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Upbeats With John Osler
September 20, 2017



The life cycle of something is the series of developments that take place in it from its beginning until the end of its usefulness or its death.


This past week I seemingly experienced the completion of my life cycle and then was given a chance to start a new one. I don”t know why.


I was scheduled to have hip replacement surgery this past Wednesday. Unfortunately I went into anaphylactic shock and my body shut down completely. I was aware that life was passing out of me. Through a ton of good luck and good emergency medical help my heart and lungs were revived after five minutes, and I miraculously survived. Except for the pain from the pounding that I took during CPR, there will be no lasting damage.

It will take me a while to get a handle on what I am supposed to do with my life now. I will be slowing down a bit while I try to process what happened to me this week.



By chance, I had started to write about two artists whose art has sought to show us their idea of what  the cycle of life looks like to them.

They share the name DIEGO RIVERA and a love for life. Life is a river with obstacles that change its course. It requires a steady stream of water or it becomes just a dry ditch.


RIVERA :  a brook or a stream



DIEGO RIVERA:  a talented artist






Few of us who have visited Detroit’s gem of an art museum, the Detroit Institute of Arts, have not spent a significant amount of time in the museum’s Rivera Court.


Detroit Industry: The Murals of Diego Rivera




Michigan, for many years, depended on an auto industry. When the cars sold well, we flourished. We were swept along through the good times. The city on the river has always had a lot going for it. We had so many gifts. Talented and hard working newcomers flowed into the city to grab the good paying jobs, many created by new technology and mass production. Machines and men were pouring out the goods, which often required repetitive and monotonous tasks.

At the the height of our prosperity in 1932, the brilliant Mexican muralist Diego Rivera was commissioned by Edsel Ford, the son of Henry Ford and president of the car company that bears the family name, and William Valentiner, the director of the Detroit Institute of Arts, to paint two murals for the museum’s Garden Court. The only rule was the work must relate to the history of Detroit and the development of the industry.

Here is a description of Detroit’s iconic mural by National Public Radio

“Assembly workers with tools raised in a frozen moment of manufacturing. Doctors and scientists stand near a child in a nativity scene that pays tribute to medicine. Secretaries and accountants, heads bowed, fingers on typewriters and adding machines. One panel even shows Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company, seeming to watch a collection on unseen workers below him.

The meaning of these images is complex, a view of industry that challenges ideas about its role in society and raises issues of class and politics. Rivera was already well known as the leader of the Mexican muralist movement when he started the work.

Soon thereafter Rivera and his wife, painter Frida Kahlo, arrived in Detroit and began studying and photographing the Ford automotive plant on the Rouge River. The factory so fascinated and inspired Rivera that he soon suggested painting all four walls of the Garden Court. Ford and Valentier agreed and soon Rivera’s commission was expanded

He spent about a month on the preliminary designs, and started painting in July 1932. The murals were completed in March 1933. Besides images of the assembly lines made famous by Ford, the murals also depict office workers and airplanes, boats and agriculture as well as Detroit’s other industries at the time — medical, pharmaceutical, and chemical. They also show images of nudes representing fertility and a panel depicting vaccination.

Edsel Ford, patron of the murals, never publicly responded to the outcry. He only issued a simple statement saying “I admire Rivera’s spirit. I really believe he was trying to express his idea of the spirit of Detroit”.”





Diego Rivera brought his strong personal opinions to our town, and yet Edsel Ford was wise enough to only see the artist.

Many people objected to Rivera’s work when it was unveiled to the public. He painted workers of different races – white, black and brown, working side by side. The nudes in the mural were called pornographic, and one panel was labeled blasphemous by some members of the religious community. The section depicts a nativity scene where a baby is receiving a vaccination from a doctor, and scientists from different countries took the place of the wise men.

When Diego Rivera finished his mural he considered Detroit Industry the most successful piece of his career. Despite all the controversy he was allowed to express his personal vision of the cycle of life in Detroit.





Born in Ann Arbor, raised in East Lansing and named for the muralist, tenor saxophonist, Diego Rivera is a state treasure. Known for his muscular sound and ability to create complex arrangements, Diego will be coming to the Dirty Dog this week.  Diego will be bringing something special beyond his talent. Diego thinks it is  “about putting myself out there, planting my two feet, speaking with a loud voice,” Diego is not afraid to let you know what he thinks is important…just like his namesake.

Mark Stryker has said that “above all, Diego is a story teller, whose improvisations make a real emotional statement-a quality always worth  celebrating.”




Lawrence Cosentino wrote this about one of Diego’s CD releases.

“Saxophone man Diego Rivera taps into the cycle of life with infant daughter and new CD “The Contender.”

He continued, ” Rivera, 35, is playing and arranging with more intensity and focus than ever, teaching a full schedule of jazz studies at MSU and hopscotching through the Midwest for a series of CD release gigs. He dotes on his 4-month-old daughter, Nefeli, so fondly that his colleague, trumpeter Etienne Charles, has a new Diego imitation. He puts on an excited grin and points to an iPhone.

The burst of music making comes as a relief to Rivera, who wasn’t sure for a minute that his life’s passion would survive the coos of his baby girl.

Two days after Nefeli (named after a cloud Zeus turned into a goddess) was born in early June, Rivera went straight from the maternity ward to the East Lansing Jazz Festival to play with the Professors and the Lansing Symphony Big Band. Immediately afterwards, he rushed back to the hospital with the plastic bracelet still on his wrist.

Otherwise, Rivera’s horn sat in its case all May and most of that summer, a thing that hadn’t happened in over 15 years.

“Every time I have  played since then has been an absolute joy,” he said.” I know that in my heart of hearts, I love being a musician.”

“My future looked completely different,” he said. “My priorities changed completely. Everything just became about family.”

Something else that Diego has said is something I think I can take to heart.

“Every time you go around the cycle you listen to something with a little bit more information, a more informed ear, “This does not necessarily lead me anywhere,” he said. “It just keeps me coming back.” The trick, he said, is to get smarter every time it goes around, with music or life experience.





When I regained consciousness after several hours that will be forever lost to me, I was in the company of my family. I was confused, yet their presence brought me calm. I regained my ability to hope and will forever be thankful for the soft landing that their love provided me.

Diego Rivera , the muralist, considered the family of man his family. He used his art to give a voice to the part of the family who is often asked to keep their silence. This is good.

Diego Rivera, the musician and friend, knows that his family is waiting for him after each gig. This is really good.


I think, at this moment, that I will get a lot out of listening to Diego’s sax express his love for his family.

John Osler









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September 11, 2017




Detroit, Michigan is a northern city with definite seasons. We have a long winter followed by a brief moment when we get  warm weather interspersed with snow and chilly winds. We call this season spring. When we feel it is safe to turn the furnace off we are often treated to a pleasant summer, which on good years includes the month of September.


The first week of September brings with it new expectations and new challenges. We begin the month with Labor Day celebrations to unwind after our summer vacations as we enter into a brief period of transition.


This September we will have 22 days of summer left before we begin an expected beautiful Michigan autumn. We will send our children back to school where they can look out the window at the sun coming through fully leafed trees.


For the rest of us it means putting on our closeted hard shoes and going back to work. This is true for musicians who are asked to play at festivals throughout the Labor Day weekend.




The Detroit Jazz Festival it is both a great gig and for many it is also like returning to school. It offers a chance for us to become  re-energized for our long indoor season. This year at the festival I kept running into jazz artists going from venue to venue, all the time chatting each other up on their way to hear the music. These working professionals were in a way going to school. There is so much to be learned from listening to this carefully curated diverse mix of jazz. Few of those attending missed this opportunity.








The Detroit Jazz Festival deliberately throws diverse artists together with programs like the Untitled Series and the Hometown Legacy Series. Leading up to the festival the word diversity kept coming up in articles about the gathering. Sure enough, diversity was all over the place, both in the faces and in the music.






I had a chance to watch visiting jazz photographers like Tak Tokiwa from Yokohama, Japan and Tony Graves from New Jersey along with Detroiter Ara Howrani in action.




The festival is one of music’s greatest cauldrons of learning. It is the ultimate outdoor classroom.







Going back to school gives one a chance to renew friendships and catch up on news.






Every day we have things placed in our way that we can learn from. For jazz musicians it is essential for them to continue to learn and grow. To feed this growth artists need new exposures and experiences. The Detroit Jazz Festival gives artists a change to exchange ideas and develop new collaborations. At the festival we could see this happen all around us.










Following all the scheduled jazz in downtown Detroit the music doesn’t stop. For the dedicated student the music continues with planned and improvised jam sessions.


Here is what Detroit’s great jazz pianist and educator, Scott Gwinnell has written about these sessions.


“The jam session is integral in the history of jazz and jazz-education. For over a hundred years this has been the training ground for young musicians to share ideas. The jam session brings out the competitive nature in us but also serves as the social backdrop. Musicians understand that a key part of their development in jazz is to understand the jam session codes of conduct. If a jazz musician can survive the night, playing different tunes in strange keys, difficult tempos, interacting sometimes with virtual strangers, they belong to an elite club that speaks a language that only jazz musicians understand. This experience is impossible to replicate in the structure of a classroom; there are too many variables. It only works in a club, in front of an audience, in a respected jazz venue that serves as a musical beacon.
In an ideal setting, both experienced musicians and young musicians mingle socially and musically. Detroit offers the combination of a thriving professional scene and many colleges and high schools. It is critical in a young jazz musician’s training to receive a “bandstand education”.
People give Charlie Parker credit for creating bebop, but all of the insiders know that even though he had the initial seed, it was a group project, refined at jam sessions like Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem. At Minton’s Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Kenny Clarke and others all experimented to create the music that jazz musicians revere.”





Part of the crowd on any day will be nicely dressed young musicians milling about and sharing their youthful enthusiasm with the rest of us. These student artists from our universities and high schools continue to impress with early day performances on the big stages.


After their performances they generally don’t go home with their proud parents. They become part of the knowledgeable crowd and enjoy this festival of jazz,












There is always more to be learned, so thanks to all whose who will now begin planning  next year’s festival.


John Osler





September 13,  14





Shahida has that warmth in her voice that puts all your troubles to rest. This will allow you to concentrate on the stories that she has selected to tell us this week.


September 15, 16





Emmett Cohen is a not to be missed talent. He is a jazz pianist and composer and  has emerged as one of his generation’s pivotal figures in music.  Downbeat observed that his “nimble touch, measured stride and warm harmonic vocabulary indicate he’s above any convoluted technical showmanship.”  In the same spirit, Cohen himself has noted that playing jazz is “about communicating the deepest level of humanity and individuality; it’s essentially about connections,” both among musicians and with audiences.  Possessing a fluid technique, an innovative tonal palette, and an expansive repertoire, Cohen plays with the command of a seasoned veteran and the passion of an artist fully devoted to his medium.His signature professional undertaking is the “Masters Legacy Series,” a celebratory set of recordings and interviews honoring legendary jazz musicians.




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September 5, 2017




Every year I think that the new jazz year starts with the Tuesday following Labor Day. The previous jazz year wraps up as I walk out of Hart Plaza, turn around and regretfully say goodbye to the Detroit Jazz Festival. Although this year the threat of a serious thunder storm ended the festival prematurely at 5PM, this year’s festival was one of the most successful according to the official international smile meter.



The festival is appropriately held on Labor Day weekend. However, metropolitan Detroit doesn’t take that weekend off. Everyone has a venue to go to and they are all  terrific. There is little reason to go out of town, with the absolute jewel being the Detroit Jazz Festival, where our community puts its soul on display. Every year we show off what we do best, exposing the roots of our music, pain, shame, joy, resilience, cleverness and a lot of kindness. For some reason the 2017 festival added some extra zest to its jazz. It seems as though we always get more than the planners planned . There was again something palpably hopeful in the air.  The crowd got it and showed their appreciation. The musicians caught the fans’ vibes and used them. The fans knew that something beautiful was going on.







During a lot of the sets something happens that makes this festival unique. The crowd sitting on hard concrete seats become one with musicians sitting in their more comfortable chairs. They start to move together, everyone swaying, clapping with subtle foot taps all of this movement synced to the music. I am often aware of the powerful connection between the artists and a Detroit audience.








There is something special when we find beauty in familiar and unexpected places, like the flowers that insist on coming up in the cracks in our sidewalks.  Thank you to all the great musicians for coming back and reminding us why you do come back. Thanks to all the staff and the volunteers who are often too busy to enjoy their own efforts.










Hopefully some city planners might have wandered in amidst this four day event held right in the middle of downtown. This is an event which takes the assets that exist in the city and shares these assets among a diverse and deserving following. Downtown Detroit glows with mutual respect. The planners will see examples of renewal happening  stage after stage and bands taking a solid foundation and building on it. It’s a pretty good model for our future growth.






After the crew from the Dirty Dog wraps up the tent at the Detroit Jazz Festival on Monday, they will  go back to work making the coming jazz year the best jazz year ever.










There will jazz at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café following the festival. It is fitting that Steve Wood and Carl Cafagna, a couple of Detroit’s finest artists, will kick off this new year of Detroit jazz at the Dirty Dog.





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August 28, 2017


Back in the day when hard work was celebrated,  Detroit had a grand Labor Day parade with stirring speeches. Detroit had plenty of hard work that needed to be done. The ones that did the hard work were appreciated, were well paid and were ensured a good retirement. They helped win a war and became part of America’s vibrant middle class. They worked hard and they played hard. They took time to dine and dance and that meant that music was needed which would match the spirit and vitality of the city’s residents.. Detroit attracted musicians into a growing market, and Detroit became  a great town for jazz. It still is, but it hasn’t been easy.


When the jobs disappeared so did the dancing, and and many of our jazz  musicians left for greener pastures. Enough stayed and passed on the tradition, so that today Detroit continues to have a thriving jazz community.


In 2017 we seem to have less reason to celebrate the value of hard work. Today when one Googles Labor Day weekend events in Detroit, our traditional Labor Day parades are seldom mentioned. There are plenty of parades and speeches, but there seem to be more events that celebrate the good life that comes from working. There are fewer that celebrate hard work and hard workers.


The Detroit Jazz Festival celebrates the tradition of hard work, and our ability to enjoy life after working hours is still honored by the festival.






A community of like spirits will gather to celebrate good fellowship.






Now in its 38th year, the festival will take place from Hart Plaza to Campus Martius in downtown Detroit. After all these years it remains an authentic jazz event.


Certainly what we are used to hearing at the festival is a robust explosion of appreciation of life with all its hardships and joys. In Martin Luther King’s words, “Jazz speaks for life”.  It is what you would expect from Detroit and its musical heritage.


This year Festival Director Chris Collins has put together a most intriguing lineup. Chris can’t resist a challenge, as he feels that: “Jazz as an art form is not only sophisticated and intelligent, but it also speaks to the organic roots of every human being, every American, every Detroiter.”


This year Chris has scheduled  Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Danilo Pérez:, Benny Golson, Regina Carter, Stanley Clarke, Kamasi Washington and so many more amazingly talented  artists who understand his vision. They will bring their magic to Hart Plaza.







People know that Detroit’s festival is special. From all over the world jazz lovers circle the date of the Detroit Jazz Festival. Those that come find jazz of great intelligence, energy and purity. There is little hype and  a lot of music. Visitors learn that Detroit can throw a festival, and will again show its ability to do something right. This year’s festival will  attract upwards of 750,000 people,  who will leave refreshed and ready to spread the good word about Detroit.


Throughout the year and without much fanfare the Detroit Jazz Festival offers educational activities for adults and children, late-night jam sessions, rare opportunities to meet the artists and much more. And it’s all FREE.


Then for four days at the end of each summer, the best of Detroit can be experienced in our downtown. The world’s most knowledgeable group of jazz fans will be treated to great jazz. Nothing is done all year that doesn’t have these fans in mind.  Crowds will drift from venue to venue, while behind the public view crews will be taking care of all the details that that will make the 2017 Detroit Jazz Festival a glorious success.  All the hard work and planning will pay off.












Gretchen Valade is Detroit jazz’s guardian angel. She is also someone who defends her right to do things well. Her love of music and food means that Detroit’s jazz festival is always at the highest level.


She gets things done with grace and authority. The festival is the result of the right people doing their best to provide Detroit music lovers the best free jazz festival in the world.  Gretchen continues to think ahead of many of us and doesn’t skip out on the job.


How lucky for us that it was someone of Gretchen’s integrity who took charge.  She was determined to keep the festival on course as the people’s festival, a festival for those who work hard and understand hard work. These are folks ready to show their appreciation for good music. Today it remains authentic and free for all to enjoy. It reflects the best side of Detroit’s character.




The festival brings together so many accomplished musicians with different stories to tell and ways of telling them.  This community of like spirits gathers annually to celebrate the music and good fellowship.


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Chef Andre Nemanis


Why would the smart gang at the Dirty Dog think of moving the operation? The answer is: they are going to take the operation to where the best jazz in town will be playing. The Dirty Dog is setting up its operation in downtown Detroit, right in the middle of the Detroit Jazz Festival.  At the Dirty Dog tent all the staff and the chefs will be rolling up their sleeves to provide a shady place complete with the sound of the music, the smell of  barbecue, a smiling staff and a view of the stage.


The Dirty Dog Jazz Café  food tent is one of the favorite gathering spots at the Detroit Jazz Festival.  It doesn’t get much better than this for good food, prompt service and great jazz, and all amidst the smiles of friends.




The scent of Dirty Dog barbecue will waft its way up Woodward Avenue drawing us in for some chow and a beverage.





The Detroit Jazz Festival will give the jazz musicians and Detroiters a chance to be part of something special. This could  be the time and place where jazz history will be made.  The artists are encouraged to flood the air with improvisation and exploration.  With so much good stuff going on, trying not to miss a moment will be the challenge. We are so lucky it is in our town.

John Osler



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August 21, 2017




We expect so much of August.


All winter long we think of August and thawing out. August is the time we like to  join the family for an adventure, along with every one else. In France the whole country seems to take August off. August is usually a month when things shut down, slow down or just don’t seem important. Congress usually sneaks off on a month long recess, and nobody misses them. These are the lazy days of summer, but it often requires hectic work to maneuver the crowd in the family car and at the overbooked and seasonally overpriced  motel. Oh well, the kids will get a break from the back to school ads in the morning paper.





I am a lucky guy. Every week I have the opportunity to leave a challenging world, enter the Dirty Dog Jazz Café and get lost in the music. Everyone needs a place like this and not all are as fortunate as I am. Sometimes I get to take a longer break from the things outside my control.


Every summer I take a break from the sounds of power mowers, TV, my aging, faltering and frustrating computer, traffic and political noise, I spend as much time as I can in an environment where you have to listen carefully to hear the sound of an eagle’s wings as it flies overhead. A place where one can make peace with oneself and recharge ones’ good feelings about our world.



Before I left for vacation a couple of friends at the Dirty Dog asked if I would bring back photos of the remote place that I was escaping to. Here is where we go, and at the bottom of the page are a whole bunch of the threatened vacation photos.





Lake Saganaga lies both in the US and Canada. The American side is completely in the well known Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The north shore is all part of Quetico Provincial Park, another wilderness park where no motors or cabins are allowed. The rest of the lake is in Canada’s Verendrye Provincial Park where there have been no new properties offered since the 1950s. It was an affordable place when six friends had a chance to buy an existing property. It has changed very little in since then.


Lake Saganaga  is one of many lakes that are part of the Precambrian Shield that was formed by violent volcanic uplift and then vigorous erosion. Glacier movement during the ice age scraped off all the top soil revealing  some of the world’s oldest exposed rock  -almost 2.7 billions years old. It also tumbled large pieces of very heavy rock off the islands that they formed. They remain today in the place where this force placed them. Many are just under water where  I can run our boat over them and seriously damage the outboard motor. This lake has a history. Life can be found in the form of fossils of algae that date to 2 billion years old. We still can find cedar trees that are figured to be 700 to 1100 years old surviving in the shallow soil that exists today. There are underground fungus that could be 1500 years old. This is a raw place that takes patience and shrewd planning to survive.






Lake Saganaga has been a destination for our family along with a family of close friends  for forty seven years. How the heck we  have pulled this off is still a mystery to me. The first time that I came to this lake it was in October to fish with some friends who grew up near Duluth. They didn’t seem to notice that it was 33 degrees and raining. I spent a whole lot of my time bobbing in the boat trying to straighten out a backlash on my fishing reel and watching the cold rain drip off my nose. Once inside the warm cabin with the smell of fresh fish frying and then seeing the evening display of stars and northern lights I figured I could be happy here. The two  families  have shared our summer vacations in a place that is accessible only by boat and has no electricity, no TV, no phones, no internet., no running water or indoor plumbing. We have traded these luxuries in for a place where one can sit in silence, witness beauty, engage in uninterrupted conversation, dismiss worldly concerns and have a private library up the path in the woods.


It is the area where Hamms Beer commercials were shot years ago  to illustrate “The land of sky blue waters.” I think it is beautiful even though it is just grey rocks  covered with  stunted trees desperately trying to survive in the shallow soil. Years ago all the good soil was delivered to Iowa and the Midwest by a massive ice field. It is not a grandiose nor majestic landscape. It demands reverence because everywhere you look is evidence of nature’s ability to adapt. It is what things can look like in the absence of man.





Nature has thrown violent thunderstorms, forest fires and wind shearing fronts at the islands trees. Most bend and those that crack become soil for future trees and a home for an abundance of insects. After all the time that I have spent on this island, I still have daily discoveries of small things that I never noticed before. Nature has had billions of years preparing this place for me. Things in nature make the necessary changes to survive. I can’t help but make the comparison that nature has the freedom to improvise much as the jazz musicians at the Dog have been given this freedom. When we take the time to watch this happen , it can be pretty entertaining.






“The Island” is how our family refers to our destination.


I take a 16 hours car ride to get to the Island. The island is a great place to be, especially on a long summer day. The island is where I have learned to solve some problems using only with what is available, far from stores and tutorials. It is where I visit my deepest thoughts. It is where  the wind and the weather seem most  important to us as we start each day.  We are acutely dependent on their whims. Everything around us has remained little changed since the ice age, yet we are aware of virtually everything evolving around us  throughout every day. A thousand little moments of wonder fill the days.

It is  hard to capture this place with still photography. It is the same as trying to explain a great jazz set with a photo of a guy playing his horn.


In addition to my digital photos, here are a couple of moments that have stuck in my mind.

They made me think of how nature composes a day for us, a day full of varying rhythms and plenty of improvising.

When  I sit and look out at the water while working at a task and take a moment to glance around,  I am reminded that I am just a visitor.

A shadow of a bird passes across the rocks and out of the corner of my eye I catch a glimpse of an eagle. We are constantly treated with new bird calls and behavior.The loons dive from view when they sense there is a camera focused on them, while the Canada jay will eat bread from your hand and pose for its picture, They both have their reasons for their approach towards man.



Small animals are generally silent except for the squirrels who seem always to be in an irritated state and chirp out their dissatisfaction with having so much to do. Everything but the rocks are on the move, and they haven’t moved since the Ice Age.

When I was sitting and writing this I heard a noise on the cabin porch’s roof. Looking out through the screen by the roof I saw a red squirrel lean over the edge and swipe several times at a hornet’s nest, sending the nest and its citizens flying. The squirrel high-tailed it out of there leaving a swarm of newly homeless mean spirited yellow jackets milling around our porch door.




I can hear the steady beat of the lapping water with a back beat of whack,whack,whack from a seriously large pileated woodpecker at work accompanied by the melodic sound of the wind through pine needles. This is interrupted by the sound of the screen door closing followed by shouts and whoops of young grandchildren followed by an adult voice yelling “Don’t slam the door.” obviously forgetting the joy of being young.


Sitting on the cabin’s screen porch I can be completely entertained by the sky over the water. It is raining heavily here while there is sunshine on the lake in the west. The lake is a rich dark gray color with the sun making straight bright horizontal white stripes quickly advancing towards me. Soon the Island will have a rainbow over it as the western sun pours through the rain. I will be under the rainbow but because it is raining I probably wont go out in the boat and look back at the rainbow. It is a shame that we never know when we are under the rainbow. I think most jazz musicians would have the instinct to get in the boat, witness the rainbow and then play it for us.

John Osler





AUGUST 23 _ 24








AUGUST 25 – 26














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August 14, 2017




I have been away for the last month in a quiet and beautiful environment and have had time to think about a lot of things.  My time was winding down and my thoughts turned to what I can look forward to when I returned to Detroit. One of the things that made me smile was thinking about what my first encounter with my friend, Gretchen Valade would be like. She will probably say “where you been? you missed some good music!” She will then smile which is her way of saying it is good to have you back. Gretchen is a friend and is one of the reasons Detroit is a good place to return to.












GRETCHEN VALADE is honest, straight forward, speaks her mind and follows through on her promises.


That is probably why most Detroiters, especially jazz musicians, feel that they  have a good friend in Gretchen Valade. They are right. She has been a good friend to Detroit and its music.




We all have memories of childhood gifts. Some gifts we played with to their extinction, some we hugged, a few we carefully preserved, and others we cherished until the next great gift came along. Later in life our focus became more on giving gifts. This is the greatest gift.


It is a shame when we lose the joy of receiving gifts. Sometimes we just don’t recognize them. One such gift is Gretchen’s gift to us of the Dirty Dog Jazz Café. Many times I have watched customers come up to Gretchen Valade and thank her for having given them such a great experience. The musicians playing the Dog certainly recognize and acknowledge the treasure we have in Gretchen and her passion for Detroit and its music.


The next time you come to the Dirty Dog Jazz Café you will begin to understand the gift Gretchen Valade has given us. She has created a warm place to hear great jazz and be served with grace. She has honored the artists with four day gigs and the respect they deserve. The joy on the patron’s faces  is a reflection of her generous heart




It was 2008 and the world was in the grip of a serious recession. There were foreclosures and bankruptcies including Detroit’s auto industry. We all felt the downward pull. I went to a place that has always been therapeutic. I went to a local jazz club. It was a new, somewhat upscale place, called the Dirty Dog Jazz Café. I sat at the bar and at some point started talking  to Carl, the club’s bartender and therapist.




We talked about art and jazz. I asked if it would be OK to photograph the artists for reference for future painting. He pointed to a bar stool and told me to sit there during the first set on a Wednesday night. I did as I was instructed. Before the band started up Carl introduced me to a handsome lady sitting next to me. That was how I met Gretchen Valade the owner and  proprietress of the Dirty Dog, a genuinely classy person, the guardian angel to many and the savior of Detroit’s jazz at its darkest hour. It turns out I can be added to the list of those who have benefited from Gretchen’s big heart.







Detroit is a city that prides itself on being resilient. We are the comeback city. We get knocked down, and we get back up. True enough, but not that simple. We need some help sometimes. We look for a champion for Detroit to appear. Sometimes we get lucky and one of our own steps up. They tell us we count and that we are special. They get strong when the weak walk away.


In 2005 a champion appeared. Gretchen Valade said  “PHOOEY” to the people that thought Detroit was dying. She saw the vibrant talent in the Detroit jazz community and she knew that the people of Detroit have their hopes permanently entangled in the city’s music. The music is of the city and it remains deep in the city’s DNA. The people still moved to the music, and the music hadn’t stopped. The machines may have slowed down, shop doors may have closed, politicians may have gone to jail. Meanwhile many leaders were throwing up their hands and walking away. The music was still really good, and Gretchen knew that something had to be done. And she did something. Detroit’s symbol of excellence, the Detroit Jazz Festival, was in trouble. As soon as Gretchen found out she set out to do what was necessary to keep it going. She was all over this task. How lucky that it was someone of Gretchen’s integrity who took charge.  She was determined to keep the event, Detroit’s event. Today it remains free for all to enjoy and reflects the best side of Detroit’s character.


People know that Detroit’s festival is special. From all over the world jazz lovers circle the date of Detroit’s jazz festival. Those that come find jazz of great intelligence, energy and purity. There is little hype and  a lot of music. Visitors learn that Detroit can throw a festival. We get the credit for doing something right. This year’s festival will run from Sept 1 – Sept 4 and will attract upwards of 750,000 people and bring in an estimated $90 million to our area.




Taking credit is not something Detroit is very good at doing. Gretchen has always shunned deserved attention for her good deeds. It is contagious.


This week guitarist Spencer Barefield will be at the Dirty Dog. Spencer has had a rich and acclaimed musical life and has a lot of stories to tell. When he plays the Dirty Dog Jazz Café he will come on stage quietly and speak mostly with his guitar, giving the audience what they came for. He probably will not promote his accomplishments. Mutual respect will fill the room along with some great music. This will please Gretchen.


John Osler









This week Spencer Barefield will  show up at the Dog and go to work. He is another Detroit artist with a long list of credits, who is eager to give his very best to the appreciative crowd that gathers at this club. Spenser will deserve and will accept applause.




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August 8, 2017









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July 31, 2017




July is here and we have plenty to celebrate in Michigan . Crops planted this spring will be ripe and ready to eat. We will be able to sample some music outdoors on warm summer evenings, and music concerts and festivals will abound.





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






It is the start of our local blueberry season. I was surprised to see the slogan Pure Michigan  pasted on the carton of berries.. The State of Michigan has for along time run commercials  that highlight the natural beauty of Michigan. Michigan is an easy sell with its great and small pristine lakes carved out by ancient glaciers. These same glaciers also brought down rich soil from Canada leaving fertile flat farmland and friendly small towns. Driving north the landscape changes to  rolling hills and forests. This glorious state has inspired an appropriate ad theme,




Here is Michigan’s idea for promoting the state.


Here is Louisiana idea for promoting its state.






Louisiana gets us excited by using its unique music.


New Orleans and Detroit are two of the greatest musical destinations in the world. New Orleans never fails to use its music to lure the world to visit the city. They always seem proud of their storied tradition. I believe that Detroit should think of incorporating one of its greatest assets, the rich music scene, into all of their promotions. We draw millions of visitors to our music festivals because the world wants to know what authentic new music Detroit has come up with.  We need to think about promoting our city with a product that already exists – our music.


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














I have some space where I can paint and store my work.. It is  a magical space above Vivios Restaurant in  Eastern Market. The space is only accessible by going to the third floor of Devries Cheese Shop and then passing through Luis Resto’s music loft. Luis could be anywhere, but chooses to create his art in the top floor of this very old building. He is here because of the sound he gets in this place with its high ceiling and  wood trusses. I would also extend to him the International Award for being a genuinely nice guy. Luis is exceptionally generous with his time, except when it is his time to create some music. He goes deep into his creative cocoon  and is completely unaware of anything or anyone around him. I know to walk quietly through his space and not disturb him when he is lost in his music. He will never look up. His concentration on his craft is inspiring to other artists.


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On Saturdays when he is in town he opens up his loft to allow musicians and shoppers at Devries Cheese Shop to wander in. The public is welcome. Many folks wander in not knowing Luis and not really expecting what will likely happen next. If they choose to grab an instrument or a mike and join in, Luis will listen to their contribution and go with it. This is who Luis is: a sound sponge. Luis really listens. Luis is very honest when he talks about how important these encounters are with these  Saturday intruders. He gets so much out of the diverse approaches to music from fellow professionals to kids banging on the drum set. He will listen, file it and maybe use it in his next tune.


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In his loft Luis is inspired by all who enter. Here is a video of Luis and a new young friend reacting to each other. Luis can turn everything into music. These two young souls danced and made music together



This is another  reason to stay in town this July.




TAD WEED Pianist, educator, and  composer


“Pianist Tad Weed displays a very rare ability to cross over from dashing bop lines to rich impressions, he has the bases covered, from funky blues to the border of the avant-garde.”

-Leonard Feather

What better way to celebrate July in Michigan than to come out to the Dirty Dog to hear a Detroit original, Tad Weed. Tad will swing into the Dirty Dog Jazz Café this coming week.  He has enormous talent that he uses with grace.

We have a lot to be thankful for, living in such a beautiful and vibrant state in the Month of July. Pure joy.


John Osler









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July 24, 2017




Looking at a healthy plant or tree we don’t always see their roots. Only when you try and uproot a tree or pick a flower do you realize how powerful the connection there is between any  plant and its roots.


For decades Detroiters have been buoyed up by the great  artists who have hung around and shared their gifts with their neighbors. They have kept our spirit and blood moving. Maybe it is because there has been  a constant source of opportunity for our young musicians  in our churches. It is an inspiration that continues all their lives. Our young artists have early exposure to stories of enduring adversity and good people rising to challenges. Detroit’s ability to keep moving on shows up in the power of the  music we hear today. We can listen to the rich story telling and the loyalty to the beat when we sit down for an evening of jazz. Detroit’s roots are many and go deep.


For all of my life I have been puzzled by the brave passivity of those under siege. People who can’t seem to be heard yet remain quiet and calm. That is until they speak. This makes their message so powerful when it comes out . They challenge violence with gentleness and tragedy with forgiving. Often it is the result of the cumulative experiences and messages that are deeply embedded in the heart of generations of church goers. We hear it in the music.


In a New Yorker article about the tragic shooting at Mother Emanuel Methodist Church in Charleston, by David Remnick,  James Campbell, a ninety year old Charleston citizen told David:


“That memory is almost genetic, the DNA of the community, and I don’t think it manifests itself in rage. it manifests itself in the resolute patience of a long-suffering people. And their determination is expressed through the permanency of the church. That may wear thin with some of the younger people, but it will be a while before you see it change.”




The permanency of churches is dependent on the next generation, as is the future of jazz. The root for Detroit’s most important music has always been jazz and the soil that jazz has sprung from has certainly been enriched by the our churches. Part of the message from our churches has been to persevere and to teach the next guys. This continues to happen.


When Detroit jazz fans leaf through my photos in the book Detroit Jazz I hear a constant “Oh, they go to/play at my church”.   This tipped me off that the church is still an important catalyst in keeping the music on track for some time.







This week Alvin Waddles brings his many talents into the Dirty Dog for, thankfully, four nights of music. This group will convince you that the local music hasn’t wavered  in giving us  hard driving, free swinging music that we know is true to its roots.


Alvin will swing into the Dirty Dog Jazz Café this week. Alvin in old English means elf friend, making Alvin’s parents a little prophetic. Alvin does have an elfin twinkle in his eye when he performs. He has enormous talent that he uses with grace. For many Detroiters he is the friendly face of jazz.


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


Alvin is in demand as much for his voice as his explosive piano. Alvin has never stopped expanding his horizons. He has brought his unique gifts to many diverse Detroit events and organizations including The Detroit Jazz Festival, The Detroit Opera House, Detroit Music Hall, Ann Arbor and Detroit schools, Hartford Memorial Baptist Church. New Bethel Church, Hope United Methodist Church, the New Millennium Choral, the Fats Waller Revue, numerous theatrical productions and wherever else a vibrant artist was needed.


In 2003 Alvin received the Detroit Musician’s Association award for excellence. He has also been a soloist and featured artist around the world playing gigs in Barbados, Beijing, Paris, Barcelona and Ghana, West Africa.






Next month Detroit’s Chris Codish will be featured on the Hammond B3 organ. On August 23 and August 24 he will likely bring his Hammond with him, which isn’t an easy task. It is heavy and clumsy looking. does make a difference. Chris will always be true to the music, which makes him a busy guy, but he still has had time on each Sunday for over 18 years to be the organist/keyboardist at the God Land Unity Church in Detroit. Chris’ commitment is a familiar story in Detroit’s music community. Chris has serious roots in the music and the arts.


Here are some quotes from Chris:


“I have nothing against technique and dexterity, I’m always working on gaining more myself and I acknowledge and appreciate the time and dedication it takes to play fast tempos, passages, etc. But PLEASE don’t sacrifice emotion, feeling, expression and interaction in the pursuit of being “the baddest cat.” It’s an empty goal. Make music that moves people and gives them something they “need” even if they don’t know it.”


” I was able to play two really fine Steinway pianos at both Cliff Bell’s and at the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe. I can hear the difference. Time and time again it seems that the people who I really enjoy listening to are also very genuine, diversely educated, warm and engaging and this often comes through in their music and even beyond that in their personal presence. You could say I enjoy those who have cultivated their human side and allow it to permeate their music.”


“The best improvisers, performers and entertainers are those who actually take the music somewhere and thereby bring the band and the audience with them.”


“That’s what I believe we need to be striving for as musicians and performers. Engaging the music, your band members, the audience, and the space you’re in at the moment. Can you hear the difference? Have you listened?”


Come on out to the Dirty Dog this week and you will hear the difference. It’s in the roots.

John Osler











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July 17, 2017





Jazz is a music that rose out of conditions that could have brought us some pretty dreary dirges. Instead, because of the spirit of those who pioneered jazz it has become probably our most uplifting music.  Even the blues leave you feeling good. I remember listening to the message on many Saturday nights that “The blues is all right.” It is certainly true that this is music that can lift your spirit and make you smile. Every year at this time we celebrate this fact by proclaiming this coming week as SMILE WEEK.






If, when asked, “How is your day going?’, and  your answer is, ” I’ve had better days.”, maybe you should stop by the Dirty Dog. Bring your smile. We are celebrating SMILE WEEK all week at the Dirty Dog. The band and the staff have been practicing good nature expressions and broad approving grins


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 year’s Four Freshmen’s stint celebrating smile week.


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 smile week.


67 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 with some good food, great jazz and a lot of smiles.


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





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ALVIN WADDLES Champion smiler


Next  week we will have four days of of  smile conditioning exercises when Alvin Waddles brings his team of joy filled trainers to the Dirty Dog Jazz Club.  You will notice all the joyous faces of not only the audience but also the band. The Dirty Dog will keep the air conditioning on to counter the warm feelings  you get as you watch Alvin and his band  have such a good time on the job.


All the smiling will stretch your jaw muscles making it easier to tackle the good sized portion of Dirty Dog cuisine.


John Osler










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Each week the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe hosts live performances from the greatest jazz musicians across the country.