Friday, September 14, 2007

JAM ON


Wednesday nights at Baker’s keyboard Lounge for the past ten years have been a special affair. The late pianist Teddy Harris led a jam session at the legendary jazz club that became sort of an unaccredited musical finishing school for up and coming jazz musicians, as well as a venue where seasoned vets could keep their chop strong. Along with a bunch of great music, Harris was able to maintain order, which from what I have witnessed sitting in the audience at numerous jam sessions, is uncommon.

In the wrong hands the sessions are nothing more than an outlet for undisciplined show boaters. I don't have enough fingers or toes to count the number of times that I saw Harris stop in the middle of a tune to chastise a musician who jumped on the bandstand to take an unsolicited and less than well conceived solo. Harris required those who participated in the session know the composition at hand from top to bottom before getting on the bandstand.

Harris stopped running the sessions when he got ill. Others tried to fill his shoes. Harris set the bar high. The sessions where never the same after he stopped leading them. Pianist Tad Weed took over, and from what I've heard, the guy did a competent job, but not to Harris' standards.

Now the reins have been given to guitarist A. Spencer Barefield, one of the driving proponents of Detroit avant-garde jazz and a respected jazz man. It was Barefield that put on that wonderful jazz program in the 90’s with his organization the Creative Arts Ensemble. The concerts were featured at the Detroit Institute of the Arts.


This Wednesday night was the guitarist's first night running the show. It is safe to assert the legacy Teddy Harris established is in good hands.

Barefield adhered to the straight-ahead brand of acoustic jazz that Baker’s is known for. With a trio that included bassist Don Mayberry and drummer Djallo Djakate Keita, the guitarist was firing on all four cylinders.


Barefield brushed the dust off forgotten gems by Thelonious Monk such as “Ugly Beauty” and “Raise Four”, and familiar standards by Miles’ Davis’ “So What” and “Kind of Blue”. Barefield set on a stool thumping out some beautiful chords. He established a comfortable groove that he didn't deviate from.The drummer, who normally plays with free jazz ensembles, turned down his style a few notches, which made for engaging trio drumming.

Later in the evening, the tenor saxophonist Paul Anderson joined the trio. I'd never heard of him. He just wandered in off the street. I enjoyed his soloing on “Night in Tunisia,” and “Salt Peanuts”. Anderson fit in comfortably with the band. The crowd was small, but they were totally into the music.

It is too soon to predict what kind of mark Barefield will make at the Wednesday night sessions. Filling Teddy Harris’s and Tad Weed’s shoes will not be easy. Barefield is off to an impressive start.
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