First String

Violinist and Detroit native Regina Carter settles back in her hometown for three appearances as she displays her virtuosic flair at the Detroit International Jazz Festival

PaganiniIt was a joint,” she says almost offhandedly, but in a voice as cool as the music she plays.

Detroit-born jazz violin virtuoso Regina Carter is talking about Cobb’s Corner, a small club that made the corner of Cass and Willis ground zero for jazz in Detroit in the mid-1970s. It was there that Carter, alongside the likes of Marcus Belgrave and Lyman Woodard, developed and established her skill. But her fiddle didn’t always produce jazz.

Her classical training started at age 4, when she played 30 minutes a day, seven days a week. With each successive birthday, her teacher tacked on another half-hour of practice. By the time Carter was in high school, she was practicing six to eight hours daily.

Carter lived near Palmer Park and went to high school at Cass Tech. It was there that she finally met her music when a friend, jazz vocalist Carla Cook, brought Eddie Jefferson, Noel Pointer, and Jean-Luc Ponty to Cass Tech. Through Pointer and Ponty, Carter saw and heard the violin differently. Then Cook took her to see French jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli. “I had never seen someone have fun with the instrument like that before,” Carter says. “I saw it in a different setting.”

And that was that.

In 2001, she traveled to Genoa, Italy, where she became the first jazz violinist (and the first African-American) to play the heavily guarded — and highly regarded — Il Cannone, Niccol Paganini’s famous 260-year-old violin.

Carter returns to her roots for a late-summer appearance at the Detroit International Jazz Festival. On Aug. 31, she’s scheduled to perform with her quintet. She’ll play with jazz pianist Kenny Barron on Sept. 2, and with The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra on Labor Day. “It’s going to be a blast,” she says. “I’ll be happy to be home.”