FRIENDSHIP AND FAMILY
Photo courtesy of Straight Ahead
Straight Ahead is a Detroit jazz ensemble with a name that rings true for them. They are a remarkable group of jazz musicians that has stayed on course and together for the long haul. The band’s not so straight path has taken them around the world and straight on back to Detroit and to the Dirty Dog. Straight Ahead doesn’t always follow a narrow path in their music. They have a lot of fun getting to their destination and their audiences will usually be joyfully caught up in their journey.
This week the band, starting Wednesday, will be at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café for eight shows over four days. They will make some new friends with each appearance. They have a way of making a fan feel like a friend.
They are such a good story. This group was formed 30 years ago by assembling some of Detroit’s best musicians who also happened to be women and early on they earned some breaks because they were just so good. They have stuck together because they have become a family.
My favorite definition of the word family goes like this “A group of people, usually of the same blood (but they do not have to be), who genuinely love, trust, care about, and look out for each other”. This could apply to many jazz groups but Straight Ahead comes immediately to mind. Maybe it is the band members’ quick-to-smile demeanor when in each other’s company that makes one think that they are family.
“Family” is used metaphorically to include a social unit of any size that shares common values. A family of musicians accurately describes the this band. They are such a good story. They have always remained friends. They certainly have shared many common experiences and values. They are also equally talented individuals. 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. What pulls them back is fellowship.
MARION HAYDEN GAYELYNN MCKINNEY ALEENA ORR
Fellowship is a friendly feeling that exists between people who have a shared interest or who do something as a group:
Becoming a group was singer and pianist Miche Baden’s idea. She wanted to show the world the strength and inventiveness of Detroit’s female artists. It was, however their power, skill and their adventurous spirit that propelled them into the world’s spotlight. Each member brought world class resumes and a willingness to share their gifts.
A short time after Miche Baden left for a career in NYC, violinist Regina Carter joined the group which included Alina Morr, piano, Marion Hayden, bass, and drummer Gayelyne 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. Later Regina took her fiddle to NYC and started what has been a remarkable career as a soloist. They added vocalist Cynthia Dewherst before they signed with Atlantic Records where they cut three albums. Straight Ahead 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. Today Straight Ahead remains anchored by Marion, Gayelynn and Aleena. The fellowship of these three musicians has now become legend.
New Straight Ahead family members are vocalist Kymberli Wright and saxophonist Yancyy.
DETROIT’S CREATIVE FAMILY HAS HONORED TWO OF STRAIGHT AHEAD’S FAMILY
The Kresge Foundation is a $3.6 billion private national foundation. Wow! We can sure use their help, and Detroit is getting their help in many ways.
The Kresge Foundation’s steadfast commitment to Detroit is embodied in varied programs. The foundation was established in Detroit in 1924 and has consistently invested in Detroit for more than 90 years.
The Kresge Detroit Program works through six integrated focus areas to advance opportunity and quality of life. One of their stated goals is to support a thriving arts and culture community that enriches residents’ quality of life and connections to one another. They believe that arts and creativity enhance Detroit’s identity and have the ability to attract visitors and increase economic activity.
KRESGE ARTIST’S FELLOWSHIPS
The Foundation works toward this goal through their support for the Kresge Arts in Detroit Artist Fellows Program, I can testify that the Kresge Foundation doesn’t pass out the arts fellowships willy nilly. They are earned by deserving artists. It is, therefore, remarkable to me that in one band there are two worthy Kresge Artists Fellows. The Straight Ahead family and friends are all proud and extend kudos to the wise judges.
KRESGE FELLOW MARION HAYDEN
KRESGE FELLOW GAYELYNN MCKINNEY
IMPORTANCE OF FAMILY
Our family became regulars when Straight Ahead played locally to an audience comprised mostly of their friends and family members. Like most musicians and musical groups who succeed, they found an abundance of family support. Family and mentors filled the small clubs they played while they were finding their wings.
Our son, Bill, then a young musician dragged us to a lot of Straight Ahead’s earliest gigs. There he got a chance to hear and talk to one of his jazz heroes, the drummer Gayelynn McKinney. I have a vivid memory of seeing both of their smiling faces as they talked about drumming . They both were smiling. So were we. We were all family. It is catching.
THIS WEEK AT THE DIRTY DOG
October 25- 28
This week the band Straight Ahead, starting Wednesday, will be at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café among friends. For four nights we have a chance to scrap all our responsibilities and spend some time with family at the Dirty Dog.
Come on out and witness a family of musicians that believes in not looking back, bringing others on the journey, staying on course and showing up and bringing it every night.
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