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  • Writer's pictureJOHN OSLER'S UPBEAT Admin

Straight Ahead



A group of people who genuinely love, trust, care about, and look out for each other.


Fellowship is a friendly feeling that exists between people who have a shared interest or who do something as a group.


Straight Ahead is a  jazz ensemble who genuinely love, trust, care about, look out for each other and play great jazz together.

My favorite definition of the word family  is that thing the jazz group Straight Ahead has. Maybe it is the band members’ quick-to-smile demeanor when in each other’s company that makes one think that they are a real family.

A family of musicians accurately describes this band.  They are such a good story.  They have always remained friends. They certainly have shared many common experiences and values. They are also equally talented individuals. Like any family they have, at times, gone their separate ways,  but they always come back to the nest to play some great jazz together. What pulls them back is fellowship.

This group was formed 25 years ago by assembling some of Detroit’s best musicians who just happen to be women. They earned some breaks because they were just so good.  They have shown the world the strength and inventiveness of Detroit’s female artists. When they got their start women in most fields struggled to be heard. For sure they were great musicians, but it was their power, skill and the adventurous spirit of their music that propelled them into the world’s spotlight. Each member brought world class resumes and fresh ideas.

The steady heart of the group continues to be Eileen Orr, piano, Marion Hayden, bass, and drummer Gayelynn McKinney. In the beginning jazz violinist Regina Carter filled out the original quartet.  They got noticed playing venues around Detroit which led to their being tapped to play the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, leading off for Nina Simone. Soon after Regina left Detroit and began what has been a remarkable career as a soloist. They then added vocalist Cynthia Dewberry  before signing with Atlantic Records where they cut three albums. Straight Ahead has toured this country and abroad playing with musical greats including Nancy Wilson, Jean Luc Ponty, Roy Ayers, Tony Bennett, Dianne Reeves, Max Roach, Stanley Clarke and the Yellowjackets.


Our family became regulars when Straight Ahead played locally to an audience comprised mostly of their friends and family members. Like most musicians and musical groups who succeed, they found an abundance of family support. Family and mentors filled the small clubs they played while they were finding their wings.

Our son, Bill, then a young musician dragged us to a lot of Straight Ahead’s earliest gigs.  There he got a chance to hear and talk to one of his jazz heroes, the drummer Gayelynn McKinney.  I have a vivid memory of seeing both of their smiling faces as they talked about drumming . They both were smiling. So were we. We were all family. It is catching.


The Kresge Foundation is a $3.6 billion private national foundation. Wow! We can sure use their help, and Detroit is getting their help in many ways.

The Kresge Foundation’s steadfast commitment to Detroit is embodied in varied  programs. The foundation was established in Detroit in 1924 and has consistently invested in Detroit for more than 90 years.


The Foundation works toward this goal through their support for the Kresge Arts in Detroit Artist Fellows Program, I can testify that the Kresge Foundation doesn’t pass out the arts fellowships willy nilly. They are earned by deserving artists. It is, therefore, remarkable to me that in one band there are two worthy Kresge Artists Fellows. The Straight Ahead family and friends are all proud and extend kudos to the wise judges.



Straight Ahead is a Detroit jazz ensemble with a name that rings true for them.

“Straight ahead” is a term used to describe any jazz from the ’70s onward that  adheres closely to the historical traditions of jazz. I don’t think this completely describes this ensemble. I think they also have a vision and are actively pursuing it. They will assemble a crew that will not be looking back, that will bring others on the journey, and they will be staying on course. They will be staying true, showing up and bringing it every night.

Straight Ahead doesn’t always follow a narrow path in their music. They have a lot of fun getting to their destination and their audiences will usually be joyfully caught up in their journey.

This is what you can expect when you come out to see these Detroit musicians whose straight line has taken them around the world and straight back to the Dirty Dog.This week the band, starting Wednesday, will be at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café for eight shows over four days. They will make some new friends with each appearance. They have a way of making a fan feel like a friend

It is starting out to be a cold week in our city for April, but by Wednesday it is scheduled to get warmer. At least at the Dirty Dog for the remainder of the week. Waves of warmth will leak out the door as the friendship and jazz overflows the joint.  

John Osler


April 17 -20




Straight Ahead’s founding members, the “Rhythm Sisters” (Marion Hayden on bass, Eileen Orr on piano and Gayelynn McKinney on drums),  will be joined by special guest John Douglas on trumpet and Yancyy on saxophone. These Grammy-nominated artists have traveled throughout the U.S., the Caribbean and Europe, garnering rave reviews. Their dynamic live performances are a celebration of power and joy.

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