In the middle of winter of 2013, probably February, I was in envy of anyone that had escaped our deep freeze. The warmest place I could think of to be was the Dirty Dog Jazz Café. Among the hardy few that ventured out that night was the proprietor of the club, Gretchen Valade. I asked her what she was doing in the arctic north when she could be in Florida. Her immediate reply was “there is too much to do to get ready for the Detroit Jazz Festival”. This was six months before the festival. She made me aware that the festival doesn’t just happen. It takes planning, hard work, attention to details and oversight. Not just casual oversight but oversight that comes with purpose and a respect for the music and the people of Detroit. Good fortune is with us as it is Gretchen on the watch.
She gets things done with grace and authority. The festival is the result of the right people doing their best to provide Detroit music lovers the best free Jazz festival in the world. Her selection of Chris Collins has changed the festival. Chris being a nationally recognized player and educator can speak to and attract the best artists to our city. His knowledge of our home grown talent opens doors for our young lions. Gretchen continues to think ahead of many of us and doesn’t skip out on the job.
For four days at the end of summer the best of Detroit can be experienced in downtown Detroit. The most knowledgeable group of Jazz fans are treated to great Jazz. Nothing is done all year that doesn’t have these fans in mind. Crowds drifted from venue to venue while behind the public view crews were making sure music stands were in place, doing music checks and taking care of all the details that would make the 2013 Detroit Jazz Festival a glorious success. All the hard work and planning had paid off. But the planner in chief wasn’t there. Gretchen wasn’t there, she had been taken ill and was unable to attend. Her smile was missed.
This past winter, I noticed that Gretchen was again hanging around as the arctic air descended on Detroit. The best free Jazz Festival was again securely in the hands of the world’s best jazz festival planner.