WINNERS AND JAZZ
WINNERS, LOSERS AND THE INFLUENCE OF JAZZ
We have entered a time when there is a lot of talk about being winners and losers. We are fortunate in Detroit that our music informs us that winning in jazz means that everyone in the room wins.
Last week I heard a number of stories about winners. This is not remarkable in that in the world of jazz there are very few losers and a long history of winners. Mistakes are made all the time on the path to create winning music, however, no one gives out awards, certificates or even fines for mistakes.
Sometimes there is recognition for excellence. Here are some examples.
JAZZ PRODUCES WINNERS
DIRTY DOG JAM
I am proclaiming the first winner: the Monday night jam at the Dirty Dog. On the last Monday of each month the Detroit Jazz Festival will be having a jam at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café. This week’s jam was given a thumbs up by all those who filled the club. The night’s session band included Ralphe Armstrong. Chris Collins, Sean Dobbins, John Douglas. and Michael Malis, all band leaders on their own. What made them winners this past Monday evening is their role as teachers. This was illustrated by the number of their students and former students who came through the door to show off their chops. They were listened to, smiled at and encouraged to keep on playing. Caught with significant smiles were two visiting pianists, Alvin Waddles and Buddy Budson.
There was no doubt that the Dirty Dog had a roomful of winners. Congrats!
ANOTHER WINNER: KRESGE FOUNDATION EMINENT ARTIST PATRICIA TERRY-ROSS
PATRICIA TERRY- ROSS
Patricia Terry – Ross has been chosen the ninth Eminent Artist by the Kresge Foundation.
You may not have heard Patricia singing or playing the harp in a jazz club but if you were a regular at the Michigan Opera performances during the last 40 years you have heard her. During this time Terry-Ross has been the principal harpist at the Michigan Opera Theatre.
Terry-Ross grew up near the Boston-Edison historic district in Detroit where she received praise for her musical skills. She tried different instruments until she found herself at Cass Technical High School where she came under the tutelage of a caring teacher, Velma Froude, who also taught the jazz harpists Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane.
This is the same Cass Tech which I seem to write about as the cauldron for great jazz musicians. Her characteristically warm and deep sound can be heard on many Motown tracks of the 1970s, including recordings by The Temptations and Marvin Gaye.
“Had I not gone to Cass Tech, I would not be a harpist,” she says. “I loved the sound. Something about it made me feel that, as much as I loved to sing and play other instruments, I could sing a different kind of song.”
I am sure this $50, 000 award is in recognition of her professional achievements and her artistry. Like all the past recipients it is the acts of giving back that give this award real meaning. Terri-Ross quotes her grandmother saying, ‘You were given a gift. But it’s not a gift unless you give it away.’ Patricia adds ” And I always believed that if you just do honor to your gift, things will happen.”
COULD BE A WINNER
LA LA LAND
Damien Chazzelle has written and directed the new movie La LA Land which just tied the all time record with 14 Oscar nominations. Damien Chazzelle loves old musicals and jazz.
I have not seen the movie but have listened to the director talk about how jazz music motivates his work
Howard Reich a Chicago Tribune critic pointed out the influence that jazz had on this movie. Here are some things he said:
“Hollywood never seems to tire of taking on jazz. Jazz thrives best not on the screen, where it’s frozen in two dimensions for all time, but in an intimate club, where musicians invent it on the spot for listeners who can lean in to savor it. When the performance ends, the music created on any given night escapes into the ether, never to be heard in the same way again.
In a commercial music industry ever more obsessed with sales figures, the crowds that pack jazz rooms in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans, San Francisco and elsewhere don’t count for much. Nor do the students who vie to enter intensely competitive jazz programs in universities and high schools that blanket the country.
Jazz thrives in these places, but well outside the popular culture, a concern that troubles and very nearly destroys “La La Land’s” musician-hero.
It’s a worry that bothers real-life jazz musicians as well. Some of the foremost figures of the music today have told me of the uphill battle they fight to get heard on radio, TV, film — anyplace that takes them outside the margins of American culture.
“La La Land” may state the issue crudely, as when the leader of a quasi-jazz-funk band, Keith (John Legend), bluntly tells Sebastian: “How you gonna save jazz if no one’s listening? … You’re playing to 90-year-olds.”
Chazelle makes his most eloquent case for jazz, however, not so much in the words that are spoken or the circuitous plot he has devised, but in the admiring, often heroic way he presents the music. When Sebastian plays his first extended piano solo in a restaurant where no one is paying attention, he segues from the dismal Christmas-song set list ordered by his boss (J.K. Simmons, who played the absurdly villainous teacher in “Whiplash”) to the music he wants to perform.
Suddenly the room goes dark, a brilliant spotlight engulfs him, and through sight and sound we’re transported out of reality and into a kind of reverie. This may seem a hyper-romantic artifice to some viewers, but that’s what happens when a gifted musician discovers the profound sounds within him. We leave our everyday surroundings and enter another realm.
This scene, and other “La La Land” fantasy sequences like it, argue for how jazz in particular — and art in general — can transcend the mundane and take us to a more inspired place. That’s why we go to jazz clubs, to feel something that TV screens and smartphones and Top 40 hits cannot provide.
La La Land” conveys the rush of what happens to performer and listener during a great jazz solo better than most films that attempt it. That the movie does so by specifically referencing the dance steps and fantasy sequences of choreographer Gene Kelly, especially his work in “An American in Paris” (itself a heartfelt homage to jazz) only deepens its appeal.”
Chazelle seems poised to one day create something the world of cinema needs: a profound film on the original American art form — jazz.
THERE IS A COMMON THREAD
Winners tend to be those who pass on the torch. The Dirty Dog Jazz Café tends to get the benefit of all the good teachers and their good students. It is a place where effort is appreciated, mistakes are noted and corrected and in the end it seems like everyone wins.
COMING TO THE DIRTY DOG FEBRUARY 1-4
THE HUGHES SMITH QUINTET
Detroit contributed some of the major hard bop artists of the 1960s. The James Hughes & Jimmy Smith Quintet honors that tradition by playing up tempo mostly original hard bop James Hughes and Jimmy Smith contributed a lot of the compositions and arrangements. They will be joined by Phil Kelly on piano, Takashi Iio on bass , Pete Siers on drums and a room full of winners.
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