Get an overview of the Detroit Jazz Festival 2022 from its director, Chris Collins


Michael Jewett: The Detroit Jazz Festival recently announced, essentially, the lineup for the upcoming event, Labor Day weekend, September 2-5. And to follow the news of the festival, hey, the director of the festival, Chris Collins. Hello. How are you? How is it going ?

Chris Collins: I’m fine, Michael. Great to hear your voice.

Michael Jewett: In effect. Indeed, it really is. Chucho Valdez, artist in residence. And just a few weeks ago, the festival lineup announced the artists who will be coming to our region, not the full program, but the various artists who will perform from the second to the fifth. So the big news for the past two weeks and, you know, again, upset about who’s coming to the Detroit Jazz Festival. Cheer. Fantastic work.

Chris Collins: Great, great, great. Thank you, Michael.

Michael Jewett: To chase.

Chris Collins: We’re really lucky this year, you know, and I think for all of us, we’re hoping there won’t be any bumps in the road and it’ll be, as expected, outside of the good end weather summer in downtown Detroit, as you said, the second to September. And you are absolutely right. We announced our artist in residence, Chucho Valdez, and our full lineup, which is at the Detroit Jazz Fest dot org. And we’re going to be really excited to do that in just a few weeks to announce the rest of the lineup, our amazing local artists, and a few other artists that are adding to the lineup. So it will be full by then, and everyone will know what to do, how to plan, and where to go.

Michael Jewett: So. Well, hey, we know where to go. Labor Day weekend, downtown Detroit definitely the place to be. After two years of very, very successful virtual presentations, digital presentations and streaming presentations. Millions – we’re talking millions – of separate streams in the past. Each of these years, each of the years that you presented in this way is totally, you know, unprecedented for the festival and also just the scope of the festival. I mean, you’re getting these streams from all over the country, from all over the planet, and now you’re back to the traditional presentation – the in-person presentation. All the lessons you learned at festivals learn in terms of things you could, like, carry over from the past couple of years?

Chris Collins: Well, indeed. I mean, first and foremost, you know, we’ve reaffirmed our commitment to the health and safety of all of our attendants, all of our performers, all of the crew. I mean, it has to be paramount, and it has been for 43 years. And, certainly, the COVID situation, you know, was really part of that thought process. So, you know, this is going to remain important to us no matter what, no matter what. But I will say that, yes, in 2020, the first year that we had to do that, we went to a situation where we really relied on the craftsmen and the staging and the workers and all the incredible individuals in Detroit in industry. Because, you know, we built soundstages – custom soundstages built into the Marriott – and had to do everything with all the protocols in place. And that year, we pressed nearly one million unique viewers in 32 countries around the world. And then last year, because of, you know, COVID picking up in the fall, and then we had construction delays on the plaza, which was great. So that brought us back. And we already had the format down. But, you know, the lineup was set and fantastic. And, you know, everybody was ready to fly to Detroit at that point, which we did. And I had them checked three times. And by the end of the festival, our metrics team, which has a whole room set up with screens and everything, they were at almost two and a half million viewers in 48 countries around the world. And it just showed that there’s a huge following for Detroit, a huge following for jazz and a hunger for it. This year, I can tell you that the biggest lesson, and we really take it to heart, is how we could expand our mission or amplify it, or, you know, extend it to the whole world. And what we imagined is that it will be in person as one of the 325,000 people who typically attend the Detroit Jazz Festival. Great. You know, you’re going to have this thing live in person. That’s really jazz. But what we’re going to do this year is we’ve had the Detroit Jazz Fest live for a number of years where people can access the app.

Michael Jewett: Right.

Chris Collins: Select one of the four stages. Well, what we’re doing this year is Detroit Jazz Fest Live will be on the web through our website, Detroit Jazz Festival dot org. And it will deliver the four steps in real time, completely free to the world.

Michael Jewett: Wow.

Chris Collins: It’s kind of our gift to say how could we take advantage of the free experience that’s so important to us. It’s one of those barriers that we’re removing and extending that to the world and the digital lessons that we’ve learned over the past two years and the audience that we’ve gathered is the answer. So we have this whole dimension, and it’s available for free to everyone. I’m sure it will be picked up by great public radio stations, public television and other places.

Michael Jewett: In effect.

Chris Collins: So there will be several ways to check it. But it’s about being here for sure, but it’s also about presenting, being an ambassador, all these wonderful things to the world for free. And I think it’s one of a kind, quite frankly, like there are so many others in Detroit.

Michael Jewett: In effect. Fantastic. I think the festival just represents the city, the culture of the city and the culture in general, you know, the jazz culture in general, internationally, in such a fantastic way. It’s great news to hear that this is going to be embraced and seen by fans and people all over the world. I want to talk about some of the talent and the genre, like, you mentioned the word mission. Is it me or maybe just watching this year? It’s a very young, fresh lineup, a lot of up-and-coming artists who I guess you could say up-and-coming or maybe, you know, just maybe three or four records or, you know, a handful of solo records in their career, alongside, of course, you know, some great, you know, veteran artists like your artist-in-residence, Chucho Valdez, Grammy winner – multiple Grammy winner – Dianne Reeves. But you also, you know, well, John Scofield will be very well received… I can’t remember the last time Scofield played here. You also have, you know, emerging artists like Emmet Cohen, Nubya Garcia, Jose James, artists who would be, you know, in their 30s, maybe, you know, early 40s or whatever. So was it conscious, or do I read it as a very young festival, or was there a conscious effort to have, like, this new generation of artists in the mix?

Chris Collins: Well you know…

Michael Jewett: Maybe both?

Chris Collins: You pick up on something. You know, every year I work very hard to find artists. I go around the world playing with cats that I hear and I say, “Well, what the hell is going on?” Or I spread it around different communities. We also have the Open Artists edition, which runs until June 1st on Detroit Jazz Fest dot org. So I can hear this amazing stuff. And, you know, when you’re a real jazz festival and you’re not going to lean into pop or instrumental pop or that kind of thing, but you’re really going to stay in the jazz vein, you really have to be proactive in reaching out and understanding who the cats are that are beyond the people you might see on the cover of Downbeat, or those great people, you know, the great legends we have. Now the legends will always be part of our festival because we are so lucky to have them. You know, I wish I could have seen John Coltrane live. You know, that’s where it comes from in my mind. So it’s always going to be important. But, this year, coming out of COVID into a new way of life, really, I thought it was a great year to research and showcase some of the really important projects that are being done by up-and-coming artists and combinations of legends and emerging artists and so on, which we will have throughout the festival. And emphasizing, you know, the not only multicultural, but multigenerational underpinnings of this music that we call jazz. And I think it’s a great way to come back in person, a great way to come out of COVID, that feeling that there’s something really interesting and fresh and different. And it echoes our mission, which is about diversity, inclusion and, you know, all those things people talk about. But actually, being proactive to make it happen and breaking down barriers to participation, so the whole world can participate. This also applies to artists.

Michael Jewett: I love it. I love it. You know, and I’m aware, I’ve finally told you a few times about the lift I get on Labor Day weekend. Being part of the audience, and you know, I work professionally as an emcee or whatever, but just being part of the Detroit Jazz Fest community and the audience, you know, diverse in age, background, etc., and you really get to that in the lineup and schedule this year. Complete artist information can be found at Detroit Jazz Festival dot org. Continue like that. And, hey, you know, if you haven’t blocked out Labor Day weekend yet, make sure you do because we’re heading into Memorial Day weekend, you know, talk about the start from summer to late summer, Labor Day weekend, from second to fifth downtown Detroit. And, of course, via the Detroit Jazz Festival app to follow the latest news on this subject. Festival director Chris Collins, thank you for your time. Thanks for being so kind. Congratulations and thank you for all you do. And we expect more. We will probably contact you closer to the festival, and we will certainly be there. Labor Day weekend, downtown Detroit for this year’s Detroit Jazz Festival.

Chris Collins: Thank you for all you do, Michael. And thank you to the great WEMU, which has been an important part of this for a long, long time. You are the cats. Thanks.

Michael Jewett: OK.


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Willie J. Johnson