Paradise Valley Jazz Lunchtime …8/19/2014

IMG_0685.JPGMobile Sculpture by U of Michigan art students, Beatrice Buck Park, Detroit, MI

Yesterday was a warm, partly cloudy day and a beautiful summer day to go to the Paradise Valley Jazz Series at Beatrice Buck Park in downtown Detroit.

IMG_0686.JPGLeft to Right: Rayse Biggs (tpt), Sean Dobbins(drums), Ralphe Armstrong(bass) and Scott Gwinell(keys).

These are some of the musicians in Detroit that are well known jazz all-stars. They played some of the well known jazz standards including “Song for my Father”, “Cherokee”, “Cold Duck Time”, and “Isn’t She Lovely”. Since the composer of “Song for my Father”, Horace Silver died this year, this has been an often played number. He is the theme of the upcoming Detroit Jazz Fest as well. And, I was hearing it from a different mix of musicians. It was really good. Rayse Biggs gave it a different treatment that I has heard before and it added to my enjoyment to hear a fresh approach. On “Cherokee”, Sean Dobbins did a nice drum solo.

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For “Isn’t She Lovely” which was the last number, Marcus Elliot on the far left joined the group. It was a great way to start the afternoon. Each time I see Marcus Elliot, I am more and more impressed.

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Labor Day at the Detroit Jazz Festival 2013

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Hart Plaza Fountain, Detroit, MI

The last day of the festival started out poorly for me. I,was about 20 minutes into the drive downtown when I realized I did not have my VIP wristband on my arm. I was in a rush to see the Aaron Diehl Trio. I made the decision to go back and get it. Or course , the wristband was not critical but there are some perks that mean a lot to me. So I raced back home and got the wristband and went on may way downtown again.

I walked very fast from the parking garage to the Absopure stage and got there in time to see the Aaron Diehl Trio. I was able to find a spot and sit down and just enjoy the music. The music I heard started slowly with a bluesy undertone. Aaron Diehl (piano) playing with Warren Wolf (vibes) is a dynamite combination. I didn’t get the names of the sidemen and can just say that even though I only got part of the set, rushing to see it was well worth it.

20130904-102736.jpgAaron Diehl Trio with Warren Wolf

I went over to the VIP desk to get my parking validated. I decided to get lunch since the next group I wanted to see was at the other end of the festival. The food I get with my pass is one of the parts that means a lot to me. I do not care for festival food and the food I get at the VIP tent Is so very good for food that is out in chafing dishes for a bit of time. This time the choices were cornbread, cole slaw, pinto bean salad, Itslian sausage with peppers, chicken with BBQ sauce, macaroni and cheese, a fruit plate, cookies and strawberry shortcake. I took the cornbread, cole slaw, Italian sausage, chicken, mac ‘n’ cheese, fruit and strawberry shortcake. Even though the food is much better than the food offered at the food booths, each day there were some misses. Today, the mac ‘n’ cheese tasted like it was made with some cheap cheese product rather than real cheese and I gave it a pass after one bite. All the rest was edible. Even though the strawberry shortcake was edible, the biscuit was not real shortcake and the faux whip cream reminded me of styrofoam. I was ready to go on to the rest of the festival.

I headed up to the JP Morgan Chase stage to see the Robert Glasper Experiment. He was here last year and I heard from some how he “killed it”. I saw it again when he played at a jam session that evening. He was playing with Casey Benjamin(sax, keytar), Mark Colenburg(drums) and Derek Hodge(bass). Wallace Roney(tpt) sat in on one number. There was a long delay because the set up crew was having sound problems that took time to resolve. Glasper seemed to make the assumption that everyone who was there was already a fan of the group. So, none of the songs were announced. He did announce a release of a new album.

At one point, I heard the sax blaring, the drummer banging away, the bass thumping and Glasper bringing order to the chaos. The music is a convergence of jazz, hip hop and electronic. As usual I responded to the driving beat which was provided by the Derek Hodge, the bass player. I can say I really enjoyed some of the music. However, I was disappointed since I did not hear much of Elasper. He spent a lot of time at the back of the stage. Most of what I heard was Casey Benjamin. The last number was a tribute to J Dilla and on that number, they really performed.

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The next act was called Geri Allen(piano) Homecoming and featured Wallace Roney(tpt), Robert Hurst(bass), J.D. Allen(sax), Sheila Jordan(vox), Dave McMurray(sax), Karriem Riggans(drums) and George Bohanan(tbone). All these musicians call their home Detroit and are now living elsewhere. I have heard of all of them in discussions of music in Detroit and this was my opportunity to hear them. George Bohanan restored my belief that a trombone can play jazz. Tow of the number I liked were “Cedars Blues” and “Every Time We Say Goodbye”. They are extraordinary musicians and when they come back for club dates, I would go out to see them any time. The two numbers Sheila Jordan did were “Farewell” and “A Place to Stay”. The second had really funny lyrics and was a great way for me to remember Sheila.

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The last act at the same stage was called Miles Smiles. The musicians were Wallace Roney(tpt), Larry Coryell(gtr), Rick Margitza(sax), Ralphe Armstrong(bass) and Alphonse Mouzon(drums). I was a little disappointed. I think I expected Wallace to be a imitation of Miles Davis. Logically, of course, that was not going to happen. He is a musician in his own right. The sun went down and the temperature dropped precipitously and suddenly I was too cold to enjoy the music especially when the warm bodies next to left due to the cold. After my original disappointment, I did enjoy the music.

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I went home and after dinner went to a jam at the Harbor House. I spent most of my time talking to a jazz fan friend from Toronto. A good end to the festival.

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.

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!