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  • Writer's pictureJOHN OSLER'S UPBEAT Admin



If you are looking for the warmth that happens only at family gatherings you might consider dropping in at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café this week. The place is expecting a lot of friendly and familiar faces gathering in a rare display of good fellowship. Two jazz groups will show us what music sounds like when played by people who really like each other. Cans of the magic glue that binds them together will be available.

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 week’s music.


A group of people, usually of the same blood (but do not have to be), who genuinely love, trust, care about, and look out for each other.

 A family of musicians would accurately describe the band Straight Ahead.

This week the band Straight Ahead will be at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café surrounded by friends and family.  Rooted in solid friendships and unchanging common goals they continue to reach new personal and collective highs. I, for one, envy their journey. They will be celebrating being part of a group that was formed in 1987 by assembling some of Detroit’s best musicians who happened to be women, They also were good friends. They certainly have shared talent, purpose, experiences and values.  Like any family they have, at times, gone  their separate ways,  but they always come back to the nest to play some great jazz together. For this special gig the band will be welcoming the return of one of its original artists, Regina Carter.


Regina was part of this family of jazz artists from the beginning in 1989.   Forming the band was singer and pianist Miche Baden’s idea. She wanted to show the world the strength and inventiveness of Detroit’s female artists. For sure an all girl jazz ensemble was unique, but it was their power, skill and the adventurous spirit of their music that propelled them into the world’s spotlight. Each member brought world class resumes.

A short time after Miche Baden left for a career in NYC Regina joined the heart of the group which was Alina Morr, piano, Marion Hayden, bass, and drummer Gayelynn McKinney. The quartet got noticed playing venues in Detroit and were tapped to play the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland leading off for Nina Simone.

Regina took her fiddle to New York and started what has been a remarkable career as a soloist. Straight Ahead has toured the country and abroad playing with musical greats including Nancy Wilson, Jean Luc Ponty, Roy Ayers, Tony Bennett, Dianne Reeves, Max Roach, Stanley Clarke and the Yellowjackets.

Image result for straight ahead female jazz group


Our family became regulars when they played locally in small clubs to mostly family and a growing gang of jazz savvy followers. Our son Bill, a young drummer, got a chance to meet his hero, Gayelynn McKinney, and I have a vivid memory of  seeing both of their smiling faces as they talked drumming. Gayelynn later played at his wedding rehearsal dinner, They both were smiling.


GAYELYNN MCKINNEY                      ALINA MORR                                   MARION HAYDEN


Straight ahead  jazz is a term used to describe any jazz from the ’70s onward that  adheres closely to the historical traditions of jazz. I don’t think this describes this ensemble. I think that having a vision and pursuing it fits.

Not looking back, bringing others on the journey, gathering a group setting out and staying on course. Staying true. Showing up and bringing it every night.

This is what you can expect when you come out to see these Detroit musicians whose straight line has taken them around the world and straight back to the Dirty Dog. This is starting out to be a cold week in our city but by Wednesday it is scheduled to get warmer. At least at the Dirty Dog.

Straight Ahead has seen changes in personnel but remains anchored by family members Marion, Gayelynn, Regina and Alina. Joining them at the Dirty Dog will be Elden Kelly on guitar.


Fellowship is also a friendly feeling that exists between people who have a shared interest or who do something as a group:

Following Straight Ahead into the Dirty Dog this week will be the Four Freshmen. If Straight ahead exemplifies family the Freshmen describe fellowship.

For just being Freshmen they seem to have some history.

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 this family oriented 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 these two family gatherings 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.

John Osler


February 21 and 22



Straight Ahead  is a Detroit jazz ensemble and has a name that rings true for them.       They have gathered  a group that has  stayed on course. They have stayed true to each other while showing up and bringing it every night. This is what you can expect when you come out to see these Detroit musicians whose straight line has taken them around the world and straight back to the Dirty Dog.

For four nights we have a chance to scrap all our responsibilities and spend some time with family at the Dirty Dog.

February 23 and 24


These guys will cause you to smile so much that it will stretch your jaw muscles, making it easier to tackle the good sized portion of Dirty Dog cuisine.

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