Most often we think of art as something created by a lone individual working far away from the social whirl. Painters, sculptors, poets and novelists almost always work alone. Their art is their own very personal creative expression. We reach inside ourselves to find the stories we want to tell. Sometimes when we are still enough we can bring back some good memories to use.
Newborns respond to light and to sounds. They hear the playful voices of their brothers and sisters and the calming words while being rocked in their grandparents’ arms. The rhythms of life surround them from the honking of horns to the rustle of leaves. Infants respond to all sounds and sights We all continue to be surrounded by music and images the rest of our lives. First from our parents’ radios and then ours. As we get out and gain new experiences we begin to listen differently. We later learn to filter information. There will be some other people’s sounds or visuals that bring back our personal memories. Sometimes this leads to collaborative art. Eventually we find ourselves playing with friends.
PARTNERING IN JAZZ
Jazz musicians are required to spend countless hours practising. When they get good enough they will spend beaucoup hours listening to masters, learning tunes and studying charts. They will spend some time in classes but most of a young jazz artist’s musical life will be spent alone. At some point artists have to play with other artists and they will have to partner up. As any married person knows this is a serious step.
RALPHE ARMSTRONG AND FRIENDS
Two weeks ago two partnerships brought their collaborations to the Dirty Dog. Ralphe Armstrong went first with his favorite sidekicks followed by the recent teaming of guitarists Diego Figueredo and Stanley Jordan. The common denominator was the visible joy expressed by all the players and the audiences’ appreciation at being treated to witness extreme teamwork.
Ralph Armstrong travels a lot. When he is in town this pretty famous bassist gathers his regulars and plays some jazz at his favorite jazz club, the Dirty Dog. Ralphe after getting the gig will get Alex Colista. Gayelynn McKinney and Gerald Gibbs on the phone and enlist them for his band.
Detroit is full of first call professional jazz musicians who have shared the stage with Ralphe. Yet Ralphe remains loyal to his musical partners and survivors of Ralphe’s witty remarks.
DIEGO AND STANLEY
Two of the worlds most significant guitarists have decided to join their talents. Diego Figueredo and Stanley Jordan both play guitar and both can play jazz. That is about it as far as their similarities go. They hold and finger their guitars as differently as two two handed people can hold a guitar. When they played the Dog they seemed to stare at each other with eyes that were asking “how the heck are you doing that?”. Diego and Stanley have mastered the unique techniques that they have developed. They are now at work finding common ground and mutual respect. What a partnership. What great sets of jazz.
SIDE BY SIDE
At the Dirty Dog we often see young musicians playing alongside seasoned players. Ralphe Armstrong is always pointing out saxophonist Alex Calista’s youth. Freddy Cole has had a warm collaboration with a younger guitarist Randy Napoleon from Ann Arbor. I remember the bond between a young Marcus Elliot from Milford, Michigan when he played with his friend the late and great Marcus Belgrave from Chester, Pennsylvania. Three generations separated the two Marcus. Their diverse cultures just made the music better. They always played to a room packed with an enthusiastic and appreciative audience. Mutual respect and the common language of jazz makes this possible.
Lester Young and Billie Holiday
Jazz has brought together countless numbers of successful musical partnerships. Louis Armstrong and King Oliver, saxophonist Lester Young and jazz singer Billie Holiday etc etc. So much of our music has been the result of collaborations that have turned into friendships.
I have always liked this story I read some time ago about saxophonist Phil Woods. When Phil was a kid of 22 he walked into a New York bar to find Charlie Parker playing a baritone sax. Woods offered to lend him his alto, and the two sat side by side as Parker played. Then, Parker handed the instrument back to him and asked him to take a solo. After the song Parker was heard to say, “Sounds real good, Phil”. The story suggested that maybe the ghost of Bird continued to sit next to Woods when he played and whispered “Sounds real good, cats.”
Jazz with its group improvisations and importance of listening to each other will always bring people together. The great gift of friendship is just a bonus.
COMING THIS WEEK TO THE DIRTY DOG
JULY 10 – JULY 13
Last week’s fireworks will continue as Miles Brown brings a genuine mix of old and new ideas that will keep our spirits flying.