SPOTLIGHT ON DETROIT JAZZ
BIG CHANGES COMING?
For several years I have had an opportunity to watch and listen to a steady stream of Detroit’s best jazz musicians. They are all part of a community that has historically been an important symbol of Detroit, Michigan’s vitality. They have always been there for us, picking up our spirits when things aren’t going so great and helping us to celebrate when times are better. We point to Detroit’s music when we talk about our greatness. When we walk into any place in the world where jazz is played, we can bask in the knowledge that our music and its roots will be represented. If jazz musicians were soldiers or teachers or executives they would be organized, represented and be placed on a pedestal. They aren’t, and those traits that makes a jazz musician a jazz musician can also make his/her life a little less sure. Musicians can have an independent streak. Improvising is a risky business and asks one to be comfortable with risk. In their music and in their lives jazz musicians can certainly hang themselves out there.
THEIR HARD WORK AND SKILL DEFINES THEM
Jazz musicians are comfortable with sharing a task in a band, but off the bandstand they are pretty much on their own. It has always been like that. I am not saying that jazz musicians aren’t friendly, because they are generally legend for being compatible. They just have an independent streak, and this is good.
Maybe they could use a little assistance from a central organization.
Are there some needs? I think so. I would like all of our artists to be promoted nationally and internationally. I don’t know many artists who, when they are starting out, know as much about marketing as they do about playing and writing music. This will often lead to a rooms in their houses filled with a pile of their CDs. There are also some stalwarts who could use some affordable group health insurance. Maybe we could use a place to talk things over with those people who can help.
I would like to know more about the needs and potential opportunities to increase awareness of these great artists and what needs to be done to help make their lives more secure.
GOOD NEWS: SOME POSITIVE THINGS ARE BEING DONE
This year we have seen plans to create new facilities to honor Detroit’s music. We are encouraged that these two new venues along with some major new programs have recently been announced.
GRETCHEN VALADE JAZZ CENTER
The Gretchen Valade Jazz Center was recently formally announced and will be part of the Wayne State University Hilberry Gateway complex.
The Valade Center, envisioned by WSU officials as “a world-class jazz venue, will occupy the existing Hilberry Theatre, a 51-year-old hall that will be converted into a music space with flexible seating capacity of up to 400.
After the announcement Chris Collins called Gretchen Valade a “visionary angel”, this is not a new role for Gretchen. Valade and vision are often mentioned together when good things happen in Detroit and to its music. Thank you Chris for saying it.
This is a very important step in keeping Detroit’s legacy of jazz alive. The idea is to make the venue a teeming jazz hub, hosting shows by touring artists, giving a platform to hometown players and serving as a working space for Wayne State music students and faculty.
In Gretchen’s words: “We have some of the greatest musicians around. It’s great to be able to partner with Wayne State, and I’m hoping to get Detroit the attention it should have as far as jazz is concerned.”
I look forward to seeing what forward looking programs will be coming out of this very real project.
UNNAMED NEW MUSIC CENTER
Last week the Detroit Free Press had a front page banner headline and story titled Detroit Poised To Celebrate Sonic Heritage
The story began:
“It’s a question that’s been asked for years by locals and visitors, perplexed that a place widely regarded as one of the world’s historical music capitals does so little to officially celebrate it.
The Free Press article went on to say, ” A high-powered new organization is ready to get the ball rolling, with plans to step up the branding of Detroit as a music center and ultimately construct a downtown museum spotlighting the region’s musical history.”
“Unlike cities such as Nashville and New Orleans, which play up their pivotal roles in American music, Detroit has long neglected what should be one of its prime calling cards, Exhibits and memorabilia would highlight Detroit music and artists — Motown, rock, jazz, techno, hip-hop — alongside a performance space and recording studio….They’ll be seeking millions of dollars from Detroit corporations and philanthropists. If all unfolds as hoped, a museum would be in place within two to four years, likely within an existing downtown structure.”
The nonprofit organization doesn’t yet have a public name. No detailed blueprint or budget has been set.
I hope that our jazz musicians will be part of the action. Jazz is the rich soil that has nourished all of our music.
These are proposals with great potential to provide needed attention and focus on Detroit’s primary music. They will help fill a long time void while creating new destinations for jazz lovers and venues for new work, BRAVO!
COMING OUR WAY THIS WEEK AT THE DIRTY DOG JAZZ CAFÉ
Randy Napoleon will be in the house starting Wednesday. We are used to watching Freddy Cole and Randy grin at each other as they create their magic. Freddy knew what he was doing when he selected Michigander Randy to accompany and collaborate with him on his tours. Traveling with Freddy his brilliance was noticed. George Benson said: “I like the guitar player who’s playing with Freddy Cole [Randy Napoleon]. He has an all-fingers approach; he doesn’t use just thumb or pick. He’s spectacular”.
Napoleon has performed on The Tonight Show, Late Night With David Letterman, The View, The Today Show, and The Ellen DeGeneres show as well as TV shows in South America, Europe and Asia. Randy has played or arranged on over seventy records.
Randy has returned to Michigan to teach in the important jazz program at MSU after an extended stay in New York. He has had the opportunity to work steadily and still develop his own musical projects. His latest musical venture is his highly anticipated new CD for The Detroit Music Factory “Soon” which will featured all week.
And if it isn’t enough to have Randy this week, he has assembled some of our finest musicians including Rodney Whitaker, one of the world’s premier bassist.