Contact Scott about gigs, products, or questions @:

Aretha's Jazz Jam

Aretha's Jazz Cafe

Every Sun. 7-10pm


Troy Athens High School Jazz Band opening for the Scott Gwinnell Jazz Orchesstra
Troy Athens High School Jazz Band opening for the Scott Gwinnell Jazz Orchesstra

Jazz is a music of both innovation and tradition. Tradition is crucial to jazz’s innovation because there are intangible elements in its musical essence that are passed down in generations through mentorship. Detroit has one of the greatest jazz scenes in the world; equal combination of creativeness, musicality, and legacy. People from all over the globe travel to Detroit to enjoy and see the contributions that Detroit musicians have brought to jazz.


When I was a 15 year old apprentice in jazz, my piano teacher and mentor invited me to a local jazz club to hear a professional big band. She knew that I had enjoyed playing with and writing arrangements for my high school big band and wanted me to hear a 14 piece group of expert musicians interpreting much of the same music I had played with my friends.


I had become accustomed to listening to jazz on recordings and felt disconnected from the fact that jazz was a living, breathing music created in the moment through communication and the tacit understanding of both its musical traditions and its social ones. My teacher wisely knew that I needed to hear jazz the way it was meant to be heard; by people creating in the moment.


I will never forget the feeling as I walked into this jazz club for the first time. Walking down the corridor to its entrance, I not only heard the volume and intensity of the music grow, I felt an electricity, powered by a kinetic rhythm section, with layered melodies and thick harmonies arranged with expertise by both local and legendary jazz arrangers. If I simply listened and nothing else, it would’ve been a magical night. What made this one of the greatest experiences of my life is what happened after the gig and on the set breaks: the musicians that I put on a pedestal, were warm, encouraging, and instructive. They empowered me to embrace jazz and encouraged me on my journey with both praise and constructive comments. At that moment, I learned that I was part of a lineage; a bigger picture.


In creating the “In The Tradition” series, I want every school-age jazz student to feel what I felt that night; I wanted to pay it forward to the next generation. My experience was so profound that it led me to create my own 17 piece and 10 piece jazz bands. Whether or not the students involved with it become jazz musicians or simply have a night they’ll never forget, “In the Tradition” recreates this experience for every young jazz musician.


What is “In The Tradition”?


It is a shared concert experience where the student jazz band from a middle school or high school plays a set of music followed by the Scott Gwinnell Jazz Orchestra or Scott Gwinnell Dectet. This takes place at Aretha’s Jazz Cafe at the historic Music Hall. A performance location of artists such as: Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Count Base, Duke Ellington, and more.


At the end of the night, the students are encouraged to mingle with the professionals, asking them questions about the music, the performance, and their careers. It is a shared mentored experience between Detroit’s top jazz professionals and the students.


  • 7 to 7:30pm - 8pm: School Jazz Band Performs
  • 8:15-9:25pm - SGJO or Dectet peforms for students
  • 9:25pm - SGJO members available for questions from students


How long has “In the Tradition” been happening?


We have partnered with SE Michigan jazz bands going on 8 years.


My school has a jazz band. How do I take part in this?


Please have your jazz band director read all of this information carefully and have them contact me at


Who can attend an “In the Tradition” performance?


We RSVP with the school, allowing families and friends to witness this. Aretha’s has food and drinks so it is a fun night for them as well as the students. To make the event happen, there is a $15 cover charge for everyone that is not a performing student. There is no cost for the band itself to perform.


Where is Music Hall and Aretha’s?


350 Madison St., Detroit MI. It is in a beautiful area of downtown next to Comerica Park, the Detroit Athletic Club, Gem Theater, and Detroit Opera House.


If my band is participating, what is provided to me?


You are provided with the following from either myself or Aretha’s at no cost:


  • Green Room for instrument cases, coats, and warming up
  • P.A., soundman, and microphone
  • Grand piano
  • Drum set (no cymbals)
  • 10 music stands
  • 5 sax fronts
  • Chairs


What must I bring?


  • Cymbals for Drum set
  • Extra music stands over 10
  • Amps
  • Auxiliary percussion or vibraphone
  • Student instruments and music
  • No stand lights are necessary


What is expected of my band if we participate:


To please give your students the full experience by strongly asking them to listen to the professional band and encouraging them to ask questions after the performance.


To bring a size-appropriate jazz band for Aretha’s. It is not a large club. We can hold 17-25 piece bands on our stage; larger footprinted bands will not be able to fit.


For families to RSVP if they wish to attend. It is critical to use this system so every parent to see their student play if they choose to. It also helps Aretha’s staff the event with the right amount of service personnel. We will send a link a month before the event. It should be completed by a week before. If there is additional room, it will be open to the public, first come first serve. There will be no guarantees at that point.


Performing student dress requirements are minimum dressy-casual. No tennis shoes, jeans, logo’d t-shirts, or caps please. Ties and coats are optional.


Can my high school jazz band share the hour billing with my feeder middle school jazz band?


Yes, depending on size and other factors. Let's talk...


How do families park?


Parking is very easy and inexpensive. It is recommended for families and students to park in the Gem Theater garage across Madison St from Music Hall. It is a safe garage and is the least expensive parking option in the area at $8.


How can I have my band participate in the next season’s “In the Tradition” performance series?


Contact me, Scott Gwinnell, through the email above for all enquiries. We are always looking to include more hungry student big bands from SE Michigan. Performances are on Tuesday nights between October and May, twice a month. 


When you contact me, please tell me about your band, why you are interested, and what the size and instrumentation are of your jazz band.


Please realize that there is a lot of competition for Winter and Spring slots; we will try our best to involve your band, but applying does not guarantee a slot. If your band can play a Fall performance, we are always more in need of bands through October to December.


Thank you and please enjoy photos from 2022-23's concert season!


Scott Gwinnell