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August 29, 2003 - Image 62

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-08-29

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Divas Rule!

Jazz festival focuses on females, including newcomer Ilona Knopfler.

Special to the Jewish News

they were pretty risque.
"Then I discovered the music of Diane Shuur and
Diana Krall. I love their freedom of expression, and
the fact they're not afraid to use their voices however
they choose.
"I wanted to express myself that same way. Jazz is
sort of an improvisation of how you feel anyway."
Knopfler's big break came when Detroiter
Gretchen Carhartt, CEO of Mack Avenue Records,
heard the young singer and quickly signed her.
In her debut CD for Mack Avenue, titled Some
Kind of Wonderful, Knopfler takes on some of the

Single and the mother of a young girl, Knopfler
maintains homes in Paris and Atlanta. She will sing
5:15 p.m. Sunday on the Standard Federal Pyramid
Also appearing in his first Detroit Jazz Festival —
although he's been entertaining for 67 years — will
be vibes great Gibbs, who brings his group to the
Amphitheatre Stage 2:30 p.m. Monday.
The colorful Gibbs, 78, of California, who recent-
ly had hip replacement surgery, defines jazz as
"instant composing — improvising on a regular

most popular tunes of the 1960s-'70s, but leaves a
listener wondering about the definition of jazz.
The tunes range from the swinging title song, to
Three Dog Night's "One," to the Beatles'
"Something," to Burt Bacharach's "Alfie," to the
venerable torch song "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do."
"That's what's great about freedom of expression,"
said Knopfler. "You can sing anything you want."
She pays tribute to Zoltan Knopfler on the CD
jacket, saying, "The family legacy lives on."

Often called one of the most "hyper" of all
jazzmen — even his ballads are done mostly in dou-
ble time — Gibbs has written 280 songs and aver-
ages 23 gigs a month.
He was born Julius Gubenko in Brooklyn, son of
Abe Gubenko, a local bandleader and Jewish radio
program personality, and was raised in a strictly
kosher home.
"We were so Jewish, I had my bar mitzvah at age
12 because I couldn't wait," he quipped.

uality is better than quantity" is the unof-
ficial slogan of the 24th annual Ford
Detroit International Jazz Festival, reduced
this year to. three days and three stages,
while featuring some of the best-known divas in the
jazz world.
The festival, running Aug. 30-Sept. 1 and billing
itself as "Three Days of Divas ... and a Whole Lot
More" — includes a performance by newcomer
Ilona Knopfler, who has a strong Jewish heritage.
Also performing will be two of the top Jewish
male vibraphonists in the jazz business, Terry
Gibbs and Dave Samuels, the latter with his
Caribbean Jazz Project.
The other divas headlining the festival are
singer-songwriter Chaka Khan, performing at
9:30 p.m. Saturday; multiple Grammy winner
Roberta Flack, at 9:30 p.m. Sunday; Natalie
Cole, daughter of the legendary Nat "King" Cole,
at 8 p.m. Monday; and contralto Lizz Wright, at
4:15 p.m. Sunday. All four will be on the Ford
Amphitheatre Stage.
The largest free jazz festival in North America
will be held at Hart Plaza in downtown Detroit,
again sponsored by Ford Motor Company, plus
Standard Federal Bank and 42 other organiza-
tions. Although they provide about two-thirds of
the funds for the festival, both revenues and
attendance have dropped in recent years to force
this year's cutbacks. Still, there's plenty of enter-
tainment to be had: Sixty-four acts and more
than 300 musicians will perform for 12 hours
each day.
Other performers include Cole's younger broth-
er, Freddy Cole and his Quartet; Detroit native
Ron Carter; jazz organist Joey DeFrancesco;
Motown music interpreter Nneena Freelon; and
Clockwise from above: Ilona Knopfler: Strongly influenced by the
teenage pianist Peter Cincotti. There also will be
memory of her grandfather, Zoltan, a Hungarian Jew who escaped
a Marcus Belgrave Trumpet Summit each day.
the Holocaust.
Making her first appearance at any jazz festival
is up-and-coming diva Knopfler, 27, a native of
Dave Samuels: The "beauty of Judaism is a personal relationship
France. She has been strongly influenced in her
with God"
young career by the memory of her grandfather,
Terry Gibbs: Born Julius Gubenko in Brooklyn, son ofAbe Gubenko,
Zoltan, a Hungarian Jew who escaped the
local bandleader and Jewish radio program personality
Holocaust and died in his 70s.





"I refuse to change my name because I'm proud
of it, like I was proud of my grandfather, who was a
very religious man — although I don't practice
Judaism now," said Knopfler by phone from
Brittany, France, where she was vacationing.
Knopfler's mother was a singer, and her father was
a pianist who accompanied her. Ilona traveled with
them around the world, eventually settling in Hong
Kong, where she first took the stage at age 6.
"I caused quite a stir," she said, "because I sang, in
French, songs I'd heard my mother sing, and I guess

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