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MJF67, Sept. 27-29, 2024


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© Gemma Corfield
Don Was & The Pan-Detroit Ensemble
  • Grounds Artist
  • Saturday, September 28 9:30 pm - 10:30 pm Tim Jackson Garden Stage Presented by Alaska Airlines

Music has always loomed large in the life of Don Was. Born in Detroit in 1952, he has enjoyed a multi-faceted career as a musician, record producer, music director, film composer, documentary filmmaker, and radio host. Since 2011, he has also served as President of America’s venerated jazz label, Blue Note Records.

For his work as a record producer, he has won six Grammy Awards—including Album of the Year in 1989 for Bonnie Raitt’s Nick of Time and Producer of the Year in 1994. Records that Don has produced have sold close to 100 million albums for a wide array of artists like The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, John Mayer, Ringo Starr, Wayne Shorter, The B52s, and Charles Lloyd. In 1995 he produced and directed a documentary about the life of Brian Wilson, I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times, that won the San Francisco Film Festival’s Golden Gate Award. As a film composer, he won the 1994 British Academy Award (BAFTA) for Best Original Score in recognition of his work on the film Backbeat. He won the 2014 Emmy Award for Outstanding Music Direction for his work on the CBS TV special The Beatles: The Night That Changed America. In 2018 Don was invited to join Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir to form the Wolf Bros. They continue to consistently tour the United States.

In 2011 Was became President of the iconic jazz label Blue Note Records. He fiercely protects the company’s 85-year-old legacy, meticulously caretaking the revered catalog of Black American Music. This includes maintaining the availability and quality of vinyl reissues in the Tone Poet and Classic Jazz audiophile release series. He also signs and produces many of the label’s recent roster of artists including Robert Glasper, Charles Lloyd, Wayne Shorter, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Gregory Porter, and Jason Moran.

Don’s deep Detroit roots keep him anchored to the city where, where for the last 15 years he has music directed and played bass in the Don Was Detroit All Star Revue concerts which are part of Detroit's annual diversity festival, The Concert of Colors. From 2009-2012 Don hosted a weekly Sirius XM radio show on the Outlaw Country channel called The Motor City Hayride. Since 2021, he co-hosts a weekly, live radio show on Detroit’s NPR station, WDET-FM, called The Don Was Motor City Playlist. Don is also the voice of Neville the Dog in the hit Amazon Prime Video children's show, Pete the Cat.

Don Was’ latest group, The Pan-Detroit Ensemble, is a band made up of stellar jazz musicians from his hometown. “There’s a unique sound and feel to Detroit that permeates the music in a way that resonates all over the globe,” says Was. “There is a rawness, a lack of pretension and an unmistakable, underlying groove that reflects the people and culture of the entire city.

The band includes long time collaborators like Blue Note Records artist Dave McMurray on sax and Eminem’s Oscar-winning collaborator, keyboardist Luis Resto. Additional musicians include trombonist Vincent Chandler, trumpeter John Douglas, drummer Jeff Canady, percussionist Mahindi Masai, guitarist Wayne Gerard and vocalist Steffanie Christi’an.

“When the opportunity came to put together a new band, the message was clear to me: go back to Detroit where I came from, be who I am, play like who I am and team up with some like-minded individuals,” says Was.