Detroit is known for its diverse musical roots, particularly with Motown and jazz. Likewise New Orleans is known as the city that birthed jazz and legendary figures like Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton. So what happens when you bring these two jazz cities together?
Trumpet extraordinaire and New Orleans native Terence Blanchard decided to merge the music capitals for a week of eclectic festivities surrounding the two vibrant cultures.
The festival “A Musical Tale of Two Cities: Motown Meets the Big Easy” took place June 2-4 at the Max M. Fisher Music Center in Detroit. Blanchard, who is the Erb Jazz Creative Director Chair at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, has developed quite a relationship with Detroit ever since he served as the Artist in Residence at the 2012 Detroit Jazz Festival. He has also been bringing great talent to the city in his role as head of the DSO’s Paradise Jazz Series.
His work with the festival is another example of his love for the city.
“New Orleans and Detroit are both cities that have been ravaged, but by different things,” Blanchard told the Detroit Free Press. “In New Orleans it was Katrina. In Detroit it was economics. But those cities have clung to their cultural heritage. That’s what has helped those cities survive and remain resilient. That’s important. Our little motto at the DSO is: Rebuilding the city one concert at a time.”
The festival included a performance by a New Orleans band, a film screening and panel discussion of the Spike Lee documentary “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts,” and concluded with a concert by Blanchard’s quartet and the DSO who teamed up to perform his 2007 Grammy-winning album A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem For Katrina) to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
Lee commissioned Blanchard to compose the score for the documentary and the album includes songs from the film. The collaboration between Blanchard and the DSO proved to be a poignant and well received tribute to the victims of the tragic natural disaster. Blanchard’s powerful solos were a soothing match for the melancholy, lush strings on “Ghosts of Congo Square” and the heart-rending “Ashe.”
The DSO and Blanchard’s group successfully captured the true essence of the emotional album and gave the audience an eye opening reminder of the pain and sadness that occurred during Hurricane Katrina.
The entire festival was dedicated to the memory of Detroit trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, who passed away May 24. Belgrave was the DSO’s inaugural Erb Jazz Chair and had an immense influence on jazz musicians from Detroit and beyond.