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Ling- Ju and Jazz

LJ Lai by John Beresford

Photo by John Beresford

Often, after dinner, our family would sit around the Magnavox record player, stare at its magic eye and listen to classical music together.  What a gift we were given. After my sister and I went up to bed the music would change and we knew that our parents were downstairs dancing to some swing.  This illicit jazz music found a way into my life. Growing up I grabbed at any chance to witness the powerful wave of jazz in Detroit.  I was an outsider looking into the world of people who had more challenging lives and explained their experiences through their music.  We all sense when a performance affects our lives and our mood. I seldom thought much about what was behind the power in the  music.  This summer I was given an insight into the music that is most familiar to me, jazz.

I was showing my art in Ann Arbor when I met Ling- Ju Lai. Ling-Ju was taking a serious look through my book, Detroit Jazz.   She looked up at me and said ” I really admire these guys”.  As a classical piano soloist Ling -Ju has had an opportunity to hear all kinds of music around the world.  She offered that when on her travels she can usually tell when a player is from Detroit.  I asked her what tipped her off. I  wish now that I had written her words down, but she talked about a strength, a persistent force that drives a group.  She felt that this came from their roots in Detroit.  Their life experience teaches them to persevere.   We may not have the easy sway of the gentle warm sea breezes of the Caribbean, but Detroit and its musicians possess a unique quality that pushes the music to greater heights .

Recently, Ling -Ju sent me these words:   “Detroit jazz musicians in general have a very alert and intense rhythmic drive, which brings a sense of urgency and endurance in their live performance. I find the great figures of Detroit legends such as Marcus Belgrave and Barry Harris truly inspiring. They sing at their instruments, trumpet and piano respectively, with earnest love for the music. Their live music making is especially powerful, because they play with clarity. And Clarity is Power. From what I can tell as a classically trained musician, in the newer generation of Detroit jazz composers there is a deep sense of respect to their roots and at the same time a daring and honest attitude to create a style of their own. I speak from my own musical connection and experience with Michael Malis, a native Detroit composer. I am fascinated by this distinct Detroit culture in Jazz. “


Photo by Hiromi Otsubo

Artists of exceptional skills like Ling- Ju have the luxury of exploring new interpretations of the music. She explained to me that summer day in Ann Arbor that like in jazz, she has the freedom to find creative paths when she is playing baroque music and particularly when she is performing Bach.   Later in that day in Ann Arbor Rob Crozier, a jazz bassist, joined our conversation and the two artists excitedly discussed common heroes and shared experiences.  What a great day that was.  I was surrounded by art, insightful artists and some new found truths.

John Osler

To watch Ling -Ju in action click this link:

Ling-Ju Lai

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