My Battle With My Dulcimer

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Each Tuesday I have a dulcimer lesson and I get thrown back into a place previously not visited often. I am a beginner. I am incompetent. I usually do things where I have a bit of competency. So, I choose to look at the lessons as a good things. I am doing something new.

Tuning the dulcimer has gone from being an utter nightmare to being doable. Progress.

As I get older, I want to keep on learning and doing new things. About four years ago, my father died. This is one of the most precious lessons he taught me.

Thunderstorms and Firecrackers

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My thirteen year old dog, Bonnie, has always been sensitive with sound. She is a silky terrier and like most silky terriers, she is very active and alert. She is also a very cuddly lap dog.

I got her in April of 2000. I soon found out that she shook in terror at the sound of thunder. She also barked furiously when she heard thunder. The sequence was thunderclap, ensue barking, thunder stops and a shaking dog remains.. I decided and it was a decision since I do not read doggy minds that Bonnie believed that her barking stopped the thunder. I tried to look at it from her point of view. Thunder, bark and thunder stops and shake to get ready for the next thunder. She was a powerful little doggy. This was not so bad during the day. At night it was not good for sleeping. I made the mistake of letting her sleep on the bed so could comfort her. She is still on the bed. During storms, she began to lay on top of my head shaking.

The fireworks reactions soon followed. Fireworks are a traditional way to celebrate the Fourth of July. They are readily available in Michigan and somehow the celebration sporadically starts in June and seems to go until late summer. Since fireworks noise is brief, her reaction is just shaking with fear.

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When she was a younger dog, the behavior was extreme. As she got older, it began to moderate. It was still strong enough to hinder my sleeping at night. Whenever there was a thunderstorm, I still woke up with a dog on my head. And it seemed as if she was stuck on with Velcro. On warm summer nights, having a warm, hairy dog on my head was not a good feeling.

About a year ago I bought a Thundershirt for her.

Last night, we had the combo. Firecrackers were going off a couple of doors down down the street in the evening and they were followed by a thunderstorm. I held up the Thundershirt and she stood still so I could put it on her. She now knows that it makes her feel calm. After it was on her, she collapsed to the side and went to sleep. Her only storm/fireworks reaction now is that she wants me between her and the window.
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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!

Other Music This Week

I went out several times and only have mentioned one so far. Now, time to mention the others. It may seem strange how often I go out. For me, live music of the kind I like brings me to a transcendent place and it is a place I like. I feel like it is my authentic self rather than the self that is proscribed by all the the conventions that are a part of getting along in the world. Since I don’t drink alcohol, it is a “high” that can go on for hours and even days.

Last Monday, I went to the Monday night at the Harbor House featuring the Milt Show. The base group is Milton Hale(dms), Phil Hale(keys) and Greg Cook(bass). This week, Chris Branch(sax) joined in for the first set. I was sitting with a couple of girlfriends. They are both listeners and do not do a lot of talking while the music is playing. It was a good evening of music. During the evening there were two sax players…..Chris Branch and Scott Reiter. Both of them are good musicians. And there were four trumpets…..Dwight Adams, Alan Denard, Mark Croft and David Greene. Dwight Adams plays with Stevie Wonder. He is one of my favorite trumpets. His notes are brain piercing clear. When he plays the trumpet, that is all there is. I am completely drawn into the music. These are all experienced musicians and play so well together.

During the second set, Misty Love sang. My table friends left and another girlfriend joined me. It was a good evening.

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Dwight Adams on trumpet, Milt Hale on drums and Phil Hale on keys…

Last night is was Bert’s Jazz Room again and the John Douglas Quartet. The quartet this week was John Douglas(tpt), Mike Malis(keys), Ib Jones(bass) and Butter Hawkins(dms). I was there for the second set. When they did “Lazy Bird”, everyone in the place started cheering. Mike Malis was so hot that when another musician touched him you could almost see the steam rising from his body. There were other musicians as well : David Greene (tpt), Dan Rice(trbn), Mark Croft(tpt) and Roger Vincent(dms). It told Mike after the set hold much I thought he had improved in the last year. He said that meant a lot to him. He had seen me in the audience for a couple of years and knew I was a listener. It pleased me to hear that it meant something to him. I gave John a hug and left.

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John Douglas in light shirt standing to the left, Mike Malis on keys, Ib Jones on bass, Butter Hawkins on drums and David Greene sitting on the stage at right.

I am glad to go back after an incident two weeks ago which made it so difficult to go back to Bert’s. I had to force myself and I’m glad I did.

The Michael Jellick Trio at the Nothtern Lights Lounge

Tonight I took my regular Wednesday night trip to the Northern Lights Lounge to hear the the Michael Jellick Trio. This has become more ritual than routine. For me, this is a musical adventure when Michael Jellick is in the house.

The first set is at 9:00 p.m.. And they start on time. For the servers, I am routine. Once a month there is a long table of people who work together and got there after work. This was the week. they are generally a noisy crowd. they also leave around the time the music starts. i finally saw a table near the front where i like to sit and went to a table. I saw one of my friends on the other side of the room. i decided to stay where i was because we are both intense listeners. The server brings me a club soda and lime as I walk in. She asked me if I wanted the usual, beef nachos. It is huge.

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All the vegetables are fresh and I can take a lot home. The food came quickly. The music had already started. Some young women sat down at the table next to me. They started talking and got louder as the music got louder. If they wanted to talk, why didn’t they pick a table towards the back of the the room?

I was sitting close enough to the stage to hear Michael call “Caravan”. It is one of my favorite numbers and I especially like the way Michael Jellick changes it every time I hear it. It is so inspiring to be able to hear the same number done so many ways. Each one is an exciting audio adventure. It was followed by “Bye, Bye Blackbird”. The melody of blackbird started with the bass player and was again an innovative way of approaching the song.

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Those picture above shows Michael Jellick at the keys and Eric Nachtraub on the bass. This is, for me, a place where one set is fully satisfying.

After the set, my friend and I talked for a bit and we were both blown away by “Caravan” and “Bye, Bye, Blackbird”. Michael came up and we both told him how much we liked the numbers. He told how he got the idea for the arrangement on “Bye, Bye Blackbird” and how he was going to use the idea on other numbers. Hearing how he creates stimulates my ideas for playing my hammered dulcimer. This is the best part of the Detroit music scene…the access to the musicians.