Wayne State music students, faculty to take Detroit Jazz Festival stages Labor Day weekend

The Detroit Jazz Festival returns this Labor Day weekend and kicks off with a special tribute to Gretchen C. Valade, the “Angel of Jazz” who passed away earlier this year.

Featuring Wayne State University Department of Music faculty and alumni, along with international artists, the festival’s Sept. 1 opening set will feature the Gretchen C. Valade: Our Angel of Jazz tribute at 7 p.m. on the Hart Plaza Amphitheater Stage.

The Detroit Jazz Festival's Sept. 1 opening set will feature the Gretchen C. Valade: Our Angel of Jazz tribute at 7 p.m. on the Hart Plaza Amphitheater Stage. Valade passed away earlier this year. She was 97. Photo courtesy Detroit Jazz Festival.

The performance is expected to feature some of Valade’s compositions, which in the past have been recorded by artists like Freda Payne and the late Tom Saunders.

“She was a musician and songwriter as well, but she never sought the spotlight for her own work,” said Chris Collins, music professor, director of jazz studies and the Valade Endowed Chair in Jazz in Wayne State’s Department of Music. “You can go several lifetimes without experiencing someone like Gretchen C. Valade, but her legacy lives on.”

Valade’s light will also continue to shine on Wayne State’s campus when the Gretchen C. Valade Jazz Center (GVJC) completes construction in 2024. The center will house a main hall designed specifically for jazz performance and the aptly named Dee Dee Bridgewater club-style venue.

“As a musical form, jazz is the absolute foundation of American culture, of American music,” Collins said on a recent edition of Warriors in the Community on WWJ 950 Newsradio. “And in Detroit, it's a very important part of everyday life.”

Now in its 44th installment, the annual four-day event will be held this year from Sept. 1-4 and is the largest free premier jazz fest in the world. Audiences from around the world can enjoy 40-plus hours of live jazz performances from custom soundstages in the city. Detroit native Karriem Riggins, who has made a name for himself in jazz as well as hip-hop, is this year’s Artist-in-Residence.

Chris Collins, seen in the WWJ 950 Newsradio station, recently discussed the Detroit Jazz Festival for the Warriors in the Community segment.

For more than 40 years, the Detroit Jazz Festival Foundation has celebrated Detroit’s rich history of jazz music by providing year-round concerts and educational programming, in addition to organizing the world’s largest free jazz festival over Labor Day weekend.

"More than 325,000 people are expected in downtown Detroit this Labor Day weekend and at least 2 million viewers tuning in worldwide," said Hasan Elahi, dean of the College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts. "This is an amazing opportunity and phenomenal stage for our students and faculty who are involved. The Detroit Jazz Festival honors the lineage of the discipline. And yet, at the same time — looking at our lineup of some of our performers such as Karriem Riggins, Madlib and Common — really expands the field and looks at the future of jazz in a much broader context."

Each year, the festival features performances from world-famous jazz icons, local artists and talented music students. This year is no different as a variety of Wayne State’s Department of Music faculty, students and alumni will be featured during the event:

Thursday, Aug. 31

  • Pre-Detroit Jazz Fest Special; Global-Connect International All-Stars. Chris Collins with Italian-based Hurricane trio from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. at the Blue Llama in Ann Arbor (reservations required).

Friday, Sept. 1

  • The Gretchen C Valade Angel of Jazz Tribute begins at 7 p.m. on the Amphitheater Stage in Hart Plaza. Features WSU faculty and alumni with international artists and other Detroit professional musicians paying tribute to Gretchen C. Valade.
The WSU Jazz Band will play Sept. 2 from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. on the Amphitheater Stage in Hart Plaza.

Saturday, Sept. 2

  • WSU Jazz Band from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. on the Amphitheater Stage in Hart Plaza.
  • WSU Jazz Alum led by Colton Weatherstone from 1:45 to 2:50 p.m. on the Waterfront Stage in Hart Plaza.
  • Dee Dee Bridgewater from 5:05 to 6:15 p.m., on the Chase Main Stage in Campus Martius.
  • The Detroit Piano Legacy continues on the main stage from 8:55 to 10:10 p.m., including WSU faculty Cliff Monear, Dave Taylor and JC Heard JazzWeek@Wayne student Jacob Hart as part of the professional Detroit pianist montage set.

Sunday, Sept. 3

  • Chris Collins with the Italy-based Hurricane Trio from 5:15 to 6:30 p.m. on the Amphitheater Stage in Hart Plaza. This is the 2023 DJF Global-Connect International All-Stars, which also features an ensemble Collins has been doing with his WSU master class.

Monday, Sept. 4

  • JC Heard JazzWeek@Wayne Student All-Stars from 12:15 to 1:15 p.m. on the Amphitheater Stage in Hart Plaza.
  • Department of Music Interim Chair Russ Miller’s “Suite Justice: A Jazz Setting of the Beatitudes for Big Band and Chorus” from 2 to 3:15 p.m. on the Amphitheater Stage in Hart Plaza.
  • Legacy Cuban drummer and composer Dafnis Prieto leads the DJF Collegiate Jazz Orchestra from 2:15 to 3:20 p.m. on the Chase Main Stage in Campus Martius. The band represents the top university student jazz artists, who were hand-picked from throughout the region and WSU.

Jazz enthusiasts can view or listen to performances for free in a number of ways, including the festival’s social media channels and website; public radio and TV stations; and the DetroitJazzFest LIVE! app. For this year’s schedule, international lineup and details about the event, please visit detroitjazzfest.org.

← Back to listing