Gerard Gibbs Trio at Cliff Bells

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Photo by Ren Farley, 2009

On Friday night I went out to Cliff Bells to see the Gerard Gibbs Trio. It has been a while since I have gone to Cliff Bells and it is one of the best jazz clubs. There are a couple of reasons I don’t go that often. Cliff Bells is is the Entertainment district of Detroit. It is about two blocks from the Comerica Stadium which is where the Tiger Baseball team plays home games during summer and now into autumn with the playoffs. There are also a couple of major theaters within a couple of blocks. It means paying for parking. During Tiger games it can be up to $25. On Friday night I did have to pay for parking and it was only $5 which I can pay. I could park blocks away but walking a long way at night on untraveled streets does not appeal to me.

Cliff Bells first opened in 1928 during Prohibition as a supper club with a speakeasy downstairs. The building was designed by Albert Kahn who was the major architect during that era of Detroit construction. It opened for the first time as a jazz club in 1935 and the jazz club was designed by Charles Agee. It fell on hard times and was closed in 1985. It reopened after being refurbished in 2005. The restoration is highlighted by a long bar and warmly colored wood keeping the essence of the Jazz Era. The only problem is that the redesign did not pay attention to making sure the sound was good. There are places to sit where the sound is good and I can generally find a good seat if I arrive after the first set.

20131006-102848.jpgLeft to Right: Perry Hughes on guitar, Gerard Gibbs on organ, Gene Dunlop on drums

I had a seat where I could hear the music and the people around me listened to the music rather than chatting. Cliff Bells is also a supper club and sometimes early in the evening people are there to eat dinner and use the music as background music. The music was very good as is usual for this group. This is a group of musicians that has played together for some time and has that unspoken communication that makes for a unified sound. It is such a pleasure to hear musicians who can all do great solos and play together without letting their ego overtake the harmony and balance they achieve. I can tell you, I enjoyed all of it and also that none of the songs were named so there is no way I can say what I enjoyed.

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.

Maccabees At Midtown and Bert’s Jazz Room

The new Detroit Jazz Magazine hosted a music event at Maccabees At Midtown in Detroit on May 31, 2013. The musicians for the event were both very good so I decided to give it a try. The place was an unexpected good surprise although it was crowded. It used to be a diner and had been recently restored. It has a bronzed coffered ceiling. The lamp shades over the lamps near the bar had metal cut outs do lords and ladies on the shades. There were other nice touches that raised it way above its former diner status. The food the servers carried past me during the evening looked fantastic.

The musicians for the event were Gerard Gibbs(keys) and Brandon Williams(dms). Both are so very good and worked well with each other. Gerard is leaving for Australia on Sunday to tour with James Carter(sax) and Leonard Moon(dms). I hope they have a great tour.

They put together a good evening of music. This bar is not really set up for music so I will say those that came to have conversation and drinks were disappointed. Gerard played the theme song from “The Flintstones.” He does that one frequently. Since it not expected, people have a look of concentration on their faces trying to figure out where they have heard it before.

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After the show, I had a nice conversation with a young German tourist on an architectural tour of the Detroit area. I mentioned my local favorite Frank Lloyd Home, the Turkel House built in 1955, and showed him the details on my phone. I gave him the directions and he is going to try to see it. I also tried to explain to him that in this country, servers get far less than the minimum wage because the lawmakers believe that the pay plus tips will equal minimum wage. I told him how much they make and he was shocked. He said, “That’s nothing!” He works at a bar in Germany and doing the Euro/Dollar conversion we figured out that he made about thirteen dollars and the tipping is much smaller.

I left and went to Bert’s Jazz Room. I thought this was the last week for the John Douglas Quartet and they would be replaces by Someone else next week. He did announce that the John Douglas Quartet will be staying for a while. It is the perfect end to an evening.

The quartet can change each week because of conflict ing gigs. This week the quartet was John Douglas(tpt), Butter Hawkins(dms), Greg Cook(bass) and Mike Malis(keys). The energy was really good this week. The timbre of the trumpet ws so penetrating and lovely this evening. I like the way John tends to play jazz standards. It’s not easy listening but it is familiar and soothing …ear comfort food.

After the set, I said hello and goodbye to several musicians and left for home feeling uplifted.

I have added a picture of the Turkel House in Detroit which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

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