Dozens of working musicians will be doing their thing at this year’s 28th Detroit International Jazz Festival. But none of them will be working quite as hard as Regina Carter.
The Detroit-born violinist and former member of the group Straight Ahead, who now lives in New Jersey, returns home to be the festival’s first Artist in Residence, a role that carries considerable responsibility — and a hefty schedule.
Earlier this month, Carter, 41, was in town to conduct some student workshops under the festival’s banner. This weekend, she’ll play four shows in different musical configurations at Detroit’s Hart Plaza, and on Saturday (Sept. 1), she’ll do a session in the Jazz Talk Tent.
“I’m really glad they’re doing (an Artist in Residence) this year,” says Carter, who spent four years as the Artist in Residence at the Monterey Jazz Festival in California. “I think it’s really important to have a greater purpose involved with the event, to have a name and a face that can go out and represent it and get the kids in the city involved and more of the community involved.
“Otherwise, it’s just a festival.”
That was exactly why Terri Pontremoli, the festival’s new executive director, decided to install the program at the Detroit fete after hosting successful Artists in Residence at a festival she helmed in Cleveland, where she’s based.
“It’s really terrific to get an artist who will spend more time than flying in and flying out and do more than perform,” explains Pontremoli, a classically trained violinist herself. “It was great for us to start off with an artist who happens to be from Detroit and is at the peak of her talents. When Regina plays and you look at the audience, you just see everybody smile.”
Carter — who was trained in the Suzuki method of violin but became a jazz fan under the tutelage of good friend and Grammy-nominated singer Carla Cook while both attended Cass Technical High School — is looking forward to her varied sessions at this year’s festival. Her own quintet will play at 7:15 p.m. Friday (Aug. 31), while on Sunday (Sept. 2) she’ll double-dip with the Arts League Michigan Summer Jazz Camp at 1 p.m. and a duo set with “mentor” Kenny Barron at 2 p.m.
Carter will then help close things down at 8:15 p.m. Monday (Sept. 3) by playing with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, a big band section that harks back to her days studying music at Oakland University.
“I let the music make its own statement,” explains Carter, who still feels a strong enough hometown tie to retain a Michigan driver’s license. “People need to get from the music what they need to get from it; we can’t control that.
“I just really try to have fun, so (the festival) is great for me ’cause I get to do all these things in one weekend and go into different head spaces for each situation. It’s a great way to make music.”
The educational aspect of being an Artist in Residence also appeals to Carter, whose mother was a kindergarten teacher. Carter, who also studied at Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music, has worked with students at the Berklee College of Music and the Stanford Jazz Workshop, and a year ago was awarded a prestigious “genius grant” by the MacArthur Fellows Program.
“I’ve always loved teaching,” she says. “It comes natural, ’cause it’s something I grew up around. I just never really thought my career would go that way. I always wanted to tour and play, but I didn’t say, ‘OK, I’m gonna be teaching, also.’
“Then, when different presenters would ask if I’d do workshops, it was kind of natural to do them. And it was fun.”
Besides more live shows, Carter’s next target is a new studio album — a follow-up to 2006’s “I’ll Be Seeing You: A Sentimental Journey,” which was dedicated to her late mother. She hopes to “take my time” with it, but she hopes to hit the studio in February or March.
“I’m just trying to get together with musicians and play and see what I’m gonna do,” Carter says. “Usually I’m forced to come up with a concept and make a record, but I’d like this one to come a little more organically, so that’s why I’m not rushing. The music will be better if I don’t.”
The 28th Detroit International Jazz Festival takes place Friday through Monday (Aug. 31-Sept. 3) in and around Hart Plaza and Campus Martius Park in downtown Detroit. Featured performers include Regina Carter, Herbie Hancock, the Dave Brubeck Quartet, the Stanley Jordan Trio, Yusef Lateef, the Miracles, Mavis Staples, Bettye Lavette and Medeski Scofi eld Martin and Wood. For information, visit www.detroitjazzfest.com.
Send your thoughts and comments to