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Opened in 2008, The Dirty Dog is one of the premiere destinations in the United States for world class Jazz and cuisine. It combines the charm of an English-style pub with intimacy and meticulous attention to detail and hospitality.
The Dirty Dog brings together the musicians and guests in a way that creates a lasting impression and desire to come back.
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Upbeats With John Osler
December 11, 2019



It is December and the year is coming to an end. For me 2019 was a year of discovery and transition. I have discovered that I am getting old and creaky and I find myself transitioning from being cautious into becoming pretty predictable and boring. Maybe I need a jolt of purpose. I must seize every opportunity.

It is December, and life gets harder for those who are without shelter and those who cannot provide for their families,while those all around them are shopping for gifts and holiday decorations.
It is December and we all will have a chance to make things a little bit better for those around us. This time of year brings an abundance of opportunities, and regardless of our own situation we all have something to offer. I will witness
simple acts of kindness all around me as we enter the holidays. We all benefit, as it turns out that giving to others turns out to be one of our best self enrichment programs.  Just ask those who have enrolled.
It is December and your mailbox will be filled with requests for end of the tax year donations.
It is December, and this could be the best part of our year for those who just have the habit of giving because that is who they are all year round.



Here are three people who came together this December to show us what the spirit of giving looks like.They all knew that there were some things that needed to be done, and they stood up because that is who they are.


Gretchen Valade with COTS CEO Cheryl Johnson




I was sitting at the bar at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café when a friend nudged me on the back and whispered that she remembered her mother singing the soulful song that Alvin Waddles was playing. She said that when her mother sang I Cant Give You Anything But Love, Baby to her father in the 1930s, they would both cry. It was the height of the depression and this song struck home. It was a time in their life when love had to carry the day. Difficult times leave a deep impression on those who are starting out in life. The woman sitting next to me was a lucky kid who has a memory of loving parents, parents who demonstrated the positive effects of music and gentleness on their lives.

Music is still an important part of Gretchen Valade’s life, as is her desire to give back to those who may be struggling.



Three days later Gretchen and the Dirty Dog hosted two nights of music to bring attention to and help fund the community agency COTS.Taking credit is not something Gretchen is very good at doing. Gretchen has always shunned deserved attention for her good deeds. They are hard to hide. When she sees  a need, she acts.

Gretchen’s contributions to jazz in our community are well know and gives us a glimpse of her generosity.

In 2019, after 10 years of respecting everyone who comes in the door of the Dirty Dog Gretchen  has established a refuge for kindred spirits. Here in a posh neighborhood where they consider a 60 foot elevation a hill and most streets have British names sits a magnet for a very diverse audience for America’s music, jazz.  For two days it was filled with like minded patrons. Everyone wanted to help.




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






Last week the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe hosted two evenings with Herbie Russ, a soulful performer who wears many musical hats: singer, saxophonist, keyboardist, producer and songwriter. He was part of fundraising events for The Coalition on Temporary Shelters.



With a voice reminiscent of Joe Cocker Herbie delivers each song with passion and soulful emotion, which is fitting as his performances will benefit families served by COTS in Detroit.

Herbie Russ’s background is very public because he wants it to be.

Herbie dropped out of school in the 11th grade, and was then kicked out of his parent’s home for doing drugs. A very gifted saxophone player, Herbie would ride his bike 10 miles to play with bands in exchange for drugs or money. He would go on the road with a variety of acts where he had the benefit of staying in hotels. He spent years staying in hotels, couch-surfing, and living in a car. After years of drifting, homelessness, drugs, and being arrested, he eventually turned to God and said “You’ve given me this talent, I need some direction.”



At his darkest moment Herbie was led to a homeless shelter, where he offered to sing and play. He began to donate all the tips from his gigs to the homeless shelter. After donating thousands of dollars, Herbie continues to use his gifts to support shelters across the U.S.

In 2017 Herbie Russ performed on America’s Got Talent where he wowed the judges.

He is doing well, and he appreciates all the help along the way. Herbie’s joy at being able to contribute along with his compassion and understanding carried the evenings. He gave us two great nights. Thanks to Herbie Russ and his band.







Coalition On Temporary Shelter CEO  Cheryl P. Johnson

COTS exists to alleviate homelessness by enabling people to achieve self-sufficiency and obtain quality affordable housing. Started as a church project in 1982, today the organization manages multiple facilities with a staff of more than 90 people and an annual budget in excess of $7 million. Annually, COTS serves more than 2,000 Detroit-area homeless people in its emergency shelter and approximately 450 individuals and families in its transitional and permanent housing programs.



CEO Cheryl  P. Johnson has been at the helm of the Coalition On Temporary Shelter for 27 of its 35-year history.

Prior to coming to COTS, Cheryl was working with youth. She remembers when  a young man that was aging out of her program – when he turned 18, he would literally be homeless. When the staff bid him farewell, they sent him to COTS, and that was the first time she heard of the organization. Years later, she came to have a deeper understanding of the issues related to homelessness.

When she came to COTS in 1990 as the Shelter Director her intention was to stay for two years and go back to working with children – 27 years later, she is still at COTS.

Cheryl guided Cots from offering mostly emergency shelter to develop transitional housing, which is another form of shelter for the people we serve where they can stay up to two years. As we developed transitional housing, we started to learn more about permanent affordable housing and how to use Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) to develop it. I started traveling around the country – San Francisco, Chicago, New York – to visit the locations that had the best developments in the country, and I honestly fell in love with the whole notion that we can end homelessness. That’s why she stayed so long.

Here is Cheryl’s take on COTS “One of the things that struck me was that many of the heads of homes who I met as children in the early 90s were coming back now as adults with their own children. The question that raised was: Why didn’t giving them housing break that pattern? What I realized was that we couldn’t focus solely on homelessness because homelessness is really a symptom of poverty. So if we don’t take on the issue of poverty, then we’re going to be in business forever – and that’s not what we want.

That’s when we decided to create a theory of change that could be a serious tool that helps families move out of poverty. The framework we created is called the Passport to Self-Sufficiency. It’s a coaching model centered on building really robust relationships with our families and coaching them through goal setting. We don’t just look at housing; we also look at health and wellbeing, education, career development, and economic mobility. We help them create goals in every one of those areas. And we don’t just help the head of household; we also look at the children so it’s a two-generation approach.

Our resources are aimed at impacting the next generation in the hopes to end the cycle of poverty and homelessness one family at a time.

Cheryl studied classical music, she still sings and she even  put out a CD a few years ago,  it’s another gift that she shares with others.

I spend time around jazz musicians who seem to be completely reverse wired. Jazz musicians seldom deliberately do the right thing. It is just part of what music brings to their life when they sign up. The older they get the younger they play. They never seem to acknowledge that they should just fade away. Jazz musicians are also generally giving people who don’t expect huge rewards other than a chance to play their music. Jazz artists likely are not aware of what all the studies have shown, that giving and getting rewards as incentives does not lead to as good a result as a task done selflessly.

Here are some study results on giving that I stumbled on.

Psychologists often distinguish between intrinsic motivation (wanting to do something for its own sake) and extrinsic motivation (for example, doing something in order to snag a goody). The first is the best predictor of high-quality achievement, and it can actually be undermined by the second. Moreover, when you promise people a reward, they often perform more poorly as a result.

Scores of studies and personal case histories point to the benefits of an attitude of extreme giving at work. The greatest source of motivation is a sense of service to others; focusing on the contribution of our work to other people’s lives has the potential to make us more productive than thinking about helping ourselves.

Being able to give and to do for others seems to be very rewarding for older people, and seems to reinforce their own sense of independence and well-being.

Most reports found that givers are happier and healthier and have a greater sense of purpose in life. This is not just in terms of giving money to formal charitable organizations but also extends to informal acts of kindness.

Gretchen, Herbie and Cheryl seem to have figured all this out all on their own.

John Osler




December 11 – 14





Known for his dual horn playing technique, recording artist Rayse Biggs is one of the most dynamic horn players today. Often referred to as Trumpeter Extraordinaire, Rayse has received local and national commendations for his contribution to music. He continues to be sought out to accompany other artists, including Kid Rock, Fred Hammond, Alexander Zonjic and Kem.


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December 3, 2019

John Osler                                   Santa                                          oil/canvas




Living in Michigan in the month of December is a challenge. It is November without the promise of of a few warm days. The notorious lake effect, shortened days, first snows and the threat of winter can take a toll. Five of the ten cities with the most depressing winters are located downwind from one of the Great Lakes. Lake-effect cloud cover makes winter sunshine a rare sight in these places. Great lakes means Less sun, Overcast skies, Overwhelming depression and general Malaise.





Gloom is partial or total darkness, a dark or shadowy place or lowness of spirits. 
Gloom is an amorphous melancholy that can exist in even perfect conditions and thrive when it seems that things aren’t going to get better, like December in Michigan.
We can get some comfort knowing that there are forces working to keep gloom at hand.
There will be no more grass cutting or yard work for a while. Longer nights mean that we will have more guilt free time to hole up and read. A sighting of the sun, a smile or a small act of kindness can make a difference. A place where they are dedicated to lifting your spirit can make a big hole in the gloom.



I have little to complain about in my life even on a wet dark December day in Michigan. It is hard though to get up from the couch and go into the unfriendly environment of early winter. It doesn’t take long once I come through the door at the Dirty Dog to realize what a smart move I made to show up here.


A place where a busy staff always seems to be enjoying their tasks.



A place where there is warmth built into everything.





A place that has gloom resistant walls


Even before the music starts, the center plated portions of food arrive, and the beverages take effect, the art scattered around the Dirty Dog will start to lift all grumpiness out of your life.



The walls are covered with whimsical images of dogs, jazz artists, cupids and more dogs.




If this doesn’t cheer you up the club will bring in seasonal decorations that just add to the warmth of the place.




It is a place that serves up antidepressant jazz music.


The finisher is the act of getting lost in the music. Gloom is a goner, joy wins again.



It is a place where I can look at one of my paintings that hangs on a wall in the Dirty Dog.


Ron Carter; Musician, Legend and Cass Tech Graduate


All winter, very time I look at this painting I think back to a warm summer day.






It was a beautiful summer day and I had a lot of outdoor projects lined up. In the morning of this near perfect day I learned that the jazz legend Ron Carter was going to be at the Dirty dog Jazz Café. He was in town and offered  to spend some time with fortunate local high school students from the Detroit Jazz Festival program. Reluctantly I said goodbye to the warm sun filled backyard. I packed up my camera,  I headed over to the Dog, and I went out of the sunshine into one of my most soul enriching experiences of 2016.




The students had arrived and set up to play some music. There was some youthful jabbering until Ron Carter arrived. Ron Carter looks as good in person as he does on his CD covers, only taller and even more elegant. He introduced himself to a suddenly very quiet group of young jazz musicians. He asked them to play and soon with some gentle nudges a relaxed band entered into a shared learning experience. Here was a player of jazz music who has had an entire  lifetime at the top of his craft listening carefully to some Detroit kids starting out. His taking the time didn’t go unnoticed.

Ron Carter was gently but firmly showing our next generation how a man acts and a jazz man plays.


Another way to chase the blahs is to settle in with a good book.







If you want to learn something about jazz in Detroit, this is the book. Mark Stryker covered music and art for The detroit Free Press for 21 years before leaving to write this book.This is his take on what has kept Detroit constantly producing so many influential jazz artists. Mark has the advantage of having been there. The reader benefits from Mark’s relationship with Detroit’s jazz artists. He has asked them  direct questions through the years and has gotten honest answers. This process came from his deep personal interest in how and why  Detroit with its ups and downs has seen its music persevere and thrive. His personal insights makes this book stand alone.  Mark explains jazz in Detroit  Mark has the skills to make it come alive. He ties together a lot of things we already know. Free up some time by the fire for this new book.




JAZZ BOOK cover4

Cover photo of Will Austin at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café




Documenting The Legacy Of Gretchen Valade

If you ever want to be reminded of the great story of jazz and Detroit in photographs, you might consider picking up the book, DETROIT JAZZ  Documenting the legacy of Gretchen Valade. The book is a collection of my photographs of Detroit’s great jazz artists shot at venues that have been made possible by the generous acts of Gretchen Valade. It is my  attempt to document the results of one woman’s dream,  I wanted the world to know that Detroit’s jazz community has never faltered.The photos are witness.I would like to thank all of the local and national artists who performed in these venues. Opening the door to this remarkable world were Gretchen’s right hand, Tom Robinson, Chef André Neimanis, Manager Willie Jones and all the staff of the Dirty Dog. Thanks also to the Detroit Jazz Festival and it’s director, Chris Collin. Special thanks to Gretchen, whose strength and foresight have provided the gentle push for both the music and this book. I hope that the book respects and honors all of the artists, Detroit and Gretchen.

If you ever want to be reminded of this great story of jazz and Detroit in photographs, you might consider picking up the book.

Here are some pages from the book.

detroit Jazz 10 0458 detroit Jazz 10 0416 detroit Jazz 10 0413 _DSC1430 detroit Jazz 10 0431 detroit Jazz 10 0422 detroit Jazz 10 0432 detroit Jazz 10 0441 detroit Jazz 10 0445 detroit Jazz 10 0450 detroit Jazz 10 0429 detroit Jazz 10 0420


You can order the book online on Amazon or for a signed copy contact us at or call John at 313.886.4728 and we will get books out to you.



Let your good nature prevail. Quit moping. Kick dreariness out of your life. Bring your good nature out of hibernation. Enjoy December in Detroit.


John Osler




December 4 – 7


John Osler                            Dave                               oil/canvas




Dave McMurray edits everything out except his personal thoughts, his power and his compelling spirit. Detroit knows David and Detroit know jazz.

One of the jazz world’s greatest spirits will strip away any of your late winter blahs this week. Bring your most youthful attitude. David deserves and accepts applause.





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November 25, 2019





The blessing of the harvest happens around the world signaling that the growing season is over, and one should start thinking about hunkering down for the winter. I always start the holiday season by thanking whoever it was that decided to have us celebrate Thanksgiving on a Thursday, thus guaranteeing us a four day holiday. This gives us three days to recover, to visit with family and to renew old friendships.

Thanksgiving  is a straightforward name for a holiday.  It is a command and is an opportunity. We are given this day to be with our family and friends to express our appreciation for our good fortune. I am always comforted, and I am truly thankful when I look around after dinner and see a well fed family warmed by good feelings for one another. I am also often thankful for a quiet moment alone after overeating once again.

Thanksgiving is a holiday when we do not shop because we are being thankful for the things we have and are saving our energy for Black Friday. Thanksgiving is a time to relax, tell well worn family jokes, watch the Lions and then recover from watching the Lions.

We will gather at our house in 2019 with three generations of talkers, all with something to say.  There is no longer a kiddies table and an adult table. We will have one adult table and one adult conversation. Well sort of adult, as we have accumulated enough tales to tell that will bring guffaws, sly smiles and happy tears to our eyes.



The Gathering

a Thanksgiving Poem by Billy Collins


Outside, the scene was right for the season,
heavy gray clouds and just enough wind
to blow down the last of the yellow leaves.

But the house was different that day,
so distant from the other houses,
like a planet inhabited by only a dozen people

with the same last name and the same nose
rotating slowly on its invisible axis.
Too bad you couldn’t be there

but you were flying through space on your own asteroid
with your arm around an uncle.
You would have unwrapped your scarf

and thrown your coat on top of the pile
then lifted a glass of wine
as a tiny man ran across a screen with a ball.

You would have heard me
saying grace with my elbows on the tablecloth
as one of the twins threw a dinner roll across the room at the other.






Giving thanks is very personal. Ordinary things happen in our lives that we take for granted until Thanksgiving. On this day we give thanks that there will be someone to stand up and give us a hand or a nudge when we need it. We remember all the unbelievably beautiful moments that have filled our hearts with pure joy or made us lose control with uncontrollable laughter with a friend. We remind ourselves of the good feeling when we can bring some comfort to someone by our actions. We recognize all the good people who have resisted and who are standing up to power. We are especially thankful for all those who listen and care. These are extraordinary gifts.





Thanksgiving in colonial times was a harvest holiday in which the colonists offered thanks for a good harvest. Thanksgiving became a regularly celebrated national holiday only during the Civil War, when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a day of national Thanksgiving in 1863. The holiday later became fixed to the fourth Thursday in November by an act of the United States Congress in 1941. I am thankful that they did. Also,


I am thankful for family and friends.

I am thankful to those who saved my life a couple of years ago.

I am thankful that my children and grandchildren put their phones away when we are talking.

I am thankful to God for my life, my purpose and my many reasons to be thankful.

I am thankful for all the good people at the Dirty Dog.


DSC_0738 _DSC8629




I give thanks for the polite and respectful folks who will come out to the Dirty Dog for three evenings of Detroit jazz this week. The Dirty Dog Jazz Café will be closed and the music muted on Thanksgiving Day. Don’t despair. On Wednesday, Friday and Saturday the Dog will be filled with Alvin Waddles’ positive energy spurred on by a room full of appreciative faces and clapping hands, all performed at the appropriate moments. There will be plenty of jazz, good food and thankfulness for all.

Alvin knows how to bring the holiday spirit into a room. So, take a break, leave the dishes and leftovers for a moment and come with your friends and family to a warm place where large helpings of smiles and service come with the music, food and drinks.

Everyone at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café wishes all their friends and musical family the warmest of Thanksgivings.


John Osler




November 20, 22, 23

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Pianist, singer, composer, musical director and good guy.


Wow! What better way to celebrate the Thanksgiving break than to come out to the Dirty Dog to hear a Detroit original, Alvin Waddles. Alvin will swing into the Dirty Dog Jazz Café this coming week. Alvin in old English means elf friend, making  Alvin’s parents a little prophetic. Alvin does have an elfin twinkle in his eye when he performs. He has enormous talent that he uses with grace. For many of us he is the friendly face of jazz.

Alvin’s musical career is a Detroit story which includes a generous and gifted teacher that showed up at the right time. For Alvin it was Mrs.Gusseye Dickey who took the gifted 8 year old Alvin under her wing. Alvin says that it was Mrs. Dickey that first instilled in him his life-long love of classical music. Alvin took his early lessons at Cass Technical High School, the Interlochen Arts Academy and the University of Michigan School of Music and added  his rich Detroit culture to become a multi-talented master musician.




DSC06111 169

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November 18, 2019



I am often surprised when I go into a room and there is a piece of really good art on the wall. It may not always be my cup of tea, but I will carry forward a good feeling towards the person who thought that art was important. We all have different skill levels when we decorate a space hoping to make life more orderly and livable. When we first enter a room and glance around we get our first glimpse of someone. A room that I occupied  would usually be a scene of disarray. Piles of stuff and unfinished projects would litter every corner of every room. Fortunately for me and anyone visiting our house, my wife has a better sense of presentation than I do. Any room where I am working  would soon become uninhabitable if left ungoverned by my better half. I am grateful for all of the people who keep order in our world and especially those who place in front of me beautiful arrangements of beautiful things. It is often a woman with impeccable taste. When I am in the Canadian woods it is Mother Nature. At my house it is my wife, and at the jazz club down the street it is Gretchen Valade




When you enter the Dirty Dog Jazz Café you are greeted by a host and a dog that is scratching itself because it might be a little bit dirty.  The dog is not real.  It is just one of the many artifacts in a club chock full of charm, music, civility and art. Fortunately for those of us who like jazz played in an intimate yet expansive space, the Dirty Dog has been created by its proprietor Gretchen’s vision. She was looking for a nice place to spend an evening. The Dirty Dog is a handsomely turned out establishment that does not take itself too seriously. This is obvious when you encounter the holiday decorations and the art on the walls. The original art that covers the walls captures the joyous character of the club and its owner. Gretchen has shown her appreciation for the musicians and patrons by surrounding them with a veritable art gallery.


“The whole culture is telling you to hurry, while the art tells you to take your time. Listen to the art.” -Junot Diaz





I have been asked from time to time to add a piece of art to the walls of the Dirty Dog. It is a little scary to try to live up to the standards that exist in the music, food and service. It always turns out to be a misplaced fear of failure as it is a place with a low judgemental factor, so you might as well have fun. That quite honestly is what this place is all about.



Gretchen has curated most of the stuff that finds a place on a shelf or a wall. There are a lot of images of dogs and jazz artists. There is evidence throughout the club that she is unafraid to put up what pleases her. She is  confident that this is going to bring a little happiness to the rest of us. The Dirty Dog is dedicated to promote and support all artists. All it takes is to be authentic and give a good effort.



Louis Armstrong photographed by Hervé Gloagen




My wife and I were staying in a magical old house in the magical village of Le Beaucet in the south of France. I often painted outside in a small garden beneath a limestone cliff with the ruins of a 12th century castle on the top. The garden was part of a path that a visitor would use to wander through the village. One day a couple wandered into the backyard. They were both magazine designers from Paris. We shared an interest in art, jazz and a glass of wine  They invited us to visit them in their home/gallery in the village of l’isle sur la sorgue.

Their first exhibition was going to feature the photography of their friend, photographer Hervé Gloagen. The poster featured Herve’s classic photo of Louis Armstrong. I next saw the photo on the wall of the Dirty Dog. Louis is only half in the picture, he is alone and in thought. We are given no clues where he is, what band he was playing in or why he was wearing white socks. This is a great photograph as it gives us a lot to think about and fill in. It captured Louis in a private moment. He was completely unaware of  the photographer or absolutely comfortable with him. One of Hervé Gloagen assets was his ability to befriend his subjects. and the ease that the subjects felt in his presence.

All this is on display when the lights go back up after a set of jazz at the Dirty Dog.


Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understandas if it were necessary to understandwhen it is simply necessary to love.” – Claude Monet




There are prints and posters of famous jazz artists by equally famous jazz photographers scattered around the club. This is to be expected. These are the giants that look over most jazz clubs. Gretchen has additional art on the Dirty Dog’s walls that mirror her love of the music and the soulful musicians behind the music. It is her sentimental tip of the hat.



Dee Dee Pierce oil painting by John Osler


Dee Dee Pierce and his wife Billie headlined a jazz band that was a fixture for years in New Orleans. He was an American jazz trumpeter and cornetist. He is best remembered for the songs “Peanut Vendor” and “Dippermouth Blues”, His wife Billie played the piano.




I never met Dee Dee or Billie except through some early recordings and by going through Tulane University’s archives. Their early playing was rough hewn, bluesy and authentic to their situation. I was moved to paint their story. I think there is a lot of a journeyman jazz musician’s struggle in his face. Gretchen must have agreed when she put the painting on the wall.


Here is a video of Dee Dee and Billie


“Art should be like a holiday: something to give a man the opportunity to see things differently and to change his point of view.” -Paul Klee






Art is in the eyes of the beholder, but someone has to get it in front of the beholders. The Dirty Dog is in this business. They share original jazz, art and food for those who like that sort of thing.

Come on out to the Dirty Dog, you will get a chance to thank Gretchen Valade for all she has done, and you will get a chance to support live music while having the time of your life.

John Osler





November 20 – 25






Starting Wednesday of this week Detroit’s own Kimmie Horne will bring her alto voice to the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe. Kimmie’s voice is a powerful thawing device.

Kimmie may be home grown, but she isn’t a secret to to her jazz and R&B fans around the world. This local girl is an internationally acclaimed artist and puts in her share of time away from home. When she returns home she shows her love of her hometown, and nowhere is she more at home than when she plays the Dirty Dog. She knows she will get lost in the warm embrace of family and friends. It happens every time she shows up.





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November 14, 2019


One is the loneliest number


Some experts say we are in a dangerous loneliness epidemic and this loneliness can lead to serious emotional and physical health problems. The reasons that so many people feel all alone today is a subject of many studies. Social isolation both perceived and real doesn’t have a simple solution, yet it seems that for some reason music has a way of making things a little better. The weight of loneliness can be lifted when shared. When we feel left out or abandoned it sometimes helps to  play Billie Holiday’s Solitude or Frank Sinatra’s In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning. Melancholy can be delicious in the hands of a few good jazz artists playing in a minor key, letting us know that we are aren’t alone with our troubles.




Jazz got embedded under my skin not because it made me joyously tap my foot to the beat. It was the jazz played in a minor key that made a shy teenager know that it was OK to have the blues. In high school I would sneak out with a friend and go to Klein’s Show Bar to catch the after hours jam where local and national jazz musicians would do battle over who had the greatest hurt and soul. They wailed and pleaded, the sounds were so sweet and powerful that they chased all the teenage angst from my body. Jazz in a minor key can be a bittersweet remedy for a broken spirit.






The Minor Key was a pretty upbeat music venue. Like a lot of clubs around Detroit it attracted a clientele of hardworking men and woman who where looking for a break from their daily routine. The jazz played in the club picked up their spirits until the music drifted into the a minor key. Customers shoulders and heads would drop while eyes would  glaze over and stare into the distance.

We shouldn’t assume that music in a major key is happy music while music in a minor key is sad music. It seems to be a fact that music in a minor key is more emotional. It touches our soul and puts us at peace with our demons. This is true, yet in many cultures the minor scale is used in jolly upbeat tunes like Brahms Hungarian Dances and even most Klezmer and Jewish dances.

Jewish music when played  in the minor scale does reflect the very real suffering and pain that has been inflicted on the people, but it still has the ability to lift us up. So much of the music written and played in a minor key has had a certain sadness or longing to it but also includes a glimmer of hope. Irish traditional dance music has both melancholy airs in major keys and perky reels and jigs in minor keys,


and then there’s the blues……..






For over 100 years we have sung the blues. Americans have felt comforted listening to jazz and the blues because they like the rawness, and they can relate to a genuinely rough time. When they find themselves with no one to talk to they appreciate having someone speak directly to them, someone that feels free to pour out their heart. The world could understand songs like Everyday I have the blues,” and “Nobody loves me, nobody seems to care”  and soon jazz and blues were played everywhere

With every trouble and heartache I can still turn to the blues, and find comfort.






November brings to Detroit cold air, gray skies and short days. Fortunately we know that relief from gloom is close at hand.

Get some music in our lives. We can leave our lonely nest and get our fill of music played in both the minor and major scales at our local jazz club.

Change your habits and get out among lively upbeat people.

We also understand the positive effect that dogs have on loneliness. So you might think of shedding your blahs by catching some jazz and blues at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café. It is hard to feel alone in a crowd that thinks it is OK to have the blues.


John Osler


JOHN CONYERS 1929 – 2019


Painting: John Osler


We just lost a friend of jazz and of Detroit. Representative Conyers was regarded as one of the most persistent and influential advocates of jazz. He never missed a change to listen to jazz in Detroit and to promote it in Washington. In 1987 he got Congress to pass a resolution designating jazz as a “national American treasure.” Visitors to his congressional office were greeted by walls filled with jazz posters and a big acoustic bass dominating one corner.

In 1985 he established an annual Jazz Issue Forum and Concert for the Congressional Black Caucus, of which he was a founding member. Over the years, he brought jazz artists to speak and perform in Washington, including Marcus Belgrave, Dizzy Gillespie, Wynton Marsalis, Terence Blanchard, Lionel Hampton, Shirley Horn, Nancy Wilson, Randy Weston and the Modern Jazz Quartet. He drew attention to issues like health care for musicians, the economics of the music industry, and arts education.

John was really good at getting things done. He will be missed.


Tuesday November 12





Special presentation of the band The Dirty Dogs .  This all-star jazz band will chase the blues away. Come in out of our first real snow of the year and get whisked down to New Orleans.


November 13 & 14






Paul Pearce of Bass World magazine writes that “Pete absolutely ‘sings’ with his drum kit.”



A consummate professional, Pete has an international reputation for his “restless curiosity, attention to detail, and mastery of many different styles,” Pete will be familiar to  Dirty Dog regulars. Pete Siers has played with jazz luminaries such as Russell Malone, Mulgrew Miller, Marian McPartland, Lee Konitz, Benny Golson, James Moody, Kenny Werner, David “Fathead” Newman, Eddie Daniels, Frank Morgan, Scott Hamilton, Bob Wilber, and Barry Harris.  In addition to his expansive performance career, Pete has played on over 50 recordings.  He has played Carnegie Hall, festivals across the U.S.and has toured Europe several times.


November 15 & 16






Considered one of the world’s finest double bass players Rodney has been featured on over 100 jazz recordings and appeared with countless legendary players, including seven years with his friend Wynton Marsalis’ septet.  He has found time to be a member of the Jazz at the Lincoln Center Orchestra, the Detroit Jazz Orchestra and appear at venues and events around the world.

I have known Rodney Whitaker since he was a young man earnestly starting out on his storied career. There is little that Rodney has set out to do that he hasn’t achieved.  He is someone whose personal fortitude has made everyone around him better, just ask the students that come out of his program at Michigan State, or better yet ask his band mates when you catch him at the Dirty Dog this week.


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November 5, 2019



We know the history of jazz from scratchy recordings, publicity notices, gritty pieces of motion picture film, notes from critics and fans and most notably soundless B&W photos.


Fortunately photographers have always been attracted to anything new and anything that is counter cultural. Many jazz photographers have become as famous as the artists that they photographed. Many people took pictures for publicity and news stories, but the ones we remember are the images of the jazz artists being themselves and interacting with other musicians. These candid snaps have given us some truths and a human face to our national music, jazz. We can learn a lot about jazz and life from the process. The greatest jazz photographers reflected their subjects. They approached their task with passion. friendship, improvisation and spontaneity.




My dad had a 35mm camera with a 50mm lens. He was an illustrator and he made b&w prints in his basement darkroom that he used for reference in his illustrations. My introduction to photography was the odor of the chemicals that wafted out through the closed door of that room. The prints were somewhat organized in piles on shelves in his studio. He sometimes would let me watch him print. It was magic. As he stirred the blank paper in the tray filled with stinky chemicals an image would appear. Those were special shared moments with my father. My father had a good eye and an artist’s ability to edit. He never took a color slide and took few unnecessary shots. Photography wasn’t used very much in advertising then, but there were plenty of brilliant photojournalist covering important stories in Life magazine and in our newspapers.





I have a short list of photos that I wish I had taken. Most of the photographers that I have admired were like my dad, They had a purpose and a sense of art. They didn’t have to wait to see the edited print to know that the photo that they just took was going to be pretty good. It would be purposeful and a thing of art. They recognized the importance of what was in front of them as it was happening. Sometimes when this happened they were able to put their cameras in the one place it should have been, snapped the shutter at the perfect moment, and then they had the good sense to single out and crop that near perfect shot for printing. We all recognize the power and the beauty  of a good photo . These photos have universal appeal, will affect our lives and go on our walls and in books, magazines and museums.


Then there are the trillions of photos shot today with our phones and digital cameras. All the images seemed important when they were taken. Life is full of moments that deserve remembering, and sometimes a photo helps.





A snapshot is a piece of information or short description that gives an understanding of a situation at a particular time.


I am a snapshooter. I have a habit of shooting a lot of images hoping that one of them will tell the whole story. Carrying a camera can be a burden. I live in fear that I won’t have the camera in front of my eye when the perfect moment happens. I watch as others joyfully gather their subjects in front of them, ask them to look at a phone and voila they have an image to share. They then go and enjoy their time with friends, while I am in the corner of the room waiting for art to happen. Are all of us labeled as photographers cursed to miss out on real life because we can’t put our cameras back in the bag.


I think that it is important that there are photographers out there who will help us have a better understanding of a subject and the times. What separates the great ones from the rest of us who own a camera?


What makes a great photograph?


I would like to use this photo as an example of what makes a photograph special.





When you enter the Dirty Dog Jazz Café and look toward the right end of the wall behind the band stand you will see a black and white photograph of Eubie Blake smoking a cigarette.


Years ago I bought this print from Johnny Daniels in his New Orleans studio. I later  brought this framed print of Eubie in to the club for the proprietor Gretchen Valade to see. “How much?”, she said, and the photo had a new home. What did Gretchen see in this image, and what had I seen? The photo doesn’t have any reference to music or New Orleans. It is a photo of a guy in a chair sitting on a his porch. I knew that it was a jazz musician because I had met Eubie, and Gretchen knew it was a jazz photo because Eubie’s all knowing attitude in the picture just reeks of  jazz.


I think that all the elements of a great photograph are in this picture. It is simple, it has only one message and it gives us the essence of a man who has seen a lot of life and he is OK with all of it. Johnny Daniels was a good friend of Eubie Blake and was Eubie’s best man at one of his weddings. His affection for Eubie the man was just as great as his awe of Eubie’s accomplishments. The photo has the love of the man embedded in it. Johnny Daniels was a great photographer because he cared so much for his subjects.


All of this is in the print on the wall of the Dirty Dog Jazz Café.



James Hubert “Eubie” Blake (1887–1983)


Eubie was an American composer, lyricist, and ragtime pianist. In 1921, he and his long-time collaborator Noble Sissle wrote Shuffle Along, one of the first Broadway musicals to be written and directed by African Americans. His songs included such hits as “Bandana Days”, “Charleston Rag”, “Love Will Find a Way”, “Memories of You” and “I’m Just Wild About Harry”. The musical Eubie! opened on Broadway in 1978,  a revue featuring his music. The show was a hit at the Ambassador Theatre, where it ran for 439 performances.


Shortly after his show started, I met Eubie Blake at a rent party at Mike Montgomery’s house in Northwest Detroit. Eubie was in his 90s. It was about 3 AM on Saturday night when Bob Seely, a great Detroit stride piano player honored Eubie by playing three of his contemporary versions of Eubie’s song I’m Just Wild About Harry. Eubie kept the same knowing smile that is in Johnny Daniels photo throughout the tunes. After Bob finished he shyly noted that Bob never lost the beat, while old ragtime players seldom stayed on the beat. Everyone there knew they were in the presence of one mellow man .




Young Eubie


Shortly before Mr. Blake’s 90th birthday, McCandlish Phillips, writing in The New York Times, described Eubie this way:

”Mr. Blake is still as robust as a rooster.

Even in his 90’s, his fingers still move over the keyboard with astonishing agility and accuracy. They were not only strong fingers, but also remarkably long and delicate – so long that he could span up to 12 keys or, roughly, 11 inches; the best most other pianists could do was 9 or 10 keys.

Eubie liked to remind people that his parents had been born slaves. ”I’m proud of my heritage,” he said. ”I want everyone to know that I came from slavery and went to the top of my profession.” His father, John Sumner Blake, a longshoreman had fought in the Union Army.  His mother, Emily, a laundress, was an extremely religious woman. ”She had Jesus in her pocket,” her son was fond of saying. He was the youngest of 11 children

“At the age of 15, still wearing short pants, he surreptitiously got a job as a pianist in Aggie Sheldon’s sporting house – $3 for a seven-day week and tips.


After a neighbor, who recognized the boy’s playing style as she passed Aggie Sheldon’s house, reported his suspected activity to his mother, she sternly turned him over to his father for disciplining. His father, who made $9 a week, asked the boy how much he was paid.


”Three dollars a week,” he replied, ”but I get extras.” ”I took him upstairs to my room,” Mr. Blake later recalled. ”Under the carpet I had almost $100 stashed, because I was too young to spend it. My father didn’t say anything for a moment. ‘Well, son,’ he finally said, ‘I’ll have to talk to your mother.’ ”.

Eubie moved on to saloons and clubs. He also worked the medicine show circuit and was employed by a Quaker doctor. He played a Melodeon strapped to the back of the medicine wagon. In 1899, the year Scott Joplin’s ”Maple Leaf Rag” was published he composed his first piano rag, ”Charleston Rag. He hasn’t slowed down since.

Eubie remained a bright-eyed, ebullient performer his whole life. We know this because Johnny Daniels has shown us.







Photography has changed. Times have changed. Today everyone with a smartphone is a photographer. It is estimated that roughly 80% or around 4 billion people of those smartphones have a built-in camera. Let’s say that they take 10 photos per day or 3,650 photos per year, per person. That adds up to more than 14 trillion photos annually (14,600,000,000,000). 


Johnny Daniels had constraints that required careful decision making on the front-end of the photo-taking process: With only a couple dozen photos on a roll of film, he had to be deliberate about when and what to shoot. He snapped the shutter when the passion was there and only after he spent time observing his subject.


There will be many really terrible pictures living in phones and computers. That is OK, there is no harm done. Photography is personal and making it easy to capture our meaningful moments is a good thing



If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff” – Jim Richardson


When we are the Dirty Dog Jazz Café and look at the photo of Eubie we will see all the satisfaction that comes with a fully lived life.


The power to create a good photograph is in all our hands now. We just have to find something interesting and remember to recharge our phone.


John Osler



November 6 – 7





T-Bone will bring his passion for jazz and its roots to the Dirty Dog. His many friends will be there to welcome him back to the Dirty Dog

November 8 – 9





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.




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October 29, 2019


Who’s Afraid of  Monsters?


 All I knew was that if I stayed under the covers that thing under the bed or hiding in the closet couldn’t get me. It worked. In the morning when the sun would come in the window and through my blanket I knew  that I was safe and soon would be safely sitting at the breakfast table with my father and mother. Did they know how brave I had been all night, and did they appreciate that their son had outwitted the monsters that prey on little children? I never thought that much about what the monsters did all day and if they needed some love. I do think I liked being a little scared as long as I had a safe place to hide.



It was the forties, and we were at war. There were real monsters roaming the world and many people had to hide under their beds when the bombs came from the sky. There came a time when I risked not covering my head with my blanket, and life was never quite as rich after that. My thoughts then turned to real worries and threats, yet I was told not to be afraid. I understood what was in the newspapers and could see for myself the suffering and bloodshed of war on the newsreels at the movie theatre. Propaganda posters showed images of evil others pointing fingers at me and saying that they were coming for me, still I shouldn’t show any fear. Luckily, once a year Halloween came around and monsters would roam the neighborhood, and for that night it was OK to be childishly afraid.



We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light. Plato


Who’s Afraid of the Jazz Monsters?


My parents played jazz on the RCA Victrola. It never seemed scary. It was light hearted upbeat music that got me moving. But for many Americans, jazz had been the music of demons, devils and things that go bump in the night. In the early 1920s, jazz was all the rage, bringing not only a new musical language, but a new way of life. The censorious public discourse connected jazz with insanity, drug addiction, chaos, criminality, infectious disease, the infantile, the supernatural and the diabolical. Writers, politicians, music educators, critics and ministers framed jazz as a monstrous threat.


Jazz music, vampires and America’s restless nature were blamed for the unease that they saw spreading across the country.


Jazz was considered immoral. Jazz was seductive and invasive. Jazz was associated with vampires and with  vamps who were dangerous, liberated women, who embraced the dances and  openly seductive behavior that critics associated with jazz.



Phillip Burne-Jones’ The Vampire


Katherine Willard Eddy of the Young Women’s Christian Association stated that ‘We are in deadly fear of the Jazz Devil, the demon which is consuming the country. The whole world is rising in arms against the monstrous jazz and its finish is not far removed’.



Jazz took this in stride and relished the notoriety. Songs of the day included a 1920 recording of ‘I’m a Jazz Vampire’ by Marion Harris, ‘Be My Little Vampire’ featuring a dark-haired woman partly obscured by a bat and the 1923 song ‘Come On Red, You Red-Hot Devil Man’, with a leering man on the cover. Two groups called themselves the Jazz Devils and the Black Devils Orchestra.


More insidious was the claim that jazz was not just immoral or unpleasant, but that it could be a source  of terror.


In 1925 the American music critic Carl B. Adams declared; “A jazz band formerly was a diabolic contraption for the production of weird notes and heinous discords,  a collection of sonic terrors before the bandleader Paul Whiteman removed the deadly fangs from the mouth of the monster jazz.”


It was, of course, the African-American roots of jazz that provoked the language describing the music as monstrous. Jazz critics of the 1920s saw the syncopated, danceable music as a  threat to traditional ways of life. In the end, the terror that jazz held for them says far more about those critics than about the music



Like today we are too often scared of anything or anybody that is new or different, some foreign fanged thing from Transylvania, or jazz from the jungles of Africa.

And, just as the 19th-century Gothic imagination found terror in the attic, on the moor, the crumbling castle and the ruined abbey, 1920s’ critics linked the jazz threat to the swamp and the jungle.

Critics of 1920s’ jazz framed the music and its lifestyle as a hellish place populated by demons and vampires, they imagined themselves as part of a modern Gothic drama, with jazz a regressive monster haunting all of American culture.

In a widely published 1922 sermon titled ‘Is Jazz Our National Anthem?’ an Episcopal rector from New York stated: ‘Jazz goes back to the African jungle and is one of the evils of today with its savage crash and bang, it is retrogression”.’

Today the whole world  embraces the monstrous jazz rhythms of those primitive savages.



Our monsters always show us what we fear.


Many forms of music have been scary and threatening in their infancy. Baroque music had a caddish streak—“a most dangerous reef,” in the words of a prominent seventeenth-century German rector, “along which many a young soul, as if called by Sirens … falls into dissoluteness”. And then there is the polka, in the 1840s, it was labeled a serious Bohemian menace. In 1844, the Illustrated London News wrote that the polka “needs only to be seen once to be avoided forever!”.

Jazz had an especially difficult youth.


Unfortunately early on many musicians had to leave jazz’s birthplace, New Orleans. In addition to vile attacks by its critics, reliable venues for early jazz musicians had been outlawed and closed like the prostitution palaces of Storyville. The dreadful outbreak of the Spanish flu emptied the honky-tonks, country clubs, and dance halls. The musicians who remained found work as painters, longshoremen, or manual laborers. Kid Ory was a carpenter. Alphonse Picou, composer of “High Society,” was a tinsmith.

By 1918, Jelly Roll Morton had to move to San Francisco; Buddy Bolden, the founding king of New Orleans jazz, had by then  spent a decade at the state insane asylum in Jackson, a hundred miles away; his successor King Oliver, had fled to Chicago, where he was followed by many of his former bandmates including his eighteen-year-old student Louis Armstrong,

Jazz has always managed to stay under the covers and  has weathered the storm. Jazz just kept plugging away, creeping  into the national consciousness. It headed north on steamboats up the Mississippi to Kansas City, Chicago, Detroit and then to New York and California, where it  gained popularity, social acceptance and critical acclaim. Fear of jazz has now mostly faded.

Near the end of his life, Louis Armstrong liked to believe that jazz dissolved racial boundaries, even though it would last only the length of a song. He felt that even white bigots could be romanced out of their hatred. “These same society people may go around the corner and lynch a Negro,” he told Ebony in 1961. “But while they’re listening to our music, they don’t think about trouble.”



It was trouble, though, that has always given the music its edge.



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October 21, 2019


Expected and unexpected results


When I make pancakes I will be happy if they turn out as described on the pancake mix box. When I cut the grass and the mower gives me the expected results I can feel that I have accomplished something. But, wow, when I paint, write or witness something that was fresh and unplanned I come alive. So much of our lives  we stay in  cruise control, content to execute our tasks as expected and live a life of certainty. However we remain a little envious when we hear about that chef or artist that is always experimenting. Maybe we need to change our routine and add some uncertainty. Most of the people we admire are those who break the mold and change our world.  Explorers in their fields like Madame Curie and Count Basie didn’t settle for the results shown on the box. They didn’t seek the expected. They were deliberately  looking for the unexpected, and they got it.





Here are three guys who were just honored for stumbling on some unexpected results. All three were physicians who got distracted and turned to science to address a need in their practice of medicine. In science they had the luxury of looking for unexpected results.


William G. Kaelin Jr., Peter J. Ratcliffe  and Gregg L. Semenza were just jointly awarded the  Nobel Prize in medicine. These three scientists made important discoveries about how cells sense and adapt to different oxygen levels  Their discoveries revealed the mechanism for one of life’s most essential adaptive processes,


As an embryo grows and develops,  the oxygen available changes as the tissues themselves change. Cells need a way to adjust to the amount of oxygen they have, while still doing their important jobs.


The three physicians “found the molecular switch that regulates how our cells adapt when oxygen levels drop, Cells and tissues are constantly experiencing changes in oxygen availability. These discoveries are of fundamental importance for physiology and could blaze the trail for new strategies to fight anemia, cancer and many other diseases.”


William Kaelin argues that the temptation in medical research these days is to focus on a very specific objective, but curiosity-driven research like his can really pay off


Peter Ratcliffe said  “It is important that scientists have the courage, and are allowed to derive knowledge for its own sake — i.e., independent of the perceived value at the point of creation. And the history of science tells us over and over again that the value of that knowledge can increase” in a number of random and unpredictable ways.


All of this year’s Nobel winners in medicine discussed their approach to their research with glee and pride. As scientist they were searching for unexpected results wiile an engineer’s goal is to get expected results. They looked at their role much like an artist would. Artists look at all the possibilities. They plan ahead but things don’t always go as planned. Then  voila something unexpected shows up and off they go in a new direction. This was the path that lead to the breakthrough in the research by the Nobel Prize winners. Pragmatism, certainty and predictability are valuable virtues but when a new vision pops into your brain maybe you should give it a chance to breathe. Thankfully research scientists and jazz musicians are allowed to pursue all avenues to success.




Jazz musicians are constantly asked to adapt to changing circumstances.  Changing directions on the fly is what jazz musicians do. They take risks. We have all seen the moment when suddenly a bunch of musicians do the unexpected and spontaneously burst into new territory. Jazz can be a little untidy, unpredictable, and sometimes chock full of uncertainty, but is is sure fun to play and to listen to. It is full of unpredictable characters. Here’s one.




 Photograph: William P. Gottlieb


Thelonious Monk was a taciturn man who cared little about staying on course. Probably that is why is so revered.  He saw no reason to verbally explain what he felt his music was saying. He had a habit of getting up and dancing to the solos of his bandmates, He sought new ways of revisiting groupings of notes he’d already put in order, knowing that there were infinite possibilities . He was  stubborn and insisted  on playing slow”when he could play as fast. He played the piano with a percussive, splay-fingered playing style that shouldn’t work. He didn’t see his chords as being different, they were the logical result of countless hours of musical exploration. He was probably his own worst enemy when he refused to do what was expected of him. Unexpectedly he changed jazz.

Tenor player Johnny Griffin said Monk’s music “was like leaves on a tree. His music grew from nowhere else but inside of him.”




Just  this morning in the New York Times there was a full page dedicated to two very adventurous men.




Ed Clark


Ed Clark died last Friday in Detroit at the age of 93. He was an abstract artist who painted with a broom and broke with convention by using shaped canvases because he felt that the shapes were truer to the human field of vision. He was grounded in figurative painting in Paris where he was living hand to mouth. He started using an affordable janitor’s broom on large canvases. His work is in most of the major galleries and museums. in the world.


Dr Paul Polak


Paul Polack died recently at 86 years old. He was a successful psychiatrist who pivoted to advocating training the world’s poorest people to earn a living by selling basic necessities like clean water and charcoal. Dr Polack has come up with countless ideas to make life better for millions of people who survive on $2/day. One of his ideas was to make water containers in the shape of a wheel that could be rolled instead of carried on the head.


These guys didn’t passively seek expected results they actively pursued a path that had unexpected positive results for themselves and others. Bravo.


As a disclaimer, I am not an expert on how anyone should live their life. Not all unexpected results turn out to be life or world saving. There can be really bad endings when you veer off the road on an unknown path, but I think it is worth the risk.

For a demonstrative display  go to your local jazz club. Catch some artists discovering a new note or two, unexpectedly.

John Osler




October 23 – October 29




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 again celebrate Detroit’s influence on jazz. 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.


All stars appearing this week:













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October 14, 2019



Jazz musicians have a way of communicating that is direct and clear. They have to if they want to make music on the fly as part of a group. They don’t have lengthy discussions before playing the next note, instead they depend on nods, glances and musical cues to let their pals know where they are going. When they are done with their tune they continue to use curt phases to talk to each other. This is called jazz talk.

Most families have inside jokes. All it takes is someone using a familiar word or phrase and the whole family cracks up. Tight groups of people sometimes create their own language, All musicians share a vocabulary, and jazz musicians have a language all their own. Many of their words have snuck into general usage, like gig. Now more and more of us are gigging. The words that they pick can be pretty efficient. Let’s take the words that they use to describe two good places to be:  “in the groove” and “in the pocket”. How wonderfully descriptive these jazzy phrases are.






A groove is what your phonograph needle spends time in when it is working right. It can also be used when you get immersed in a task and are working smoothly and efficiently.

Those who study this stuff say that  a groove is” an understanding of rhythmic patterning, feel, intuitive sense, or cycle in motion that emerges from carefully aligned concurrent rhythmic patterns that stimulate dancing or foot-tapping on the part of the listeners”. Guys who talk like this probably can’t actually play jazz. Jazz musicians would probably simply say that a groove is what a good drummer can create when he is playing  solidly and has a great feel. When a drummer can do this for an extended time it is a deep groove. This is what makes even those who can’t dance want to dance.

Being in the groove means different things to different musicians. It can be what makes the music breathe or it can make it boring. It can be supportive with a back beat or drive the band with a front beat. It is generally accepted that it is a pretty good place to be.






All the stuff that finds its way into my pockets has a relatively safe warm place. In jazz being “in the pocket” sort of means the same thing,  a comfy place to be. Jazz artist take a lot of risks, so it must be comforting to be tucked away with good friends. There are times I would like someone to put me in a safe place, but I can’t count on there being many folks interested in creating a comfortable place just for me. At those moments I listen to some piano jazz and envy the camaraderie of jazz artists.

I found this knowledgeable description of “the pocket” written by the All-About Jazz staff :
 “The pocket isn’t a place where the musician holds something — it’s an intangible place that holds the musician. While this sounds a bit odd, the closest thing that I can think of to describe it is a spiritual experience that goes beyond playing the right notes, great timing, or being in tune. The experience of playing in the pocket is more like becoming a faucet through which the music flows. Being in the pocket is not just about “locking together or “syncing up as a band. It goes beyond this to the place where the musician allows the music to take control.Most listeners can tell when a band is in the pocket because there’s a little more electricity in the playing. Being in a room with a band that’s in the pocket is like taking an exhilarating ride. These are the most memorable concerts that I’ve attended or played. When it was time to go I didn’t want to leave, no matter how tired I felt — I just wanted to stay with the music.
 The pocket is particularly important for jazz musicians because so much of what we play is improvised. Whether we’re in the studio recording or playing live, jazz musicians take a number of risks by improvising together. Jazz has more magic, more life, and more verve when the band is together in the pocket.One of my quirks as a musician is that I learn things through music and then later figure out life because of it. The pocket is no exception. I’m convinced that everything has a pocket. The pocket is a way of experiencing life so that you are in it to the fullest extent. Being in the pocket of life is about not isolating yourself. It’s also about listening to others, about not putting your own desires first, and about understanding that you’re part of something bigger. It’s not about what you can create or achieve, it’s about being part of the creative process.”  

I was a shy student waiting for a great love to come along when Frank Sinatra’s hit song In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning came along, It sounded like my biography. Sinatra recorded David Mann and Bob Hilliard’s 1955 song at a time when it would have a considerably melancholy effect on my existence. Late at night, after studies, when I was feeling sorry for myself,  I would listen to Frank sing ” you would be hers if only she would call…in the wee small hours of the morning that’s the time you miss her most of all”




One night at the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe  Cliff Monear’s Trio were playing requests. A couple asked  for In the Wee Small Hours. It was played without the poignant words but it still had the same effect on me. I was completely swept up in the music along with all the other patrons who had suffered with a lonely heart at some time in their lives. Bassist Jeff Pedraz bowed the story with feeling while Cliff’s piano took the group into some memories of unrequited love. Steve Boegehold was on drums keeping the pocket secure.


DSC_4721  DSC_3272


Before Cliff started the song, he said that he hadn’t heard it for twenty years. How then could the trio give a seven minute rendition of the song? I can understand one guy interpreting a tune as he goes along but several guys. How the heck? I asked the band after the set. I got shrugs. When I talked to Cliff after his set about his trio, he looked like a child opening his Easter basket. With Jeff on bass and Stephen on drums he could ride effortlessly in the comfort of the musical flow. They provide a pocket that gave him creative freedom. He was safe “in the pocket”.

I have always loved live jazz, I like being in the presence of people who make life easier for other people. Jazz has big pockets.


John Osler




October 16 – 19




This week, pianist Cliff Monear will bring his trio to the Dirty Dog Jazz Café.

“Monear’s breathy ideas leave lots of space, girding the music with exquisite tension. What gives the music personality is Monear’s suave touch, relaxed swing, fresh melodic and harmonic turns and the unpretentious way he draws on familiar influences.”

 Mark Stryker, Music Critic and author of the new book Jazz From Detroit

Get your reservations in early as Cliff has a following and they may fill the club this Wednesday through Saturday. Cliff is a piano player’s piano player. He will spend four days challenging his rhythm section to keep up. Having players like Cliff is the reason that the Dirty Dog spent big bucks for their great Steinway.


Here is Cliff.

_DSC0235  DSC_4773



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October 7, 2019



This coming week trumpeter Walt Szymanski will be playing at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café. Walt is exactly like what  a Walt Szymanski should be like. He is an affable, easy going guy from Detroit and is one heck of a horn player. He has a typical Detroit jazz artist’s bio. It is long and full of famous associates, impressive gigs and descriptions of the time he spent in NYC. Walt has gotten around and is now living in a suburb of Quito, Ecuador where he teaches at a university.  Jazz musicians can settle in anywhere and find a common language in their music. It may take a few moments, but most jazz musicians end up on the same beat. The rest of us can just walk through life moving at our own familiar beat,  a rhythm shared by those around us.




I bounced my children on my knees probably with the same rhythm that my dad used to comfort me. My sister and I jumped swirled and clapped to the beat coming from my parents record player. I had  rhythm, we all got rhythm. When the rhythm of life is right, everything else seems to fall into place.

When I watch a group bustling along a downtown street, I am fascinated by the different body types and strides of the pedestrians. If you look at the movement of the group en masse their feet land at the same time and there is a definite rhythm of the stream. You could put a beat to it. The individuals have adapted their movement to match those around them. We live a life sharing a beat with those around us. We are not always aware of the complex rhythmic patterns of life. There are times when we slow down and listen.  On vacation in a quiet place it may take a few days before our beat becomes one with the sound of the waves or the wind in the trees. And then there is a trip to Cuba.


Son clave 3 side and 2 side-B.png





In the New York Times’ Travel section this week was an article titled The Sweet Sounds of Cuba. It describes a  road trip through Cuba that finds each region of the island moves to its own defining rhythm.Here are some excerpts from the article by Shannon Sims.Her observations mirrored what my son Bill and I experienced on our visit to Cuba.

“Just an hour’s flight from the United States, Cuba is drenched in music. You hear it everywhere, emanating from bars or homes or religious ceremonies. For many visitors, Cuban music is defined by the traditional sounds of the Buena Vista Social Club or Celia Cruz. But Cuban music stretches far beyond those sounds; its roots draw on Africa and Haiti, France and Spain. Genres come together and break apart, like flocks of starlings at dusk, endlessly forming new shapes and sounds.

Cuban music is often described as a tree, with various primary roots that supply life for many branches. But separating the island’s music into distinct genres is an inherently flawed task — they intertwine and cross. And it’s become trickier in recent years: Styles shift with increasing speed as Cubans dive into the possibilities provided by the internet. Across the island, we met musicians taking traditional sounds and twisting them, and finding new ways to reach an audience. Cuban music is in turbo mode.

“I wish you luck in trying to describe Cuban music with words,” Claudio laughed at me as we headed home that night in Gibara, after a stop for a pork sandwich. “The way to know Cuban music is to hear it for yourself.”

Other percussion elements are usually added into a rumba composition, and soon it becomes a crowd of sounds, almost like a cascade of beats. Because rumba is polyrhythmic, with multiple rhythms happening at the same time in one song, to an outsider it can sound cacophonous and disorganized. But if you let your mind give up trying to find the rhythm, you have a better chance of actually finding it.

The percussion of rumba is spiked by call-and-response singing. For some rumba musicians and listeners, rumba is a religious experience. Listeners who are also believers in Afro-Cuban religions like Santería may experience the African gods taking control of their body, forcing them to dance and move in ways typical of that orisha.

The sound of conga is predominantly percussive: Drums of all kinds are gathered (“you just grab anything and start playing!” one onlooker explained to me), but there is usually always a higher-pitched quinto drum in the mix. The earsplitting bang of conga is made by hitting metal sticks on doughnut-shaped motorcycle brakes.

Together the instruments — the six-stringed tres, the conga drums, and the cheese-grater-like guayo scratcher — sound like rain drops, falling in different tones and at different speeds, but ultimately crescendoing to form a rolling storm, one that you can almost envision rolling across the Oriente’s green hills.

The instrument that makes changüí unique is the marímbula. The marímbula looks like a big box. On the front of the box, a row of wide metal teeth bridge over holes carved into the wood. The marímbula player sits on the box, and reaches between his or her legs to pluck the metal teeth, whose vibration builds inside the box and exits the holes with a deep bass note. Listening to the marímbula in the studio, we could feel the sounds in the bottoms of our feet first, a buzzing vibration almost demanding them to lift up and dance.”

My son Bill and I were at an open air concert in Havana, Cuba. Bill is a very good drummer and was studying with local percussionists. He was trying to get a handle on Cuban rhythms. One of his new friends invited us to hear some of the Island’s hottest salsa music. The place was packed and everyone was on their feet. They moved to the music en mass, shoulder to shoulder except for the two doofuses from the USA. It wasn’t that we didn’t make the right moves, it was that we moved at the wrong time. We both moved and clapped out of sync with those around us. We opted to remain still and smile with appreciation for the remarkable complex rhythms surrounding us. With time Bill mastered the complex pulse of the Island, I learned a deep appreciation for Bill and for all drummers.




Bill tried again and again to teach me the son clave. The five-stroke son clave pattern represents the structural core of most Afro-Cuban rhythms. All those at the concert had the clave embedded in their every move. I needed to learn this beat. Bill would clap the beat and I would match him once or twice. When I was alone I could never sustain the beat. It never happened. I guess that I am who I am and I move on my own beat.

When I hear it I can really feel the clave beat. I am moved by this beat, but I just can’t replicate it. What is going on.? What is missing?





Playing for Change features musicians from around the world, all sharing their music. take a look.


Studies have shown that North American adults are not rhythm challenged, We have plenty of rhythm, but we are just more accustomed to a regular meter. It is our music’s underlying beat. We are just challenged by more complex beats that are not common in our music.

“What you find in almost all the world’s music is that at some level, there is a regular beat,” said Edward Large, who studies the neuroscience and psychology of rhythm at Florida Atlantic University’s Center for Complex Systems and Brain Sciences in Boca Raton.

“Music might have a relatively complicated pattern of timing. But you still hear a basic, underlying beat—that framework that formulates the rhythm,” Large said. “We have a very strong bias toward hearing periodic regularity. Some say we actively try to impose [that regularity] on an incoming rhythm”. ( like the son clava)




Lange’s studies point out that our culture deeply influences our perception. “Culture encompasses a tremendous range of complex societal constructs, including laws, beliefs, morals, and art.  In addition, music and language from a given culture share rhythmic properties. For example, English and French musical rhythmic structures are more similar to English and French speech rhythms (respectively) than to each other, in the sense that English music is more rhythmically variable than French music, and English speech is more rhythmically variable than French speech  broader cultural linguistic experience can improve rhythm perception. These studies show that enculturation to the rhythmic aspects of music and language occurs early in development and continues into adulthood.” This may explain my struggle learning French late in life.




A recent study found that kids in North American are more adept than adults at recognizing complex musical rhythms. When we are infants we respond to both familiar and more complex foreign musical rhythms. This is good, but we can also lose the ability to discern irregular rhythms. By the time babies celebrate their first birthday, their ears are already tuned to the rhythms and sounds of their culture. One-year-olds in North America, for example, notice subtle changes in waltz-like rhythms but not in the complex dance rhythms unique to other continents. At some point I didn’t get enough Xavier Cugat spun on the Victrola and have suffered rhythmically ever since.



” Because that’s where it all started, and that’s where it all come from – that’s where I learned to keep rhythm – in church.”  Art Blakey

Art Blakey was a professional rhythmologist, he was a drummer with an unwavering solid beat. Art Blakey was as solid as his church building and as spirited as the services he . attended. My rhythm did not come from the time I spent at an all white Episcopal Church. If anyone moved to the music it was because they began to waver from standing so properly for such a long time. I am still trying to learn to go with the beat. I have to find someone who has the beat and clap along with them.




“I’m very much aware in the writing of dialogue, or even in the narrative too, of a rhythm. There has to be a rhythm with it … Interviewers have said, you like jazz, don’t you? Because we can hear it in your writing. And I thought that was a compliment.”― Elmore Leonard


I will be tapping this out on a computer keyboard, sometimes with a latin beat. It maybe never too late to get rhythm.

John Osler




October 9 – October 12




Walt was a student of Herbie Williams and Marcus Belgrave. He became the musical director for the J. C. Heard Orchestra and then spent twenty years in NYC. Walt now lives in Ecuador where he continues to compose, study, teach and chill out. We are blessed when he slips out of paradise, heads north and played a gig in his hometown at the Dirty Dog



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