THE DIRTY DOGS
This past Tuesday, June 18, 2019 a new jazz band showed up at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café.
Seven of our best traditional jazz artists were assembled by drummer Pete Siers as a show of gratitude for one of jazz ‘s greatest supporters, Gretchen Valade. For one night Gretchen was treated to the music that brought back fond memories of her first introduction to jazz while a student in New York. The band named itself ” The Dirty Dogs”.
The music that they played is seldom heard today in its original form. It is, however, part of our musical heritage and its influence can be heard in all the music where you find yourself tapping your feet and feeling an urge to clap your hands. On Tuesday night I heard some whoops and noticed some smiles on faces of people who before the session proclaimed that traditonal jazz wasn’t their cup of tea. Gretchen kept her barstool facing the band through the whole set. The musicians tended to play in Gretchen’s direction.
Gretchen Valade has supported all jazz artists and their explorations into new forms. Sometimes is is good to get a shot of good time music and remember how it all got started. For Gretchen it was the 1940s and the country was alive with celebratory music. Following WWII we were racing to redefine ourselves, but first we took a little time to wallow in our good fortune. We were relieved to see a.finish to the fighting in Europe and then in the Pacific. We continued to enjoy the snappy tunes and optimistic lyrics that helped keep our spirits up. We listened and danced to jazz that swung and bounced. It felt good.
When the Dirty Dogs finished, the good cheer continued. It was probably the result of the music and the fact that this is music that is usually listened to with a drink in your hand.
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. 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.
This is what Ralphe said about his 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.” I was privileged to shoot the photos for his CD.
Here is a poem that I have used before on being rooted, written by then 12th-grader Joseph Verge who was in the Citywide Poets after-school program run by the Inside Out Literary Arts Project. I think it is worth repeating.
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
RALPHE ARMSTRONG IS AN INTERESTING AND TALENTED GUY
We can get to know Ralphe better by just listening to Ralphe own voice.
Here are some examples of his conversations that can give us some insights into this gifted musician. Here are a couple of interviews with Ralphe.
Here is part of Ralphe’s interview with For Bass Players Only’s Jon Liebman
FBPO: Tell me about your musical upbringing and how you became a bass player.
RALPHE: I started on the bass at the age of 7. Before that, I started on the violin at the age of 5, but I didn’t like the sound it made. I could never get a real good tone out of it. It was always squeaking. So, one Saturday afternoon, I went to see my uncle. His name was Lee Crockett and we called him L.C. We went to his place and he was a real sharp dresser. All the guys back then wore suits and ties. He was just a sharp guy. And he drove a pink Cadillac. He worked for Cadillac Motorcar Company and he had all these new Cadillacs. And he used to give me vanilla ice cream all the time. He lived in this flat down by Wayne State University and back then it was just so nice in Detroit. He had this blonde Kay bass and when I heard the sound of it, it just floored me! It had such a deep tone. It looked like a big violin and, you know, when you’re a little kid, you want the biggest thing you can get because you’re little. And when I heard that sound, Jon, it just tripped me out and I told my dad, I said, “Dad, I want to play the bass! I want to be like Uncle L.C.” I bugged him so much. I used to pull on his pant leg! And finally, he got tired of me bugging him.
My dad was a pretty good craftsman with wood and things like that. He was an artist, too, and a violinist. And he made me a bass. It was a square shape with a round hole like a guitar. He found an old German neck and put it on top of the square body. I think it was made out of pinewood. At first it was too big, so he cut it down so I could play it. And it had an old peg at the bottom. And that’s how I got into the bass.
At first, I played nothing but blues and string music from the ’30s. Then, when I was about 11, my brother had a group called the Eldorados. He had these guys come over with electric instruments and the sounds coming out of them just floored me. Matter of fact, the guy who played the bass had a Gibson bass and he played with his thumb. I was a kid and I’d never seen anyone play like that before. He had a pipe in his mouth and I thought he was playing the tuba or something, but it was a bass! An EB3 or something made like a 335. The sound just floored me. So I bugged my dad again and he went and found me a Framus bass, made in Germany. It had a mahogany neck and was made like a Fender Jazz bass, with a very small neck. And that was my first electric bass.
This one is from an interview Ralphe did with John (Redbird) Fertig for FlyGuitars.
“My uncle Lee Crocket (LC) Armstrong was a bass player. I wanted to be like him. My father tried me on the violin when I was five, but I never liked it. Every time I picked it up it squeaked. My uncle had a big house and drove a Cadillac and I wanted to be like him. I ended up learning the bass. As a matter of fact, he made me a bass when I was 7 years old. He put a German violin neck, bass violin neck, and put it on a square body.
THE WORLDLY AND WORDLY RALPHE ARMSTRONG
Ralphe Armstrong is one of Detroit’s most vocal ambassadors to the world. Ralphe likes people and likes to talk. Fortunately Ralphe is an interesting guy and has a lot to say. Ralphe also does. I happened to notice this Facebook post from Ralphe Armstrong.
“Today I Gave 15 Year Old Cameron Morgan A Brand new Keyboard Given to me By Organ Legend Bobby Wright! Bobby. Heard this young man Play !! And Gave it to me . I went to Buy A Case , Then went to The Dirty Dog To Give it To this CASS TECH Piano prodigy I’m exhausted but this was truly worth it”
This is the remarkable Ralphe Armstrong.
THIS WEEK AT THE DIRTY DOG
June 26, 27
Ralphe Armstrong will make you forget about your woes when he brings his big bass and big heart to the Dirty Dog Jazz Café for two 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 spend some time with a world class musician.
June 28, 29
STANLEY & DIEGO
Stanley Jordan and Diego Fiqueredo will descend on Detroit for two remarkable nights at the Dirty Dog..
These are two of jazz’s most exciting musicians who just happen to both play guitar. It is recommended that you make a reservation as early as possible.