Welcome to Musings, a gathering spot for semi-regular postings about Detroit jazz musicians
Few jazz musicians have ever been as fast out of the blocks as the Detroit-born trombonist Curtis Fuller. He arrived in New York in April 1957 at age 22. After nine months he had recorded eight LPs as a leader or co- leader for Prestige, Blue Note, and Savoy and appeared on 15 other sessions as a sideman with John Coltrane, Bud Powell, Jackie McLean, Yusef Lateef, Sonny Clark, Jimmy Smith, and others. As I write in my book: "Fuller hadn’t had time to learn the subway, but he was already the hottest new man on his instrument in jazz. Like other young Detroiters flocking to New York, Fuller’s combination of swing, intellect, soul, melodic imagination, and quicksilver technique was catnip to the scene."
Fuller's fourth date as a leader, and first for Blue Note, was
June 12 is an important day in the cosmology of Detroit jazz: Marcus Belgrave and Geri Allen were both born on this day 21 years apart -- the former in Chester, Pa., in 1936, the later in Pontiac, just north of Detroit, in 1957. Belgrave, a trumpeter and teacher, was the griot of contemporary Detroit jazz, training multiple generations of students, the most famous of which -- Allen, Kenny Garrett, Robert Hurst, Regina Carter, Gerald Cleaver, Karriem Riggins, and others -- have had a major impact on the music in recent decades. Allen, a pianist, composer and conceptualist of the front-rank, was the first of these to come to attention in the early 1980s and in many ways the most influential.
Belgrave and Allen had a special relationship -- like father and daughter -- an
Modern Drummer has posted an excerpt from my chapter about Elvin Jones. You can read it here:
Kenny Barron was the pianist in Detroiter Yusef Lateef's finest working band, a quartet that lasted from 1971-75 with bassist Bob Cunningham and drummer Albert (Tootie) Heath. But the musical relationship between Lateef and Barron, who celebrates his 76th birthday today, actually stretches back to 1960, when the pianist was a precocious teenager in his native Philadelphia.
Lateef was getting ready to play a matinee at the Showboat in Philly and his pianist had missed his flight and wasn't there. Lateef called Jimmy Heath, who recommended the 17-year-old Barron as a replacement for the afternoon. Not long after that, Lateef needed a pianist for a week in Detroit at the end of August at the Minor Key. He called Barron, who had only recently graduated from high sch
Oh, for a time machine! Advertisement appearing in the Detroit Free Press on June 10, 1960
Geri Allen spoke at length with me about how critical her work with singer Betty Carter (pictured) was in the early '90s in terms of honing the pianist's versatility and introducing her to the broader mainstream jazz community. Remember, Allen had made her early splash in the the 1980s in left-of-center circles with Oliver Lake, Steve Coleman, Charlie Haden and Paul Motian and others. The most celebrated recording that pairs Carter and Allen -- two Detroit-bred giants -- is "Feed the Fire" (Verve), taped in concert in London in October 1993 with Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette completing the rhythm section.
But Allen and Carter first recorded together more than three years earlier in 1990, when on this day -- June 7 -- just the two of them taped a medley that segued
Happy 82nd birthday to one of the all-time great swingers -- Detroit-born drummer Louis Hayes, born May 31, 1937. I spent a memorable couple of days with Louis in the summer of New York in 2002 that included a trip down to Altantic City to hear him perform with his Cannonball Adderley Legacy Band. That trip provides the narrative spine of the chapter about Louis in "Jazz from Detroit." Here's the opening:
It’s almost impossible to look hip behind the wheel of a rented minivan, but nobody makes the scene like drummer Louis Hayes, who arrived in New York in the summer of 1956 as a 19- year- old Detroiter with quick hands, sharp ears, and a swinging cymbal beat. Forty- six years later, on a sweltering July 4 in 2002, Hayes wore a stylish muscle shirt, linen pa
One of the heroes of "Jazz from Detroit" is trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, who died four years ago today. Part 5 of the book is titled "Marcus Belgrave and is Children" and focuses on his defining influence in the city with chapters about many of the musicians who came up under his wing -- Geri Allen, Kenny Garrett, Regina Carter, Gerald Cleaver, Robert Hurst, Rodney Whitaker, James Carter, and Karrien Riggins. (For the record: James Carter was the only one of these figures who was not mentored directly by Belgrave on the way up, but he still benefited from his sphere of influence.)
This section of the book opens with a long profile of Belgrave. Here's a little taste:
"Belgrave, who died of heart failure at age 78 in 2015, was the reigning patriarch of Detroit jazz
In "Jazz from Detroit," I go deep on the city's influential cooperatives and self-determination efforts in the 1960s and '70s -- Detroit Artists Workshop, Detroit Creative Musicians Association, Strata Corporation, and Tribe. The key leaders, musicians, and ensembles associated with these groups included John Sinclair, Doug Hammond, Kenn Cox, Charles Moore, Phil Ranelin, Wendell Harrison, Marcus Belgrave, the Contemporary Jazz Quintet (Cox, Moore, Leon Henderson, Ron Brooks, Danny Spencer) and Focus Novii (Hammond, James Blood Ulmer, Patrick Lanier, Bill Wiggins, John Dana).
Strata Corp. recently got some attention in the jazz world thanks to the release late last year of the Charles Mingus Quintet performing at the Strata Gallery in 1973 (180 Proof Records/BBE Music).
I never really got to know the great Detroit drummer Roy Brooks. His story is tragic -- musical brilliance, jack-rabbit start to his career by joining pianist-composer Horace Silver at age 21 in 1959. His subsequnt resume was deep (Mingus, Roach, Yusef, Dexter, Stitt, etc.), and he recorded widely. Brooks was super swinging and fiery, and he matured into a creative conceptualist as the leader of his own projects; he also played the hell out of the musical saw.
Unfotunatley, Brooks also suffered from severe mental illness and a system, society and personal circumstances ill-equipped to deal with it all. He ended up in prison in 2000 and, finally, a nursing home before his death in 2005.
I interviewed him once upon the 1997 release of "Bemsha Swing," a 2-CD set under W
Detroit-born bassist Doug Watkins, who died in an auto accident at age 27 in early 1962, appeared on roughtly 100 LPs in his short life. But he made just two as a leader. The first "Watkins at Large," was taped in 1956 for the Transition label. The second, "Soulnik," was recorded on this day, May 17, in 1960. It's an unusual session in that Watkins is heard on cello for the first -- and only -- time in his career on record. According to the late Ira Gitler's liner notes, Watkins, who plays the cello exclusively on "Soulnik," had always wanted to try the instrument. He borrowed one from a friend three days before the recording -- but the first time he actually played it, according to the notes, was at the session.
Frankly, I don't know how complicated it is for a gifted bass
Sources disagree whether the immortal Betty Carter was born in 1929 or 1930, but there is no discrepancy when it comes to these facts: The singer was born on May 16 in Flint, Mich., raised in Detroit, and comprised a category of one -- and among the most spontaneous musicians we've ever had in jazz. Here's an epic version of one of her signature pieces, "Sounds," from what for many remains her most vital recording, "The Audience with Betty Carter," recorded in 1979 with pianist John Hicks, bassist Curtis Lundy and drummer Kenny Washington. Carter died in 1998. About 15 years earlier, I remember standing with musicologist Larry Gushee at the University of Illinois when he told someone, "Betty Carter -- she can change your life." This is what he was talking about.
Most people don't think of trumpeter Howard McGhee (1918-1987) as a Detroiter, but he grew up here, after having been born in Oklahoma. He was one of the first trumpeters to pick up on Dizzy Gillespie and the emerging bebop style. McGhee's comfort with modern harmony and rhythm, authoritative command of the trumpet, and brashly charismatic personality made him an especially important figure in the late 40s, before drug problems waylaid him for much of the next decade or so. He was never quite the same after that.
McGhee received crucial musical training at Cass Tech in Detroit but didn't graduate. In the early '40s he was a key member of the Club Congo Orchestra, which was in residence at the Norwood Hotel in Paradise Valley on Adams Street. It was the leading big band in the cit
Like everyone else in the jazz community, I was heartbroken to learn in recent days that the influential and beloved Detroit-born guitarist Kenny Burrell, who turned 87 last year, was in dire financial straits. The issues are complicated but boil down to medical expenses following an accident and other troubles that include identity theft. Burrell’s wife, Katherine, detailed these woes in a GoFundMe campaign announcement, and the Jazz Foundation of America, which supplies emergency assistance to musicians, confirmed their veracity. In a bit of brighter news, as
The Detroit-born drummer Gerald Cleaver turns 56 years old today. Here's the opening paragraph of the chapter about him in "Jazz from Detroit."
"More than any other Detroit jazz export of his generation, drummer Gerald Cleaver has earned his reputation on the cutting edge. But if you ask Cleaver, who turned 55 in 2018, the secret of his originality, the first thing he’ll tell you is that he’s not trying to do anything new. To put it another way, Cleaver sees the big picture, and he’s interested in everything except novelty."
One of Cleaver's longest-running and most profound musical partnerships is with pianist Craig Taborn. They met as students at the University of Michigan in the late '80s and quickly began working together, forming a band that played w
Happy 82nd birthday to Ron Carter, one of the most influential bassists in jazz history. Actually, Ron's birthday isn't until tomorrow -- May 4 -- but I've got another Detroit jazz birthday to celebrate tomorrow, so I figured I'd anticipate the beat and give Ron his moment a day early. When Ron was the artist-in-residence of the 2016 Detroit Jazz Festival, I asked him to pick 10 of his favorite recordings that he has made as a sideman or leader and to talk about why they made the list. There was a lot to choose from -- more than 2,200 recordings feature him on bass.
The story was a lot of fun to put together. While there wasn't space in "Jazz from Detroit" to incorporate all of this material into the chapter on Ron, bits and pieces made it in, as did some of the
Sixty years ago today on May 1, 1959, the Detroit-born vibraphonist Milt Jackson completed the first of three studio sessions for "The Ballad Artistry of Milt Jackson" (Atlantic). This was the first time that Bags recorded with strings. Most of the arrangements were written by his close friend Quincy Jones, with a handful also contributed by Jimmy Jones. I wouldn't call it an essential record, but it's still a heartwarmer. All love songs, save an opening medium blues. Think Bags in Sinatra mode -- the leader singing flowing melodies on the vibes with a sublime purity, storyteller expression, and exquisite phrasing. Jackson's vocal approach reminds you that his fundamental innovation was to slow down the motorized tremolo speed of the vibes and employ softer mallets to better approximate
Drummer Kenny Clarke, a native of Pittsburgh, was an early champion of many of the Detroit musicians that flooded the New York scene starting in the middle '50s. On this day, April 30, in 1956, Clarke led a gaggle of young Detroiters into the studio and recorded "Jazzmen: Detroit" for Savoy Records. This was one of the first LPs that alerted jazz fans that there was something special going on in the Motor City, and the imprimatur of Clarke -- a founding member of the bebop -- was no small thing.
Guitarist Kenny Burrell, 24, baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams, and pianist Tommy Flanagan, 26, had only arrived in New York a few months earlier and were just starting to get calls for gigs and recordings. "Jazzmen: Detroit" was only Adams' second recording session, for example. Th
Today marks what would have been Duke Ellington's 120th birthday. Here's the Pontiac-bred Hank Jones playing Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady" in 1976. It comes from a tremendous solo piano LP, "Satin Doll," issued on the Trio label in Japan. The record is an Ellington tribute with half the selections by Duke, though the title track was co-written with Billy Strayhorn. Note perfect -- which you can see by following along with the transcription in the video
(Photo of Hank Jones at the 2009 Detroit Jazz Festival, by Kimberly Mitchell / Detroit Free Press)
Happy birthday to drummer Oliver Jackson, born in Detroit on April 28, 1933. The brother of bassist Ali Jackson, Oliver had a long and varied career. He could swing in any idiom, and he worked and recorded with pre-bop stars like Earl Hines, Buck Clayton and Coleman Hawkins as well as modernists Yusef Lateef, Will Davis, Kenny Burrell, Gene Ammons, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and others. He also was a member of the JPJ Quartet, a cooperative group in the '70s with Budd Johnson, Bill Pemberton and others.
Jackson, who died in 1994 at age 61, got off to a quick start. As a teenager in Detroit in the late '40s, he was part of cooperative group with his brother on bass, pianist Roland Hanna, and saxophonist Joe Alexander. Especially intriguing is that Jackson teamed with fellow d
The John Coltrane Quartet recorded one of its greatest masterpieces, "Crescent," 55 years today on April 27, 1964. The quartet's drummer, Elvin Jones, is one of my greatest heroes, and it's incredibly meaningful to me that I was able to use a picture of him on the cover of "Jazz from Detroit."
Here's what Jones once told Whitney Balliett of the New Yorker about working with Coltrane.
“It seemed that all my life was a preparation for that period. Right from the beginning to the last time we played together, it was something pure. The most impressive thing was a feeling of steady, collective learning. Every night when we hit the bandstand— no matter if we’d come 500 or 1,000 miles— the weariness dropped from us. It was one of the most beautiful things
In honor of what would have been Ella Fitzgerald's 102nd birthday today, here's some film of the singer with Detroiter Tommy Flanagan on piano in 1965. Tommy worked two major stretches with Ella for a total of 13 years -- from 1963-65 and then again from 1968-78. (In between he worked with Tony Bennett.). Tommy also spent a month with Ella in the summer of 1956, not long after he arrived in New York. His first gig with her was in Cleveland. He was already nervous when at one point during the performance, Ella sidled up to the piano bench and sternly told him, "If it's going to be like this, I'm getting out of the business."
But, clearly, by 1965, she was more than happy with his playing. You can hear why in this Ellington medley. Tommy surrounds her vocal
Happy birthday to tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson, born April 24, 1937, in Lima Ohio, but who came of age musically on the Detroit scene while studying formally at Wayne State University between 1956 and 1960 -- and informally with Barry Harris -- and, of course, working regularly in local clubs. I grew up idolizing Joe and heard him live many times before his untimely death in 2001. Joe was the first major jazz musician I interviewed for the Detroit Free Press in early 1996, after arriving at the paper the previous fall. I'm especially proud of the chapter about him in my book. Here's a taste:
"To a degree unusual even for an art based on improvisation, a Joe Henderson solo is an adventure. His ideas burst out of his horn like Silly String. He’ll suspend time and har