KEEPING ART IN OUR LIVES
The Renaissance, a vibrant period of European cultural, artistic, political and scientific “rebirth” after the Middle Ages, was led by people including Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Machiavelli and the Medici family.
THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE
Growing out of “The New Negro Movement”, the Harlem Renaissance began about 1918 and lasted until about 1935. It created a lasting shift in the landscape of the arts in America. The caliber of the black Harlem writers, painters, and musicians allowed them to create works from their own experiences and these works shattered misplaced perceptions.. These artists were significant contributors to the American culture. The dignity of black life depicted in the writing, art and music pushed against long held stereotypical views. America and the entire world took note. All America caught jazz fever from the jazz coming out of Harlem with its syncopation and improvised solos. Jazz was at the very heart of the renaissance and gained in stature with the likes of Duke Ellington going mainstream.
Harlem brought notice to great works that might otherwise have been lost or never produced. The results were phenomenal. The artists of the Harlem Renaissance undoubtedly transformed African American culture. But the impact on all American culture was equally strong. White America could not look away,
Paintings by Aaron Douglas
The Harlem artist Aaron Douglas summed up the challenge like this:
“…Our problem is to conceive, develop, establish an art era…let’s bare our arms and plunge them deep through laughter, through pain, through sorrow, through hope, through disappointment, into the very depths of the souls of our people and drag forth material crude, rough, neglected. Then let’s sing it, dance it, write it, paint it. Let’s do the impossible. ”
RESILIENCE is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
Resilient is a word that is often used to describe Detroit. Maybe Detroit is more of a slow moving slogger than a city that can snap back quickly. Recovery in Detroit has usually come from hard work and perseverance. Toughness we have. Detroit’s resilience can be seen in its music and those who play and support the music. Hard work and perseverance are in the city of Detroit and its music’s DNA. It is who we are.
The history of jazz is a history of true resilience. Jazz music has regularly been proclaimed to be old hat and just as many times has come back and been trumpeted as America’s greatest contribution to the world. Jazz is resilient because it continues to change. Jazz hasn’t so often been resurrected as it has been constantly reinventing itself. Finding something new is the what the music is about. Everyday there are players finding new ways to express their stories. We will always need jazz to illuminate the way out of our darker moments.
RENAISSANCE IN DETROIT
We are likely in a period of renaissance in Detroit. I am not sure we are yet at the peak moment of our rebirth. We have certainly recovered some good energy and some hope since 2008.
Gretchen Valade has been a prominent leader in our rebirth along with a whole lot of other artists and friends of art. A renaissance needs some good people to stand up and lead us out of some bad times.
The whole world was beginning to experience an economic tsunami in 2008.
I remember what it was like in 2008 when Detroit was on its heels and needed a quick injection of renaissance.
For most of us the mention of the year 2008 still sends chills up our spines. There was little traffic on the expressways, few cars in the parking lots at the auto plants in town and even less traffic in upscale stores or restaurants.
A GOOD STORY
It was exactly at this moment in one of the hardest hit regions in the world that the idea of a creating a jazz club in an upscale neighborhood was born. How it came about is such a good but sort of crazy Detroit story.
On Kercheval Ave. in Grosse Pointe there was construction starting that would convert a shop into a jazz club. This was probably a crazy and risky idea. The future proprietor didn’t hesitate. Gretchen Valade was already doing so much to assure that jazz would lead in Detroit’s rebirth. It turns out that jazz and the arts would help to get us out of our depths and would help us to recover some of our juju.
DETROIT’S RENAISSANCE IS STILL A WORK IN PROGRESS
Resiliency as practiced by jazz players happens in many small acts that come from a positive attitude and the ability to accept failure as part of the process. We don’t have to have as many knockdowns in a round as Rocky endures. Hopefully when we get knocked down we learn from our misfortune.
Alvin Wattles, who was the musical director of the Michigan State University’s play about the Harlem Renaissance, Garden of Joy, said: “The people of Harlem knew the only way they were going to survive was by banding together, by recognizing common goals and working together to achieve them, and that’s certainly a good message for Detroit right now.”
Detroit’s renaissance is happening in small parts by people with big minds and ideas. Folks who usually have art in their lives. These are exciting times. Show up and be a small part of this grand moment.
RENAISSANCE AT THE DIRTY DOG
In 2019, after 11 years of respecting everyone who comes in the door the Dirty Dog has become a refuge for kindred spirits. Here in a neighborhood that considers a 60 foot elevation a hill and where most streets have British names sits a magnet for a very diverse audience for America’s music, jazz. With its humble roots jazz still has the power to inform our souls. It has complexity and intensity and its appeal is growing. It is democratic, expansive and can be difficult to play. It thrives in the hearts of the curious.
The Dirty Dog Jazz Café remains the home for good jazz and good ideas.
COMING TO THE DIRTY DOG THIS WEEK
June 12 – 15
CHARLES AND GWEN SCALES
Charles is a jazz pianist who will be joined by his wife Gwen who is conveniently a jazz vocalist. They have been headliners in Detroit music for some time. Help welcome them back to the Dirty Dog.