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Interview:
Don Was jazzes things up for Concert of Colors all-star show
 

By GARY GRAFF
for Journal Register Newspapers

» See more SOUND CHECK

After four previous Detroit All-Star Revues, Don Was decided to jazz things up for this year's Concert Of Colors.

Rather than the rock and R&B blend of the other shows, the lineup the Grammy Award-winning Oak Park-raised musician and producer presents on Saturday night, July 14, at Orchestra Hall will focus on Detroit jazz, with performances by James Carter, Marcus Belgrave, Sheila Jordan, Regina Carter, A. Spencer Barefield and guest curator Marion Hayden. The show will also pay tribute to saxophonist and poet Faruq Z. Bey, who passed away on June 1, while Amp Fiddler and the Dennis Coffey Trio will take things beyond the base of traditional jazz.

"There's tremendous breadth to what's going on with the music in Detroit," says Was (ne Fagenson), 59, who last year became president of the venerable Blue Note Records label, for which he's overseeing upcoming albums by Van Morrison, Aaron Neville and Detroiters Anita Baker and Jessica Hernandez.

"At Blue Note we're having a lot of success this year with (Houston artist) Robert Glasper, and I don't see him so much as a hybrid between hip-hop and jazz but really just another step in the evolution of jazz. And it's interesting that guys like (Coffey) were trying things like that 40 years ago."

The idea for the change was hatched in September, over a cup of coffee after Was spoke to Hayden's class at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. He promises that this is "a special, next year we'll be back to the usual format." But Was is also expanding the Revue's role this year; prior to the show he'll record with the artists who are performing and add those to a selection of Detroit jazz musicians who have recorded for Blue Note (such as Donald Byrd and Joe Henderson), then combine them on an album called "Detroit Jazz City" that will come out this fall, with proceeds going to Focus: Hope.

"We just wanted to do something cool and do something for the city of Detroit and help Focus: Hope out and give these Detroit jazz musicians some international exposure," explains Was, who's also produced a new album for Kris Kristofferson and was also part of recent rehearsals with the Rolling Stones that were filmed for a 50th anniversary documentary about the band.

As usual, Was says the Revue is "a work in progress" that probably won't be locked in place until shortly before the musicians take the stage on Saturday. But after five years, he's relatively confident it will work.

"It's always like that, always spontaneous and comes together at the 11th hour," Was notes with a laugh. "This year we're featuring improvisers, so we've got a better chance of pulling it off than we do normally. But it always comes together."

The Don Was Detroit All-Star Revue: Detroit Jazz City Edition takes place at 8:15 p.m. Saturday, July 7, during the Concert of Colors at Orchestra Hall, 3711 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Admission is free but subject to capacity. The 20th Concert of Colors -- which also features George Clinton & Parliament-Funkadelic, Oliver Mtukudzi & the Black Spirits, the Tito Puente, Jr., Orchestra, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra with Wu Man and more -- runs Thursday through Sunday, July 12-15 with events at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Max M. Fisher Music Center. Visit www.concertofcolors.com for the full schedule and other information.

Web Site: www.concertofcolors.com

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