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Upbeats With John Osler
April 24, 2018




It always seemed to me that drummers were having all the fun and so had to be hidden.


Behind or to the side of the band we can usually find the drummer. They will be sitting down next to the stand up bass. They can be seen occasionally when the band steps aside, signifying a drum solo is coming, usually to wake up the audience. Drummers deserve some recognition for being really good musicians. In the last couple of months Detroit drummers Jeff Canady, RJ Spangler, Gayelynn McKinney and Sean Dobbins will have gotten some love at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café .  They are gifted musicians, arrangers and band leaders, and as band leaders they will have to stand up and accept our appreciation.







Henry David Thoreau







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 my pillow. 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 my left hand never knew what my right hand was thinking. My son Bill figured it out. He is a really good drummer, and he continues to get better and better. I still have the drum set and retreat to the basement from time to time for some drum therapy. I will happily remain hidden.


“I’ve wanted to be a drummer since I was about five years old. I used to play on a bath salt container with wires on the bottom, and on a round coffee tin with a loose wire fixed to it to give a snare drum effect. Plus there were always my Mum’s pots and pans. When I was ten, my Mum bought me a snare drum. My Dad bought me my first full drum kit when I was 15. It was almost prehistoric. Most of it was rust.” Billy Cobhan




“A good groove releases adrenaline in your body. You feel uplifted, you feel centered, you feel calm, you feel powerful. You feel that energy. That’s what good drumming is all about”.  Mickey Hart




“I think that any young drummer starting out today should get himself a great teacher and learn all there is to know about the instrument that he wants to play.”  Buddy Rich






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 a powerful figure who visually seems always to just barely restrain himself from beating his drum set into submission. That is not who 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, you would often find Sean involved with getting his three kids organized for school. He and his wife have shared the responsibility of bringing up three bright kids. His oldest daughter is in Sean’s words, “a brainiac”.  She took courses at Eastern Michigan University while still in high school. His youngest daughter is a serious soccer player and pianist..  His son began his days 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 continues to spread his knowledge of and his passion for jazz throughout  the community


Sean sees need and responds. This is Detroit, and this is what many musicians do.


Sean is on the faculty at the University Of Michigan, Oakland University and Wayne State University. He is also MSU’s Community Music School Director


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’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 three of Detroit’s most authentic jazz groups. All the bands have been formed out of his deep regard for jazz history. Sean follows his calling to keep jazz alive by honoring Detroit’s rich heritage.


The Modern Jazz Messengers


The Modern Jazz Messengers have been a mainstay in Detroit’s jazz world for over ten years. Like the band’s inspiration Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Dobbins is big on rotating the members and keeping the band’s front line youthful and hard swinging. The Modern Jazz Messengers songbook is heavy on hard-bop and post-bop staples. Art Blakey, the original Sean Dobbins, who led the original Messengers would be proud to see where Sean has taken the music.


Sean Dobbins Organ Quartet


The Sean Dobbins Organ Quartet is a

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.


The Sean Dobbins Trio


This week he will bring the Sean Dobbins Trio to the Dirty Dog. He will be joined by Corey Kendirck on piano and Bob Bickly on Bass.





“The drummer is the key—the heartbeat of jazz”


Jo Jones


“Jazz is a heartbeat—­its heartbeat is yours. You will tell me about its perspectives when you get ready.”


Langston Hughes


You have to have a heart before you can have a heartbeat. Sean Dobbins has a big heart and a big beat. Sean is the whole package.


John Osler










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April 16, 2018




Last week Rodney Whitaker played bass with Sasha Vasandani at the Dirty dog. Rodney’s wife Cookie was also in the house. I spent some time talking to both of them. They talked proudly of their seven children. This is not the image of a jazz musician that I remember seeing in the movies. It is, however, a pretty common approach to life with Detroit jazz musicians, especially artists who could be successful anywhere in the world but choose to stay put in Detroit. Detroit is known to be a place where you can hang with other great players and also comfortably raise a family.




This week Gayelynn McKinney’s family and friends will gather at  the Dirty Dog Jazz Café to demonstrate an amazing musical feat. A bunch of family members will get along for eight shows and show us what a good time a family of musicians can have. It must be the music. Some evening see how long you can keep a subject going around the dinner table without any texting. Gayelynn will gather McKinfolk together to honor a family tradition of encouraging one another. They will  play great music and demonstrate  good family behavior. In the history of jazz, there have been a number of prominent musical families and near the top would be the McKinney family.





My favorite definition of the word family goes like thisA group of people, usually of the same blood (but they do not have to be), who genuinely love, trust, care about, and look out for each other”. They can be easily spotted by their quick-to-smile demeanor when in each other’s company.





With the McKinFolk Project, which pays tribute to her father Harold McKinney’s legacy, Gayelynn is completing an idea that Harold started. This week it will be an extended family that will be continuing to honor the spirit of this remarkable man. Gayelynn will be bringing out a  new record soon on the Detroit Music Factory label called McKinFolk: The New Beginning

Harold was an important pianist, mentor, educator, composer, publisher and friend to Detroit jazz. Harold has been heralded aplenty. Probably his greatest legacy will be as a friend and father.

Gayelynn’s mother Gwendolyn was the perfect compliment to Harold. She also was  a teacher and mentor. She was a renowned opera singer and vocal teacher who gave Gayelynn her first drumsticks at the age of 2. All in all this was a magical environment to have been exposed to and how wonderful it is that we can still hear the music that was churning in that home.

Gayelynn’s childhood experience was revealed in this interview with Ana Gavrilovska in the Metro Times.


MT: Your father was heavily involved in Tribe, for one, and music all his life. What was it like growing up in that environment?




McKinney: I feel really blessed, because both of my parents were musicians. My mother was a part of Tribe, too. Every morning I woke up to music. It was a mixture of music too, because my father would be wailing away, working on a composition, so I’d hear him playing this beautiful jazz piano, and my mother, who had started out as an opera singer, would be in the kitchen singing songs from Carmen. I would wake up to this every morning, and after breakfast, Dad and I would have what we called philosophical conversations. He did this with me from the time I was at least 9.


Growing up in that environment, Wendell Harrison and Marcus Belgrave and George Davidson, all those guys, were rehearsing at Dad’s house almost every day, so my house was filled with music from sunup to sundown. They would come over and rehearse, and they were very passionate about the music. Especially Dad and Marcus, they would get into some heated conversations about the music, and then after they would get all of that out of their systems, they would play, and it would just be fantastic.


It was a musical playground for me, running from one place to the other, looking at music and playing drums. Ed Gooch used to bring his trombone over to the house so I could play with it while they rehearsed, so I was in the basement playing his trombone. I got the chance to play a lot of different instruments growing up. It was great, a wonderful experience.


‘As soon as I can remember I was tapping and beating on things. My mother bought me a drum set and said, “Here honey, beat on these.”’

Dad had all these drummers coming through the house, but one in particular had a big influence on my playing, along with George. He came into the house one day, and I didn’t recognize him. I knew all the drummers that came through the house and this guy I didn’t know. He was tall and had this wonderful stick bag in his hand. I thought, ‘Oh, he’s a drummer.’ I went over and followed behind him. He sat down, threw the stick bag on the table, opened it up, and laid it out. He had a pair of red drumsticks, like a natural wood reddish color, that fascinated me. I was looking at those sticks, and I looked at him, and I sat really close next to him. I tapped him on his shoulder and I said, “Hi.” He looked at me but didn’t say anything, he just smiled. I said, “Can I have those sticks?” [Laughs.] He said, “You want my sticks?” I said, “Yes. Can I have those?” He said, “What are you gonna do with my sticks?” I said, “I’m going to play with them.” He said, “Hm. Alright. I’ll tell you what, I want you to listen to me first.” I said, “OK.” So he said to me, “I want you to remember the melodies of every song.”




I looked at him, my face scrunched up, and I said, “Why?” He said, “Because if you remember the melodies, people will know where you are when you solo.” I was mulling that over in my head, and there was a moment of silence, and then I tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Hey, can I have those sticks?” [Laughs.] And he said, “Go on, girl — take these sticks and go!”


Fast forward 10 years later, I’m starting to check out the players and who’s doing what. My friend and I are sitting there looking through this jazz book, and we get to this page and I stop and say, “Oh wow, that’s the guy!” My friend said, “What guy?” I said, “That’s the guy that gave me those drumsticks!” My friend said, “Get out of here, that’s not the guy.” I said, “Seriously. When I was 10 years old, he gave me some drumsticks.” It turned out that that guy was Max Roach.




Max Roach gave me a pair of sticks and told me the most valuable information I could have ever received to shape my playing. When Straight Ahead got signed to Atlantic Records, we ended up opening for him at the Fillmore, when it used to be the State Theater. At the sound check, I walked over to him, and by now it must have been 12 or 13 years later, but I walked up to him and said, “I don’t know if you’ll remember me,” and he said, “Oh, I know who you are.” I said, “Really?” He said, “Oh yeah. You’re that little girl that took my drumsticks.”


I met people and didn’t realize who they were until much later. Herbie Hancock [is another person] I met and didn’t realize [who he was] until I was older. It was quite an environment to grow up in.




It seems appropriate that the family at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café will be the site for this special family gathering. Welcome to the family.


John Osler



April 18 – April 21





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April 3, 2018




This could be the month. This could be the month that we just might see a few warm days. We have earned a reprieve from wearing down filled jackets and watching down turned faces of folks walking into the cold wind. The Romans used the word  “aperire”  to say “open up” which they used for the fourth month in their calendar. This is also appropriate for our month of April. It is the time for us to fling open our windows and gladly go out for a stroll in the neighborhood.


April is the month when the flowers will pop up hoping to be welcomed by a warm spring breeze and get their first big gulp of sunshine. We will skip work and catch baseball’s opening day. Children will  get out of the house and ride their bikes everywhere. We will be surrounded by eye and ear opening events happening in our backyards. The robins seem to be the ones to first see the changes. Our yards are coming back to life and the appearance of these smart birds will signal us that spring will soon be here. Hope is  necessary to live in a northern clime.


It is the time of year when northerners finally don’t have to travel far to get some comfort outside the warmth of their homes. Emerging from hibernation we get a chance to enjoy all the beautiful things around us. We once again can take pride and find joy in the color and brightness of our town.


In this spirit the Dirty Dog Jazz Café will be presenting some home grown talent to remind us that we are lucky to be in Detroit now that spring may be here.




April 4 – April 7






Starting Wednesday of this week Detroit’s own Kimmie Horne will bring her alto voice to the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe. 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 will be singing for us at the Dirty Dog.






Reason #1  Kimmie’s voice. Kimmie was well into a career in R&B when Betty Carter inspired her to include jazz standards in her vocabulary. Kimmie says, “ She encouraged me to know what the song’s story is and approach it as if it were mine.”  Kimmie connects us to our jazz heritage. When Kimmie became focused on jazz she concentrated on those who could tell a story. She acknowledges her debt to Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Ella and, of course, Lena Horne when she says, “These five ladies exude vocal richness, clarity in telling a story through warm, beautiful, heartfelt tones and impeccable phrasing that still leaves me breathless,”


Reason #2  It is going to be like a family affair as Kimmie and the guys in her band go way back. They speak the same language. Kimmie has immersed herself in studying all of jazz, including most of the great horn players. In her voice we can hear the phasing and tone of these masters. When she and her friends take off together on a tune they are starting from the same platform. This band of musicians are indeed friends, which allows them to be more playful.



Reason #3  A chance to smile. The band’s friendship is contagious. Even though some of the tunes are soulful stories and you can feel the blues origins, you end the evening feeling good.


Reason # 4 A chance to thank Gretchen Valade for all she has done. Gretchen has created one of America’s best jazz clubs.


Reason #5 Support live music while having the time of your life. Detroit needs you to once again get out to hear live music every chance you get. An Intimate venue like the Dirty Dog gives the musicians a chance to Interact with the audience. Kimmie takes full advantage. She sings and talks directly to each night’s guests. Everyone will leave as  friends.



Reasons #6,7,8,9,10  Kimmie’s home is in Detroit. We get to see her in the company of people she knows. When she plays the Dog it is special. Come on out.




April 11




Chick Corea has been named the 2018 Detroit Jazz Festival’s artist in residence.

Having won 22 Grammies he is automatically considered a Detroiter.


April 12






David is another multi talented Detroit area jazz artist. He will bring the fresh spring sound of his quartet to the Dirty Dog for one night.


April 13 – April 14





Sacha was born in Chicago but was wise enough to learn his jazz at the University of Michigan. He now resides on Mack Avenue records. That’s local enough.


April 18 – April 21





Gayelynn will bring her family to the Dirty Dog. They all will have only a few miles to travel. This family defines class when will we talk of first class musicians. It has always seemed a little unfair to have so much talent in one family. In Detroit classy musicians tend to have classy musician kids. We can only enjoy it.


April 25 – April 28






Sean will bring with him all the gifts that separate Detroit musicians from the rest. He is a persistent force and doesn’t know how to lay back and rest on his reputation. You don’t get away with that in this town. Sean and his friends will help us celebrate how great our neighborhood is.


John Osler






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March 28, 2018


Our family accompanied me on spring break to St Louis where I had some business to do. The trip was timed so that we could spend time at the St Louis Ragtime Festival. We had friends who were going to be part of the gathering. The Mother’s Boys Ragtime Band was a group of traditional jazz geeks who played weekly gigs in Detroit in addition to their day jobs.




It was a warm spring evening, and the bars selected for jam sessions were filling up, mostly with musicians. A kind crowd made room for our family and I made room for a beer or two. This is good time music, and when musicians play for other musicians it can be a special evening.


At a point it was decided to accommodate the overflowing crowd by having the bands lead us down a few blocks to the levee. The sunset was interrupted by dark threatening clouds and then thunder claps, wind and lighting. In response the array of ragtime jazz musicians began en masse to play Nearer My God To Thee and then Just a Closer Walk with Thee.


In the west strips of blue sky appeared and the music continued late into the night.



God listens when jazz musicians speak, and jazz musicians listen when God speaks.


I am a serious advocate for a wide separation of Church and State, but welcome the inclusion of spiritual messages when expressed with passion by those who believe.




Through the years jazz musicians have felt free to worship God with their music. There are reasons for this. The structure of jazz is also the freedom from structure. Jazz musicians’ earliest and often most influential music was what they heard in the Church. The first command that they heard each Sunday was to shout and sing out, so that God could hear them.


The Psalmist urged worshipers of God to “praise Him with the sound of trumpet, praise Him with psaltery and harp”,  I regularly attend a church where we stand very still and whisper our songs to God. Then from time to time I  visit a black Baptist Church where they will have a drum set backing up a Hammond B organ playing in front of a standing and often rocking congregation. It is no wonder that the black churches have had a lasting influence on our internationally acclaimed jazz.


In the first half of the 20th century black musicians were barred from playing in white clubs and concert halls, so they held jazz concerts for touring musicians in their churches..


As Ragtime and African-American spiritual music evolved, jazz was taking its shape inside the church. It was reintroduced to the congregations sometime in the 1960’s in the jam sessions at churches like St. Peter and St. John the Divine in New York City. Many of the era’s jazz legends would come to perform.



Sacred-jazz compositions — pieces written explicitly to either mirror or supplement religious ceremonies.


Jazz in the early 20th century was a liberating music for many and “the music of the devil” for others. Then in the 1960s  it found its way into the liturgies of the church.


How did the devil’s music get religion?


The religion, in some respects, was there all along. Many African-American musicians grew up attending and performing in church services. The imprint of that experience can be found in saxophonist John Coltrane’s landmark 1965 LP A Love Supreme, which Coltrane offered as a sort of musical prayer to God.  A more subtle example of sacred jazz would be Miles Davis’  Kind Of Blue which was inspired  by “some other kind of sound I remembered from being back in Arkansas, when we were walking home from church and playing these bad gospels.”


For the Easter season,  here are five examples of sacred jazz.



JOHN COLTRANE (1926 -1967) Saxophone player, composer, eminent jazz innovator. Coltrane’s faith in God was a powerful healing force in his overcoming addiction to heroin. He testifies to God’s omnipotence, our need for God, dependence on God and God’s power to remake us on his seminal album “Love Supreme”, and dedicates his music, saying “Let us sing all songs to God.”




DUKE ELLINGTON  Jazz pioneer and bandleader Duke Ellington was instrumental in the movement of sacred jazz, and wrote three sacred concerts which are still being performed in churches, cathedrals and synagogues throughout the world.


When the Duke presented his “Sacred Concerts” they stirred a wave of controversy about whether the terms “sacred” and “jazz” should even be used together.  Duke Ellington knew that this special music was inspiring and reverent in its purpose and that made it sacred. Duke Ellington felt that, “Every man prays in his own language, and there is no language that God does not understand.”



VINCE GUARALDI (1928 -1976) Meanwhile on the West Coast even before Duke Ellington’s more famous Sacred Concert Vince Guaraldi  presented his concert of sacred music in 1965 at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral. This concert combined church choral arrangements with his jazz trio. I think that Vince Guaraldi’s recording of Charlie Brown Christmas album was also for me a spiritual masterpiece.




DAVE BRUBECK  Dave Brubeck expresses the joy inspired by Christ’s Resurrection through a blend of jazz and classical music. Dave Brubeck was the thinking man’s jazz artist. Brubeck discovered that a church theme of Bach’s called “Oh sacred head now wounded,” was actually a drinking song. “So what is profane and what is sacred? It’s in how you do it, how you approach it, and what you bring to it”. The First Baptist Church has one of his songs in its hymn book. His composition “Blessed Are The Poor” is a musical portrait of Christ’s “Sermon On The Mount,”



WYNTON MARSALIS, trumpeter and composer grew up in the firm musical grip of his father, Ellis Marsalis. But he also grew up in New Orleans where he became inspired by all those around him who were soaked in spirituality. This led him to write his sacred-jazz epic,  In This House, On This Morning.  He is quoted as saying,”Listening to all of [his fellow players] made me want to put that feeling in a long piece and reassert out here the power that underlies jazz by constructing a composition based on the communal complexity of its spiritual sources,”.  Throughout his jazz work we can hear familiar calls to prayer, hymns, scripture readings and sermons that finish with the congregants lingering to converse as they return to the world beyond the church’s doors, spirits set anew in the noontime Sunday light and air.


Dee Dee Pierce  oil/canvas / John Osler




Sacred jazz music is currently being composed and played by today’s Detroit jazz artists. Equally important is the church’s role in education.


Detroit, I believe, is where jazz went to school. Detroit jazz musicians are known to be well schooled and disciplined, and that explains why they are in demand around the world. Detroit’s churches still remain a training ground and venue for some of our best musicians.


For many years the outstanding music programs in the Detroit schools jump-started many jazz artists’ careers. In the City of Detroit it is a sad fact that music programs are slowly disappearing from our schools. The Church today is returning to be our youth’s principle source for musical instruction.


At the Dirty Dog a question I often ask musicians is “How the heck did you learn to play so well?” “In church” is now the most common answer. The artists seldom assert that their musical talent is of divine origin and purpose, but humbly give thanks for the opportunity the churches have given them.


Detroit drummer Jeff Canady didn’t hesitate to say “in church” when asked.. He is quick to credit his Church with giving him the tools to create music with both force and meaning.  The church has provided him with the confidence and the authority we expect from Detroit musicians. We don’t expect there will be a separation between Church and Jazz anytime soon.


John Osler





March 28 -March 31












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March 20, 2018







There must be a new way to look at this


Taking the usual and making it interesting is the artist’s task, adding  a dab of paint or note in an unexpected place. This something that grabs our attention. and makes us take a look is what we call art.

Children and jazz artists do this all the time. We can learn from them.



I can remember when I was most pleased with myself being told that I was “acting a little childish”. It seemed to happen when I was  discovering new things and I was a little loud expressing my joy. I keep working to get this joy back in my life. I want to be childish again.


Children are free to see and interpret the world around them. That gift is sometimes lost as we accumulate life’s experiences and gain certainty.


We know what is risky and what to fear. We neglect the freedom of thought that we had as children. We eventually know too much and imagine less. Most artists cherish the freedom to express themselves without incrimination and to imagine the unimaginable.







What do children know that adults seem to have forgotten? Children are more confident, more courageous and enjoy life far more intensely than adults. Sometimes it feels that we spend our entire lives trying to return to who we were as children.


Pablo Picasso remarked while at a children’s art exhibition: ” When I was the age of these children I could draw like Raphael. It took me many years to learn to draw like these children.”


We can learn from our younger selves to bring more clarity and joy into adulthood.







When we were young, play filled our day. What we didn’t know was that this free play helped our healthy growth and learning. Play was a positive in our lives and only later in life does it become a luxury.


Play energizes and enlivens us. It eases our burdens. It renews our natural sense of optimism and opens us up to new possibilities.” – Stuart Brown


Except for school and family meals my days were completely unstructured.  I went out the door and never looked back. With the same group of friends we filled the day until it was getting dark and lights were coming on in the neighborhood homes.. All day long we made things out of stuff that was around. We pretended things around us were whatever we wanted them to be. We fantasized and most importantly we improvised. You could  run and chase your friends until you were out of breath and your cheeks were flushed. We had the same friends for years who could challenge each other without having winners and losers. We would jump and run for no reason and never thought of it as an exercise program or a daily fitness routine. It was just playing. And it was fun.




How would that little girl/boy that you were look at the person you are now?



I play with gooey oil paints and move the paint around until I like where it is placed. I  justify having so much fun because I can sometimes get paid for the results. Not everyone can be so lucky, but everyone can make time in the day to return to that healthy time when you played freely with your thoughts and unashamedly shared these thoughts with your friends. I now happily spend time around artists and musicians who have peeled away filters that would only limit their shouts of glee and remorse.


Jazz artists enjoy their childish notions and can comfortably say “I play jazz for a living”. It is possible to play jazz for a living because the best have freed themselves from adult rules and in the truest sense play like children.


When I paint I listen to jazz. I get creative nourishment from the players’ freedom of expression. I hope that I will someday be able to play like these cats.




If you were to peek in and watch an artist at play when he is alone you would probably see a familiar expression on his face. It brings to mind the face of the infant being securely held by the person just ahead of you in the grocery store line, the one with the wide eyes of discovery and the wry smile of knowing all is good. The next time that you are in a jazz club or with a group of artists you may notice that there are some knowing childish grins and glances going on.


John Osler






March 21 – March 24





One of the jazz world’s greatest spirits will strip away any of your late winter blahs this week.

Bring your most youthful attitude.




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March 13, 2018




Shut your eyes and see.    

 James Joyce


De’Sean Jones was the first of of three saxophone players leading bands at the Dirty Dog this March. He will be followed by Alex Graham and Dave McMurray. This is a photographer’s dream. Horn players are camera magnets.







Our eyes generally gravitate to the guy swinging his curvy brassy instrument up and down and back and forth while the rest of the guys and gals in the band are caught in a static state of awe. Saxophone players have a fierceness in their eyes that calls for a closeup of their faces. The same face drifts into a dreamy far off look when its owner picks up a flute.





Most of us express our feelings with our eyes. Musicians usually don’t give us the same clues with their eyes which are shut most of the time. I have become an expert on jazz artists’ facial expressions from over shooting and from the consequential hours of editing. Digital photography has slowly dissipated all of my in-camera editing skills.







Usually we can tell when jazz artists are really getting along. These are people who habitually enjoy their work.  They are at ease with letting their joy show and since other parts are occupied they use their eyes to communicate their willingness to cooperate.






Guitarists seem always to be lost in the beauty of their new guitars, while piano players spend half their time looking over the piano for clues from other players and the other half staring down the keyboard during their solos.






Some drummers and bass players’ eyes are hard to photograph as their heads are always moving. Most concentrate so hard that that they lock onto something unseen by anyone  else until the tune is over. They often can be seen synchronizing their head movements to keep the band on beat.













The house asks us to respect the music by keeping our conversations to a minimum, the staff have learned to communicate with their eyes.


When you visit the Dirty Dog, or any first class establishment, you will have eyes on you. Eyes that will be looking out for your best interests.


The only job of the first person that you will meet at the Dirty Dog is to greet you and walk you to your table. Your journey will be followed by the watchful eyes of the staff, who for the rest of the evening will have their eyes wide open looking for the best ways to serve you.


Many visiting the Dirty Dog seem to acquire a joyous glint in their eyes, which they share with the greeter as they leave.


John Osler








One thing you can count on is that when someone does something well they will look you square in the eye. Acclaimed saxophonist Alex Graham has earned this right.






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March 6, 2018





Last week  RJ Spangler gave us in depth descriptions of the sources for the music before Planet D Nonet played each tune.



RJ Spangler spoke to the roots of the tunes. We learned a lot about Kansas City where Bennie Moten and Count Basie spent some formative years. And then Planet D Nonet played their music in a way that we were able to feel the life of Kansas city in the 1930s. RJ and most of his bands have a serious appreciation for  the jazz artists who wrote music that reflected the lives, the times and the places that these pioneers passed through. Stories of America’s music never stop inspiring us.





RJ talked about Count Basie going to Kansas City and then for a long time not being able to accumulate enough money to move on. Kansas City had a lot of jazz clubs and a lot of jazz musicians. The pay was seldom enough to buy a ticket out of the place. Lucky for us he was stuck in KC so long that he picked up the unique musical culture of Kansas City and was influenced by the other artists stranded there on their way to New York, Chicago or Detroit where the big money was.  A few KC jazz riffs landed at the Dirty Dog last week, a product of forced inspiration.


Kansas City in the 1930s was on the path North and became the starting point for those seeking their fortunes in  the United States. Transcontinental trips at the time whether by plane or train often required a stop in the city. It was the era of the political boss Tom Pendergast. He allowed the liquor laws and hours to be totally ignored, and Kansas City became a wide open town.


Jazz musicians crowded the all night jazz joints and took part in cutting sessions that could keep a single song performed in variations for an entire night.


Kansas City was different from all other places because of the jamming all night. “And [if] you come up here … playing the wrong thing, we’d straighten you out.” 


Kansas City style jazz introduced the following:


Kansas City jazz had a more relaxed, fluid sound than other jazz styles with  a walking 4 beat feel.


The KC big bands often played from memory, composing and arranging the music collectively, rather than sight-reading as other big bands of the time did. This further contributed to a loose, spontaneous Kansas City sound.


With their extended soloing. the purpose was to “say something” with one’s instrument, rather than simply show off one’s technique.  Riffing was an integral part of Kansas City jazz with elaborate riffing by the different sections. Riffs were often improvised collectively and took many forms. Sometimes with one section riffing alone, then behind a soloist, adding excitement to the song and thentwo or more sections will riff in counterpoint, creating a hard-swinging sound. Count Basie’s oft played tunes “One O’Clock Jump” and “Jumpin’ at the Woodside” are simply complex riffs, memorized in a head arrangement, and punctuated with solos. Glenn Miller’s famous swing anthem “In the Mood” closely follows the Kansas City pattern of riffing sections, and is a good example of the Kansas City style that has been exported to the rest of the world.


Somewhere in the back of our heads are these influences. We aren’t always sure where our inspiration comes from. Occasionally we just need RJ to remind us.




Inspiration is just part of a process of creating. We don’t always realize what it was that got us to do something. This happened to me a few years ago when I was struggling with finding an image that the Detroit Jazz Festival could use on their poster.





I made numerous sketches of  singers passionately singing their hearts out. Then I added a guy playing a sax behind them and then I eliminated the singer.



I then focused on the sax player’s face to show the effort and force required to play the instrument. Then I backed off to better compose the page.




I used photos that I had shot at the Dirty Dog as reference. Among the images I had next to me were shots of De’Sean Jones. De’Sean is a real Detroit jazz musician. It comes through in his strength and force when he plays. It comes through when you hear him talk about his music. He is a thoughtful, kind and purposeful man. I had watched De’Sean play a little while  before I did the sketch to show my idea. I often worried that I was stealing his act. DeSean put my mind at ease when he told me how proud his grandmother was that he was on the Detroit Jazz Festival poster.



I am sure there will be people looking back and getting inspired by the power of Detroit’s high energy jazz musicians from the 2010s. I have been.


John Osler





March 7 – March 10



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February 26, 2018




Here are five great March escapes.



February 28 – March3







March 7 – March 10







March 14 – March 17






March 21 – March 24







March 28 – March 31





Make your plans to battle the winter blahs. Cold slush in our shoes can test our resolve to be nice to each other. As a kindness to your loved ones take a moment and take advantage of the Dirty Dog’s blend of upbeat jazz, comfort food and a warm reception by their good-natured staff.


The Dirty Dog understands that our extended Michigan winter has too many gray days and we all need a chance to get away. This month’s lineup is tilted toward high energy musicians who are known to drive out the damp and heat things up.













New Orleans is a city that finds reasons to celebrate. New Orleans musicians have always found reasons to gather and create good times even in bad circumstances. This week at the Dirty Dog we will find this same smart thinking. We can pretend that it is balmy outside while we listen to  Planet D Nonet




In the past, when it has gotten really cold and messy in Detroit, I have often opted to spend time in New Orleans  Somewhere I read  ” When you bring New Orleans your sad story New Orleans will put a beat to it.” New Orleans can be a messy place, but it is ice free and pretty lively at the same time Detroit is having some dark days. New Orleans is a warm and friendly landing place for artists and musicians. I have been fortunate to have artist and musician friends in New Orleans. This has given me a chance to get to know the New Orleans that tourists don’t get to see. It has confirmed to me that New Orleans shares  the same spirit that drives Detroit. Both cities seem to be able to take challenges and just get stronger. The cities have deep in their DNA the drive, resilience and rhythms that show up in their music. New Orleans and Detroit historically have seamlessly passed the musical torch back and forth, making jazz better in both cities.


This week I will be making the easier journey to the Dirty Dog Jazz Café, where we will be celebrating the beginning of a great month of music.



RJ Spangler has promised to bring the spirit of New Orleans to Detroit,


Give yourself a winter break, The staff at the Dirty Dog understands the needs of the victims of a Detroit March.


John Osler




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February 19, 2018



If you are looking for the warmth that happens only at family gatherings you might consider dropping in at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café this week. The place is expecting a lot of friendly and familiar faces gathering in a rare display of good fellowship. Two jazz groups will show us what music sounds like when played by people who really like each other. Cans of the magic glue that binds them together will be available.


Grumpy staff and irascible customers will be asked to remain in a dark corner of the club. However, we expect this section will remain empty for the duration of this week’s music.




A group of people, usually of the same blood (but do not have to be), who genuinely love, trust, care about, and look out for each other.



 A family of musicians would accurately describe the band Straight Ahead.



This week the band Straight Ahead will be at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café surrounded by friends and family.  Rooted in solid friendships and unchanging common goals they continue to reach new personal and collective highs. I, for one, envy their journey. They will be celebrating being part of a group that was formed in 1987 by assembling some of Detroit’s best musicians who happened to be women, They also were good friends. They certainly have shared talent, purpose, experiences and values.  Like any family they have, at times, gone  their separate ways,  but they always come back to the nest to play some great jazz together. For this special gig the band will be welcoming the return of one of its original artists, Regina Carter.






Regina was part of this family of jazz artists from the beginning in 1989.   Forming the band was singer and pianist Miche Baden’s idea. She wanted to show the world the strength and inventiveness of Detroit’s female artists. For sure an all girl jazz ensemble was unique, but it was their power, skill and the adventurous spirit of their music that propelled them into the world’s spotlight. Each member brought world class resumes.


A short time after Miche Baden left for a career in NYC Regina joined the heart of the group which was Alina Morr, piano, Marion Hayden, bass, and drummer Gayelynn McKinney. The quartet got noticed playing venues in Detroit and were tapped to play the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland leading off for Nina Simone.


Regina took her fiddle to New York and started what has been a remarkable career as a soloist. Straight Ahead has toured the country and abroad playing with musical greats including Nancy Wilson, Jean Luc Ponty, Roy Ayers, Tony Bennett, Dianne Reeves, Max Roach, Stanley Clarke and the Yellowjackets.


Image result for straight ahead female jazz group




Our family became regulars when they played locally in small clubs to mostly family and a growing gang of jazz savvy followers. Our son Bill, a young drummer, got a chance to meet his hero, Gayelynn McKinney, and I have a vivid memory of  seeing both of their smiling faces as they talked drumming. Gayelynn later played at his wedding rehearsal dinner, They both were smiling.



GAYELYNN MCKINNEY                      ALINA MORR                                   MARION HAYDEN




Straight ahead  jazz is a term used to describe any jazz from the ’70s onward that  adheres closely to the historical traditions of jazz. I don’t think this describes this ensemble. I think that having a vision and pursuing it fits.


Not looking back, bringing others on the journey, gathering a group setting out and staying on course. Staying true. Showing up and bringing it every night.


This is what you can expect when you come out to see these Detroit musicians whose straight line has taken them around the world and straight back to the Dirty Dog. This is starting out to be a cold week in our city but by Wednesday it is scheduled to get warmer. At least at the Dirty Dog.


Straight Ahead has seen changes in personnel but remains anchored by family members Marion, Gayelynn, Regina and Alina. Joining them at the Dirty Dog will be Elden Kelly on guitar.




Fellowship is also a friendly feeling that exists between people who have a shared interest or who do something as a group:


Following Straight Ahead into the Dirty Dog this week will be the Four Freshmen. If Straight ahead exemplifies family the Freshmen describe fellowship.



For just being Freshmen they seem to have some history.


These undergraduates are perennial overachievers, especially in making us feel good. Corners of mouths start to turn up when they get in a groove. Even those who are smile challenged find themselves grinning. It’s the perfect group to see during this family oriented week.

68 years ago The Freshman were formed and began replacing barbershop quartets with their new sound. I was a fan of Stan Kenton, and he heavily influenced the young group. It was Stan Kenton who eventually gave them a shove on their way to becoming the top vocal group of the 50’s when he connected them with Capital Records. Capital didn’t promote them initially, so they took a bunch of demos and passed them out to radio stations in the greatest jazz town at the time, Detroit. They got plenty of air time, and in this jazz savvy city they found success.


Through the years the personnel has changed many times. Their sound is secure in the hands of the current group who might be the best set of musicians to date. More than just another vocal group, these are jazz musicians who sing. Though out their history most members of the Four Freshmen have played more than one instrument.


Pack up your gloom and bring your best smile to the Dog this week. Help us celebrate these two family gatherings with some good food, great jazz and a lot of smiles.

John Osler


Here are the Freshmen from one of their visits to the Dirty Dog Jazz Café.






February 21 and 22







Straight Ahead  is a Detroit jazz ensemble and has a name that rings true for them.  They have gathered  a group that has  stayed on course. They have stayed true to each other while showing up and bringing it every night. This is what you can expect when you come out to see these Detroit musicians whose straight line has taken them around the world and straight back to the Dirty Dog.


For four nights we have a chance to scrap all our responsibilities and spend some time with family at the Dirty Dog.


February 23 and 24





These guys will cause you to smile so much that it will stretch your jaw muscles, making it easier to tackle the good sized portion of Dirty Dog cuisine.





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February 12, 2018



The whole world was beginning to experience an economic tsunami in 2008. In our corner of Michigan there was little traffic on the roads and even less traffic in upscale stores or restaurants. For most of us the mention of the year 2008 still sends chills up our spine. It was exactly at this moment in one of the hardest hit places in the world that the idea of a creating a jazz club in an upscale neighborhood was born. How it came about is such a good but sort of crazy Detroit story.





If you have been to the Dirty Dog you already know how the story ends. Most jazz artists proclaim that this is the best jazz club in the country and perhaps in the world. Customers try to keep it a secret so that they will find a place the next time they come. It has become a symbol of excellence in the delivery of music, food, service and smiles.


In 2018, after 10 years of respecting everyone who comes in the door they have 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. With its humble roots jazz still has the power to inform our souls. It has complexity and intensity and its appeal is growing. It is democratic, expansive and can be difficult to play. It thrives in the hearts of the curious.


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











Gretchen Valade                                 Tom Robinson


Andre Neimanis                                     Willie Jones



In 2008 Gretchen Valade was in a better place than a lot of Detroiters. She had property and wasn’t in danger of losing it. She just had to decide what to do with it. She asked a friend, Tom Robinson, who was helping her with some construction and then with the creation of Mack Avenue Records. They also wrote some music together. He never said “Start a jazz club”. No one did. Gretchen, however, didn’t hesitate to fulfill her passion to have her favorite music just down the street. She thought about the possibility to have her empty building serve good food and good jazz. Her answer was, “Why not?”. Gretchen as usual thought about what it would mean for others. This directive continues to keep the Dirty Dog moving in a positive direction. Tom has made Gretchen’s ideas work. Against all odds with trust and patience they have together stumbled on a pretty good plan. A plan that has lead to having a world class jazz club just down the street.




Success sometimes comes to those who just stumble on it.


Gretchen , once she had the vision for her place, had to make some key hires. She didn’t waste time. Why not get her favorite sous chef from down the street, Andre Neimanis. Why not?! With Andre on board she would need someone to run the front of the house. Well Andre had recently worked with  a pretty square guy for only two days. Those two days were enough, and Willie Jones, one of the city’s most respected restaurant managers, soon got the call to come and talk to two people with a far out dream.


He remembers his meeting well. Gretchen, hoping to give the project credibility, asked Willie if he knew about Mack Avenue. He thought that this was a curious question. He lived close to Mack Avenue. He said “of course I do.” Gretchen was referring to her jazz label, Mack Avenue Records and liked the answer. He was hired. Trying to find common ground, they found a common road. They have stayed on track ever since.






Do it really well


Respect the music


Treat everyone with dignity


Enjoy the experience





Tom Robinson would often roll his eyes at many of Gretchen’s impulsive decisions and then turn her visions into reality. Today we can see the results of an accumulation of Gretchen’s “Why nots?” and Tom’s “Let’s do it”. Her instinct to hire quality people has paid off. Chef Andre’s menu has won many awards, including Hour Magazine’s prestigious “Restaurant of the Year” award and twice was the magazine’s “Chef of the Year”.  The Dog’s success also stems from Willie Jones’ ability to pass on to the staff his work ethic. Willie is a proponent of everyone serving with “all eyes on everything”. The quality of every detail is everyone’s responsibility. Willie has a steady hand and a wry smile, just like jazz.


The Detroit Jazz Festival continues to grow in stature with Gretchen’s support and guidance. Mack Avenue Records, founded in 1998, just achieved eight Grammy nominations at the 60th Grammy Awards Jan. 28, 2018. This was the most of any independent label of any musical genre in a single year. Tom Robinson who is CEO of Mack Avenue said. “We had eight nominations in five categories,”  “In three of the categories we were competing against ourselves.”




Maybe they knew what they were doing


Throughout the life of the Café, Gretchen’s good natured spirit has guided the management, the staff and the music. Decency, listening and sharing have always  been the bulwarks of jazz. Using these strengths the Dirty Dog Jazz Café has becoming possibly the greatest jazz club in the world. Stumble on you Dirty Dog.


John Osler










It is appropriate that Dennis Coffey will be kicking off the second decade of music at the Dirty Dog. One of Detroit’s most legendary guitarists,  Dennis has been part of Detroit jazz’s  most important moments. He is also the right guy to lead us into new territory.

Come on out and find out where the music is heading.











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Each week the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe hosts live performances from the greatest jazz musicians across the country.
Sean Dobbins Trio
STARTS: Wed, April 25 2018
ENDS: Sat, April 28 2018
Ralphe Armstrong
STARTS: Wed, May 02 2018
ENDS: Sat, May 05 2018
Michael Zaporski
STARTS: Wed, May 09 2018
ENDS: Thu, May 10 2018
Carmen Lundy
STARTS: Fri, May 11 2018
ENDS: Sat, May 12 2018
Dave Bennett
STARTS: Wed, May 16 2018
ENDS: Sat, May 19 2018
Detroit Jazz Festival Jam Session
STARTS: Mon, May 21 2018
ENDS: Mon, May 21 2018