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  • Writer's pictureJOHN OSLER'S UPBEAT Admin



It may be just a smile or a pleasant glance that gives you a lift when you need it. It may be one face in a crowd that glows with kindness and calm. It may be someone pausing to give aid to someone who is struggling. It may just be that this is the holiday season. We just have to learn to live with a surge of kind behavior coming our way.

The time leading up to the end of the year holidays can sometimes be magical. I am struck over and over by the many acts of kindness that are all around me. There are a lot of kind people in my life, but for some reason there is an abundance of consideration and offers of assistance this time of year, or maybe I am just more aware of them. While buying a Christmas tree at a lot I was given a better price than the very full tree’s price tag proclaimed. Having bought a tree that was probably too big for our house I found myself struggling to fit it into my van. A father and his two sons walked over and halted my awkward attempt to lift the tree. They easily placed it inside the van. They seemed to enjoy the opportunity to help. I smiled back and thanked them. This time of year the gifting of kindness is a part of everyday life. We  have to learn how to respond to the many random gifts of kindness that we receive.

The uncompensated gift of kindness.

We spend too much time fretting about having to directly pay back a gift in kind. Fretting is a waste of time, and no one has any extra time to waste right now. A better use of our time is to seize on the opportunity to pass on an act of kindness at your next opportunity.

We mustn’t miss a chance to continue giving and miss out the on all the benefits of giving.

Among the small things that I will never be able to pay back completely are:

All the acts of forgiveness and understanding

All the acceptance by strangers

All the openness of friends and family

All the fleeting moments of beauty

All the acts of love given to me freely

All the opportunities to give and prosper





Some gentle nudges of kindness that changed my life.

It was 2008 and the world was in the grip of a serious recession. There were foreclosures and bankruptcies including Detroit’s auto industry. We all felt the downward pull. I went to a place that has always been therapeutic. I went to a local jazz club. It was a new, somewhat upscale place, called the Dirty Dog Jazz Café. I sat at the bar and at some point started talking to Carl Williams, the club’s bartender and therapist. We talked about art and jazz. I asked if it would be OK to photograph the artists for reference for some future painting. He pointed to a bar stool and told me to come back on a Wednesday night and sit there during the first set.  I did as I was instructed. Before the band started up Carl introduced me to the handsome lady next to me. That was how I met Gretchen Valade the owner and  proprietress of the Dirty Dog, a genuinely classy person, the guardian angel to many and the savior of Detroit’s jazz at its darkest hour. It turns out I was to be added to the list of those who have benefited from Gretchen’s big heart.



I came right out with my request to take pictures in her club. That was the first time I heard Gretchen use the phrase which I associate with her, “Why not?”

I have brought my camera to the club most weeks and have filled the club’s back corridor with the results. I try to stand out of the way like a fly on the wall. This has given me a chance to observe the staff and management prepare to welcome the artists and customers. I have seen efficiency and laughter. Between sets in the green room I have listened to the jazz artist’s stories that have given me an even deeper appreciation for the players. I have witnessed a continuous parade of joy, kindness and good cheer. What a gift I have been given. This coming week I will be able to spend some time with a guy who spreads good cheer all year round. Randy Napoleon will tee up the holidays for us at the Dirty Dog.


Most days I am besieged by noise and constant announcements of “breaking news”. I hear music and see a lot of art that is violent, forceful and sometimes offsetting. Too many drivers behind me are in a hurry and think tailgating is the answer. I notice a lot of grim people standing in line at the grocers, some glowering at their children. We are often so driven to succeed that we miss out on the pleasures that surround us. Then there are people like Randy Napoleon. Randy is a role model. He reminds me that life is good and everything will be alright. Randy, by example, shows us what someone going gently through life looks like.

Randy Napoleon (born 30 May 1978) is an American jazz guitarist, composer, and arranger.

He works sitting down, often with a smile on his face. His job is playing the guitar and teaching others how much fun it is to play jazz guitar. Randy’s guitar is an extension of his calmness and joy. Randy’s temperament is a gift to all who come in contact with him.

I know Randy mostly through his gigs at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café and listening to his CDs while I paint. I did have a chance to spend time `with Randy when I took pictures of him for his album THE JUKEBOX CROWD

Randy and his wife Alison joined me and my camera for a walk around the Eastern Market and then a visit to The Carr Center.

Jazz musicians are usually in a hurry or like you to think that they are. They are in reality some of the busiest people you will meet. Photo shoots can be an inconvenience. This was not the case spending time with Alison and Randy that magical day. It was less a task than a shared moment when we could enjoy each other’s company. It was a shared adventure. It explains why Randy has been sought after as a sideman and collaborator in the jazz community.

It is in this role that I first heard Randy play live at the Dirty Dog.


Randy’s combination of being good natured, being constantly curious and having a positive attitude is infectious. Just ask his students.He is currently an assistant professor at Michigan State University, where he teaches jazz guitar. He also holds  master classes at universities and music schools throughout the country. 

Randy Napoleon usually finds it difficult not to smile when listening to others play. He probably  smiles because he knows how fortunate he is. He smiles because he knows something that playing jazz has taught him, nice jazz guys can finish first and giving is contagious.


After a day of shoveling, you may need a dose of hot jazz and warm smiles.

We all have memories of childhood gifts. Some gifts we played with to their extinction, some we hugged, a few we carefully preserved, and others we cherished until the next great gift came along. Later in life our focus became more on giving gifts. This is the greatest gift.

It is a shame when we lose the joy of receiving gifts. Maybe we just don’t recognize them. One thing we can do is to pause our lives for a moment and accept the gift of the Dirty Dog Jazz Café. Some of us do. Many times I have watched customers come up to Gretchen Valade and thank her for the gift of having given them such a great experience. The musicians playing the Dog certainly recognize and acknowledge the treasure we have in Gretchen and her passion for Detroit and its music.

The next time you come to the Dirty Dog Jazz Café you can wallow in the gift Gretchen Valade has given us. She has created a warm place to hear great jazz and be served with grace. She has honored the artists with four day gigs and the respect they deserve. All that she does is a reflection of her generous heart.

John Osler


December 18 – 21


Randy will bring his guitar, his smile and some young talented friends to the Dirty Dog this week. You may have already heard Randy as he has played on over 70 CDs. Wow!

Washington City Paper reviewer wrote that “Napoleon’s unhurried, light touches lace perfectly with Cole’s, whether he’s answering the pianist’s melodies in short phrases or taking the stage with longer improvisations.

Guitarist George Benson calls Napoleon “sensational.”” He has an all-fingers approach; he doesn’t use just thumb or pick.”

Washington Post critic Mike Joyce praises his “exceptionally nimble finger-style technique.”

Mark Stryker helps us understand Randy’s style: “Napoleon plays with a gentle, purring tone that makes you lean in close to hear its range of color and articulation, and his improvisations are true narratives, a collection of shapely melodies rather than a series of prepackaged licks”.

Critics have also commented on Napoleon’s preference for restraint, as demonstrated by his not showing off by playing fast or being self-indulgent when soloing.

“His melodic lines are clean and uncomplicated. He shows a sensitivity for song rather than a desire to show off.” Bob Karlovits, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

“Randy Napoleon’s golden-toned guitar lines carry Cole or frame him in all the right places.” Kirk Silshee, Down Beat Magazine

“His guitar lines are soulful and smart.” Marc S. Taras, Current Magazine

“Guitarist Napoleon, fresh-faced and youthful, solos finger-style, mixing complexity with swing, echoing his heros, Montgomery and Kessel.” Peter Vacher, Jazzwise magazine

“From Randy Napoleon’s boyish appearance one might think he’s just starting out. In fact, he’s one of the more accomplished and well-rounded jazz guitarists of our day. ” David R. Adler, Philadelphia Weekly

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