The Start of the Summer Concerts in Detroit.

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Beatrice Buck Park in Paradise Valley across the street from the Carr Center

Each summer in Detroit, there are so many outdoors concerts of all genres in Detroit and all the suburbs that each evening and weekend the choices are abundant. This last weekend, my two top choices were Jazzin’ on Jefferson or the Carr Center was starting the Summer in the Park series in Paradise Valley Beatrice Buck Park. Yesterday was an homage to Duke Ellington with five different groups, each with a different approach.

I have been to Jazzin’ on Jefferson for the last few years and decided on a change of pace and went to the Carr Center offering.

First, just a little bit about Detroit history. Both Paradise Valley and Blackbottom were neighborhoods on the near east side of Detroit known for their contributions to blues and jazz in the 1930s to 1950s. The Virgil Carr Center is in the building one known as the Harmonie Club which was in the Harmonie Park. The Harmonie Club was built in the Beaux Arts style and is being restored by the Carr Center. When Duke Ellington came to town, he would have played in the clubs either in Blackbottom or Paradise Valley. The park is now a peaceful oasis of green surrounded by historical buildings built at the turn of the last century.

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I arrived to hear the group that was starting at 5:30 p.m. comprised of Buddy Budson(keys), Ibrihim Jones(bass) and George Davidson(dms). There were two vocalists, Ursula Walker and Shahida Nurullah, who alternated on the songs in the set. It didn’t start on time. Just as they were about to begin, I felt a raindrop. No one else seemed to have noticed. Maybe it was a dew drop from the trees. Any of the audience would have been willing to sit through the occasional drop or two but the sound guys just have a vision of all the electronics getting wet.

So, they moved the concert inside. In the case of a concert, moving inside for the audience is just walking across the street. There was so much more to it than just the walk. All the sound equipment had to be set up again. Chairs for the crowd had to be brought to the new concert room so we could sit. One of my friends came in so I sat with her. Finally, at 6:15 p.m. The set began.

I liked the way Buddy Budson handled the program. There were twelve songs in all. The only one done without a vocalist was “Take the ‘A’ Train” which was the signature tune of the Ellington orchestra. He talked about each song a little. Also, who composed the tune, who wrote the lyrics and when it was written. When Shahida Nurullah sang a song, she did the intro. They did all the well known tunes like “Caravan”, “Perdido”, “Satin Doll”, “Sophisticated Lady” and for me, the show stopper sung by Shahida was “It Don’t Mean a Thing(If It Ain’t Got That Swing)”.

It was a composition written in 1931 which was officially 3 years before “swing” was a style. Shahida did a great job with the tune. In truth, when I hear her is it almost always an experience to remember. Her voice is magnificent. She can take a tune, look at it and then sing it with such emotion that she drives the emotion of the song into the audience. With “It Don’t Mean a Thing”, the whole audience was responding with cheers and you could feel the joy. On the other hand, she also sang “Solitude” and the sadness of feeling alone was there and almost palpable in the room.

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Shahida Nurullah

My friend and I were both hungry by the end of the set. She suggested going to 1917 American Bistro where there was jazz with the meal. I knew two of the musicians. Both Charles Greene and Ralph Armstrong are really good. I knew it would not be the usual since this was dinner and I guess I expected dinner accompaniment music. We got there when they were on brake so we got a table and ordered. I had been here before and liked the baby backed ribs and got them again with sautéed spinach and smashed potatoes. I was going to take a picture and for got until I was half way through the meal.

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The meat just fell of the bone and he sauce had just the right amount of spice. The spinach was sautéed in garlic butter and tasted both sweet and slightly acidic. The smashed potatoes are a rough version of mashed potatoes with the skins included in the dish. I took a lot home. And the owner comped us a free drink. I had a cranberry juice.

The music had a lot more body than most dinner music. As I looked around though, I saw that the dinner crowd was actually listening to the music and pushing the guys for more. They played “What’s Going On?” Which is one of the most played Detroit summer songs. After eating, I just listened to the music and enjoyed.

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Left to right: Charles Greene (keys), Chet (dms) and Ralphe Armstrong

When the guys took another break, I noticed a man on the other side of the restaurant sitting next to two life size dummies. They are almost life like. They look like two older ladies gossiping together. At a glance, through the window, they can look real. He was talking to the dummies, shaking his finger at them and having quite the conversation. I took a picture.

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He turned around …the flash….took a look at me and we both burst out laughing.

Another friend showed up and I decided to go home. It was late and my dog hadn’t been fed. Charles Greene walked me to my car. He makes sure I’m safe. What a gentleman!

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