The Gantt Report
Florida man saves Detroit Jazz Festival
Miami Native Terro Fenderson (r) shares moment with DJF staffer after Ahmad Jamal performance.
By Lucius Gantt
For the past two years Florida native Terro Fenderson has left his Miami home and traveled to the Detroit Jazz Festival (DJF). This year, Fenderson was a venue supervisor at the festival that some call America’s best jazz festival.
Fenderson saved the 2013 festival from getting buried in negative coverage and publicity by trying to soothe media wounds caused by poor media relations by the festival’s media coordinators.
The working press was lied to about press approvals, credentials and instructions. Once approved, media members were given paper credentials and were told they needed to be worn every day but on the first day of the festival there was a torrential rain storm preceded by sweltering heat that caused either sweat or rain to totally destroy any paper credentials worn by the press.
Anyone in charge of the media relations at a major musical event should be very knowledgeable about both the media and the music or at least be an expert in at least one of those areas.
All press requests are prescreened but journalists that have a history of covering the world’s most famous jazz festivals should get priority clearance more so than a writer for the local grammar school newsletter.
Anyway, enough of that, upon seeing media anger at the way they were treated, Miami’s own Terro Fenderson pulled us to the side sympathized with us and did all he could to get us appropriate access for photos and interviews so this writer could tell you about the huge music event.
Judge for yourself about “the best” statements but two things that really stood out at the DJF was its combination of artists that included internationally known jazz legends, rising stars and student stars in training and the cost to attend.
The festival high point for me was the concert by my favorite jazz pianist, McCoy Tyner.
I fell in love with Tyner after hearing him play with John Coltrane on Trane’s classic “My Favorite Things” recording.
Tyner’s style of piano is easily comparable to Coltrane’s maximalist style of saxophone. Though once a member of Coltrane’s group, he was never overshadowed by the saxophonist, but complemented and even inspired Coltrane’s open-minded approach. Tyner is considered to be one of the most influential jazz pianists of the 20th century, an honor he earned both with Coltrane and in his years of solo performing following Coltrane’s death.
Though playing instruments of vastly different versatility, both Tyner and Coltrane utilize similar scales, choral structures, melodic phrasings, and rhythms.
As a young pianist Tyner sounded like multiple piano players all playing at once. He had a ferocious sound and seemingly stacked the piano with speed and power.
Tyner’s playing can be distinguished by a low bass left hand, in which he tends to raise his arm relatively high above the keyboard for an emphatic attack; the fact that Tyner is left-handed may contribute to this distinctively powerful style. Tyner’s unique right-hand soloing is recognizable for a detached, or staccato, quality. His melodic vocabulary is rich, ranging from raw blues to complexly superimposed pentatonic scales; his unique approach to chord voicing (most characteristically by fourths) has influenced a wide array of contemporary jazz pianists.
Now at least 70 years old, Tyner can still put on a great imaginative and creative show. His performance at the DJF featured tap dancer Savion Glover who tapped in tune with Tyners’s piano licks.
McCoy Tyner was all I needed to see but there were many other great acts.
Opening night featured pianist Danilo Perez, and the Dave Murray Big Band, featuring Macy Gray on vocals.
I can’t name every artist in this column but other acts you may or may not recognize that performed included Kirk Whalum, the Brubeck Brothers, Delfeayo Marsalis (Winton’s brother), Eddie Davis, Charles Lloyd, Marcus Belgrave, Ahmad Jamal, Ravi Coltrane, the Yellow Jackets, Gary Bartz, Eddie Henderson, Billy Hart, Cecil McBee, Gregory Porter, Joshua Redman, Freddie Cole (Nat’s brother), Larry Coryell, George Bohannon and many, many others.
Yes, Florida native Terro Fenderson was smart enough to know that Jazz festival sponsors, artists and media members covering and publicizing the event are all very important and should be made as happy as possible.
The jazz fans that attended the DJF were very happy because it was the only major jazz festival that I ever attended where every concert was absolutely free to watch and enjoy.
To see more pictures of DJF performances visit www.detroitjazzfest.com/photos. To view all artist profiles visit www.detroitjazzfest.com/2013lineup.html