’s not such a unique trait, but I would say every group has its brew or blend of styles that defines its sound.

“Yellowjackets is a partnership band. There are no leaders, so each is called upon to contribute as an equal part of the whole. I think we’ve all grown, matured and changed in our habits, tastes and the way we relate.”

Zach Adleman, a drummer with the Sencalar/Glassman Quintet, also has Jewish roots and continues to play the djembe at Temple Ner Tamid in New Jersey, where he grew up.
Adleman just completed his master’s degree at Michigan State University, where he met his festival bandmates and is having lots of summertime performance and teaching experience before beginning advanced studies at Juilliard.

This is not his first year at the Detroit Jazz Festival, and the quintet is only one of the groups with which he is involved.

“In 2017, I competed in the J.C. Heard National Drums Competition at the festival,” Adleman says. “I led my own trio, featuring Rodney Whitaker, and won.”

Adleman became fascinated with drums as a 6-year-old invited to try a set owned by neighbors. Formal lessons began in elementary school, and he went on to appear in programs at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and the Newport Jazz Festival as well as on recordings.

“I’ve enjoyed serving on the faculty of the Jazz Institute @ Brevard and the Jazz House Kids Summer Workshop,” he says. “Last summer, it was exciting to play with Winston Marsalis.”

Altin Sencalar of Texas and Chris Glassman of Colorado are headed for New York after finishing at MSU. They are trombonists who joined together to position their favorite instrument to hold the melody and thereby bring a new texture to jazz sounds.

Sencalar, on tenor trombone, and Glassman, on bass trombone, also will be joined by bassist Rodney Whitaker and guitarist Nathan Borton at the festival.

“We really came together doing an educational program in the East Lansing elementary schools,” says Sencalar, who composes and has opened for the O’Jays and Chaka Khan. “We wanted to bring jazz into the schools.”

Glassman, also a composer, has performed in classical concerts as well as jazz concerts. Jazz has placed him with the Rodney T. Whitaker Group and the Gathering Orchestra in contrast to the classical Nexus Brass Quintet and the Denver Brass.

“I love that with bass trombone you have extra tubing,” says Glassman, who played with the Michigan State Jazz Orchestra at last year’s festival. “With that, I can play a lot lower and louder.”

Zach Adleman, Sencalar/Glassman Quintet Joy Glenn Photography

The Yellowjackets and the Sencalar/Glassman Quintet perform Saturday, Aug. 31, as part of the free Detroit Jazz Festival, which runs Aug. 30-Sept. 2. The Yellowjackets appear at 8 p.m. on the JP Morgan Chase Main Stage. The quintet can be seen at 2 p.m. on the Wayne State University Pyramid Stage. For complete festival information, go to

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Suzanne Chessler’s writing-editing career has spanned many years, and her articles have been featured in secular and religious publications across the state and around the country. There was a period of time when she maintained three regular columns in three different publications – one appearing weekly to spotlight metro volunteers, another appearing weekly to profile stage enthusiasts in community theater and a third appearing bimonthly to showcase upcoming arts programs. Besides doing general reporting, she has had continuing assignments involving health, monetary subjects and crime. Her award-winning work builds on majors in English-speech and journalism earned at Wayne State University, where instructors also were writers-editors on Detroit’s daily newspapers.


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