Detroit native Regina Carter is one of the three headliners for the Detroit Jazz Festival. The violinist will perform her multimedia project, “Gone in a Phrase of Air,” Saturday at Campus Martius Park. (Courtesy photo from the Detroit Jazz Festival)

An annual end-of-summer Detroit tradition is set to return downtown this Labor Day weekend with a roster of local, national and international artists from the jazz world. 

The 2023 Detroit Jazz Festival kicks off Friday, offering four free days of entertainment at Hart Plaza and Campus Martius Park. Violinist Regina Carter, drummer Louis Hayes and saxophonist Kenny Garrett are the headliners for this year’s event, with the trio all hailing from the Motor City. The performances come on the heels of their recognition as three of the four 2023 recipients of the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters. The NEA fellowship honors artists who have made significant contributions to the jazz community. 

Carter is a violinist and educator who has performed with world-renowned jazz artists such as Ray Brown and Eddie Palmieri as well as artists like Mary J. Blige, Billy Joel and Dolly Parton. She will perform her multimedia project, “Gone in a Phrase of Air,” at 8:55 p.m. Saturday at Campus Martius. The project looks at the impact of urban renewal on Black and immigrant communities beginning in the 1950s.

Detroit native Louis Hayes is one of the three headliners for the Detroit Jazz Festival. The drummer was recently honored as a 2023 recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters. (Courtesy photo from the Detroit Jazz Festival)

Meanwhile, Hayes plays at 4 p.m. Monday at Hart Plaza and Garrett at 7 p.m. Saturday at Campus Martius. 

Detroit Jazz Festival Artistic Director Chris Collins said this year’s programming schedule gives the festival a fresh take with a focus on Detroit artists. The event will also be live streamed at 

“I don’t approach things that way,” he said about intentionally focusing the festival on Detroit artists. “I like to go out every year and try to find what’s happening in the jazz world. “I’m here to tell you, Detroit is at the center of the jazz world in many ways.” 

New artists performing at the festival include 2023 Best New Artist Grammy winner and singer Samara Joy, musician Miho Hazama, Chilean saxophonist Melissa Aldana and musician Isaiah Collier. 

A jazz/hip-hop fusion 

Also performing throughout the weekend is artist-in-residence and Detroit native Karriem Riggins. The drummer, producer and DJ will share the stage with several special guests for his three shows, such as rappers Common and Nick Grant, as well as DJs Madlib and JRocc. Detroit poet and musician Jessica Care Moore is also performing. 

Riggins has worked alongside some of the biggest artists in the jazz and hip-hop worlds. On the jazz side, Riggins has partnered with artists like Diana Krall, Milt Jackson, Norah Jones and Esperanza Spalding. On the R&B and hip-hop side, he’s produced for Common, Erykah Badu, Kanye West and J Dilla.

Drummer and producer Karriem Riggins is the artist-in-residence at the 2023 Detroit Jazz Festival. The Detroit native will be performing three shows throughout Labor Day weekend. (Courtesy photo from the Detroit Jazz Festival)

Riggins will pay tribute to J Dilla, the late Detroit producer, at 9:15 p.m. Sunday in a show titled, “J Dilla Lives Forever.” Taking place at Campus Martius, the performance will feature Common, Moore and T3, the last surviving member of the Dilla-led rap group Slum Village. 

Collins said with Riggins’ work in jazz, hip-hop and electronic music, he’s able to bring those worlds together in a sophisticated way. 

“He’s achieved a level in his career that is absolutely world-class. He’s one of the few people in the world that can do what he’s going to do at the jazz festival at the level he’s going to do it,” he said. 

Riggins told BridgeDetroit in April that he wants to bring boundary-less music to his performances at the Detroit Jazz Festival. In the almost 30 years he’s been making and performing music, Riggins described his music style as wide open and diverse. Like his influences Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter, he doesn’t want to stick to just one genre, but blend multiple genres together. 

“I grew up listening to classical music, jazz, hip-hop, Cuban,” he said. “I listened to everything. I’m just gonna bleed out everything that’s in me.”

Paying tribute to the ‘Angel of Jazz’

The festival will also be paying tribute to metro Detroit philanthropist, businesswoman and music enthusiast Gretchen Valade, who died in December. Known as the “Angel of Jazz” for her contributions to Detroit’s jazz scene, Valade helped save the festival in the mid-2000s when it was in danger of shutting down. 

When the festival lost its primary sponsor in 2005, Valade created the Gretchen C. Valade Endowment for the Arts to ensure the festival would remain free for attendees, Collins said. 

“Every year the foundation’s job is to build on her generosity and to perpetuate the Jazz Festival Foundation throughout the year and the festival itself as a free jazz festival focused on the arts,” Collins said. “Her legacy will resonate for generations to come.”

On Friday evening, Dr. Valade’s Brass Band–named after Gretchen Valade’s honorary doctorate from Wayne State University–will perform at 6 p.m. at Campus Martis. The band will be led by New Orleans jazz drummer Shannon Powell. Then at 7 p.m., Panamanian pianist Danilo Pérez will perform a tribute show. 

The jazz festival also launched its “Angel of Jazz” campaign Aug. 27 and will run throughout the weekend. People will receive a commemorative pin at the festival with every $50 donation to the Detroit Jazz Festival Foundation. Those interested in donating can text DJFF to 243725. Only 500 pins are available, Collins said. 

The director hopes attendees feel joy while watching the shows as well as focus on being in the moment. With jazz, you never hear the same performance twice, he said. 

“It’s all about embracing and savoring the moments,” Collins said. “The jazz festival can be a place to listen to the performances, hang out with the family and enjoy the beautiful, downtown setting.”

For a full list of performances, visit

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