CARING FOR OTHERS
The friendliest place I know is having a birthday.
February 13, 2008 – February 13, 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.
THE STORY OF THE DIRTY DOG JAZZ CAFÉ
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.
DIRTY DOG JAZZ CAFÉ’S FIRST MENU FEBRUARY 13, 2008
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.
THE PRINCIPLES THE PRINCIPALS FOLLOWED
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
The greatest Gretchen “Why not?”‘ was why not put those who make the music and do the good work first in your thoughts. Gretchen and those around her continue to keep “all eyes on everything” so that no need is neglected.
From the start Gretchen chose principle over profit. She took care of the place and the people with equal fervor. Decency, listening, sharing and getting lost in the experience have always been the bulwarks of jazz. Using these strengths the Dirty Dog Jazz Café has lurched, smiled, glowed, jammed and stumbled on becoming possibly the greatest jazz club in the world.