The Dirty Dog Jazz Café will remain closed until our jazz family can again safely gather in an intimate setting to hear live jazz. What makes the Dirty Dog and jazz so important in our lives is its ability to bring us closer together. For the moment we will have to stay close by staying apart. This necessary intermission will end, and jazz will once again leak out the Dog’s front door and smiling people will pour in. See you then.
I am thankful for the the band of friends who normally would be showing up at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café five days a week to work or a night or two to listen to some jazz. There has always been an unspoken camaraderie present, a kind of glue that only families have. There is calm when calm is required, and there is intense focus when action is required. Jazz and restaurant work require special people who can band together in the moment, an I’ve got your back mentality.
I hope that all you special people are safe.
Jazz music and restaurants are not considered essential activities but do leave a big hole in many of our lives.
CREATING SOMETHING NEW CAN BE A LONELY TASK
Most often we think of art as something created by a lone individual working far away from the social whirl. Painters, sculptors, poets and novelists almost always work alone. Their art is very personal. Artists reach inside themselves to find the stories they want to tell. Sometimes when they are still enough they can bring back some good memories to use. There is an abundance of stillness in most of our lives right now. So why is it so hard to do creative work?
Limited by the stay at home imperative, we sure have plenty of time to stop and observe the world around us, as small as it is. We have only our family around us, much like when we were children. It should be enough. It isn’t, so what’s missing?
Newborns first respond to light and to sounds and it seems to make them smile. Soon they hear the playful voices of their brothers and sisters and waddle into the fray. When rejected they will hear some calming words, while being rocked in their grandparents’ arms. They will leave their home where the rhythms of life will continue to surround them from the honking of horns to the rustle of leaves. We all continue to be surrounded by music and images the rest of our lives. First from our parents’ radios and then ours. As we get out and gain new experiences we begin to listen differently. We later learn to filter information. There will be some other people’s sounds or visuals that bring back our personal memories. Sometimes this leads to collaborative art. Eventually we find ourselves playing with friends. We form new families.
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”. They can be easily spotted by everyone’s quick-to-smile demeanor when in each other’s company.
I think that this is what I miss most at this moment, the friends that I took for granted, and are no longer part of my life. I also miss having adventures with my family and friends. The sameness of the days can numb the creative process.
Our immediate family is pretty spread out, so social distancing is nothing new. In some ways we are even closer now than before the pandemic. Caring about family gets ramped up in scary times and staying in touch in the digital age is amazingly easy. Still something is missing.
I am hoping that when we find a way out of this period of separation all our friendships will have survived. I have been so lucky to have been included in extended families in the workplace, in sports, in the neighborhood, In New Orleans, in France, in the Canadian wilderness, in the company of artists and especially at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café. These have been friendships that I have always considered to be indestructible. Maybe we will plan to get together next month or next year, but we will at some point get to exchange hugs and stories again. At this moment someone of my age can’t plan on anything.
THE DIRTY DOG FAMILY
Many times I have watched customers come up to Gretchen Valade and thank her for 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. Gretchen 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. The joy on the patrons’ faces is a reflection of her generous heart. I have been taking photos at the Dirty Dog for the last 12 years. I have been writing a weekly blog for the club for the last 5 years. I have had the same good friends there for the whole time.
In 2008 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, 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 future painting. He pointed to a bar stool and told me to sit there during the first set on a Wednesday night. I did as I was instructed. Before the band started up Carl introduced me to a handsome lady sitting 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 can be added to the list of those who continue to benefit from Gretchen’s big heart.
GRETCHEN’S FRIENDSHIP HAS BEEN A VERY PERSONAL GIFT
Gretchen along with Tom, Willie and Andre have told the rest of us that we are special. They get strong when the weak walk away. I have hope that the family can stay intact.
OUR RICH DETROIT JAZZ FAMILY
My son had a drum set in our basement. That meant that we had the band in our basement. For a while, a teenaged Rodney Whitaker was contributing to the sounds coming up from the basement to the parents upstairs. This was my introduction to Rodney. The band sometimes got gigs on Mack Ave where Marcus Belgrave would occasionally come and offer his support. Marcus recalled to me that he stood up and hushed the crowd so that he could better hear the band. Growing up in Detroit playing jazz is like that. Marcus and others would take the time to give a gentle but firm push to those young players who were willing to listen and work. Rodney was a world class learner and listener. Rodney has never stopped learning or teaching. Rodney Whitaker today is a robust giant in jazz and in life. He is respected for the depth of his understanding of the music and its roots. He is the sum of all those who guided him and those whose lives he has enriched.
Rodney currently is the Director of Jazz Studies at Michigan State University where he is also a professor of Jazz Bass.
A PROUD MOMENT BEFORE THE VIRUS
On January 18-19, 2020 the Michigan State University’s Jazz Orchestra I and Jazz Octet I ensembles traveled to New York City where they were a top finisher in the Jazz at Lincoln Center inaugural Jack Rudin Jazz Championship,. The two-day invitational featured ensembles from 10 of the most well-regarded university jazz programs in the country, and MSU finished third in the rankings, Just to be asked to participate was an honor.
Director of Jazz Studies Rodney Whitaker led the band comprised of 23 accomplished, aspiring jazz musicians from MSU’s nationally-recognized program.
GOOD NEWS IN HARD TIMES
Detroit has been hit hard by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
Here are some positives to ponder.
The night skies are a darker blue.
Wild animals are free to roam our empty streets, People have spotted wild turkeys, coyotes, and other animals—a phenomenon that’s been taking place in cities around the globe.
Crime is way down. It seems that even criminals are staying inside. Mayor Mike Duggan said that “crime me has been down 40 percent in Detroit since Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order went into effect on March 24.
Many Detroiters are stepping forward to make life a little easier.
Detroit has had public officials, nurses, Doctors, healthcare workers, emergency personnel and citizens who have acted valiantly to help others.
TAKING CREDIT IS NOT SOMETHING DETROIT IS VERY GOOD AT DOING.
Taking responsibility, reacting swiftly, acting forcibly and understanding each other’s needs and are things Detroiters are good at.
Soon the Dirty Dog family will fill the room with mutual respect along with some great music. This will please Gretchen, but she won’t take any credit.
Keep up the good work, and stay safe,