ROOTING FOR DETROIT
I am a blatant fan of Detroit, where I was born, but I pale in my enthusiasm next to one of Detroit’s staunchest advocates, Ralphe Armstrong. Ralphe will certainly mention his love for his town when he takes the stage at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café this week. Ralphe can be, well, glib. He has the gift of gab. It is hard to take his picture without his getting that devilish glint in his eyes. But, when he talks about Detroit up on that stage, it is from the heart. Ralphe is one of many of our home grown talents who are in demand world-wide and have spent a lot of their life on the road. Ralphe has always come home, and when he does he tells us how happy he is to be back.
ROOTED IN DETROIT
What is it that keeps an Internationally renowned artist like Ralphe Armstrong so rooted? Is it his many friends? Perhaps he likes being around so many other great artists. Maybe it is because Detroit is a good place to draw inspiration. Detroit is challenging.That is for sure. We screw up and dig holes for ourselves, but we climb out and we are always interesting.
I believe that Ralphe Armstrong is aware of many of the snarly things growing in the soil of Detroit. He knows of the rocks and weeds that make the flowers struggle to bloom. But bloom they do. The children of Detroit when given patience and opportunity work hard and achieve. They are what Ralphe sees happening when he looks into a student’s eager to learn eyes and it’s what keeps him rooted.
Here is a poem on subject, written by then 12th-grader Joseph Verge who was in the Citywide Poets after-school program run by the Inside Out Literary Arts Project.
In Southwest Detroit Life grows best on the roofs of abandoned buildings. Outsiders look at the graffiti juxtaposed against islands of grass but don’t understand that art and science create wonders.
When I moved near Vernor St. it took me a while to blend in with the community. Like oil paint submerged in water, I always stood out. Maybe I never understood the environment. Learning the culture was like trying to decode the meaning of a Van Gogh painting, except my neighborhood was more like a mosaic of different backgrounds glued together by struggle, to prove that those abandoned buildings aren’t abandoned.
Our city’s hopes live there, like dandelions yawning beneath the sun on Sunday morning. They grow on city roads and in schoolyards, on the surface of children’s minds, in the hearts of people who’ve been left behind by everyone else. But they stand tall, their wild hair blowing seeds of change across the horizon, taking root in places they were told they’d never grow.
My dandelions have been the poets who’ve shown me that weeds can be beautiful in their resilience, that everything planted won’t choke the sunlight out, that just because they get overlooked doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
They learn to adapt, refuse to die quietly beneath the ruin.
Joseph Verge Citywide Poets,
Appropriately, this is what Ralphe said about his latest CD, HOMEBASS, on Mack Avenue Records’ Detroit Music Factory: “This record is dedicated to the people of Detroit, especially to the young people, the young artists, they are truly the spirit of Detroit.”
ROOT, ROOT, ROOT FOR RALPHE
Ralphe Armstrong will make you forget about your shopping woes when he brings his big bass and big heart to the Dirty Dog Jazz Café for four nights this week.
Ralphe Armstrong makes what he does look easy. That is because his dad built a bass for him when he was little, many others encouraged him, and he worked hard. The result is that we now get to root for a world class musician. Come on out this week for a holiday gift from the Dirty Dog.
ANOTHER HOLIDAY GIFT IDEA
For those who like jazz, Detroit or photography please take a look at my book
DETROIT JAZZ Documenting the Legacy of Gretchen Valade
Go to http://detroitjazz.net, Amazon or at the Dirty Dog