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.

Purse Snatching

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A few months ago I was at a musical event and there was a purse snatching. This was something I has heard about and somehow thought I would never see some thing like this.

I have often been advised by friends who see my purse hanging open as I walk down the street that I am inviting a purse snatching. I have a grip on the purse and think it will not happens to me and so far it hasn’t. This incident had made me aware and careful.

The evening started normally. The house band do the first set and musicians came in to join in on the second set. This evening it was talking with a friend who plays saxophone. He got his horns out and set them on a booth in the front which is usually vacant since the musicians are not visible from that booth. I had seen most of the people in the bar although some not enough to have a conversation.

The sax player ad I were talking when he looked over to the booth with his horns and noticed a young man looking at his horns. Musicians are always very protective of their instruments so he yelled at he guy to move. He did. This was someone we hadn’t seen before. My friend asked the bartender and she hadn’t seen him either. When he went up to play he asked me to watch his horns.

The evening went on and the new guy moved from place to place around the bar. This particular bar is long and thin. It has a 50 foot oak bar on the left as you walk in and tables and booths to the right. He sat at several seats at the bars, a booth and just stood in the back. He began to slip into the background as I listened to the music.

One of the women in the bar slipped Into the back of the front booths and had her belongs including her purse towards the wall so it was “safe”. The guy reached over the booth as snatched the purse. I didn’t see it. What I did see was the woman running out of the bar.

When she came back in, she was sobbing. The music stopped. Within a minute, the band knew what had happened. The band and several other men ran from the bar immediately. Everyone had noticed the new guy.

After about twenty minutes, the guys began to come back. They found the guy and held him down while someone else got the police. The bar is right next to the police main station and with a Tiger baseball game that evening, there were quite a few in the area. By the time they got him, the purse was gone and the guy insisted the musicians were wrong. The police asked him to empty his pockets in front of the woman who lost the purse and he had her keys and phone in his pocket. He was arrested.

The guy who came back was the one who held him down and had cut his finger in the process and told us what had happened. The other guys were helping the woman look for her purse and other things that had been scattered. Her purse and most of the things in the purse were recovered.

I was so surprised and pleased how fast the band and others came to her defense. The women in the bar comforted the woman. Since that time, I have been so much more careful with my purse.

The Bomb

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Sather Gate, UC Berkeley, 1969

The evening started as a typical weeknight evening in winter. The rainy season was just ending so most evenings were cool and damp. For those of us in Berkeley, Ca, winter was the rainy season. David, my boyfriend was out for the evening at a political meeting and Chara, my six year old daughter, was sleeping. I was planning on an evening of reading and studying.

The house was a small, older brown shingle house quite common to the Bay Area and part of the area’s charm. It was close to the center of downtown near Provo Park known officially as Civic Center Park, the library and my daughter’s school. It was also right across the street from the Berkeley Police Department. We felt as if our house would probably not be burgled so we took the extra traffic in stride. In reality, it made no difference in our daily lives. The front porch was shaded and covered with vines so thick that we could not see the street or the police station from our front windows even in winter.

The interior of our house was just perfect in my eyes. The main room of the house had a bay window at one end of room that caught the morning light. There was a fireplace at the other end of the room to warm the evenings. Around the room, there was shoulder high red oak wainscoting with a plate rail. There were built in bookshelves on both sides of the fireplace mantel. We had a worn burgundy print Persian carpet on the floor. The couch was covered with an orange Indian striped bedspread that was common to the era. There was a worn comfortable black leather chair with an end table next to it and was perfect for reading. It was the the usual beat up eclectic style favored by students in 1970.

On that evening in February, I was sitting in my living room in a nightgown and robbe is tending to Earth, Wind and Fire and finally catching up on the reading I needed to do for class. It was the day before Valentines Day and I wanted a clear evening for a celebration. The crackling fire in the the fireplace was taking the dampness out of the air. My dog, Stoney, was lying by the fire contentedly. Our two cats were roaming around the house and occasionally draping themselves on the mantel to catch the warmth of the fire.

I had my usual cup of coffee by my side and thought this was a perfect night without interruptions so I could get all my work done. As I was getting up to refill my coffee cup, there was an explosion so deafening that all the windows in the house rattled. Stoney jumped up and barked frantically. The cats fled towards the back of the house. I dropped the coffee cup in my hand spilling the last drops of coffee on the rug.

I stood in the middle of the home I considered a refuge from the world not knowing what to do. My mind was frozen. My blood seemed to stand still in my veins. Everything stopped for a moment.

Next, I ran. I’m not sure what possessed me but I ran to the front door. I threw the door open and raced to the street. All the street lights were still on. The Berkeley Police Department had all its light blazing and looking just as it usually did. I looked up and down the street and saw nothing that could explain the deafening noise I heard. There was no smoke or fire. I did see about ten of my neighbors in various stages of dress out on the street. All the dogs in the neighborhood seemed to be barking or howling.

“What happened?” Asked Nancy, my next door neighbor.
I came back with “I don’t know.”

None of us in the middle of the block had any idea do what had happened. Then we all turned towards the police department when we heard screaming and shouting. We saw over a dozen Berkeley police officers racing out of the police department building. All the police officers had their guns drawn and were running every which way waving their guns wildly. Some ran towards the parking lot. Some stayed in front of the station. One ran towards the bushes. And one ran back inside. They all looked just as scared as I
and all my neighbors were.

Then, there was another thunderous roar. This time it was so much louder since we were outside. All of us, the neighborhood, who were still on the street, turned and ran for our homes as If we were one body and slammed our doors. I still had no idea what had exploded. I could hear the sounds of activity and chaos outside. There was yelling and there were sirens. And I was still in the dark.

Being in the dark has never been easy for me. I remembered seeing two of my next door neighbors outside. So, I went out the back door after checking on my sleeping daughter and walked through an opening in the hedge to get to my next door neighbors house. I knocked on the door and heard a muffled squeal.

“Whose there?” Barb asked.
“Marsha”” I said.

Barb looked from side to side to see if anyone was with me and opened the door. We found after a short conversation that neither of us had any clue as to what had happened. I asked her if she wanted to come over. I couldn’t stay at her house because of my sleeping daughter. Barb decided to stay on her home. So I crept back through the hedge to my home.

At that point, any pretense of studying or reading was out of the question. My mind was racing a mile n minute with nowhere to go. And I still didn’t know what had happened. At this point, I thought I knew some bombs had exploded. I didn’t know if anyone had been hurt or who had done it.

I went back to check on my daughter. I checked the clock and it was only 9:00 p.m.. I began to busy myself around the house. I picked up the coffee cup off the rug and wiped up the spill. I got another cup of coffee and it tasted terrible. I felt as if I had been up for two days. My curiosity was out of control and I went to the front porch to see if I could catch sight of anything through the vines. After all, curiosity only kills cats. The vines on the porch made it impossible to see anything. Stoney came out fto survey her domain and after a brief inspection returned to the warmth of the fire. I followed her back inside to wait for David to come home. He had planned to come home early so now I began to wonder where he was. I called a couple of friends and found out he was not there. The friends were far enough away so that they had not heard the explosion. I told them that I thought a couple of bombs had exploded. We speculated on who might bomb anything and we thought maybe it was a splinter group of SDS(Students for a Democratic Society) called the Weathermen. But, we didn’t know.

Another coffee didn’t appeal to me so I opted for a beer. I hoped the beer would calm me. I tried reading and couldn’t. My next stop was the TV for the 10:00 p.m. news hoping the news had the story. At they moment, someone knocked at the door. I looked through the window and saw two very large cops. When I opened the door, one of the cops wanted to know if I had seen or heard anything before the explosion. The other one asked if I had seen a stranger in the area who looked out of place in Berkeley. I really hadn’t. I mentally wondered what would look it of place in Berkeley – maybe a pin stripe suit. They did tell me that the explosions had blown up two police cars in the police car parking lot and there were no injuries. They told me they would be searching my yard.

It scared me to think the “bomber” could be in my back yard or my crawl space without me knowing about it. They noticed my reaction and told me to lock the doors. My reaction must have been visible. They told me not to worry because the neighborhood was sealed and no one was getting in or out. With that piece of information, I knew why David wasn’t home. After the cops left, I looked out the bay window and could see the beams of two flashlights moving around the yard. I felt like a prisoner in my own home.

Another sound on the steps and I was on my feet checking to make sure the door was locked. This time it was David. He had been stopped at the end of the block. Both he and the car were searched. The cops had not found anything but made the comment that they were sure they could find something if they really looked. I told David all about my evening before we went to bed.

For the next week, everyone on the block was searched when ever we left or came home. They never found the bomber and no one claimed credit. It was attributed to the SDS splinter group called the Weathermen. All I can remember is how scared I was at the time.

The Milton Show on Monday Night

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On Monday night I went out to The Milton Show at the Harbor House. I went late so it was easy parking and headed into the place and heard the music had already started. It was the house band with Milton Hale on drums, Phillip Hale on keys, Chris Branch on sax and Greg Cook on bass.

20130924-222657.jpgLeft to Right: Greg Cook, Chris Branch, Milton Hale( behind Chris) and Phil Hale. As I walked in, I saw the tables in the front were taken and then saw Mecca (sax) sitting at a booth and she waves so I went over to sit with her. She had her sax out and was ready to join the music when the spirit moved her. Just then, John Douglas walked in and Mecca got more serious about playing. John began to warm up his trumpet.

20130924-225253.jpgAt the time, the band was playing “Little Sunflower” which is a Freddie Hubbard tune. It was a good number since both trumpet players, John Douglas and James O’Donnell, played solos on this one. The sax players, Mecca and Chris Branch also played some solos. I got to lean back in my booth and enjoy the music. Usually the sound where I sit is too loud. sitting back a little softened the sound. The first set is usually all instrumental with a lots of musicians taking long solos. Songs can last over a half an hour.

During the break I wandered around land talked to people. I talked to Scott Reiter(sax) and he introduced me to a vocalist named Nicky Pierce(I think). This was a more social evening than usual probably since I was talking with Mecca in a booth.

After the break, they played “So What”. Since I had heard this one just last week, I was doing a mental comparison in my mind. Last Friday was really extraordinary so this version was just a little more laid back. One of the reasons I like jazz is hearing how many different ways one song can be played. For me, it stays fresh that way. Everyone played and there were quite a few solos. I also like to hear how each musician interprets what a “good” solo is for a song. For me a “good” solo is one where I am not waiting for it to end. During the second set there were several vocalists. I’m not even sure what song Tosha Owens sang but she really had a good stage presence and managed to not get pushed into the background like some of the other vocalists. I enjoyed hearing her. The other vocalist is like was Nicky. she sang “Caravan”, a song I really like. I am partial to an instrumental version. She did it well and for once I didn’t mind the song with lyrics.

It was a nice evening and I left feeling happy and relaxed.

Friday at Bert’s Motown Room

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Left to Right: Phil Hale(keys), John Douglas (tpt), Greg Cook(bass), James Carter( flute), Mark Lipson( drums) and Dwight Adams(tpt)

Last night was a magical, musical night that almost didn’t happen for me. I left the house in a torrential rain that just didn’t ease up. The rain was coming down fast and hard. I tried to stay in the center lane since both sides had areas of huge puddles that plumed high in the air when cars did go through them. It was dark and some sections of the freeway did not have working lights. At times on the way to Bert’s in the Eastern Market of Detroit, I thought about turning back. I didn’t turn back and arrived in time for the second set.

The house band for the evening was John Douglas, Phil Hale, Butter Hawkins(drums) and Greg Cook. However, the second set started with Mark Lipson on drums. They started with “Lazy Bird”. It started slowly and this one was not the kicked the energy surge in the room. At the beginning of the second song, the musicians in the room began to open their musical cases. There were saxes and trumpets being put together. I began to hear the quiet sounds of different musicians all around me checking their instruments. and getting them ready to play. The first to play that evening was James Carter. I’m not really sure when he began to play since for this evening I had put away my analytical tendencies and was feeling the music. He started with a piccolo.

20130921-183817.jpg This picture was taken before the picture at the top. James Carter also had a baritone sax with him that evening. It was so wonderful to hear his range from the highest audible notes to the lowest in his unique captivating style.

The music morphed into “So What” without a pause and the synergistic energy of musicians playing so well and pushing each other to play better started to flow through the room. When one musician was on the stage doing a solo, I could hear other musicians playing around me playing softly building the music into an unusual depth. It was no longer a quartet, it was a large ensemble of musicians playing as one. One of the particular things I liked about the evenings was how the solos of Dwight Adams went straight to my brain and just made me wonder how sound could cause such an emotional reaction. And then, another musician would solo and it just kept on for me through John Douglas, Phil Hale, James Carter, Mike Jellick and Larry Smith.

20130921-185639.jpgLarry Smith on alto sax

20130921-185743.jpgDavid Greene on trumpet

20130921-185855.jpgRafael Statin on tenor sax

20130921-190337.jpgMike Jellick on keys, Sébastien Levanneur on bass, Dwight Adams on trumpet and Darryl Pierce on drums

Larry Smith started “Body and Soul” and the music went on. As the place closed a little after 3 a.m. the band played Red Top which is the favorite song of Bert. It was a slight detour into blues but with this group playing, it was a complex and exciting piece of music.

This kind of music eases my mind and puts me in a place where I am happy. I have not smiled so much in quite a while or been so engrossed in the music.

Trio Nomadian and John Douglas Quartet

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Friday September 6, 2013 was a work day for me. I work. The work I do keeps my mind active and since I am meeting the public, I am always “on”. I had a long debate with myself when I got home about whether to go out for some music on Friday night. I had spent so many hours listening to so many great musicians the weekend before that I wasn’t sure my brain could hold any more. Work does tend to put my mind in a busy place and music tends to help me quiet my busy mind. So I was in my busy mind place and decided to go out and quiet my mind.

I hadn’t seen the Trio Nomadian for well over a year and thought Motor City Wine would be a good place to go. They call themselves serious jazz fusion which has many stylistic origins and has long improvisations. The group(pictured above) is from left to right Demetrius Nabors, Damon Warmack and Nate Winn. Seeing a group after a hiatus is one of the best ways to hear internal changes to the music. I had been away so long that I really couldn’t remember how they were before last Friday. They did their own compositions this evening. Demetrius’ composition was ” Full of Peace” and Damon’s was “By the By”.

This was the first time I had heard Demetrius’ composition. At first, I didn’t hear why he had named it like he did. Eventually, it did have peaceful elements. After the break, they played Damon’s composition. Two other musicians, Timothy Gay(sax) and Chris Johnson(tpt), joined in.

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Since the additional musicians were not familiar with the song, Damon said it followed basically a C Minor blues structure. The way they played it,it had it all. It was both melodic and dissonant. It was both soft and loud. There were tempo changes from slow to fast. I could feel my body vibrating to the music. I left after the song. I was on a short leash since I was also working on Saturday.

I went over Bert’s Motown Room to hear the John Douglas Quartet, my comfy jazz. I ordered my club soda and lime and got possibly one of the nastiest surprises I had had I a long time. The soda was absolutely flat and it had been flat the prior Sunday. It was disgusting. I’m tempted to bring my own.

On the other hand, they were playing “Softly, As the Morning Sunrise” when I walked into the place. The quartet on stage was John Douglas(tpt), Sébastien Levanneur(bass, from Paris, France), Alex White(dms) and Michael Malis(keys). Once I got over the drink, I sank right into the music.

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The music sounds much better in this room. Perhaps, another bonus is that it became a jazz room. People stopping by to be social and have dinner were in the other room. So the room was quiet while they were playing. It got even better when Dwight Adams, trumpet, joined.

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The notes from Dwight’s trumpet are so clear, either high or low notes. I remember once a couple of years ago walking up behind a stage at the jazz festival and hearing a trumpet. I mentioned to my granddaughter that I hoped she would hear Dwight Adams before she left town since I thought he played as well as the trumpet we were hearing. We got to the stage and it was Dwight Adams. A couple of other musicians joined the group. They were Steve Hunter on trombone and Brad Stern on alto sax. I left at the break so I would get enough sleep for work the next morning.

Sunday Afternoon at the Detroit Jazz Festival 2013

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Carhartt Amphitheater, Hart Plaza, Detroit, MI

I wandered over to the Absopure Pyramid stage to expand my jazz listening. One of the things I can do at this festival is sample all sorts of music other than what I normally hear.

After lunch I went to the Absopure Pyramid stage to see Dave Liebman( sax, flute) and Richie Beirach(piano). I got a seat with no problem. The music was dissonant, abrasive and edgy. If I had never heard jazz before I would say that I don’t like jazz. As I listened, I began to hear different things. I relaxed and began to enjoy the music. I could hear how closely the musicians played against each other weaving in and out moving the emphasis from one instrument to the other. By the time they played “Pendulum” which they recorded at the Village Vanguard in New York City in the late 1970s, my original opinion had changed. Both of the musicians had incredible expertise. The music engaged and stimulated my mind. I was hearing the meshed, cohesive music as they worked together to create sound to remember. In fact,I got so engrossed that I forgot to take a picture.

The next act at the stage was a group I had seen and enjoyed before so I decided to stay for part of the performance. This was a tribute to Don Byas who was a legendary bebop jazz saxophone player. This tribute similar to the Teddy Harris, Jr. Tribute on Saturday which also focused on bebop. The tribute was performed by James Carter(sax), Gerard Gibbs(piano), Dr. Leonard Moon(drums), Theo Croker(tpt) and Ralphe Armstrong( bass). James Carter was playing a restored Don Byas saxophone probably played from 1950 to 1962 by Don Byas. James Carter called Don Byas the harmonic link between swing and bebop.

20130903-180207.jpgJames Carter

I stayed to listen to “1944 Stomp”, “Free and Easy” and “Stardust”. As I listened, I could hear both the elements of swing and bebop which was true of all the songs I heard. When they started the “1944 Stomp”, chills went down my back. That is how well this particular set of musicians has an emotional connection with me. My favorite of the group is James Carter who has an emotionally charged saxophone. It can be mournful, energetic, engaging, intellectual or adventurous. So for the time I was there, I was on a wonderful emotional roller coaster.

20130903-182345.jpgGerard Gibbs, Ralphe Armstrong, James Carter, Leonard Moon and Theo Croker

I headed over to the Carhartt Amphitheater with a dual purpose. The act just coming up was good and the next acte after that one was Ahmad Jamal. Although there are reserved seats for VIP (those who pay), there are never enough seats if all of them show up at the main stage. I got a seat near the middle of the third row. I was overjoyed.

The next act was called the Alan Broadbent Trio featuring Sheila Jordan. The trio was Alan Broadbent(piano), Cameron Brown(bass) and Sean Dobbins(drums). There was also a string orchestra behind the trio. The music was for the most part both soothing and enjoyable without n edge. I had seen Sheila Jordan before and really did want to see her again. All the edge in th performance came from her lyrics. She will be 85 in November.

Sheila was not hitting the notes at the beginning of the performance but as the performance went on, she was sounding very good. When her voice warmed up and she began to scat, it was all there and magnificent. Before she did ” Seek Your Hearts Desire”, she mentioned that she did not sing professionally until she was 58. She is an inspiration.

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Alan Broadbent, Sheila Jordan, Cameron Brown and Sean Dobbins

And finally, Amad Jamal alone his quartet. The quartet was Amad Jamal(piano), Reginald Veal(bass), Manolo Badrena(percussion) and Herman Riley (drums). The last time I heard Ahmad Jamal, I was watch from behind the stage way up on the hill. All I heard was his playing. This time, sitting in front, it was a very different listening experience. All the music depended on the wonderful driving beat behind the keys. It was amazing as were all the musicians. There were times when the bass was the forefront of the beat. Other times when it was the drums or percussion. For the most part, the bass was main driver and the bass playing was wondrous.

On both “Voodoo”and “Saturday Morning”, there was the familiar Jamal soft piano touch with the driving beat behind it. They did “Poinciana” and a few other numbers. As the encore they did “This is the Life”. It was, for me, one of those transcendent musical experiences leaving me with a quiet happy mind.

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I decided to go to an after the festival jam. I did not go to the DJF sponsored jam at the Marriott since last year it was overcrowded, couldn’t hear the music and got no service. A friend was at the Harbor House and I went. When I arrived, it was crowded and noisy. The music was not to my liking. I told my friend that I had to go. And go I did to Bert’s where the music was good. And finally home and happy.