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Archive for
Upbeats With John Osler
July 27, 2019


SKETCH #4    SPRING 2017




In my thoughts on the four stages of the creative process this final stage is where most of the fun lies.


After artists (1) find a subject (2) use all their senses looking at or listening to all the possibilities, (3) edit to clarify the story, (4) they get to put their stamp on the creation and it becomes uniquely theirs. They can go wild and add dabs of color, twist a phrase or add a new note as long as it is in the artist voice. No one who came into a room and heard  Louis Armstrong or Frank Sinatra would have had to ask who it was. A Woody Allen or Coen Brother movie is pretty easy to spot.


A Van Gogh painting shouts Van Gogh.



Seldom has an artist’s life seemed as big as his work as in the case of Vincent Van Gogh. His passion to paint which consumed his total being led to powerful images and several big box office movies. Vincent certainly didn’t see success come his way in his lifetime. He did live a life of an artist and his art has vindicated his complete dedication to his vision.


A Mark Rothko painting is sublimely a Rothko.






The Detroit Institute of Art has a remarkable example of Mark Rothko’s genius. Simple blocks of color are painted subtly just where they should be. I can spend a lot of time sitting  in front of this paintings wondering how anyone could be so astute.

I get strange stares sometimes from those who have less wonder in such a simple piece of art. Mark Rothko’s paintings are as hard to replicate as are a Van Gogh or Louis Armstrong masterpiece.

Their act of interpreting is when their craft became art.

Artists don’t always set out to insert their individual stamp on their creations. It is just that creating freely is generally allowed, usually encouraged and often liberating.  When you create for yourself you get to do anything you want. I enjoy  art most when I see what the artist wanted to say in his/her work.





Louis Armstrong was uniquely Satchmo


Louis Armstrong was a serious musician and an entertainer. I think we see  the real Louis in his early recordings before he was a public figure. His unique phrasing seemed to make the tunes he played have more meaning. His playing comes straight from his heart to your heart.




France 07 Panosonic 020_edited-1


Artist often have a dilemma. They can have empty pockets and some unpaid bills, they can at the same moment have a personal story to tell and a passion to put their voice in the story. There is only so much time in any day. They could easily make a bunch of stuff to take to market that would be sure sales. Many are driven to remain an artist and hope others will like their story.


When I am in Provence I have often been inspired by friends who are true artists.







While I am in France I spend time with a friend of many years, Pascal Balay. Pascal has supported herself and successfully raised three children with her skill as a potter. Pascal is more than a potter. She is an artist. Her work is uniquely hers, and each piece stands on its own as a work of art. Her spirit comes with the purchase of everything she produces.

Pascal was trained in England, so I can understand her when she talks about her art. She makes it clear that her art is always going to be her art. Even though the potter’s wheel goes round and round in exact circles it is her hands that will create a Pascal Balay piece. There will be no perfect circles nor repetitive color glazes. It will be easy to know whose hands did the work. For Pascal each pot, bowl, plate or platter will be a new adventure. She has a healthy respect for keeping art in her craft. I have spent some time rummaging around her workshop. She has any number of discarded pieces thrown into the bushes and along the studio wall. I would love to own most of her rejects. They are Pascal’s and they are unique and they are special.




Many artists like Pascal will probably never be wealthy. They will be satisfied with rich lives, lives that they define. The decision not to produce products but to follow your vision has benefits. Among the benefits are the  respect of other artists, users, listeners and viewers. Pascal Balay has always willingly shared her passion with students.





Watching her with eager young potters reminds me of Detroit’s master teachers working with up and coming jazz artists.




I have been fortunate to be around artists at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café who remind me what interpreting sounds like. They remind me that it is OK to express myself. Every artist who shows up at the Dirty Dog comes with a style and an attitude that is his/her own. I usually leave the club inspired.


John Osler




August 14 & 15






Nathan is a multi – talented jazz artist who will bring his saxophone and some similarly gifted friends to the Dirty Dog. He will be a familiar face as he has joined his uncle, Michael Zaporski and Future Visions. Nathan is from Detroit, so don’t be surprised if he shows us some new things that he knows we will enjoy..



 August 16 & 17





“Graced with an “impeccable” voice (Winnipeg Free Press) and hailed as an artist that “may well turn out to be the next important jazz singer” by the LA Times, Sara Gazarek has been one of the leading lights of an impressive generation of jazz vocalists since her brilliant emergence at age 20. From the outside, her subsequent career has been the picture of success: five acclaimed albums, an ardent fanbase, enthusiastic reviews, and opportunities that have taken her around the world, leading to thrilling collaborations with some of her most respected and celebrated peers.”



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July 26, 2019



Can you imagine taking a perfect piece of marble or wood and whacking at it with a hammer and chisel to make a piece of art. That is the ultimate act of editing.



John Osler


I sometimes model in clay by adding and then taking away, a process that requires less confidence in one’s editing skill





John Osler                                                                 Michelangelo


Michelangelo: “Every block of stone has a statue inside it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it. I’m just taking away what doesn’t belong there.”




One of the hardest tasks a musician, writer or artist has is to edit ideas, feelings and discoveries. Sometimes it means that you throw out some beautiful stuff in order to simplify and make your message more easily understood. We are often arrogant souls who believe all our experiences and ideas are important and would prove to others just how interesting we can be. Unfortunately this approach only proves just how boring we can be. We also can have a thought that  is strong enough to stand on its own but gets in the way of telling the story at hand.

Editing your work will ask your listener or reader to fill in the blanks and will get them more involved. The longer an artist works at his/her craft the better they are at editing. I am aware of the art of editing, especially when I hear a master of the piano like Charles Boles play a ballad. When I paint I sometimes get too close to the  canvas and create a great bit of painting but it is out of scale, and out it goes. The great John Singer Sargent wiped whole canvases away and started over, and he never painted anything bad.  Away would go all the terrific stuff that was inappropriate to his subject. I would like to someday find his discarded pieces.




Ernest Hemingway said “If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them.”




Greening is what editing when writing for publication is often called. This phrase originated when editors used a green marker to indicate what copy needed to be cut to fit the column length. It took young writers a while to get used to having their beautiful words chopped out of their prose. John McPhee wrote about his experiences with the New Yorker magazine. Here are some of his thoughts.

Choosing what to leave out.


By John McPhee


“Writing is selection. Just to start a piece of writing you have to choose one word and only one from more than a million in the language. Now keep going. What is your next word? Your next sentence, paragraph, section, chapter? Your next ball of fact. You select what goes in and you decide what stays out. At base you have only one criterion: If something interests you, it goes in—if not, it stays out. That’s a crude way to assess things, but it’s all you’ve got. Forget market research. Never market-research your writing. Write on subjects in which you have enough interest on your own to see you through all the stops, starts, hesitations, and other impediments along the way.”






I went to the same villages to paint for over 25 years.


Coming from the a young country like the United States and then spending time in the South of France is an eye opening experience. Looking around the countryside in Provence, France we are barraged by exceptional images. This is a place where hundreds of memorable moments are thrown at you every day. It is a dry climate with a steady stream of cool air that is funneled down through the Rhone valley by the Mistral winds coming from the Alps. When you step out of the sun and into the shade, you feel this cool breeze. There are hills and mountains and flat fields of vines and crops. Villages sit atop high places and cling to sides of cliffs. They perch defiantly against the march of time and tourists.

Nature and man have seemingly combined to edit away the ugly and include only things that are sublimely beautiful.
Many of the people in my life have shown me the benefit of editing both in their art and their lives. I have come to realize that editing is just another word for choosing.

CHOOSING WHAT IS IMPORTANT and what is not all that important.





Being your own editor


Movie makers, magazine writers and  book authors  usually have someone they trust edit their work. Jazz musicians don’t have that luxury. What a gift. What power good editing can have. I have watched jazz artists edit on the fly and as a group. This is a skill that I don’t have. I have the luxury to edit at a later date once I realize how much unnecessary stuff I have included.  Maybe I am going on a little long about this.
John Osler










Editing an all star band


This week at the Dirty Dog you will hear  musicians that genuinely think that nothing great will come from stepping on each other. Each will make room for the other on their way to making something hopeful and beautiful.

All bands need a headliner, someone who has built a name for himself and can draw a crowd. All star groups have a band full of headliners. This coming week all the players will be bandleaders.

In many organizations if you are talented, you are  encouraged to assert yourself. Jazz soloists get to do that from time to time. Jazz like democracy asks more of us. To succeed you have to be a functioning community of players. Each talented player must make room for the other guy. Jazz is also an art form. Jazz music has form to be followed and has many principles that apply to real life. Jazz teaches equality without undermining authority. It instructs the artists how to be assertive without damaging community, and how to live together better without losing their individual identity. Jazz has things to teach all of us.

Sometimes musicians have to edit out their self importance. All stars do this

Chris Collins has the job of putting together an all star band. In a great jazz town like Detroit,  this is one tough editing job. Most of the artists on any Detroit jazz  list are deserving  and usually answer their phones. Chris’s primary job is to bring together talented individuals who will best create the style of music that he envisions

Next week the All Stars will celebrate Detroit’s influence on jazz to the Dirty Dog. The all stars will bring together some of our town’s greatest jazz musicians to play for what is always a knowledgeable house. They will not disappoint us.


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All artists have a unique process that they are comfortable with. When they write their kid a letter or create their life defining masterpiece they begin by realizing that they have something to say. How they get to the finished letter or final version of their masterpiece is what we can call the creative process.



Painting by Judy Bowman






I have observed that poets, writers, musicians, actors, painters and all other artists are seldom conscious of a deliberate creative process. I do think there are stages that most artists follow.  Over the next few weeks I will once again try to explore them.


CREATIVE STAGES (my version)


I feel the creative process can be broken down into the following four stages. We are constantly exploring, observing, editing our observations and putting our observations into our own words. All of these actions are equally important and affect each other.



This is where the subject is found. We have to make an effort to get out and experience the things around us.


It is important to clearly see those things that we have found. Soak them in.


This is the process when we eliminate and include pieces of information.


This is where we put our personal stamp on our creation.



This is an optional step in the creative process. Sharing the product of the creative process isn’t necessary but can be rewarding in many ways.



Continuing a conversation on the creative process. Last week I described what my version of the creative process looks like. It started with the idea of getting away from your comfort zone and entering the first stage of EXPLORING.






Everyone has an artist’s ability to see the beautiful and meaningful things around them. We don’t always see the same things when we look closely. Some things are better off being seen at a distance. It is important to see what is in front of you and not what you hoped to see. An artist gets a chance to create what he wants to say later in the creative process.  A keen sense of observation is handy but staring is not necessary. At times an artist just sees things that are overlooked in a busy life.  That is the reason that being in a place like Provence, France, where it is a part of the culture to take the time to look, has helped me be more observant.  Artists get in the habit of seeing, listening and discovering. Sometime it will all be used in some way. It is cumulative .






The South of France is a great place to find inspiration….  and good food …and good wine .

Through the years we have been lucky to spend time in the South of France and in other artists homes. I have found plenty of inspiration.






A walk in Provence or a glance at flowers in shadows will often lead to my starting to paint large canvases filled with movement and color. The motion of the trees, fields and vines as the strong clear winds of the mistral sweeps through them has added to my vision. The wind turns the leaves over and over as the sunlight comes through them. This is a  place where our lives slow down. and we give more of our time to seeing, smelling and hearing nature all around us. This is a wonderful place to create.



My friend JC Mathes


I wasn’t sure I was ready to explore after finding out how comfortable it is sitting in warm weather surrounded by vines, under blue skies, in the company of good friends, good food and good wine.  At moments like this it seemed like the right kind of exploring to me. I still wanted to see the wind in the fields and the trees . . so off we went.




Sometimes obstacles are put in your way. There is a lot of lamb and goat cheese dished out in this lush agricultural area. It seemed every time we got into the car we ran into the source. All traffic stops as the dogs and their masters use the narrow roads to bring the sheep to higher ground each spring. No one minds as the world slows down at times like this. No one creates a new law to prevent this from ever happening again. Smiling people ran out of their shops to observe this springtime tradition. This is the way that life is here.


Portfolio july 25 deacon, dewrag, santa ,cassis Madison 001_edited-1

CASSIS                                                                                           OIL/CANVAS




A few years ago on a Sunday morning in the village of Cassis, France there was almost no one out and about. The reason probably is that Cassis is a small fishing village on the Mediterranean. It has great seafood with restaurants that encourage boisterous conversations at all hours. Saturday night is a night to sample some of the fresh catch cooked by great chefs. A meal like this leads to having long conversations with plenty to drink, which can lead to rocky Sunday mornings. I was flying out of Marseille that day and got up early. I had time to go down onto the the beach and take one last look at the sea and the magical hazy light. One lone walker came slowly down the beach. I didn’t greet him or disturb him I just observed him. I don’t know whether he was reliving some happy moments or was still  in the fog of a rough Saturday night. All I know for sure is that he was deep in his thoughts.

When I painted that moment I included the color of the region rather than the gray and rather drab colorless morning just before I would have to leave this radiant place.


This week I am at an Island in Canada. The one thing that I observe is that this ancient place is constantly changing.





Sometimes I am surprised by my ability to hear more clearly sitting alone on a rock that is billions of years old.

I will be in surroundings that are quiet / tranquil but can also be intense. Gentle warm breezes  move the tops of the pine trees pointing you to the shadows where the chirping of red squirrels and insects remind you that you are surrounded by frantic activity.

Nature has thrown violent thunderstorms, forest fires and wind shearing fronts at the island’s trees. Most bend and those that crack become soil for future trees and a home for an abundance of insects. After all the time that I have spent on this island, I still have daily discoveries of small things that I never noticed before. Nature has had billions of years preparing this place for me. Things in nature make the necessary changes to survive. I can’t help but make the comparison that nature has the freedom to improvise much as jazz musicians have been given this freedom. All musicians need to have stored up sounds that they can bring to the fore as they create on the fly.

I spend a fraction of my time really listening, watching and observing. It is my best time.

John Osler




July 31, August 2 & 3






Zen is a Canadian pianist and saxophonist who  composes and arranges his very original ideas.



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July 17, 2019




There was a time when a stream of cars would pour out of Southeastern Michigan filled with families, tents and provisions heading to a lake up north. Many still do, but everyone has more choices and more family decisions to make. Heading up North means missing out on a lot of ” not to be missed” events nearer to home, especially in Detroit.

Detroit shows off its musical riches with free outdoor music concerts.downtown almost every weekend until Labor Day, when we will be treated to of the world’s finest music festivals, the Detroit Jazz Festival.




Summer is here and we have plenty to celebrate in Michigan . Crops planted this spring will be harvested and ready to eat.


July in Michigan requires restraint when entering the grocery store and special caution when you come upon a fresh fruit stand. This is loose clothes season in Michigan. Our great local produce starts showing up, and it all goes well at a picnic. At the Dirty Dog Chef Andre and his crew will use Michigan’s rich fresh bounty that is  available only at this time of year. Standing and clapping at all of Michigan’s summer events will help balance out the mouth watering fare.





As a kid growing up in Michigan one of the greatest treats was to lie on your back on a warm summer night and look up at the stars. In the forties you could count on the fact that the northern lights were going to show up if you waited long enough. The sky was so filled with stars that you could walk home using the light from the Milky Way, at least from the edge of our backyard.

Looking up at the stars is habit forming. This past Saturday night I attended an art gallery opening in Detroit. Some of Detroit’s brightest stars’ paintings and sculptures were in full glow mode.




Sometimes when the gas prices soar in summer or your teen-aged kids are in love and don’t want to leave town, you can always get into your air conditioned car and find some art and music in Detroit. Detroit artists and musicians who choose to stay in a city that freezes over for a good part of the year and still has a lot of rust will be happy to show you what they are up to. If it is in Detroit it is going to be interesting. There is something about Detroit that has been ground into us that pops up when we tell a story through our art. Risks are taken and sometimes the results are uneven, but it is always deeply Detroit.



Driving around Detroit is a visual cornucopia. Stepping out of your car and going in to hear some music is just icing on the cake. If you want a break from the traffic I hope that you would consider listening to real jazz at the deeply air conditioned Dirty Dog Jazz Café and stopping at a new art space located at 2439 Fourth St in Detroit. A true patron of the arts has opened a gallery that has opened its arms to Detroit artists. Chuck Duquet has become a hero to those close to the arts in Detroit. Chuck has created a space that is full of energy and opportunity. Our finest artists have responded by placing their work in his hands.


The Collected Detroit Art Gallery


Chuck had collected the work of some of America’s finest artists, including many Detroiters . He just needed a place to share and sell his collection.


Charles McGee, "Harvest"
Charles McGee, “Harvest”




Chuck this last week had an opening for a new exhibition he is calling appropriately Deeply Detroit. I am pleased to be part of this show which includes many friends. The art can be seen at the gallery until August 31, 2019 The gallery hours are Wed. through Fri. 11AM – 4PM Sat. 11AM – 4PM

The artists include Artis Lane – Hubert Massey – Henry Heading _ Richard Bennett – Dennis K Smith – Michael Horner – Judy Bowman – John Osler – Ijania Cortez

Each artist is worth a lengthy introduction , but for now here are some snapshots of their work.


Michael Horner

Dennis K Smith

Henry Heading

Artis Lane

Hubert Massey

John Osler

Judy Bowman


Judy Bowman and Henry Heading each created  paintings for the exhibit DEEPLY DETROIT honoring one of Detroit’s brightest stars, the great Aretha Franklin. Aretha was given a musical tribute at the opening reception for the show.



Artist: Judy Bowman

Artist: Henry Heading


Last summer we lost Aretha Franklin. Aretha Franklin was deeply Detroit. Every time I heard Aretha I wondered why she took so much risk. There was always a feeling I had that maybe she was reaching too high. She took us with her out onto musical limbs, then she would leap up to higher scarier limbs and then she would soar into new previously unknown places.  When she took us on her journeys, I found great relief and joy when she landed. She was remarkable. Luckily she shared her gifts with the world.

Most of the tributes talked about her roots being in gospel and in Detroit, about how she also drew on jazz, the blues, rock and, later, opera, about how her unique and majestic swoops and squeals combined the improvisation of jazz, the hurt of the blues and the force of rock.

Not everybody can be from Detroit. Everyone can appreciate what it means to be deeply Detroit.

John Osler





July 17 – July 20



Drummer Gene Dunlap will be at the Dog this week.  Gene has a long history of playing jazz in Detroit with a lot of great players. There is a reason. Watch him at work. He remains one the most likable and respected artists in jazz


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July 10, 2019




Most often we think of art as something created by a lone individual working far away from the social whirl. Painters, sculptors, poets and novelists almost always work alone. Their art is their own very personal creative expression. We reach inside ourselves to find the stories we want to tell. Sometimes when  we are still enough we can bring back some good memories to use.

Newborns respond to light and to sounds. They hear the playful voices of their brothers and sisters and the calming words while being rocked in their grandparents’ arms. The rhythms of life surround them from the honking of horns to the rustle of leaves. Infants respond to all sounds and sights We all continue to be surrounded by music and images the rest of our lives. First from our parents’ radios and then ours. As we get out and gain new experiences we begin to listen differently. We later learn to filter information. There will be some other people’s sounds or visuals that bring back our personal memories. Sometimes this leads to collaborative art. Eventually we find ourselves playing with friends.




Jazz musicians are required to spend countless hours practising. When they get good enough they will spend beaucoup hours listening to masters, learning tunes and studying charts. They will spend some time in classes but most of a young jazz artist’s musical life will be spent alone. At some point artists have to play with other artists and they will have to partner up. As any married person knows this is a serious step.






Two weeks ago two partnerships brought their collaborations to the Dirty Dog.  Ralphe Armstrong went first with his favorite sidekicks followed by the recent teaming of guitarists Diego Figueredo and Stanley Jordan. The common denominator was the visible joy expressed by all the players and the audiences’ appreciation at being treated to witness extreme teamwork.

Ralph Armstrong travels a lot. When he is in town this pretty famous bassist gathers his regulars and plays some jazz at his favorite jazz club, the Dirty Dog. Ralphe after getting the gig will get Alex Colista. Gayelynn McKinney and Gerald Gibbs on the phone and enlist them for his band.

Detroit is full of first call professional jazz musicians who have shared the stage with Ralphe. Yet Ralphe remains loyal to his musical partners and survivors of Ralphe’s witty remarks.






Two of the worlds most significant guitarists have decided to join their talents. Diego Figueredo and Stanley Jordan both play guitar and both can play jazz. That is about it as far as their similarities go. They hold and finger their guitars as differently as two two handed people can hold a guitar. When they played the Dog they seemed to stare at each other with eyes that were asking “how the heck are you doing that?”. Diego and Stanley have mastered the unique techniques that they have developed. They are now at work finding common ground and mutual respect.  What a partnership. What great sets of jazz.


DSC_2659 _DSC5564  _DSC5516_DSC1473  DSC00446_edited-1




At the Dirty Dog we often see young musicians playing alongside seasoned players. Ralphe Armstrong is always pointing out saxophonist Alex Calista’s youth. Freddy Cole has had a  warm collaboration with a younger guitarist Randy Napoleon from Ann Arbor.   I remember the bond between a young Marcus Elliot from Milford, Michigan when he played with his friend the late and great Marcus Belgrave from Chester, Pennsylvania. Three generations separated the two Marcus. Their diverse cultures just made the music better. They always played to a room packed with an enthusiastic and appreciative audience.  Mutual respect and the common language of jazz makes this possible.


Lester Young and Billie Holiday


Jazz has brought together countless numbers of successful musical partnerships. Louis Armstrong and King Oliver, saxophonist Lester Young and jazz singer Billie Holiday etc etc. So much of our music has been the result of collaborations that have turned into friendships.

I have always liked this story I read some time ago about saxophonist Phil Woods. When Phil was a kid of 22  he walked into a New York bar to find Charlie Parker playing  a baritone sax.  Woods offered to lend him his alto, and the two sat side by side as Parker played. Then, Parker handed the instrument back to him and asked him to take a solo. After the song Parker was heard to say, “Sounds real good, Phil”.  The story suggested that maybe the ghost of Bird continued to sit next to Woods when he played and  whispered “Sounds real good, cats.”

Jazz with its group improvisations and importance of listening to each other will always bring people together. The great gift of friendship is just a bonus.

John Osler




JULY 10 – JULY 13





Last week’s fireworks will continue as Miles Brown brings a genuine mix of old and new ideas that will keep our spirits flying.


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July 2, 2019



Louis Armstrong always claimed he was born on the fourth of July and celebrated his birthday on the holiday.

Louis said: “If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know.”

Here he is with the national anthem.




“The bottom line of any country is, ‘What did we contribute to the world?’ ….We contributed Louis Armstrong.”  Tony Bennett



For many around the world America’s music was their introduction to our country. They heard honest music that was freed from traditional restraints but influenced by the histories of its new arrivals. Jazz showed the world how democracy works and freedom makes things better. This week we celebrate the goodness of America.






The United States of America is a young country and a work in progress. It is always exciting to be part of a something that is  trying to figure out what it’s going to be.





” Jazz is a very democratic musical form. It comes out of a communal experience. We take our respective instrument and collectively create a thing of beauty.” Max Roach




America’s music in 2019 is showing the world its best face. Country music is sharing the stage with hip hop, jazz is blended with electronic, zydeco accordion is inserted into funky renditions of  standard tunes, etc. etc. Everything is possible and everything is accepted and then is added. Layers are being placed on top of layers, creating magnificent wholes. Musicians are respecting other musicians’ stories and finding ways to make someone else’s ideas better. This is a surefire formula for greatness.’


MUSIC IN AMERICA continues to follow the examples of our brilliant founders, who asked us to be: Thoughtful, inclusive,supportive, expansive and inquisitive.

This country will hopefully continue to search for solutions, have good listeners, strive to do our best, be just, invest in our future, respect our past and always remember that our strength has been our goodness rather than our greatness.



Detroit’s late great Aretha Franklin only knew how to tell the truth. Like most musicians she appreciated that in America you can get away with telling the truth. Here is her honest rendition of God Bless America.





“Jazz is about freedom within discipline, usually a dictatorship like in Russia and Nazi Germany will prevent jazz from being played because it just seemed to represent freedom, democracy and the United States.” Dave Brubeck


” As long as there is democracy, there will be people wanting to play jazz because nothing else will ever so perfectly capture the democratic process in sound. Jazz means working things out musically with other people. You have to listen to other musicians and play with them even if you don’t agree with what they’re playing. It teaches you that the world is big enough to accommodate us all.”

Wynton Marsalis


Here is Wynton’s brother Saxophonist Branford Marsalis




The Dirty Dog will not be open this week so they can celebrate the birthday of our country. There will be a break in the music, giving the staff some deserved time off after so many consecutive big acts. The Dirty Dog wishes you a glorious holiday. Enjoy and be safe.

John Osler








JULY 10 – JULY 13





The fireworks will continue as Miles Brown brings a genuine mix of old and new ideas that will keep our spirits flying.



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June 25, 2019




This past Tuesday, June 18, 2019 a new jazz band showed up at the Dirty Dog.

Seven of our best traditional jazz artists were assembled by drummer Pete Siers as a show of gratitude for one of jazz ‘s greatest supporters, Gretchen Valade. For one night Gretchen was treated to the music that brought back fond memories of her first introduction to jazz while a student in New York. The band named itself ” The Dirty Dogs”.



The music that they played is seldom heard today in its original form. It is, however, part of our musical heritage and its influence can be heard in all the music where you find yourself tapping your feet and feeling an urge to clap your hands. On Tuesday night I heard some whoops and noticed some smiles on faces of people who before the session proclaimed that traditonal jazz wasn’t their cup of tea. Gretchen kept her barstool facing the band through the whole set. The musicians tended to play in Gretchen’s direction.




Gretchen Valade has supported all jazz artists and their explorations into new forms. Sometimes is is good to get a shot of good time music and remember how it all got started. For Gretchen it was the 1940s and the country was alive with celebratory music. Following WWII  we were racing to redefine ourselves, but first we took a little time to wallow in our good fortune. We were relieved  to see a.finish to the fighting in Europe and then in the Pacific. We continued to enjoy the snappy tunes and optimistic lyrics that helped keep our spirits up. We listened and danced to jazz that swung and bounced. It felt good.





When the Dirty Dogs finished, the good cheer continued.  It was probably the result of the music and the fact that this is music that is usually listened to with a drink in your hand.




Ralphe Armstrong


I am a blatant fan of Detroit, where I was born, but I pale in my enthusiasm next to  one of Detroit’s staunchest advocates, Ralphe Armstrong. Ralphe will certainly mention his love for his town when he takes the stage at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café this week. Ralphe can be, well, glib. He has the gift of gab. It is hard to take his picture without his getting that devilish glint in his eyes. But, when he talks about Detroit up on that stage, it is from the heart. Ralphe is one of many of our home grown talents who  are in demand world-wide and have spent a lot of their life on the road. Ralphe has always come home, and when he does he tells us how happy he is to be back.





What is it that keeps an Internationally renowned artist like Ralphe Armstrong so rooted? Is it his many friends?  Perhaps he likes being around so many other great artists. Maybe it is because Detroit is a  good place to draw inspiration. Detroit is challenging. We screw up and dig holes for ourselves, but we climb out and we are always interesting.

I believe that Ralphe Armstrong is aware of many of the snarly things growing in the soil of Detroit. He knows of the rocks and weeds that make the flowers struggle to bloom. But bloom they do. The children of Detroit when given patience and opportunity work hard and achieve. They are what Ralphe sees happening when he looks into a student’s eager to learn eyes, and it’s what keeps him rooted.




This is what Ralphe said about his CD,  HOMEBASS, on Mack Avenue Records’ Detroit Music Factory:  “This record is dedicated to the people of Detroit, especially to the young people, the young artists, they are truly the spirit of Detroit.” I was privileged to shoot the photos for his CD.


Here is a poem that I have used before on being rooted,  written by then 12th-grader Joseph Verge who was in the Citywide Poets after-school program run by the Inside Out Literary Arts Project. I think it is worth repeating.



In Southwest Detroit
Life grows best on the roofs of abandoned buildings.
Outsiders look at the graffiti juxtaposed against islands of grass
but don’t understand that art and science create wonders.

When I moved near Vernor St.
it took me a while to blend in with the community.
Like oil paint submerged in water, I always stood out.
Maybe I never understood the environment.
Learning the culture was like trying to decode
the meaning of a Van Gogh painting,
except my neighborhood was more like a mosaic
of different backgrounds glued together by struggle,
to prove that those abandoned buildings aren’t abandoned.

Our city’s hopes live there, like dandelions
yawning beneath the sun on Sunday morning.
They grow on city roads and in schoolyards,
on the surface of children’s minds,
in the hearts of people who’ve been left behind
by everyone else. But they stand tall, their wild hair
blowing seeds of change across the horizon,
taking root in places they were told they’d never grow.

My dandelions have been the poets who’ve shown
me that weeds can be beautiful in their resilience,
that everything planted won’t choke the sunlight out,
that just because they get overlooked doesn’t
mean they don’t exist.

They learn to adapt,
refuse to die quietly beneath
the ruin.

Joseph Verge
Citywide Poets




We can get to know Ralphe better by just listening to Ralphe own voice.

Here are some examples of his conversations that can give us some insights into this gifted musician. Here are a couple of interviews with Ralphe.


Here is part of Ralphe’s  interview with For Bass Players Only’s Jon Liebman

FBPO: Tell me about your musical upbringing and how you became a bass player.

RALPHE: I started on the bass at the age of 7.  Before that, I started on the violin at the age of 5, but I didn’t like the sound it made.  I could never get a real good tone out of it.  It was always squeaking.  So, one Saturday afternoon, I went to see my uncle.  His name was Lee Crockett and we called him L.C.  We went to his place and he was a real sharp dresser.  All the guys back then wore suits and ties.  He was just a sharp guy.  And he drove a pink Cadillac.  He worked for Cadillac Motorcar Company and he had all these new Cadillacs.  And he used to give me vanilla ice cream all the time.  He lived in this flat down by Wayne State University and back then it was just so nice in Detroit.  He had this blonde Kay bass and when I heard the sound of it, it just floored me!  It had such a deep tone.  It looked like a big violin and, you know, when you’re a little kid, you want the biggest thing you can get because you’re little.  And when I heard that sound, Jon, it just tripped me out and I told my dad, I said, “Dad, I want to play the bass!  I want to be like Uncle L.C.”  I bugged him so much. I used to pull on his pant leg!  And finally, he got tired of me bugging him.

My dad was a pretty good craftsman with wood and things like that.  He was an artist, too, and a violinist.  And he made me a bass.  It was a square shape with a round hole like a guitar.  He found an old German neck and put it on top of the square body.  I think it was made out of pinewood.  At first it was too big, so he cut it down so I could play it.  And it had an old peg at the bottom.  And that’s how I got into the bass.

At first, I played nothing but blues and string music from the ’30s. Then, when I was about 11, my brother had a group called the Eldorados.  He had these guys come over with electric instruments and the sounds coming out of them just floored me.  Matter of fact, the guy who played the bass had a Gibson bass and he played with his thumb.  I was a kid and I’d never seen anyone play like that before.  He had a pipe in his mouth and I thought he was playing the tuba or something, but it was a bass!  An EB3 or something made like a 335.  The sound just floored me.  So I bugged my dad again and he went and found me a Framus bass, made in Germany.  It had a mahogany neck and was made like a Fender Jazz bass, with a very small neck.  And that was my first electric bass.


This one is from an interview Ralphe did with  John (Redbird) Fertig for FlyGuitars.

“My uncle Lee Crocket (LC) Armstrong was a bass player. I wanted to be like him. My father tried me on the violin when I was five, but I never liked it. Every time I picked it up it squeaked. My uncle had a big house and drove a Cadillac and I wanted to be like him. I ended up learning the bass. As a matter of fact, he made me a bass when I was 7 years old. He put a German violin neck, bass violin neck, and put it on a square body.





Ralphe Armstrong is one of Detroit’s most vocal ambassadors to the world. Ralphe likes people and likes to talk. Fortunately Ralphe is an interesting guy and has a lot to say. Ralphe also does. I happened to notice this Facebook post from Ralphe Armstrong.


Today I Gave 15 Year Old
Cameron Morgan A Brand new Keyboard
Given to me By Organ Legend Bobby Wright! Bobby. Heard this young man Play !! And Gave it to me .
I went to Buy A Case ,
Then went to The Dirty Dog To Give it To this CASS TECH 
Piano prodigy I’m exhausted but this was truly worth it”



That is who Ralphe Armstrong is.

John Osler




June 26, 27


ralph armstrong



Ralphe Armstrong will make you forget about your woes when he brings his big bass and big heart to the Dirty Dog Jazz Café for two nights this week.

Ralphe Armstrong makes what he does look easy. That is because his dad built a bass for him when he was little, many others encouraged him, and he worked hard. The result is that we now get to spend some time with a world class musician.


June 28, 29





Stanley Jordan and Diego Fiqueredo will descend on Detroit for two remarkable nights at the Dirty Dog..

These are two of jazz’s most exciting musicians who just happen to both play guitar. It is recommended that you make a reservation as early as possible.



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June 19, 2019



Gretchen Valade and Eddie Condon


both loved music and music has loved them. They both were blessed to have a passion for a music that lifted them up, good time jazz.  Gretchen and Eddie were introduced to jazz at a time when it didn’t take itself so seriously and was played in a place that you went to to forget your troubles.

Gretchen and Eddie each created a jazz club that was only four minutes away from where they lived. They both have brought a lot of us along for the ride. I remember my first time in both Gretchen’s and Eddie’s clubs.




Entrance to Condon’s on West Third, NYC, 1945. Photo  Hank O’Neal.


In 1955 I was 20 years old in New York City where the drinking age was 18. I remember drinking too much beer in Eddie Condon’s jazz joint. I have recollections of sketching on napkins images of the musicians who were blowing their brains out as they played Chicago style traditional jazz. That early jazz music still lifts my spirits every time I hear it.

It was said that at Eddie Condon’s Jazz Club (particularly when Wild Bill Davison was in the band), “Every night was like New Year’s Eve.” Eddie saw no need to modernize his music, once saying that “The beboppers play flatted fifths: we drink them.”



I first heard jazz at Gretchen Valade’s Dirty Dog Jazz Café in 2008 when I needed my spirit lifted again. The lady next to me almost blew me off my barstool with an appreciative whistle. When Gretchen released her unbridled affirmation for the music, I knew I was in a place where it was OK to love jazz. It was some time later that I learned that Gretchen’s passion for jazz was kickstarted at Eddie Condon’s Jazz Club. That may explain a lot.





I can only hope that Gretchen Valade skips reading this blog. Gretchen is not comfortable in the spotlight. She is more comfortable listening to jazz. She would prefer to sneak in and sneak out of the jazz club she has created. She doesn’t like a lot of fuss. Gretchen started the Dirty Dog Jazz Café so she could sit on her bar stool and listen to jazz at a place that was an easy drive from her home.

Gretchen tends to give credit to others. She gives most of the credit to the music she loves and the artists who can play it right. All she asks is for others to care about the music and have some fun. Gretchen learned this while in school. Well, not really in her school but in a place close to her school, Eddie Condon’s Jazz Club. Eddie had started a club on 52nd St in NYC also just a four minute walk from where he had an apartment. Gretchen Valade was a student in New York in the 1940s and spent some time at his jazz club . She has never forgotten the experience. It made Gretchen feel good. It lifted her spirits. The music that Eddie Condon played had a way of sending bad vibes packing. Hard times were acknowledged but just served as a lift off pad for some good times jazz.

We all can be thankful that Gretchen wandered into Eddie Condon’s and was exposed to music that triumphs over any darkness that creeps into all our lives.  I think she deserves a little fuss and some good time jazz because of all the things she does for others.






Eddie Condon was a jazz guitarist who seldom took  guitar solos. he did not sing and only wrote a couple of songs. But despite that, he was one of the most important figures in classic jazz. He did set a swinging rhythm that inspired his fellow musicians.

Condon was a wise-cracking emcee with a love for his fellow musicians, and he symbolized the hard-drinking, hard-driving music of the day.



Eddie Condon helped form and formalize what came to be known as Dixieland even though he never liked the name. Dixieland music carried some negative connotations when played by white musicians.

What he believed in was old time jazz, the brash and exuberant kind with some of the “bark” left on it. Jazz that came originally from New Orleans by way of Chicago, Kansas City or Detroit.

New Orleans style jazz got hold of him as a youth when he hung around some of the Chicago joints where New Orleans jazz masters played. He later captured his excitement  of that early influence with his usual gift with words.

“King Oliver lifted his horn, and the first blast of “Canal Street Blues” hit me. We were hypnotized. Everyone in the band was playing what he wanted to play and it was all mixed together as if someone had planned it with a set of micrometer calipers. Notes I had never heard were peeling off the edges and dropping through the middle. There was a tone from the trumpets like warm rain on a cold day. Freeman and McPartland and I were immobilized. The music poured into us like daylight running down a dark hole. The choruses rolled on like high tide, getting wilder and more wonderful. Armstrong seemed to hear what Oliver was improvising and reproduce it himself at the same time. It was impossible, so I dismissed it, but it was true. Then, the two wove around each other like suspicious women talking about the same man. When they finally finished, McPartland said, “How do you like it?” There was only one thing to say. “It doesn’t bother me at all.”

Eddie also remembered “Notes I had never heard were peeling off the edges and dropping through the middle; there was a tone from the trumpets like warm rain on a cold day. That music poured into us like daylight running down a dark hole. The choruses rolled on like high tide, getting wilder and more wonderful.”

Condon was one of the Austin High Gang, young up-and-coming white musicians who frequented the jazz clubs in Chicago, learning from King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band and the New Orleans Rhythm Kings. The group of upstarts included drummer Gene Krupa, clarinetist Frank Teschemacher, tenor-saxophonist Bud Freeman, and cornetist Jimmy McPartland,

He quit high school early and joined Hollis Peavey’s Jazz Bandits to play Odd Fellows dances in Chicago and one‐night stands in lakeside dance pavilions in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

For the rest of his life he remained loyal to hot jazz. He said “Hot jazz was the child of ragtime, with some of the bristle left in.”

Eddie Condon had a good life He stood up for the traditional music that he believed in, he made witty comments, he avoided taking any solo and he helped introduce Gretchen Valade to jazz.

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Music has always had the purpose of helping us get through our day. Jazz continues to sweep us up and shake out the bad stuff.

Somewhere I read  ” When you bring New Orleans your sad story New Orleans will put a beat to it.”



June 19 -23





Detroit contributed some of the major hard bop artists of the 1960s.  The James Hughes & Jimmy Smith Quintet honors that tradition by playing up tempo mostly original hard bop James Hughes and Jimmy Smith contributed a lot of the compositions and arrangements.




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June 12, 2019




The Renaissance, a vibrant period of European cultural, artistic, political and scientific “rebirth” after the Middle Ages, was led by people including Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Machiavelli and the Medici family.





 Growing out of “The New Negro Movement”, the Harlem Renaissance began about 1918 and lasted until about 1935.  It created a lasting shift in the landscape of the arts in America. The caliber of the black Harlem writers, painters, and musicians allowed them to create works from their own experiences and these works shattered misplaced perceptions.. These artists were significant contributors to the American culture. The dignity of black life depicted in the writing, art and music pushed against long held  stereotypical views. America and the entire world took note. All America caught jazz fever from the jazz coming out of Harlem with its syncopation and improvised solos. Jazz was at the very heart of the renaissance and gained in stature with the likes of Duke Ellington going mainstream.
Harlem brought notice to great works that might otherwise have been lost or never produced. The results were phenomenal. The artists of the Harlem Renaissance undoubtedly transformed African American culture. But the impact on all American culture was equally strong. White America could not look away,
Paintings by Aaron Douglas

The Harlem artist Aaron Douglas summed up the challenge like this:


“…Our problem is to conceive, develop, establish an art era…let’s bare our arms and plunge them deep through laughter, through pain, through sorrow, through hope, through disappointment, into the very depths of the souls of our people and drag forth material crude, rough, neglected. Then let’s sing it, dance it, write it, paint it. Let’s do the impossible. ”



RESILIENCE is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.


Resilient is a word that is often used to describe Detroit. Maybe Detroit is more of a slow moving slogger than a city that can snap back quickly. Recovery in Detroit has usually come from  hard work and perseverance. Toughness we have. Detroit’s resilience can be seen in its music and those who play and support the music. Hard work and perseverance are in the city of Detroit and its music’s DNA. It is who we are.

The history of jazz is a history of true resilience. Jazz music has regularly been proclaimed  to be old hat and just as many times has come back and been trumpeted  as America’s greatest contribution to the world. Jazz is resilient because it continues to change. Jazz hasn’t so often been resurrected as it has been constantly reinventing itself. Finding something new is the what the music is about. Everyday there are players finding new ways to express their stories. We will always need jazz to illuminate the way out of our darker moments.




We are likely in a period of renaissance in Detroit. I am not sure we are yet at the peak moment of our rebirth.  We have certainly recovered some good energy and some hope since 2008.

Gretchen Valade has been a prominent leader in our rebirth along with a whole lot of other artists and friends of art. A renaissance needs some good people to stand up and lead us out of some bad times.




The whole world was beginning to experience an economic tsunami in 2008. In our corner of Michigan there was little traffic on the roads




I remember what it was like in 2008 when Detroit was on its heels and needed a quick injection of renaissance.

For most of us the mention of the year 2008 still sends chills up our spines. There was little traffic on the expressways, few cars in the parking lots at the auto plants in town and even less traffic in upscale stores or restaurants.




It was exactly at this moment in one of the hardest hit regions in the world that the idea of a creating a jazz club in an upscale neighborhood was born. How it came about is such a good but sort of crazy Detroit story.







On Kercheval Ave. in Grosse Pointe there was construction starting that would convert a shop into a jazz club. This was probably a crazy and risky idea. The future proprietor didn’t hesitate. Gretchen Valade was already doing so much to assure that jazz would lead  in  Detroit’s rebirth.  It turns out that jazz and the arts would help to get us out of our depths and would help us to recover some of our juju.




Resiliency as practiced by jazz players happens in many small acts that come from a positive attitude and the ability to accept failure as part of the process. We don’t have to have as many knockdowns in a round as Rocky endures. Hopefully when we get knocked down we learn from our misfortune.

Alvin Wattles, who was the musical director of the Michigan State University’s play about the Harlem Renaissance,  Garden of Joy,  said:  “The people of Harlem knew the only way they were going to survive was by banding together, by recognizing common goals and working together to achieve them, and that’s certainly a good message for Detroit right now.”

Detroit’s renaissance is happening in small parts by people with big minds and ideas. Folks who usually have art in their lives. These are exciting times. Show up and be a small part of this grand moment.






In 2019, after 11 years of respecting everyone who comes in the door the Dirty Dog has become a refuge for kindred spirits. Here in a neighborhood that considers a 60 foot elevation a hill and where most streets have British names sits a magnet for a very diverse audience for America’s music, jazz. With its humble roots jazz still has the power to inform our souls. It has complexity and intensity and its appeal is growing. It is democratic, expansive and can be difficult to play. It thrives in the hearts of the curious.

The Dirty Dog Jazz Café remains the home for good jazz and good ideas.

John Osler




June 12 – 15







Charles is a jazz pianist who will be joined by his wife Gwen who is conveniently a jazz vocalist. They have been headliners in Detroit music for some time. Help welcome them back to the Dirty  Dog.




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June 6, 2019




June is here. It is time to safely put the snow shovels away in Michigan. We already are surrounded by beautiful flowering trees and plants. Weeds are finding growth opportunities in the darndest places. I found a dandelion growing in a 1/4 inch wide crack in our sidewalk. When the will is there, things have a way of growing up., even our own kids and our grandkids.

For some of them this will be gradation week. Off they go into the next stage of their lives. Hopefully they will continue to grow smarter and stronger after the school year ends.

I often see some young jazz students come early to the Dirty Dog Jazz Café. They get seats close to the band. These young musicians will have a chance to get some continuing education in one of the best jazz clubs in America.  With time they will acquire the same passion, manners and assurance that the established musicians possess. They will notice that in jazz, musicians who share a stage are assumed to be equals. When they leave the club they will carry with them some reasons to go home and practice. The kids who show up at  jazz clubs will usually have a parent close at hand, someone who is having just as much joy being there as his/her young friend. We will likely be seeing some of these kids at a jam in the future. It will depend on the adults in their life as well as their innate abilities.





Jazz-band teachers do one thing right in teaching,  something that other teachers could learn from. I think it is that they talk to the students as if they will soon be playing in a band with them. In Detroit most teachers who teach in jazz programs are themselves players. They are professionals. They have a vested interest in pushing their students to get to their level. Think about what they have to do: They take young kids who know little about music beyond humming a tune and teach them music theory, teach them to read music, help them with their instrument and then they have to teach the students how to compose on the fly. Hearing such wonderful music coming from young people raises a nagging question. What can we learn from jazz teachers to help kids master other complicated courses such as science, math, language arts, etc. I sometimes think all teachers should be required to take an arts course from a professional artist.




If we look at a jazz band we will witness teachers learning and learners teaching

, all on the fly. Jazz musicians are always ready to learn from each other, probably because they have had teachers and band mates who genuinely have deserved respect. No one can teach  jazz except some one who can play the music. All jazz musicians and most artists, whether they know it or not, are in a continuous learning mode. Every note, brushstroke or word can be a little different and worth thinking about. I remain in awe of both jazz musicians and teachers.





Herbie Hancock – “A great teacher stimulates his student’s creativity enough so that they go out & find the answers themselves.





We all have been asked “who is your favorite teacher?”. We automatically think back to our school days for an answer. Did we stop learning after we left school? Had we learned everything we needed to know? Probably not, we are all students every day of our lives and we go through life surrounded by teachers. Every day I meet people whose lives are both inspiring and instructive, There is so much to be learned, if only I weren’t always in such a hurry. We owe so much to those generous folks who take some time to share their gifts with us, those friends who include the kind act of teaching in their day.  I include these mentors in my list of favorite teachers.





The greatest teacher we have is life itself. Daily we are barraged by sights, sounds, suggestions, silences and urges that give us something to think about. If we are lucky we will have had an art or music teacher in our lives, someone who encouraged us to see and listen to the ordinary stuff around us. They told us that it is OK to be unique. They gave us the assurance that failure is just part of the process.

Jazz and art are individual and personal. It requires time, focus, listening, preparation, repetition, and sometimes a teacher.

I am constantly reminded what a great place Detroit is for learning There are so many remarkably nice people both teaching and learning.


John Osler





June 5,6





This week the Dirty Dog presents Tumbao Bravo. They are a Latin jazz combo that brings the rhythms of Cuba to life with congas, timbales, sax, flute, trumpet, keyboard, and bass.

In  music of Afro-Cuban origin, tumbao is the basic rhythm played on the bass. In North America, the basic conga drum pattern used in popular music is also called tumbao. Bravo just means approval and wanting more.
Tumbao is also an Afro-Puerto Rican word  which means “an indescribable African sexiness or swing.”  Knowing this we should expect a crowd at the Dirty Dog.


June 7, 8





Make your reservations early as Alexander has earned a loyal following eager to find out what he is up to. There will be music guaranteed to lift your spirits.

This week the Dirty Dog has programmed two of Detroit’s finest jazz groups back to back. Alexander will follow Tumbao Bravo with his one of a kind act. Alexander Zonjic will challenge his pals to keep up with this true Detroit icon.




June 12 – 15






Charles is a jazz pianist who will be joined by his wife Gwen who is conveniently a jazz vocalist. They have been headliners in Detroit music for some time. Help welcome them back to the Dirty  Dog.




June 19 – 22





Detroit contributed some of the major hard bop artists of the 1960s.  The James Hughes & Jimmy Smith Quintet honors that tradition by playing up tempo mostly original hard bop James Hughes and Jimmy Smith contributed a lot of the compositions and arrangements.


June 26, 27





A wondrous spirit, Ralphe Armstrong will bring a good argument that Detroit’s  jazz is on  the rise. Ralphe is a true champion of Detroit and of its greatest export, its music.




June 28,29





Stanley Jordan and Diego Fiqueredo will descend on Detroit for two remarkable nights at the Dirty Dog..

These are two of jazz’s most exciting musicians who just happen to both play guitar. It is recommended that you make a reservation as early as possible.



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