LOOKING UP AT SILVER FALLS
It was a beautiful day to go out into the big part of the lake. I placed my wife and three young children into the small power boat that we would use to go to see Silver Falls. The boat needed some help to get going. Hitting the starter with a hammer did the trick, and off we went into a perfect day. With with the help of a map and still water we traversed the large lake and finally entered Cache Bay in Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park. The bay narrowed into a river. This was where we thought we would get a good view of the falls. Nothing, the majestic falls were not tumbling down into the river. I turned the boat’s motor off and sure enough we could hear the sound of a waterfall, getting louder and louder as we drifted towards the noise. We were at the top of the falls. I turned the key and nothing happened.
In our arrogance we assumed that all water ran into our lake, not out of it. It does make a difference if you are at the top or at the bottom.
I did have a hammer to hit the starter and as we approached the edge the boat motor kicked on and we turned around safely.
Closer to home I have often watched jazz artists hit the starter with their hammer and get things going again. They call it improvising, I call it scary.
It does matter whether you are at the top or at the bottom.
While nature has strict rules, we get to make up our own rules on the fly. For a while now good meaning folks have played with the idea of a trickle down economy. It seemed like a good idea. The assumption is that the economy would follow the good rules of nature. That those at the top had a finite capacity that when reached would overflow.
Unfortunately sometimes for those at the bottom stuff hasn’t always trickled down. When that happens, the lake of stuff at the top just gets bigger and bigger.
This causes the rivers to dry up.
The people who set up our parks’ hiking trails think it is important for us to see the waterfalls. It is always uphill and a long climb. We do it because we will get a chance to watch the water tumble down the mountain. Waterfalls and cascades always travel from upstream to downstream. They go from the snow or lake at the top of the hill to the lake or stream at the bottom.
Water has a high level of obedience to the laws of gravity. It finds its way around and through all barriers, sometimes with tragic results like into our basements or over the banks of our rivers.. Generally you can count on water to do the right thing. In nature the rules are always followed. Mother is always right.
Jazz music has a power all its own, in a good way. It challenges the ordinary flow of things. It also wants to see what is upstream and downstream.
That is why when I see a sign for a jazz club I go straight in. It will be a place where things may go up, down, sideways but the music always moves straight ahead. Goodness and respect trickle up and trickle down. Large lakes feed small lakes who turn around and give back to the big lakes when they need it. Stature doesn’t seem to matter as much as it does outside the club’s walls.
I have witnessed the results of the generous spirit of the artists over and over. It is fitting that the Dirty dog Jazz Cafe is a place that operates in the same spirit. I have watched as the kindness of the proprietor and the management has trickled down to the staff and respect has trickled back up in return.
Music makes such good sense sometimes. Two years ago about this time in April Marcus Belgrave played for the last time at the Dirty dog Jazz Café. Shortly after that magical evening we lost Marcus. He was one of Detroit’s greatest ambassadors of jazz who passed on to others much of the good fortunes his life had given him. Many generations have benefited from his wisdom What a gift. What a legacy.
Marcus came to the club that night just a couple of hours after he had been discharged from the hospital, He came into the club on the arm of his his long time friend, the great Detroit trumpet player Rayse Biggs. The band paused as he was seated at a table. This could have been an awkward moment .. but it wasn’t. The fact that his life had touched all those on the bandstand was evident in their music and on their faces. The capacity crowd knew what was going on and that it was a special moment. Rayse handed him his horn and he started to play. Grins replaced looks of concern. Joy filled the room along with Marcus’ great tones. They finished with a raucous version of Summertime… and the living is easy. A fitting ending to one of our first warm spring days. Smiles and hugs followed.
That night we witnessed the healing power of music. We also saw many random acts of kindness trickling down and then trickle back up, defying gravity.
Rayse Biggs will bring his gravity defying act to the Dirty Dog Jazz Café for four nights of authentic Detroit jazz. Rayse has always attracted talented musicians to play alongside him. Come and hear why.
HIS MUSIC LIVES.
I drove down Detroit’s Cass Avenue the other day, and in 10 city blocks I glimpsed the changing face of my hometown. For most of my life Cass Corridor was where the city placed all those things that didn’t fit into its plans, like students, Chinese restaurants, artists, musicians, derelicts, beat up vets, and those who cared for them. It was available, affordable and for some a free place to crash. The Cass Corridor was always just temporary. There have always been plans to fix it. It has always been vital to too many people to change it too fast.
One of my first memories was of spending time in an old Victorian house in the corridor where a piano player named Dewey broke all the ladies’ hearts with songs of unrequited love. I remember Dewey’s name because our friends named their dog after this singer. Their new puppy shared Dewey’s gift to control other people’s emotions. Dewey’s sparse piano playing didn’t get in the way of his charming smile and smooth delivery. He took all requests and immediately owned them. Few of the guests could resist raising a glass and ordering another. This was in a house near Temple which is no longer there. .. like so many other things.
Stretching from the the campus of Wayne State University to almost downtown was a neighborhood populated by some fifty to seventy-five working graphic artists, student musicians, their mentors and the kind of people who like to be around artists. Many of these artists were from Wayne State University’s art and music departments. Social life centered on local gathering places and bars such as Cobb’s Corner, whose owner Robert Cobb supported the local art scene and sometimes traded drinks for art. Cass Corridor artists developed a pride and affection for their area of the city, fostered by a shared sense of community and a passion for art.
The Cass Corridor created and showcased raw, gritty, and sometimes startlingly unrefined art. Cass Corridor provided Detroit a distinctly urban aesthetic that has continued until today.
Detroit artists carry an obligation to the history and character of the city with them throughout their careers. On a spring night one of these artists, Scott Gwinnell, stopped by my house to discuss a cover design for his new CD, The Cass Corridor Suite, which would soon be coming out on the Detroit Music Factory label. Scott played each track with an explanation of how the Cass Corridor inspired him to write, arrange and produce each piece. It was a powerfully moving evening. It left me with an understanding of how much a place can influence the creative process.
“Detroit’s Cass Corridor, the pseudonym for a section of Cass Ave., is the street running parallel west of Woodward Ave. through mid and downtown. In its modern years, the two mile long street developed a reputation for its embrace of poverty and crime.
I had, mostly, the pleasure of living in “the corridor” for two years in my young adulthood while I attended college. I lived in a location that demanded that I either walk, ride a bike, or drive almost the entire corridor to reach school. During my time there I saw what reality was, both good and bad. Being a child of a sheltered suburban community, the Corridor was my growing up, my awakening into adulthood.
I’ve always been an avid student of history, and wanting to learn about my surroundings, I discovered the rich past of Cass Ave; I started understanding its own identity from its more famous brother, Woodward. Besides being book-ended by Detroit landmarks such as the Masonic Temple and Fisher Building, the area boasted small music clubs, galleries, and an array of artists, shining through a spectrum of vocations.
The most wonderful thing I discovered about the Corridor was that its artistic influence was not designated to the pages of Detroit history books, it was alive in the many young artists and musicians, like myself who were living their passions.
If you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If you are seeking poverty in the Cass Corridor, you will find it; you may even pass negative judgment, and never give it a second thought. This is to your own detriment; I hope your listening to this recording, showing my impressions of this area will make you see it in a different light. The Cass Corridor is spark; it is legacy; it is pain, guile, patience, optimism, and most of all in my experience, duality.
I am a different person for having lived there, and I’d like to think a better one. The Cass Corridor Suite speaks in my clearest, most articulate voice, my jazz composing. I hope you enjoy it.” Scott Gwinnell.
Detroit is becoming a handsome city filled with galleries, restaurants and shopping destinations. It is becoming a great place to be, not a place to do.
Maybe it is a good time to step back and make sure that we aren’t going to lose something truly valuable, our creative juices. We have an opportunity to grow our city and still retain some room for artists on the rise, creatives who fine themselves living on the edge and who often lead our renaissance.
Motown records was such a Detroit piece of work. All cities develop their own distinct character. Detroit could be fairly described as a scrappy town. This could explain why world class tunes began to come out of a low rent house on Grand Boulevard. Back in the 60s few people knew the importance of what was going on, like musicians practicing in the back yard while another group was either in the living room or the garage creating magic on a super fast schedule. Who were these people with so much talent? What kind of musicians were willing to put up with this low budget seat of the pants operation? A lot of the artists were the usual suspects, jazz artists, These legendary musicians were genetically equipped to put up with stuff, shift gears, improvise and create memorable tunes.
At the time when Motown was just taking off I worked for New Center Studios, a commercial art studio in Detroit. New Center was one of many commercial art studios that served the Motor City’s vibrant advertising community. The business took up two floors of the Penobscot Building which were packed with overworked and underpaid artists. Jobs would often come in around 5PM, and sometimes the same jobs were due the next morning. To get this done a bunch of talented creative types had to work in unison under pressure, a lot like what I found at Motown Records.
I had to go through the back door and up two flights of stairs to the attic to deliver artwork to Motown’s Art Director who was working on the album artwork. Bob Folster was in his first job in the art biz.. Bob was as green as the bottom of our fish bowl when we came back from vacation. Both Bob and Motown would become good at what they did. From my perspective and based on what I saw at that moment, I didn’t give this enterprise much of a chance of going anywhere.
The house was open 22 hours a day. Artists were given golden opportunities and limiting contracts. They saw opportunity and came to work.
“To Motown’s stars, the four wooden steps leading down to Hitsville’s basement were a bridge to their land of dreams. But to the studio musicians who shaped the Motown sound, the stairs were a gateway to a workplace, a cramped, smoke stained, dimly lit room they affectionately dubbed “The Snake pit.” due to all the cable running out of the ceiling,”
Berry Gordy eventually moved the label to Los Angeles and established the Hitsville West studio there, as a part of his focus on television and film production as well as music production.
Funk Brothers Joe Messina, Johnny Griffith, Joe Hunter, Bob Babbitt and Richard “Pistol” Allen perform at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge.
THIS BAND OF MUSICIANS WERE PROBABLY JUST AS RESPONSIBLE FOR MOTOWN’S SUCCESS AS BERRY GORDY.. THEY WROTE THE SONGS THAT HAVE LASTED ALL THESE YEARS
The “Funk Brothers” were utterly unknown until this remarkable documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown made them famous around the world. Most of what I know about this period of Detroit’s music has come from watching this film over and over., The film is packed with joyous camaraderie and stories of survival.
Dennis Coffey is one of the Detroit artists featured in the 2002 film “Standing In The Shadows Of Motown,” His guitar licks contributed to the development of some of the most cherished and important popular music of the 20th Century.
Like so many Detroit jazz musicians Dennis Coffey seems to show up when some interesting music is brewing. As a member of the legendary Funk Brothers he backed his share of hits for Motown, For good or for bad he introduced the wah-wah guitar pedal to Motown in the Temptations’ classics Cloud Nine, Ball Of Confusion, and Just My Imagination. and the resulting influence on all kinds of popular music reverberate to this day.
He played on numerous of Motown’s hit records including number one singles like The Supremes, Someday We’ll Be Together.
In 1971, Dennis Coffey recorded the million selling single”Scorpio” The instrumental track featured the legendary Motown funk brother Bob Babbitt on bass. Coffey played his hit song Scorpio on the television showSoul Train, and became the first white artist to perform on the show.
Dennis tells this and more in his memoir, Guitars, Bars and Motown Superstars.
It is strange that we always look back and think about the “good old” days. Those days when we worked really hard, created our best stuff and complained freely out loud. We look back at times when as a community we accomplished great things. We look back at a time before we escaped into our comfortable private success.
Rather than looking back, I think we should look forward to the good times ahead. This coming Wednesday through Saturday Dennis Coffey will bring his newest group to the Dirty Dog.
My father needed a quiet space to concentrate on his work. He was a commercial illustrator and was under pressure to meet deadlines. This need for silence was in conflict with his son who really liked making noise, My heroes were big band drummers, Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich.
In an act of kindness I was given a pair of sticks and a rubber covered drum pad. It made as much noise as hitting cars tires. The sticks didn’t bounce like they do when you pound on a drum head. The sticks made a lot more noise when I used the furniture as a drum surface. That was the end of my career as a drummer.
When I had a basement of my own I bought a used drum set. I played the drums but never learned how. My left hand never knew what my right hand was thinking. My son Bill did, and he continues to get better and better. I still retreat to the basement from time to time for some drum therapy and whenever I can, I try to catch my son’s gigs.
HUSBAND/ FATHER, TEACHER, BANDLEADER AND DRUMMER
Sean Dobbin’s public face is behind his drum kit. Sean is unquestionably a first call drummer when he isn’t leading his own band. He is definitely a powerful figure who visually seems always to just barely restrain himself from beating his drum set into submission. That is not who it turns out he is. Sean exemplifies what a jazz player and a great drummer should be. Jazz artists like Sean in the past were portrayed as talented souls hanging out in smoky jazz joints until the sun comes up. Well, times have changed.
When the sun comes up for Sean you will often find him involved with getting his three kids organized for school. He and his wife share the responsibility of bringing up three bright kids. His oldest daughter is in Sean’s words, “a brainiac”. Although still in high school she is taking courses at Eastern Michigan University. She needs rides, as does his youngest daughter who has soccer and piano lessons. His son begins the day with a lesson from his dad on his drum set. Remember his son’s name, Matthew Dobbins. He is already a great drummer and is a good basketball player.
I have watched Sean Dobbins teach a class. He knows how to keep young minds focused and his lessons interesting. He spreads a passion for jazz throughout the community .
He is currently a jazz percussion instructor in the U of Michigan music program, in Oakland University’s program and also in Wayne State’s great program.
Sean Dobbins is working with young students in two youth programs. He is Executive Director of the South East Music Academy and Director of Michigan State’s youth jazz program in Detroit.
Sean sees need and responds. This is Detroit, and this is what many musicians do.
Sean’s concern about the musicians coming out of our schools has led him to initiate a series of events that he calls THE RISING STARS SERIES. This program will allow the young talent that is coming out of Detroit to be able to perform at multiple venues around the city.
Sean has for some time led two of Detroit’s most authentic jazz groups. Both bands have been formed out his deep regard for jazz’s history. Sean seems to follow his calling to keep jazz alive by honoring Detroit’s rich heritage.
The Sean Dobbins Organ Quartet is an homage to an instrument that came out of the churches when the Hammond Corp. made organs portable. It became jazz’s most used keyboard instrument after the piano.
This week he will lead the Modern Jazz Messengers into a four day stay at the Dirty Dog. Jazz doesn’t stand still, and Art Blakey who led the original Messengers would be proud to see where Sean has taken the music.
ARTIST: KADIR NELSON
There has always been room in my life for some triumphant music, especially when I have been on a losing streak. It was at a time like that that I took a trip to the Delta to find the source of the Blues. I found a lot more than the Blues. I found people doing their best.
I had been tipped off that I might find a refreshing look at life by spending some time in the Mississippi Delta. Two Detroit friends, Robert and Caroline grew up in the Delta. Robert was a blues man when Caroline allowed it. All the stories that they told me of their early years growing up in the Delta were spoken with smiles on their faces. After reading some books on the Delta, the blues and the Northern migration I headed on a road trip to the Delta.
Often the books on the Great Southern Migration had a forward written by William Ferris who was the director of the Southern Studies Center at “Old Miss”, Under his 20-year tenure the University of Mississippi became internationally recognized as a leader in the understanding of life in the South. He was kind enough to send me to Jonestown, MS, a small town in West Central Mississippi just north of the Blues Crossroads.
THE LEGENDARY CROSSROADS IN CLARKSDALE, MS
For many years after that first trip I continued to take a reverse migration route from Detroit to New Orleans. I always tried to include a stop in Jonestown. It is a unique village with a not so unique history in the American South. Jonestown was hardly a biracial town. There were few white owners except for the Delta Oil Mill. With the decline of cotton the culture of interdependence defined the town. They took care of each other as best they could. In the center of the town live a remarkable couple, Donal and Lavern Burnett. The Burnetts have a Texaco gas pump in front of their establishment and some goods to sell inside. You can get some gas, fill your fishing tackle box and fill up on barbecue. They anchored the town with their presence. They provided a place to gather, a place to leave a child if necessary and a source for good advice. Through the years I have watched the Burnetts work with others to make the most of their lives knowing that no one is going to help them. They are all they have. They became my friends, pointed me in the right direction to hear really good music and showed me some truths. Jonestown today is in desperate shape with little hope.
This was for me a life changing experience in many ways. One of the changes was to better know the spirit of those who have influenced the music around me. The county where Jonestown is located in is one of the poorest in the country. In the churches I heard triumphal music despite seemingly hopeless futures for poor rural towns in the South. I had to go to juke joints in Clarksdale to hear Blues played, but I heard the roots of the Blues in the choir lofts of Jonestown.
ARTIST: ROMARE BEARDON
ARTIST: JACOB LAWRENCE
It is becoming harder and harder to live in Jonestown, MS. Crime and drugs move in when jobs leave. A lot of music-filled townspeople have left in desperation, looking for a better place.
ARTIST; JACOB LAWRENCE
Why did black Americans leave the South and migrate north?
The introduction of the cotton gin in the South eliminated manual labor and created a void in work opportunities. Cotton had provided difficult hard labor for many but offered security in company towns that small farmers didn’t have.
As black southerners struggled to survive as farmers on small plots of land they rented from white landowners, a series of agricultural disasters hit them hard in the 1910s: the boll weevil wasted cotton crops across the South, and powerful floods hit farm areas in Alabama and Mississippi. There was racial violence in black neighborhoods in southern cities and rural areas. Economic hardship and violence convinced many black Americans that they had no future in the segregated South.
Jazz musicians came north for the same reasons that other people did, failing crops and discrimination in the South. Fortunately, they brought their culture north as well, including a spirit of hopefulness and sharing that is embedded in jazz.
MARCH 29 – APRIL !
An explosion of spirit will be heard this week at the Dirty Dog. Aquanko, an assembly of some of Detroit’s very best musicians, will celebrate Latin jazz in this intimate club. You are invited to come by, lean back and enjoy some powerful music.
ARTIST: ROMARE BEARDEN
Jazz is constantly proclaimed as America’s gift to music. It is probably more correct to think of it as music’s gift to America, and for sure, the world. The history of jazz is full of bad times and good timing. It has had a journey that reflects the freedom and possibilities of a nation. It contains also the pain, anger and force of those who have created this music to balm their suffering.
I started to migrate toward jazz when I was a child and easily influenced. My parents didn’t give us kids a vote on what kind of music was played on the Victrola. Jazz was universally popular and that is what we got.. I don’t ever remember being told that the music that made us want to dance was jazz. I assumed that the music was created by an electrical device that moved round and round. If only life were that simple. The story behind that uplifting music has not always been that pretty. Jazz was born out of deprivation, misery and some hope. It survived and grew by those escaping from harm, who migrated to a better place. It has been formed by the path it took and continues to evolve in the places it landed.
ARTIST: JACOB LAWRENCE
Emigration is the act of leaving one’s resident country with the intent to settle elsewhere Conversely, immigration describes the movement of persons into one country from another. Both are acts of migration across national boundaries.
People are pushed out of one place and some are attracted to another. There can be a desire to escape negative circumstances such as shortages of land or jobs, or more commonly to flee unfair treatment. People can be pulled to the opportunities available elsewhere. Fleeing from oppressive conditions may lead to permanent emigration.
Jazz’s birthplace is thought to be New Orleans. This assumes that a bunch of musicians just appeared one day on the docks and made up some tunes. The truth is that New Orleans was a hub of commerce for our young nation. A lot of workers showed up and a lot of hard labor was required. Commerce brought goods from Cuba and the Cubans brought their rhythms which had emigrated from Africa. Jazz’s birth is the result of immigration and forced slavery followed by migration. It is the story of hard lives and hard work. It is music of desperation and escape. It is the music that people kept in their back pocket when they were forced to move on. As the people moved around, the music went with them. As they settled in new places the music changed, but the music they kept in their suitcases can still be heard.
ARTIST: JACOB LAWRENCE
Along the path to Detroit jazz has added to its suitcase. By the time it arrived at the strong northern markets of Chicago and Detroit it had added some new stories while coming up the Mississippi. The one thing about jazz is that it always seems to have taken root before it moved on. Even as the cities crowded with folks flush with dollars in their pockets took what they wanted to hear from the music, others heard and understood the original hurt and call for freedom that has survived to this day. Every city on that initial trek north has taken jazz and added its distinct sounds. Jazz, for some time, has had international tentacles. Where there is need, there is jazz. Wherever you are jazz seems to arrive just in time to cheer folks up, help them grieve and challenge them musically.
ARTIST: JACOB LAWRENCE
Musicians arriving by boat and and train found bustling economies. They got day jobs with the help of those who preceded them. They soon found audiences for their music.
ARTIST: KADIR NELSON
Soon in the audiences listening to this new music were musicians from all backgrounds. Layers began to be added. Possibilities were explored, and the music grew. When trains arrived from Chicago and St. Louis the musicians getting off had gigs waiting. Detroiters embraced jazz and the blues as they heard a familiar story. They have not left it alone and have added a drive and persistence that is deep in the soul of this hard driving city.
NINA SIMONE’S CHILDHOOD HOME
Two piano players came to my attention last week. The first was Nina Simone. The New York Times printed a story about preserving pianist and singer Nina Simone’s birthplace in Tryon, North Carolina. Tryon is an idyllic village in a beautiful mountain setting. I was familiar with Tryon as I have visited a Detroit artist friend who has moved there. It is so beautiful that it is a magnet for artists. Nina Simone’s life growing up in Tryon is essential in understanding Nina. In Tryon she learned the piano and the necessity to stand up to injustice. She learned her lessons well. Three artists have purchased her childhood home with the promise to honor her life.
Gretchen Valade ,the proprietor of the Dirty Dog, was missing, Her place at the Dirty Dog bar has been empty for the past couple of weeks. She was sick, and she will get better. If you know Gretchen, you know that she doesn’t miss the music without a good reason. If you know the people who know Gretchen, you know how much she matters to all those around her. The phrase that I heard repeatedly was “She will be OK … she’s just too tough to be knocked down for long”. A cold is not an equivalence of the struggle that Nina Simone faced. However, our confidence in their strength that comes from their bearing gives us reassurance. Their achievements required their firm resilience.
Two lives could hardly be more different than Gretchen Valade’s and Nina Simone’s except for playing the piano. I realized that Nina Simone and Gretchen Valade share an inner fortitude that we all recognize. Neither of these two ladies backed down when expressing their views. Could it be that music and jazz gave them the structure that gave them such self assurance.
I am often personally kind of squishy, sort of, maybe wishy-washy. I am careful not to offend. Sometime I stand up for my principles, but I make sure that no one is around to call me out.
There are others whom I admire like Gretchen and Nina that only know how to stand up. I don’t always agree with them on what they are standing up for, but I am going to take them seriously. I will in the end admire them for their surety.
I just saw “I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO” . Using James Baldwin’s life and words this film grabs and shakes one into more understanding. The film was nominated for an Academy Award.
I got a chance a few years ago to see the documentary THE AMAZING NINA SIMONE by Jeff Lieberman. The film was a well crafted and insightful look at Nina Simone, whose powerful life and gifts again startled me out of complacency.
These movies demonstrates the power of documentary film to get to the bottom of things.
Ta-Nehisi Coates stated in The Atlantic :
I played a lot of Nina Simone in college. I play a lot of Nina Simone now. But I have always known that Nina Simone means something more to the black women around me than she does to me.
Simone was able to conjure glamour in spite of everything the world said about black women who looked like her. And for that she enjoyed a special place in the pantheon of resistance. That fact doesn’t just have to do with her lyrics or her musicianship, but also how she looked. Simone is something more than a female Bob Marley. It is not simply the voice: It is the world that made that voice, all the hurt and pain of denigration, forged into something otherworldly. That voice, inevitably, calls us to look at Nina Simone’s face, and for a brief moment, understand that the hate we felt, that the mockery we dispensed, was unnatural, was the fruit of conjurations and the shadow of plunder. We look at Nina Simone’s face and the lie is exposed and we are shamed. We look at Nina Simone’s face and a terrible truth comes into view—there was nothing wrong with her. But there is something deeply wrong with us.
Ta-Nehisi Coates tells us of the importance of seeing the “face’ of an artist. When we listen to music without the visual impression we are missing something. When we get a chance to be in the presence of an artist when they are creating we get to see their self assurance. Jazz takes a lot of confidence to play. Watch it played live ! Get the whole story.
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 all around him better, just ask his 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.
This week’s blog will be a plea to get authentic voices to enter into a conversation about the importance of art and jazz in our community. I have never been without art. I have been surrounded by beautiful designs and sounds. Everything I touch and buy has been designed to please me. Much of my life will be lived within plans designed by others. How my sight lines are broken and varied has been thought out by someone I don’t know. I can only hope that they have some some sense of design in their background.
ANTOINE DE LA MOTHE CADILLAC
“Cadillac returned to Quebec, then traveled to Montreal where he gathered canoes, farmers, traders, artisans, soldiers, and Native Americans to accompany him on his quest. The men set sail on June 4, 1701.” Wikipedia
Cadillac was in many ways a scoundrel. He made up his name to conceal his past. He was best known for selling booze to the Indians. On the plus side he did have an adventurous spirit and a sense of art which seems to have lasted in our imperfect city.
Detroit is not a blank canvas. Detroit has a rich history that started with its design. It was to be one half of a spoke wheel. It has a center and ways to get to the center It also has a large part of its boundary on a constantly changing river… pretty good design! Someone had Paris in mind which was our good luck. Detroit is a city with a lot to say, with a lot of planning to do and a lot of creative minds.. What we need to keep art/design in our lives are more paintbrushes, musical instruments, paid instructors and support for the arts.
Every few years Congress gets it in their heads that unnecessary programs need to be cut out of the federal budget. The first on their list usually is Public Broadcasting Corporation. This is smart because only PBS and NPR will generally inform us about who is on the list to be axed. Always mentioned second as the most unnecessary will be The National Endowment for the Arts Usually the arts and science programs that are selected have already been cut to the bone. Not only are the savings to the public negligible but most of the programs create revenues and add quality to our lives. These announcements are mostly symbolic and an appearance by Big Bird on the Senate floor eventually and thankfully shames the legislators into inaction.
I have always been interested in the influence of the arts on society and the influence of society on the arts. Intertwined in all of this is how education is often affected by the arts and how the arts are dependent on education. The children are often the first to lose art and music programs.
The arts are like weeds growing up through the cracks in the sidewalks. The ones you sometimes step on. Some of these weeds flower and still we step on them. They are deemed unnecessary, until there are no more flowers. That is what Big Bird is telling us when he shows up in the Senate.
Even as creative types are streaming into Detroit we are shedding music and art programs in our schools. Just as the Chinese are adding arts programs to better compete we are told we can’t afford arts programs. The Chinese were tired of reproducing other folks’ ideas and began to get their creative juices flowing by including the arts in their curriculum.
I would like to start a conversation to see if I am right to be concerned. Together we can seek out paths to assure that one of Detroit’s biggest assets, its creativity, is secure.
I know a lot of jazz artists are spending time with young musicians and many more would jump at the opportunity to teach the next generation. On this blog we can talk about what programs work and what still needs to be done. Let’s share good stories and pass them on. Join the conversation by leaving a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
GRETCHEN VALADE AND THE DIRTY DOG JAZZ CAFÉ WILL DO ALL THEY CAN TO KEEP THE ARTS IN DETROIT AND HELP DETROIT REMAIN A VIBRANT CITY
TALKING ABOUT LOVABLE GUYS LIKE BIG BIRD, DID YOU KNOW THAT THE LOVABLE SKEETO VALDEZ WILL BE COMING BACK TO THE DIRTY DOG
Skeeto Valdez returns this week after leading his Fun House Band at the Dirty Dog last week. He will bring his unabashed good nature and solid drumming to join up with Chris Codish and the Chris Codish Brothers Groove.
MARCH I – MARCH 2
Freddy will be under the new roof to calm you down.
This is a question that I can’t honestly answer with my limited knowledge of the world’s clubs. I regularly hear musicians and the Dirty Dog’s guests making that claim.
I started hearing about the uniqueness of the Dirty Dog Jazz Café while sitting quietly and listening to Benny Golson and his mates chat in the Dog’s splendid green room. This was one of the first times that I was privileged to hear jazz artists in a casual conversation. The band that Benny assembled did what musicians do. They gabbed about jazzand they share their stories Jazz greats like Benny Golson see a lot of jazz venues and have a ton of good and bad experiences. That day he stated unequivocally that this gig at that Dirty Dog was in a class of its own.The band included Detroit pianist Ian Finkelstein, who was at the time still studying at the University of Michigan. Ian responded to Bennie’s remark with a nod of his head and with Ian’s head of hair this is a significant nod. This started me thinking about what makes a great jazz club.
Ian has regularly been seen at the Dirty Dog leading his own band and showing us his head nod. Recognizing and then providing a place to help launch Detroit’s home grown talent has been one of the Dirty Dog’s roles.
Since that time I have witnessed plenty of confirmation of the idea that the Dirty Dog is a great club for listening to jazz. One of the reasons that a jazz club is singled out is for the respect that the club freely gives the artists.
The space that performers use while they wait to go on stage is often called the “green room”, a place to wait and prepare before they go on. The term “green room” was first referenced about 1671. Why the green room? No one knows for sure but we know that no one painted the rooms green. Maybe it was because the rooms for the actors were often greened by storing bushes and shrubs along with other scenery. It is thought that the “scene room” became the “green room”. For most people green is a soothing and calming color and that is a good thing for tense performers. The green room has become a common word for any lounge.
At the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe, down the hall near the service entrance is a room reserved for the musicians. The green room at the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe isn’t your average employee’s lounge. There aren’t any vending machines, hard folding metal chairs, plastic plates or paper napkins. It is much closer to an executive lounge or what we would like to find in an executive lounge. It is more like a catered executive suite with comfortable leather couches and chairs, handsome pictures on the walls and an inviting dining area. Also, there is a private bathroom and a separate changing room. What’s going on here? I think it is to show respect for the artists playing at the Dog, something that comes naturally for the proprietor, Gretchen Valade. Gretchen believes that if you treat the musicians as being special they will give us back something special. It seems to be working.
In the theater the green room was often used to receive guests. Wealthy benefactors had access to the actors. Respect often lost out to the quest for greenbacks. Gretchen has rejected that idea. I have been privileged to spend some time with the musicians and hear their banter. Although serious business takes place as playlists and charts are shared, instruments adjusted, and new ideas discussed, there are times when the room fills with raucous laughter and brilliant banter. What a joy to spend this time with these generous, astute, humorous and smart professionals. The veterans and the new guys exchange insights and stories. The conversational glue is the common regard for the music and those who can play. Great stuff.
One evening I asked Gretchen if she ever went back to the green room to visit and share the warmth. I knew how welcome she would be. As is her manner, she summed up her feelings in a few words. She said, ” I have too much respect for the artists to do that”. The musicians, in turn, respect Gretchen and those who are fortunate enough to hear them perform.
IN COMING BLOGS WE WILL LOOK INTO THESE OTHER REASONS FOR THE CLAIM THAT “THE DIRTY DOG IS THE WORLDS BEST JAZZ CLUB”
JAZZ ARTIST GET FOUR DAY GIGS
JAZZ ARTISTS GETRESPECT FROM THE AUDIENCE
THE DIRTY DOG’S COMMITMENT TO REMAIN TRUE TO JAZZ AND ITS DETROIT ROOTS
Being bigly or talking about being the greatest is currently in vogue.
I admit to be sometimes guilty of casually declaring greatness when it is unearned.
Sometimes I do this tongue in cheek and sometime with my foot in my mouth.
The only thing that really counts is giving due to those things that actual do great things.