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  • Writer's pictureJOHN OSLER'S UPBEAT Admin


VERNA HART 1961 -2019

Verna Hart died last week. Verna’s life and art mirrored the freedom of jazz. Her subject was mostly jazz and her art was considered jazz on canvas. Her parents encouraged her to paint outside of the lines in her coloring book.

Romare Bearden

When she was 8 years old her father took her to visit Romare Bearden. She remembered seeing one of America’s greatest collagist standing surrounded by his vibrant oversized canvases. She knew at that moment looking at Beardon’s jazz inspired paintings that was what she would be doing with her life. They remained friends. Verna remained a freely expressive painter her whole life.She said that ” Jazz served as a catalyst to inspire my experimentation with improvisation, form and technique.”

She was given the gift of  freedom by her parents, her mentors and from her subject, jazz.


Freedom honors and unleashes human creativity — and creativity determines the strength and wealth of nations. George W. Bush

Wow, what a wonderful thing freedom must be. It is an elusive worthwhile goal that we work towards. It is something others give to us and something we give to others. Or is it something we seek for ourselves?  We all want to have  freedom to do what we want. We all want to have freedom from oppression, hunger, fear, etc, and freedom of speech, choice, etc. If only it were this easy.

Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves. Abraham Lincoln

The taking away of the freedom to own slaves brought freedom to the enslaved. With this freedom a new musical form, jazz, was brought out in the open. Jazz was a freeing cry that emerged from an enslaved people. It threw off restrictive rules and offered a glimpse of freedom. Jazz continues today because of a balance between the freedom of expression and the restrictions like that of a democracy.

Innovation and great art happen when we feel free of restraints. Bad art also happens when we are free to do anything we want. These can both be good things. Freedom doesn’t guarantee success, but it sure makes things easier. We are born free to be anything we want to be, and then freedoms are slowly taken away from us. Sometimes we return to that place before we knew all the rules. We may be sitting under a tree on a beautiful summer day or freely creating our art. Some places are rife with freedom, jazz is one of those places.

Probably because of its history jazz has properly balanced democracy and freedom. It may be a good place to look at how important it is to have this balance. Life can be tricky without this balance.

Freedom for the pike is death for the minnows. R. H. Tawney

Jazz  was freed from oppression, freed of limitations but had the sense to be careful with what it was free to do.


Jazz was born because of this freedom. Jazz exemplifies freedom from oppression, freedom from discrimination, freedom from structures, formats, pre-existing patterns of any sort and freedom from rigidity. It hasn’t been easy. Again and again jazz has to be vigilant.


Jazz has grown because of its built in freedom of expression and freedom of speech.

Last week I talked about how jazz continues to keep a vital role in America’s music. Jazz music doesn’t just allow change, it encourages it.

Young musicians talk about the freedom they have to set out in new directions and still be under the broad umbrella of jazz. Artists seldom ask themselves ” Am I playing jazz or what?” in the middle of a tune. Somewhere, deep in the music there remain  elements that were derived from the structure of jazz. Even free jazz and avant garde jazz have something that links the new with the old. Jazz continues to have the freedom of many limits placed on other forms of music.


FREEDOM: the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.

This freedom to do whatever is the most common definition and is the trickiest freedom. Jazz will always allow the freedom to play with fervor, as well as a freedom to invent. However, jazz has operated with the idea that there will be limits on the freedom to cause harm or limit someone else’s freedom.. Jazz has rules and restraints, mostly unspoken. Jazz always respects the freedom of all artists.

There are two freedoms — the false, where a man is free to do what he likes; the true, where a man is free to do what he ought. Charles Kingsley


Fortunately there is something that has always been part of the music: unwritten rules.

This week at the Dirty Dog we will get a chance to witness this work.

The Detroit Jazz Festival is holding its monthly jam session.


On May 20 the Dirty Dog Jazz Café will open its door to some young musicians. They will  be joined by some of Detroit’s best jazz artists for this month’s jam session.

The Detroit Jazz Festival sponsors the jam sessions as part of their year long effort to help keep jazz alive in our community. We get a chance to see jazz blossom in our backyard. It doesn’t get much better than this.

The evening usually seems to build in intensity as the night goes on. What will be on display will be a room full of wisdom and enlightenment.

A jam session  is an invitation to jazz musicians to show up and show off. A place where artists can be free of failing and free to express themselves. It is a musical act where musicians gather and play without extensive preparation or predefined arrangements. Jam sessions aren’t as loose and unstructured as the definition because they are guided by some of jazz’s natural restraints such as respect.

I found these rules for a ‘Jam Session’ in an online discussion

1. Don’t be a solo hog. Say what you have to say in as few choruses as possible.

2. Don’t cut another soloist off by jumping in.

3. If you don’t know the tune, don’t solo.

4. Don’t tell the leader what to do. It’s their Jam. Not yours. You can always get your own jam someday.

5. Know when to play.

6. Know when to sit down and chill out and enjoy the other players.

7. Have respect for the other soloists ideas by not doodling’ around on your ax when they are playing.

8. If the other players start to riff behind the soloist, then go ahead and join in, but remember the balance, don’t cover the soloist up.

9. The Bass doesn’t need a solo on every tune.

10. Don’t insist on staying up on stage all night. Play your 3 or 4 songs and make room for the other soloists who haven’t played yet.

11. Never be critical of another person on the bandstand.

12. If the person ahead of you just took 8 choruses on the blues, don’t try to “better” him by playing more if you have nothing to say.

In the main jam sessions have a lot more freedom than rules. We are all given the freedom to hear as much jazz as we want. after all:

” You can’t restrain a cow from dancing.” Mae West

John Osler



Catering to both jazz and soul aficionados, Kosins delivers intense and intimate singing and wows audiences with her impeccable flawless phrasing and a deep-rooted passion for telling the story. Her eclectic musical palette delves deep into the rich history of both Jazz and Soul.

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