The Mighty Funhouse at MotorCity Wine

It was a rainy, windy evening and I decided I needed some music. The wind was so strong that the dog was huddled up to me as I looked over the possibilities available for the music I like on a Wednesday evening in Detroit. There were about four “regular” choices. I decided on The Mighty Funhouse who play every Wednesday evening in the Corktown area of Detroit. 

 

The Mighty Funhouse, Left to Right: John Douglas, Phil Hale, Skeeto Valdez and Paul Randolph

 
I was surprised when I got to the parking lot to see how crowded it was on a Wednesday and then remembered that a lot of people are off work or in town for the holidays. I walked in to the sound of the music and virtually no place to sit so I got a lemon soda and stood at the rail looking I to the room where the music was being played. After just a bit a girlfriend tapped me on the shoulder and showed me an open spot next to her and her friend at the bar. I usually don’t sit at the bar and so this was a fresh perspective. As I saw people I knew, there were hugs all around and I felt at home again listening to the music. 

The present composition of the Funhouse produces an unusual sound. Each of the musicians usually plays in a different genre. 

Skeeto Valdez has the most experience in rock and funk. He also plays drums in a jazz group frequently. He is a master at several genres and the organizer behind the Mighty Funhouse. 

 

Skeeto Valdez

 
Phil Hale usually plays either jazz or R’n’B.  As with many Detroit musicians, he started playing at an early age in church.

Phil Hale

Paul Randolph has most of his musical career out of work Detroit so what I see is that he does blues and vocals at this venue. 

 

Paul Randolph

 
Finally, there is John Douglas who primarily plays jazz. Although I have heard him play swing and R n B. 

 

John Douglas

 
Last night one of the other patrons and I were trying to figure out what genre we were hearing. We just could not find a good answer. This band is borrows from all the genres I have mentioned and you can hear all of them in the sound. A normally straight forward blues tune will have a little jazzy overtone provided by John Douglas. 

They usually do “Ain’t It Funky Now ” which is a great number to showcase all their talent. I was able to leave with a happy brain.

Some Friday Night Music

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I started the evening at Motor City Wine where trio Nomadian was playing. They are usually a good show. When I got there, there were so many people in the place that there was no place to sit. Since I arrived at the end of a set, I hoped that some of the crowd would clear out so I could both hear the music and sit down. While waiting, I chatted with a few people I know and some oven brought me my drink.

20140105-152332.jpgLeft to Right: Demetrius Nabors (keys), Kris Johnson(tpt), Damon Warmack(elec. bass) and Nate Winn (drums).

The first sone of the second set was “Mind the Gap” composed by Damon Warmack. It is one of the songs I like and I was happy. But then, some women joined the birthday party going in full swing going on in the center of the room. While half the table was talking loudly so they could be heard, others were checking their phones to make sure they were not missing anything. My view of the music area was blocked by two guys standing in front of me. They did step aside long enough so I could take a picture. As you may have guessed, the place was not conducive to listening to music so I left after one song.

It was cold and the parking lot was cleared. There were still areas where the snow was not clear so getting to the back of the lot without getting snowy feet was a challenge. I took I the drive to Bert’s where James Carter was having his 45th birthday party. The parking lot showed it was a large party. Once again, I walked in as the last notes of the first set were sounded.

It was the John Douglas Quartet amplified. James Carter is a well known national and international saxophone player. He lives in New York but spends a great deal of time in Detroit which is where he grew up. I have seen him frequently late at night when he Ian’s walks in to jam at Bert’s. Last Friday at Bert’s, their were so many musicians in the place that night all wanting to play. And play they did. I stayed from midnight to 3:15a.m. and left in the middle of the last song. There was even a birthday cake.

20140105-155427.jpgLeft to Right: John Douglas(tpt), Mike Malis(keys) and T Pablo Lowman(percussion).

John Douglas did a great job of organizing and making sure things ran smoothly. They did “God Bless the Child”, “Giant Steps”, “Georgia on My Mind” and Moanin'”.

20140105-161242.jpgSax Player: James Carter

The birthday guest stepped in on almost all the numbers. Between sets he did an impromptu duet with Michele Ramos ( adapted guitar) which was really nice. James Carter is such an exceptional player that it is hard to listen to the other players so it took some time for me to relax and listen to the gestalt of the piece. It added depth and a complexity to the pieces.

When the second set started, the base group was John Douglas(tpt), Ibrihim Jones(bass), T Pablo Lowman(percussion), Gsylynn McKinney(drums), Mike Malis(keys), Reichlan Small(guitar) Joan Belgrave(vox)and James Carter(sax). As y end. you can see the everyone was doing their best to make this a party to remember.

I can say I got up to leave several times and the music drew me back until almost the end. There were many other musicians who got up to play and I have listed them in tags. They all added to the fantastic night of music that I am so glad I didn’t miss.

Getting into the Detroit Jazz Festival 2013

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Transcending statue in honor of Labor, Hart Plaza, Detroit, MI

The 2013 Detroit Jazz Festival was in full swing Saturday, August 31, 2013. The festival is held on Labor Day weekend and this is the 34 th year of the festival. It was a partly cloudy day and it was supposed to get to about 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The excitement began as I drove downtown. During the festival, I have to take a different route since they close some streets for the festival. I remembered how to dodge all the closures and got to the parking garage easily.

I had been sent the wristbands to get to the ” reserved” seats in the mail. This is my vacation. Although the entire festival is free, I pay to get access to folding chair seats at three stages, a catered meal, free bottled water, and free parking. It is so much easier not having to fight crowds.

As I walked out of the garage, I decided to make my first stop the Tribute to Teddy Harris, Jr. Who was a noted sax player and bandleader from Detroit. As I sat waiting, I saw James Carter(sax), Ralphe Armstrong (bass), David Greene(tpt), John Douglas (tpt), Dwight Adams(tpt), Rayse Biggs(tpt), and Robert Lowe(gtr). At first, the piano did not have a working microphone and it was quickly fixed. All the musicians has a solo at one time or another. My favorite trumpet, Dwight Adams, had several and got me into the spirit of the festival. The moderator did not name any of the songs. This is a pet peeve of mine in the music scene in Detroit. Especially at the DJF since we have visitors from so many countries.

20130901-104645.jpgI walked down Woodward, the main street in Detroit, to get my parking validated and a schedule. I also got a bag of stuff that I will look at later. While waiting in line at VIP, I listened to Bill Charlap and Renee Rosales at the main stage. I had not planned on this particular act. This is an event where I can listen to musicians I have never herd before and possible expand my mind and musical interests. So, I stopped at the top of the arena.

20130901-113434.jpg The two Steinway concert grands faced each other for the duo. One of the songs they played was “Off Minor” by Thelonious Monk. The music was more heady than emotional. Or, my brain was fully engaged with interest and the emotional impact was not the primary interest. After a few numbers, I left to get the catered lunch. I could see the crowd had grown. Some people set up an area and stay here all day.

I went for the food rather early since there have been times when the selection is meager. They seem to have it set up this year so that some people will not treat is as an all you can eat event. The lunch was a buffet lunch with hot rolls, tossed salad, grape tomatoes and fresh mozzarella cheese in a basalmic vinegar dressing, a pasta dish, Parmesan chicken with tomato sauce, baked salmon in sauce, oven baked potato spears, a fruit plate and cookies. I did my picking and choosing and got a large plate of food. The baked salmon was so very good, moist and rich. While I was eating I could listen to the main stage.

After eating, I took one of the chairs to set up and look a the main stage from the back. The sound was great and I didn’t have to battle any crowds. I could just relax and enjoy. It was the Mack Avenue Super Band which was a band comprised of a group of musicians on the Mack Avenue jazz label. Although it is a local label, I had not heard some of the musicians. The band members were Carl Allen(dms), Aaron Diehl(piano), Kirk Whalum(sax), Warren Wolf(vibes), Sean Jones(tpt) and Evan Perri(gtr). There were more but, these were the ones I heard. As you may have guessed, there is so much to see that sometimes, I will leave after a while and sample another act. They played “Soul Sister” composed by Warren Wolf. They also played a “Speak to my Heart”. I have to say that hearing Warren Wolf play the vibes may have changed my opinion about vibes. He was outstanding. I have also always liked Aaron Diehl and he did not disappoint. He has such engaging chord progressions and plays with an emotional intensity that I get caught up in his music completely.

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Jazz on the Lawn

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For the last three years, the St. Monica and St. Augustine Roman Catholic Church in Detroit near the Indian Village neighborhood has hosted Jazz on the Lawn on a Sunday afternoon in August. It is a seven hour program and people come and leave as they wish. The parking and event are free. There are food and refreshment booths and raffle tickets. Many bring lawn chairs and sit in the shade of the the many large trees. This last Sunday it was about 80 degrees F and there was a slight steady breeze making the day a perfect day for the concert. I sat under the tent for about three hours of the program.

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Indian Village neighborhood

When I arrived the the group playing was the Tasilmah Bey(keys) group. I spent a few minutes talking to some people i knew before any listening. The others were Marion Heyden(bass), Djallo Djakate (drums), Larry Gabriel(gtr,mandolin) and Kasan Belgrave(clarinet). The only complete number I heard was” When the Saints Go Marching In”. It is a real crowd pleaser and they did it

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The next group was the Duncan McMillan Trio with Duncan McMillan(Hammond B-3 Organ), Michael Gabriel (gtr) and George Davidson( drums). The Hammond B-3 is a large, heavy instrument and it took time to get it all set up but the sound of the instrument is rich and nuanced. Duncan introduced each song with just a bit about the song. It was good to hear and so different than usual. So often, the musicians just play a song in the bar or club setting without saying what they are playing. He started with “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” which is played often enough so it is familiar and not so often it is overdone. It is a little more complex than most and is one that I like. They did one of Duncan’s original compositions named “A Change of Rhythm” base on the chord progressions of “I’ve Got Rhythm”. And he did another crowd pleaser of “Over the Rainbow”. Michael Gabriel was showcased in a couple of the numbers. It was a good set of familiar numbers not frequently done.

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While they were moving the organ off the stage and setting up for the next group, I wandered over to the food tent and got a pulled pork sandwich. Most pulled pork sandwiches have some sort of sauce or seasoning. This one did not. There was a table and we added our own seasoning which did not work well. I generally do not like the kind of food offered at festivals so this fit right in.

The last group I watched was the Marion Heyden Quartet including Marion Heyden(bass) , Robert Jones(keys), Michael Brown(drums) and Renèe King Jackson(vox). The vocalist is from Memphis where jazz and R& B meet so she sang with those influences plus a touch of gospel. Robert Jones is one of the original Funk Brothers and has an outstanding repertoire and delivery. Marion Heyden was one of the first female instrumentalists to be recognized as an excellent musician in her own right. She is a lecturer at University of Michigan, Dearborn and is referred to as professor. There is no CV on the website and the site does not list her as a professor so I think she is an adjunct lecturer. Renée announced her numbers in a completely different way. She never announced the name of any number. Instead she named to person who was most known for doing the song assuming the audience would know the song. So, I didn’t know the name of some of the songs and probably never will because it is not one of my favorites like she thought. The one song she did that I really liked was “Damn Your Eyes”. The group did a good job on all the numbers. They really got into it one this one.

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I left after this set. One of the problems with outdoor events is the sound systems. The sound systems they used was not the best. I am comparing it to the sound systems in use at the Detroit Jazz Festival( August 30 through September 2) which are wonderful. The equipment they had was not the best. They probably were doing the best they could with what they had.

Jams or Gigs?

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There are three types of musician events that I see when I go out to see music. As the title suggests, they are gigs, jams and a mix. These are the one I see in the Detroit jazz music scene. The jams in the dulcimer community are quite different but gigs are the same.

The gig is and event where a band is playing s for the evening. A jam is usually a house band for one set than other musicians who are at the bar are on a list to play and whoever is running the jam sets up musicians to play with each other and they play.

The best part of a gig is that I get to see a group of professional musicians play some numbers competently. This is the kind of music it is so easy for me to just lose myself and go with the music. For me, this is the best way to check out people I have not heard before and get a sense of who they are as musicians. Sometimes at gigs, a musician in the audience may be asked to play but usually in an extemporaneous way.

Then, there is the jam which is more unpredictable. It usually starts with a house band for one set and then other musicians rotate through the band on stage for the rest of the evening. Some jams have lists and some have a person who set up who will play when. Some allow many musicians to play on one song. The jam can be great when extraordinary musicians show up to play and they can be dreadful when musicians and vocalists who are not very good show up and try to dominate. Also, the jam is where young student musicians get on stage and learn how to play in public. I like the part where I can hear the young, raw talent and see them improve over time. The jam also relies on curtains standards because they are in everyone’s repertoire.

Now that I know the format of each, I can pick and choose whichever fits my mood. This is a realization I have come to over quite a bit of time. When I go out now, I have a much better time of it than at the beginning.

More Music in Midtown Detroit

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Today, Saturday, July 6, 2013, I went to Concert of Colors again. Yesterday I has so many errands and chores that I was not able to get out.

Today, I decided to take a different approach. I decided to see check out music I usually do not see in the normal course of events. Since music is such an emotional experience for me, I might be able to get the same experience from music I usually do not hear. I have a history of being able to appreciate classical, blues, rock, and R&B but for the last few years, I have had a hard preference for jazz. And not all jazz, the soul jazz era. I am trying to expand my horizons.

I parked right next to the pocket park on Parsons where the outdoor stage was set up. So I stopped for a few minutes and listened to Kate Monaghan singeing the blues.

20130706-212150.jpgThe Kate Monaghan Band

20130706-212216.jpgA sculpture in the park

I walked about a half a block to the Max (Max M. Fisher Music Center)to hear Matuto which was billed as Brazilian bluegrass.

20130706-214900.jpg I am not sure why it is called Brazilian bluegrass. It may be because of the fiddle(violin) and accordion. I cannot recall ever seeing a drum kit in a bluegrass band. It might be that they are playing ‘country’ music. The music was fun and there was a lot of dancing. I danced a lot at the PD9 Township Jazz Project and my dancing legs are still a bit wobbly.

I went to the other inside stage to see Fatoumata Diawara billed as Malian wassalou. She is living in exile in Southern France. The musicians with her were from Cameroon and Togo. She has a beautiful voice and plays guitar while singing some of her songs.

20130706-221312.jpgThe songs were not in English. The official language of Mali is French and she was not singing in French. It may have been Bambara which is the main vernacular language. She did talk a little about what each song was about. The delivery was good enough that the language really did not matter. And I did manage to dance again in front of the stage.

20130706-222142.jpg wThe pic is not clear but was the best I could do in the circumstances. After dancing and towards the end of the music, I decide to see what I could find in festival food.

20130706-222603.jpgI got a fruit shortbread. It was on a lemon poppyseed shortbread with blackberries, strawberries, raspberries and blueberries topped with whip cream. It was just what I needed.

I went home happy.