Jazz from Detroit with Mark Stryker | 11.6.2019

Jazz from Detroit with Mark Stryker | 11.6.2019


only man widely-read very smart sees a
big picture all of that goes back to that that little interaction with Barry
Harris it’s good to remember that our music teachers are teaching oftentimes a
lot more than just how D minor goes to g7 and Barry you know Barry was also
teaching you know when when John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins and
Cannonball Adderley and guys like that would come to Detroit they would all
fall by Barry’s house to see what the maestro was working on and Charles has
stories about you know John Coltrane coming over and pulling up a chair and
saying hey what’s you know what are you working on and Barry would say well you
know I’ve been thinking about how you know in a two five one progression you
know if you if you want you don’t have to think don’t think about the the two
chord the minor chord just play on the play on the dominant chord the 5 chord
and here’s a scale that will work for that and you know these are these are
things that have profound implications for the way John Coltrane then ends up
sort of playing in ideas and they work their way into jazz the the mainstream
of the jazz vocabulary and you can trace that a lot of that stuff back to barians
in certain ways so so that takes us up to about 1960 then the question is when
the city turns south in the 1960s and 70s how do we keep the Jazz tradition
going and there are a couple of answers to that one of the really important
answers is in the 1960s and 70s we have some very important cooperative musician
cooperatives and self-determination efforts that that sprout in Detroit the
two most important of these are the Strata corporation and the Tribal
organization and we’re going to hear in detail about tribe in a little bit but
what I want to say at this point is that you know this was a there was a
zeitgeist basically in within african-american communities at this
time in the 1960’s and 70s in a response to the later
part of the 1960s and a change in the in the civil rights movement and there was
a notion that if you if we want to do this we’re not getting support from the
mainstream of the culture we’re not getting support from record companies
we’re not getting support for the from the clubs we need to do it ourselves we
need to take it upon ourselves to do this and you know the the most famous of
these organizations nationally is probably the Association for the
Advancement of creative musicians the ACM as it’s known in Chicago and there’s
a group the black artists group in in st. Louis and there’s a group in New
York is a group in Los Angeles and in Detroit as I said our our major groups
are Strata and Tribe and but it’s it’s I want to say that it’s it’s interesting
that while this sprouts in the 1960s and 70s we actually have some precursors in
Detroit specifically the new music Society which Kenny Burrell founded in
1953 was it was an early example of this Kenny was still a student Wayne State he
was the president of this organization they organized concerts and jam sessions
at the world stage which was a theater in Hamtramck just a couple of miles
north of Wayne State they sold tickets they– was by
subscription there were members and it you know it’s an early example of this
whoa [cell phone ringing] That shouldn’t have happened, sorry about that. I leave the phone on because I’ve got
the the music so that’s that’s the first time all this done is that’s happening
sorry about that what I’ll do is turn the ringer off so that won’t happen
again so the so the new music society is going
in like 1954-55 and as I said it’s an early example of that we should remember
that Detroit you know historically has been a locus of african-american
intellectualism the we have major poets major artists major thinkers in the city
african-americans the Nation of Islam was founded in Detroit in the first part
of the 20th century so there are some cultural roots that make Detroit kind of
a natural place where some of these ideas would take would take root the
strata corporation is an organization that’s founded by Ken Cox who I
mentioned at the beginning, a pianist, and Charles Moore a trumpet player and
they have a really interesting idea they they they decide that first of all
they’re playing in a band called the contemporary jazz quintet which was
basically a Miles Davis second Miles Davis influenced band from the in the
late 60s and that band made a couple of Records for Blue Note had a quick shot
at some national attention and they didn’t like the way the relationship
went with Blue Note they couldn’t get Blue Note to come out and record them in
Detroit and it was frustrating for them and that helped lead them toward the
idea of maybe we should do this ourselves and so they start Strata and
it’s really modeled on like Motown or Columbia it’s mono alona for profit
their ideas for profit they have artistic ideals but they want to do it
for profit and they start a they they sell stock which is highly unusual to
raise capital and they’re gonna start a management booking division or record
they’re gonna make records they have concert production they they run a
concert gallery and you know they were never able to sell the to raise enough
money to really support all of these things and the model did not work well
for them because since they were working on a what they thought of themselves as
a record company in the old sense they would they were trying to create
contracts that were based on the same model so they the company itself would
front would would you know pay for the upfront costs of recording and
distributing and then the musicians who make the money on the back end well if
you don’t have enough money capital to make the records and makes it very
difficult and so that that’s one reason why there were only a few Strata records
that ever came out in the 1970s so there’s issues there, but the
gallery the concert gallery becomes really important it becomes a real locus
for jazz in Detroit in the 1970s and so people like Chick Corea Herbie Hancock’s
sextet chicks first trio reiteration of Return to Forever play there Charles
Mingus plays there Ornette Coleman played there Joe Henderson Elvin Jones
Joe Chambers the Tribe folks played there are other Detroiters played at the
concert gallery it’s you know it’s hard to remember kind of that there was a
time when people like Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock couldn’t get a gig at
bakers keyboard lounge but at that point they couldn’t and so they played and in
fact a recording just came out last year of Charles Mingus group from 1973 that
was recorded at at the Strata concert gallery those concerts were broadcast on
many of them were broadcast on WDET Public Radio and those tapes have
circulated for a while and one of those tapes ended up getting released this
past year Strata also gave birth to Strata East which is a excuse me an
organization founded in on the East Coast by Charles Tolliver, a trumpet player,
and Stanley Callow, a pianist. They’ve recorded a lot of records became very
well-known now it’s we’re at the point where most people have heard of Strata
East but they hadn’t actually heard of Strata but those guys from Tolliver and
at Stanley Cowell particularly Stanley Cowell who had gone to school at the
University of Michigan and played with all the Detroiters they came to Detroit
to see what our guys were doing and they decided to they they didn’t– there was a
plan that to make have satellites of Strata all over the country to be a
Strata East a Strata West in the end they decided to kind of go it alone but
they kept the name and so it’s interesting that really has Detroit
roots Tribe took a different approach they created a record label but it
wasn’t– they didn’t have the these corporate aspirations that Strata
did artists would bring in the finished masters the recordings to them and then
Tribe would package them and put them out and Tribe also published your
magazine I’m going to talk we’re gonna I’m going through this quickly because
we’re going to talk about this with Phil and and Wendell but they published a
magazine which was really unusual there are no other organizations of their type
that did this but the magazine ends up being an afro centric themed magazine
they sell advertising and Wendell told me that the you know became so
successful it helped fund all the other concerts and all the other things that
the organization was doing covering you know really in the language of the day
getting down to the nitty-gritty abortion police brutality all kinds of
urban issues poverty and the like all covered in that magazine in fact Wendell
said to me that at one point by 1976 or 1977 when the when they when they
stopped he had to stop because he didn’t get into this to become a magazine
publisher he wanted to play the saxophone it was too much too much other
stuff taking his attention away but uh– Tribe made
a number of really great records Phil’s records are fantastic Marcus Belgrave
made a good record for Tribe– Harold McKinney made a good record Wendell made
a couple of records they’re a great legacy and those original Tribe
recordings are collectors items I mean you know it’s astounding but those
records are going for 500 bucks or more on eBay
they’ve been reissued many times and and and you can hear them all in fact
there’s a new Tribe recording that’s coming out and in a week or two it’s out
now that shows Tribe musicians sort of all the way up until the until the
present day so it’s interesting though we– sort
of do it our way in Detroit it’s it’s a little different these these
self-determination efforts in other cities were basically almost all
organized around free jazz the avant-garde to think about the AACM in
Chicago and in particular but also the black artists group and in Detroit and
in in Detroit our stuff is our so it’s definitely progressive and there’s
definitely free jazz in the mix but there’s also early fusion and early
experiments with electronics and you can hear some Motown and funk in there too
it’s a much more of a kind of melange of elements and it’s gritty
consciousness-raising in the in the language of that of that era and
intensely local and what’s also unique to Detroit is that we have white
musicians involved and in these organizations in a way that they did not
in other places in fact in Chicago they were kicking white musicians out of the
a AACM by the late 60s and in Detroit we have white musicians that had leadership
roles in Strata and we’re on the records at Tribe and you think about well
okay so how did that happen well it’s two things let’s go back to the schools
the schools were integrated so we had a culture in Detroit where black and white
musicians work together they had grown up together playing in school
and bands after school and that that that kind of structural institution
building within a city makes a difference the other thing that’s really
important in Detroit is that our musicians local was was integrated to
historically historically we had there were two musicians locals in the United
States that were integrated before the early 1950s and those were New York and
Detroit all the others were separate until they began amalgamating in the
nineteen in the early 1950s chicago’s two separate unions musicians unions
don’t amalgamate until 1967 that’s really late
I mean that that’s really late and so again we have these institutions that
have black and white musicians together now that does not mean that there wasn’t
structural racism in the way the music business work in Detroit and doesn’t
mean that the I mean the white musicians got the best theatre gigs the best
commercial gigs the recordings all of that stuff but still there was an
infrastructure here and and that led to some led to actually some funny funny
stories one day Ron English who’s a white guitarist is still around still
playing was at a party at the house of his best friend who was an African
American drummer named Bobby Battle and Bobby is up there– party there’s about
seven or eight guys there they’re all black except for Ron and Bobby is
standing up and and given a sermon and he’s kind of on a roll and at one point
he says quoting the firebrand poet Amiri Baraka he says the white man
at best is merely corny and then he turns to Ronnie says no offense Ron so
the other way we keep we keep all this going in Detroit is the culture of
mentorship I mean first of all the this old formula of the schools and the
mentorship working together that continues up through the 1970s 80s 90s
into you know our school states musically stay strong
way up until the early 2000s when the schools get put under emergency
management it’s not till then that they actually that things really fall to the
wayside so so that’s happening but the mentorship and we have lots of mentors
in Detroit Donald Walden saxophone player Kenny Cox
pianist Harold McKinney the pianist Wendell Harrison all of these people are
important but Marcus Belgrave becomes sort of the dominant mentor and I have a
whole a whole section in my book is called Marcus Belgrave and his children
and his children are Jerry Allen, Kenny Garrett, Bob Hurst, Rodney Whitaker,
Gerald Cleaver, Kenny Karriem Riggins, Regina Carter, all these
musicians who come up basically under Marcus’s wing and you know Marcus is a
trumpet player who gets sort of builds his career with Ray Charles and then in
the late 1950s and early 1960s and in 1963 he’s looking for a place to get off
the road and he decides to come to Detroit why does he come here well he
knows about the great jazz tradition that’s from here in particular he knows
that his idle Thad Jones comes from Detroit and he wants to get a part of
whatever produced Thad, and he knows that Motown is here he can get work in the
Motown Studios and so he comes here in 1963 and by 1970-71 he’s beginning to
teach and you know Marcus essentially adopted talented kids and a good example
is Bob Hurst the bass player Marcus heard they met at Rochester High School
where Bob was going to school in the suburb Bob was about was 15 a
sophomore and Marcus went out to give a clinic and give a concert and and at the
clinic Bob came up to him and said hey Mr. Belgrave would be okay if we played a duet together on the concert and Marcus thought well that’s kind of a precocious
thing to ask but sure why not what do you want to play and and bob says well
let’s play Conformation– so Conformation is a song by Charlie Parker, and so
they’re going to rehearse they start to rehearse it and they start
to play and Bob starts to play the melody along with Marcus
now Conformation is a very complicated tricky song to play it’s hard to play on
any instrument much less the bass much less a bass player at age 15 and so Mar–k
Marcus hears this and immediately goes to Bob’s parents and says your kid is
gifted I’d like to work with him if that would be okay and from then on every
Saturday and Sunday hit one of his parents which slept him down to the city
and and Bob would hang out with Marcus all day rehearsing and and so and that
story gets repeated a lot with Jerry Allen with Kenny Garrett
you know Regina Carter told me this community raised us this community
raised us you know there’s a good story something you may know it so you may not
but our host Rodney Whittaker at 13 years old was
carrying his bass home for the first time and he played violin earlier but
now he’s playing the bass he’s carrying the bass home and a neighbor sees him
and the neighbor what runs out and the neighbors holding two records and the
guy says hey here are these two records and the two bass players one Paul
Chambers is on one and Ron Carter is on the other and both these guys went to
Cass Tech and maybe you could go to Cass Tech and when you get older and rise
it’s like sort of overwhelmed by this and the guy said soon you’re part of the
legacy now so Rodney goes home and you asked his mother what does legacy mean
and she says look it up in the dictionary and he goes upstairs and he
puts on the records and one of the records is John Coltrane’s record called
Soul Train and on and what and on one side starts with I think it’s side two
starts with a song called good bait by Cad Dameron and Rodney puts that on
hears Paul Chambers play the solo on good bait and the next morning he gets
up he goes downstairs tells his parents he wants to be a jazz musician so you
know this idea that you know it takes a village that’s what happens in Detroit
this whole village whole city raises these musicians you know today if Marian
Hinton who’s a great bass player Ralph Armstrong bass player they’re both
functioning as mentors in Detroit as well as they’re you know
traveling Wiley to perform and you know if they see a talented kid they go right
to the parents you know again I mean I don’t know how many instruments–
how many bases Bob Ralph has given to kids or given to Cass Tech and
there’s no coincidence that Rodney runs the Jazz program here that Bob Hertz is
teaching at Michigan that Jerry Allen taught at Michigan for ten years before
she went to the University of Pittsburgh for a couple of years her alma mater and
then of course we sadly lost sherry a couple of years ago to cancer but it’s
no it’s no coincidence that that these people have all ended up teaching
because they as I said the culture of DNA the culture of mentorship is built
into the DNA of Detroit Wendall’s teaching all the time it’s it’s part of
what you do if you’re a jazz musician in Detroit and it’s not teaching like you
know guys people come over and they give you 20 bucks and you teach them for a
half an hour I mean it’s like mentorship I mean you are part of their lives which
means you talk to them about what it’s like to be a musician you show them you
feed them you are you are part of their lives and that’s what we do in Detroit
so Rodney says in the book you know we make cars in Detroit we make cars and we
make jazz musicians that’s two things we do best so I’m gonna I’m gonna read a
little bit more and play a little music so you get a little bit more of a hint
of what the of what the book is about so give me a second to set this up and I’ll
do a little bit of this and then I’ll bring Wendell and Phil up and we’ll
we’ll have a conversation about tribe a critic once suggested that if the
Detroit born vibraphone is Milt Jackson ever played an unswinging phrase he
must have done so in private but odds are that not even the woodshed heard
Jackson trip over an awkward rhythm or improvise a melody that didn’t bloom
with lyricism or lead the scent of the Blues hanging in the air Jackson who
died in 1999 at age 76 was perhaps the most naturally swinging and soulful musician
in jazz for decades timing is everything in jazz and Jackson’s control of rhythm was
legendary he created drama through relaxation in
contrast he’d strike notes behind the beat and then dart ahead climbing over
the top of the pulse before retreating to the back side of the beat
he personalized each note with his own articulation serpentine lines merged
with repeated note triplet jabs that cut like a scalpel the result was a charged
forward momentum that still felt nonchalant Jackson’s improvisation at
medium and fast tempos were a bullion outbursts of bebop melody sly grace
notes witty triplets and blues allusions that hung on his phrases like Christmas
ornaments his ballads shivered with eroticism the sound he drew from the
vibes pulsated with the warm vibrations of human feeling Jackson wasn’t just
riffing on common forms when he played a 12 bar blues or a standard ballad he was
speaking from his heart telling stories that reaffirmed the African American
aesthetics of jazz the cultural critic Albert Murray might have said that
Jackson transformed Negro experience into high style and offered heroic
affirmation in the face of adversity vibraphonist Warren Woolf put it more
colloquially when mill played the blues it not only sounded good it felt good
and it made you feel good too [Music Playing] so that’s Mel Jackson from 1952 with song
called True Blues with basically an first iteration of what became the
modern jazz quartet with John Lewis playing piano Percy Heath on bass and
the drummer on that was um Kenny Clarke Sheila Jourdan reached a crossroads in
1987 the Detroit born singer was 58 and known to a small cadre of musicians and
insiders as a treasure of unconventional expression and magical spontaneity
she was also only recently sober after decades of alcohol abuse and a short but
an intense battle with cocaine a single mother Jordan had worked for more than
20 years as a typist at Doyle Dane Bernbach a Manhattan advertising agency
she used her vacation time for sporadic touring and recording but now the agency
was merging with another company and she had a choice she could stay on as a
roving secretary or she could retire with the year severance pay I started to
cry Jordan said in 2011 I was so upset I thought oh my god I’m losing my job I
don’t think I want to float around from office to office and then a voice said
to me real clear you’ve been praying that you’d sing more so shut up and take
the money and run for the last three decades Jordan who turned 90 in 2018 has
travelled the world performing recording and teaching well as a cult figure she
has entered the pantheon at 83 she was named a 2012 NEA Jazz master by the
National Endowment for the Arts the nation’s highest honor in jazz the
$25,000 prize put an exclamation point on the autumnal flowering of her career
it was a warm hug from the establishment after a lifetime in the
shadows where she overcame an impoverished childhood bigotry drink and
drugs abusive men and hardships at the jazz life she willed herself into
greatness there is no sound in jazz quite like
Jordan in her prime she transformed an unlikely featherweight soprano into a
gossamer instrument dancing unpredictably through time and pitch
like a butterfly riding a gust of wind she phrases like a horn her primary
influences have been instrumentalists especially alto saxophonist Charlie
Parker the Prometheus of bebop who dubbed her the kid with the
million-dollar ears when she was a teenager in Detroit in the 1940s Jordan
improvises on many levels slyly bending the familiar lyrics of the standard into
fresh melodic shapes sometimes he makes up new lyrics on the spot turning an
ad-lib blues into a charmingly discursive ramble she’s an irrepressible
swinger and an elite scat singer her taste for adventurous improvisation
makes her a kind of white twin to Betty Carter an african-american and the other
influential post-war jazz vocalist from Detroit unlike some jazz singers who get
so hung up trying to improvise that they make a mess of a songs meaning Jordans
variations almost always deepen the intent of a lyric rather than obscure it.
even today with age having taken a toll on the once pristine purity of her voice
and intonation she can still bring listeners to tears with a ballad exactly
how she does this as a mystery though the answer has something to do with the
beguiling alchemy of her plain spoken honesty narrative instincts and the
authority of her time and phrasing [Music Playing] so that’s Sheila in 1977 with a bass
player named Anderson and saying Billy Strayhorn’s Lush Life so I think
given what time it is I’ll stop and I will bring Wendell and
Phil up and we’ll have a conversation as I do that I think I’ll play a little bit
of some Tribe music just to kind of set the mood when we are done I do want to
say sorry for the commercial I actually have books here if anybody wants to buy
one I can sign them and I can even if I do it right I could even take credit
cards now and so let me play something for you

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