The Detroit Jazz Festival
For over 40 years, the Detroit Jazz Festival Foundation has celebrated Detroit’s rich history of jazz music by providing year-round concerts and educational programming, and of course, organizing the world’s largest free jazz festival, featuring world-class talent, over Labor Day weekend.
With the support of corporate sponsors, philanthropic organizations, individual donors and volunteers, the Detroit Jazz Festival is free to music fans looking to revel in the artistry and improvisation of jazz legends, rising stars, legacy and homecoming artists. Each year’s lineup of more than 60 performances as remarkable and diverse as the genre itself, as well as spontaneous late-night jam sessions, offers something for everyone.
Our year-round educational programming creates one-of-a-kind opportunities for regional students and aspiring musicians to help them achieve artistic excellence, while our concerts celebrate the works of students and mentors, in addition to local and national artists.
The Detroit International Jazz Festival was founded in 1980 by Robert McCabe and the Detroit Renaissance. Along with the Detroit Grand Prix and the International Freedom Festival, the Festival was intended to bring people into the city and to provide all segments of the population with world-class entertainment.
From 1980 to 1991, the Festival flourished through a partnership with the highly regarded international jazz festival in Montreux, Switzerland. In 1991, the Festival merged with Detroit’s Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts, where it resided until September 2005.
In March 2005, Detroit philanthropist and Mack Avenue Records Chairman Gretchen Valade emerged as a major sponsor of the Festival. With additional support from the Knight Foundation, the Festival expanded in all aspects. Its new footprint, covering three blocks, provided two additional stages and more space for food vendors and other activities.
Looking to attract new audiences to jazz and the Festival, in 2011, jazz musician Chris Collins was appointed as artistic director and has since taken on the role of president of the Detroit Jazz Festival Foundation. With Collins’ vision and the support of the Detroit Jazz Festival Foundation Board of Directors – led by Chair Gretchen Valade – the Foundation has continued to integrate new and exciting artistic elements and opportunities into the signature event, in addition to year-round programming.
The Detroit Jazz Festival is now managed and produced by the Detroit Jazz Festival Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization formed in 2006. Through the generosity of Detroit philanthropist and Mack Avenue Records Chairman Gretchen Valade, the Foundation also established a significant endowment to support Festival operations. The staff and advisory committee continuously work to raise the balance of operating costs through corporate partnerships, contributions and earned-income opportunities.