In this Corner Willie will be sharing with us some insights and stories. Knowing Willie, they will be to the point and upbeat.
Last week I had a chance to sit down for a chat with Willie Jones and Jeff Canady. Willie had just finished seating, serving and comforting a full house of Jeff Canady fans. Jeff had just played his heart out on his drum set while serving to please a room full of Willie Jones fans. They are both men who favor doing over talking. They are men who lead by example and fortunately both are good examples, exactly at a time when we are all looking for some good examples.
They talked about the importance of learning to listen. In their roles as bandleader and manager they have the responsibility to discern the direction things are going to go in an instant. They have learned to keep both their ears and minds open at all times. The gift of listening they share helps them remain alert and aware of those around them. They both also have a habit of sort of smiling when they speak and listen. An epidemic of good natured bantering broke out. Their conversation became a demonstration of the respect that they have for each other. The one thing we all agreed on was the exceptional amount of respect that the audience that frequents the Dirty Dog Jazz Café has for the jazz musicians who play there. They listen. Willy listens. Jeff listens. I also came away with a reminder that I could use a little of their skills of observation.
This week Willie Jones makes his post in Willie’s Corner. His subject is his take on listening out of the conversation we had with Jeff Canady.
Willie is officially the dining room manager/programming director. Unofficially he is the Director of Food,Spirits and all that Jazz. Because Willie Jones directs the food, spirits and jazz with a firm but light touch, the Dirty Dog Jazz Café looks and feels the way it does.
Along with Chef André he is responsible for all the things that work, and when they don’t he is there making things right.
“THE DIRTY DOG JAZZ CAFÉ IS NOT JUST A DINING JAZZ CLUB, IT IS A LISTENING ROOM. ANY GENRE OF MUSIC IS JUST NOISE UNLESS YOU ACTUALLY LISTEN. IF YOU LISTEN, YOU CAN FEEL IT. IF YOU LISTEN, YOU CAN FOLLOW IT. IF YOU LISTEN, IT CAN ACTUALLY SET YOUR MOOD. THE INTIMATE NATURE OF THE DIRTY DOG ALLOWS GUESTS TO ALSO TAKE SOME TIME TO LISTEN TO THE MUSICIANS’ CONVERSATIONS AS THEY ARE ALSO ALWAYS GRACIOUS ENOUGH TO STICK AROUND AND CONVERSE WITH GUESTS AFTER EACH SHOW.”
“No problem” Willie Jones
WILLIE JONES IS SOMEONE WHO JUST MAKES THINGS BETTER
Willie has guided the Dirty Dog Jazz Café since its conception ten years ago. He has done this with an unusual amount of surety and confidence in outcomes, combined with grace and joy. Knowing Willie is around makes one feel like everything is going to be alright.
There are situations that spring up and test us. Everyone looks around for a way out of the mess. Sometimes the monstrous obstacle that is thrown in our path isn’t as big as we think it is, and we just needed someone to bring the problem into perspective. Willie Jones the manager of the Dirty Dog Jazz Café is that someone.
All eyes turn to Willie. Willie will certainly handle this. Everything will be alright.
When others might go into semi-panic mode as events unfold, Willie looks as calm as our old cat lying in front of the fireplace. He reminded me of those other kids that had really studied before a test. Nonplussed and unshaken their demeanor was always calming and reassuring.
One of the pleasures of hanging around a jazz club is to watch the music get better and better as new players show up. Jeff Canady is a drummer who has that Detroit ability to relentlessly keep the band staying on the beat from start to finish. We can feel Jeff’s playing inside our bones. His drumming is the meat that his pals in the band feed on. Jeff is a force. yet he has the ability to always be in support of the player who is telling his story. When Willie and Jeff had their conversation, Jeff made the case for listening carefully to those around you. Jeff considers communications and mutual respect to be essential assets when he picks members of his ensembles. Jeff speaks mostly with his music and the look in his eyes, but Jeff gets his message across.
LISTENING IN JAZZ
Jazz happens in groups. Whether a duo, trio, quartet, combo, big band, or other type of ensemble. Great jazz happens when a bunch of musicians really listen to each other. Playing jazz with others requires awareness, listening, and sensitivity. along with the ability to make adjustments on the spot in order to support colleagues and take the lead.
What are musicians thinking about while standing on the bandstand while the drummer is taking off on a wild solo? What are they supposed to do? Where should they stand? I have set out to find the answers for these critical questions.So far the best answer I have gotten is that they are listening.
They aren’t thinking about the food awaiting them after the set, or whether they left the door unlatched, They are really listening. Listening is a big part of their job. The better they are at listening the better they will be as an artist.
The subject of listening to music has been written about extensively both from the players and the listeners perspective. I am guilty of watching through my camera more than I have listened. There are times when I do find myself deep in the music and listening intently. I can’t help myself. I do this enough to know how good the music is. I have been watching jazz musicians at their work at the Dirty Dog for some time. I have yet to see one take a mental break while on the bandstand. When they are not playing they appear to be still involved and carefully listening for cues and clues. One thing for sure is that jazz musicians have an enlarged need for paying attention as the music is likely to go in a new direction, and they have to hear it in order to keep up.
For the rest of us we live at a time where music and sound surrounds us all of the time. Music is in the stores, the elevator, in our car, coming out of the kid’s room and sometimes from the band in the basement. The human brain is very adept at filtering out these sounds, so that we become almost entirely oblivious to them. We can even shift from being a passive listener to someone capable of staying tuned in to a long concert or the full set . We learn more than to only hear, we learn to really listen.
When we see a live performance we will begin listening for clues. You will see artists listening to each other. You will see glances exchanged, smiles, frowns, astonished faces.
DEGREES OF LISTENING
The music surrounds us but how much do we really listen to it – and how much do we just hear it? Jazz musicians really listen.
It may be the ability to concentrate that separates the créme de la créme from the pretty good artists in all fields. This ability to stay lost in the subject is a common thread found in successful artists. As a painter I have experienced the process. This doesn’t mean that my painting is great while I am lost in the process, but seldom do I do great stuff when I am not completely immersed in the work. These are my very best times that lead to some pretty good work.
Then there is the huge challenge of improvisation, which is basically composing on the fly. When improvising, there is a safety net of knowing the proper chord structure and melody, but players have to have a huge musical vocabulary and realize in milliseconds what new notes will fit. They also have to listen hard so they can interact properly with what others in the band are playing. The “call and response” paradigm in jazz is actually musical conversation. I can’t think of anything more mentally demanding, especially for youngsters in early stages of learning music. Early middle school is a particularly time-sensitive period for mental development, and I suspect that middle school jazz bands can have disproportionate beneficial effects on brain development.
RAYSE BIGGS IN THE MUSIC
When Rayse Biggs plays the Dirty Dog we can count on him to show us his best chops. In addition he will show us some pretty good listening. Rayse is one of the jazz’s most graphic listeners. You can see the music reflected in his face when he stands aside during his mates’ solos.
Willie’s lesson for all of us is that old saying “Opportunity seldom rises with blood pressure.”
Willie Jones never stops calmly observing and listening. Everyone coming to the Dirty Dog will experience the sense of order that Willie Jones brings to his tasks. Willie has the ability to place the right person in the right place at crucial times. Smiles are allowed, mistakes are corrected, and the results are apparent, as Willie in his role as Director of Food, Spirits and all that Jazz says, ” WELCOME TO THE DIRTY DOG”.
COMING THIS MONTH TO THE DIRTY DOG
FOR UPCOMING SHOWS AT THE DIRTY DOG GO TO: http://: dirtydogjazz.com
ALL TUESDAYS – RON ENGLISH AND FRIENDS
March 4 – 7
Expect the unexpected along with the expected when Dave Bennett brings his band to the Dirty Dog this week.
For all four nights the place will be packed. it will be jammed with those who have an appreciation of our jazz roots. They will be treated to being only feet away from musicians who share their love of jazz and will be playing it about as well as anybody can. They will unabashedly play music that makes one feel good to be alive.
March 11 – 14
Gayelynn will bring her family to the Dirty Dog. They all will have only a few miles to travel. This family defines class when will we talk of first class musicians. It has always seemed a little unfair to have so much talent in one family. In Detroit classy musicians tend to have classy musician kids. We can only enjoy it.
March 18, 19
Vincent will probably arrive early to the Dirty Dog just to warm up a little. After that the only worry we will have is if he overheats the place. With his reputation he tends to attract some hot cats to play with him. There might be some customers shifting to cool drinks.
Saxophonist Rafael Statin seems to be playing a different instrument every time I see him. Rafael is one of those rarest of multi-instrumentalist who can combine great passion, intellectual discipline, and a spiritual fire that is evocative of great artistic creativity. He has so far established himself as a remarkable composer and musician not defined by any one particular genre.
March 24 – 28
KELLER KOCHER QUARTET
Paul Keller has toured, played gigs with, done arrangements for, collaborated with countless jazz artists.
Paul has played on over 60 CDs with artists such as Diana Krall, Russell Malone, Tom Saunders, Chuck Hedges, Eddie Higgins, Larry Fuller, Johnny O’Neal, Bess Bonnier, Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Barrett, Rebecca Kilgore, Phil DeGreg, Mr. B, Steve Wood, Rick Roe, Ellen Rowe, Marcus Belgrave, Franz Jackson, Pete Siers, Dan Faehnle and Larry Nozero. Paul has also performed in concert with jazz greats Joe Williams, Cab Calloway, Oliver Jones, Clark Terry, Red Holloway, Gene Bertoncini, Jeff Hamilton, Scott Hamilton, Ken Peplowski, Jake Hanna, Terry Gibbs, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Mark Murphy, Doc Cheatham, Byron Stripling, Jay McShann, Barry Harris, Mulgrew Miller, Jessica Williams, Bill Mays, Kenny Drew, Jr., Herb Ellis, Bucky Pizzerelli, Mark Elf and James Moody.
We are lucky to have him for four days at the Dirty Dog. He will bring with him some of his most talented pals.