Tuesday, October 23, 2007


At the C Pop Gallery, on Woodward Ave, was the first time I saw you perform, Sean. Is it okay to call you Sean? Should I be more formal and refer to you as Mr. Dobbin? Would you think I’m pulling your leg if I say you’re one of the best young jazz drummers working? I’m going to refer to you as Mr. Sean Dobbins. You have earned my respect. I’m not trying to flatter you. I’ve never really gotten over the experience of hearing you that night in early 2000.

You were playing with your musical soul-mate trombonist Vincent Chandler. This was years before you guys formed the jazz quintet Urban Transport. (It saddened me when I heard you quit the band.) You were its heart and soul. Thaddeus Dixon, an up and coming drummer replaced you. But Urban Transport, in my opinion, was never the same. You bounced back quickly, forming Sean Dobbins and the New Jazz Messengers. I've heard great things about the group.

At the C Pop, you played as if you’re blessed by the spirits of drummers Art Blakey and Big Sid Catlett. Mr. Dobbins, I was blown away by your every lick and rim shot. I kid you not; I never thought you could top that performance. To my surprise, you did on October 14, 2007, at Bert’s Market Place as a participant of master drummer George Davidson’s “Drum Summit”.

You turned the place out, standing toe to toe with drummers Bert Myrick, Bill Higgins, and Spider Webb. You took their best shots. There was one moment when I became concerned.

Spider had you cornered, entangled in his web of notes on trumpeter Donald Byrd’s gem “Fly Little, Bird Fly”. You had a sturdy chin. You swung your way out. When the tune was over, Spider and the others were slumped over their drum kits. You stood victorious with smoke emanated from your drumsticks.

I have witness you many times before. For example, last summer you worked behind bassist Hakim Jami and saxophonist Salim Washington at the Jazz and Improvised Music Festival. At that gig, you demonstrated you could play with the free-jazz cats, too .
The energy, the animation, and the technical sophistication you displayed at the C Pop Gallery and the “Drum Summit” will stick to my ribs forever. I’m not pulling your leg.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


Hey Cyrus, what's happening to your music? Your albums “Genuine Chestnut” and "Cyrus Plays Elvis" are disappointing. It pains me to say that. Since hearing your debut album “Revelation,” I’ve been a devout fan.

Man! “Revelation” was remarkable. I played “Blues for Nita” and “Cornbread Pudding,” the best cuts on the album, so many times I could recite the chord progressions in my sleep. You had your piano aching, man. Then in 2001, I saw you in concert in Flint, Mi.

It was the first time I experienced you live in the flesh. It was the same year you released “Soul Food” that had those swingers of your generation saxophonist James Carter, trumpeter Mark Printup, vibist Stefon Harris, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon and bassist Christian McBride. God could not have assembled a better lineup. Anyway, I attended that concert in Flint with a friend. In the late 90’s, I turned her on to your music.

I loaned her “Earth Stories” and “Blessed Quietness”. She immediately fell for you. (By the way, she never returned those albums.) During the concert in Flint, she recited the titles of every tune from the “Soul Food” album you performed that night. Get this, she also knew the order the tunes appeared on the album.

I have to admit, I’m reluctant to tell her about your latest album “Cyrus Plays Elvis”. Cyrus, I have to be real it left a bad taste in my mouth. And I have a bunch of questions I need answered.

First, why did you select Elvis’ music? Secondly, what is the King’s connection to jazz? Did the executives at Koch, your new record label, force you to record these erstwhile pop tunes? Most importantly, how do I explain this sudden shift in your music to my friend?

Should I tell her you have become more focused on piling up album sales and you’re less concerned with making good albums such “Dark Before the Dawn” and “You Are My Sunshine”? Or Should I tell her you are just going through a phase where your creative well has run dry?

I'm going to remain a devout fan because, over the years, your music has given me so much pleasure. I believe you will get it together soon. I got my fingers crossed.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Bassist Marion Hayden’s employs trombonist Steve Turre, trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater, and pianist Kirk Lightsey for "Visions" her debut recording as a leader. Regardless of the musical context or configuration, the bassist normally makes her presence known. She has done so as the driving force of the quintet Straight Ahead, and as the leader of an all bass ensemble. However, "Visions" isn't the coming out party for Hayden it ought to be. The album feels like a showcase session for Turre, Bridgewater, and Lightsey. Lightsey could easily be mistaken as the leader because the pianist has the strongest presence, especially on "Mr. Kenyatta" and "Destiny". Hayden solos nicely on "Sumpin Like Dat" and "Perhaps". On other selections, she just performs the duties of a sideman/woman. It's as if she in awe of the veteran jazz guys, and she's scare to assert herself. The downside of employing Turre, Bridgewater, and Lightsey on this debut is they overshadow her.

Monday, October 15, 2007


Last Monday evening, I stopped by the famous Baker’s Keyboard Lounge to catch avant-garde saxophonist Skeeter Shelton's set. I was curious to know if the saxophonist free-jazz style would fly at Baker’s, a jazz club that only features traditional acoustic jazz.

Shelton performed a duo with drummer Art Smith. The horn and drum configuration is Shelton’s forte’. I’ve seen the saxophonist performed wonderfully months ago at the Bohemian National Home. But I hated Shelton’s performance Monday at Baker’s.

Shelton behaved unprofessionally and ungratefully. Over the years, John Colbert, the co-owner of Baker’s, has taken a lot of heat for not hiring avant-garde musicians. In September, Colbert loosened things up a bit by hiring guitarist A. Spencer Barefield, a prominent figure around Detroit’s avant-garde scene, to lead the popular Wednesday night jam session. So far, the guitarist has not strayed too away from Baker’s acoustic jazz format. Shelton on the other hand literally went berserk during his second set.

Before then, Shelton performed several bebop staples, and a competent version of John Coltrane’s "Giant Step, proving he can control his wild side when he wants to. Upon completion of Coltrane composition, Shelton went absolutely nuts. It appeared to me the saxophonist deliberately tried to piss off Colbert and the audience by screaming and yelling on his tenor sax like a madman.

I’ve seen Shelton freak-out before at the National Bohemian Home, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. There avant-garde jazz musicians can get let loose without people wondering about their sanity.

To prove my point that Shelton was being unnecessarily antagonistic, he told the audience: "I play what I want to play not what you all what to hear." I found that odd because the guy has been begging for a gig at Baker’s for years. Finally, given the opportunity to work there he showed his gratitude by behaving like a maverick.

A drunkard lounging in the rear of the club offered up what I considered the appropriate retort to the saxophonist ungrateful statement: “That’s okay Skeeter play what you want because most of us (the audience) are drunk anyway”.

Sunday, October 7, 2007


In 1991, I met poet Kofi Natambu at the Detroit Public Library. I set at a table in the Language and Literature department reading “Think Black” by poet Don L. Lee. Kofi kept walking by peeping over my shoulder. At another table near the librarian’s desk, two of Kofi’s students Tamara and Terrance were thumbing through a literary periodical.

Kofi struck up a conversation. We talked about Don Lee’s poetry. Back then, Lee was my favorite writer. Kofi liked “Think Black” and Lee’s second book “Black Pride,” but he felt the poet’s other books were filled with propaganda.

Kofi encouraged me to read other writers. Then he gave me a copy of a periodical he published “Solid Ground: A new World Journal,” which had poetry, fiction, and essays by nationally respected writers. Our conversation drifted from books to music.

Kofi asked if I listened to jazz. Back then, I thought Kenny G and Najee, smooth jazz instrumentalists, were the real deal. Kofi looked as if he wanted to lecture me. In stead, he introduced to Tamara and Terrence. Kofi told me they were aspiring writers.

They were more jazz savvy than me. Kofi had taught them about jazz innovators such as Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, and John Coltrane.

I bonded immediately with Tamara. She was witty, had curly black hair, and was outspoken. Numerology and astrology fascinated her.

The three of us, hung out at Kofi’s place in the Cass Corridor. Books and jazz albums lined the walls. The furniture was second hand a loveseat, a bed, a card table, and four fold-up chairs.

Kofi played us albums by free-jazz musicians Cecil Taylor, and Ornette Coleman, which I had difficulty understanding. When he wasn’t teaching us about jazz, he talked passionately about writers such as CLR James, Nathanial West, Bob Kaufman, Ishmael Reed and Amiri Baraka.

Oddly, Kofi never talked much about his two exceptional books of poetry “The Melody Never Stops” and “Intervals,” He was always boasting about how great some other writer was.

Kofi gave me a paperback copy of “Miles” the autobiography of trumpeter Miles Davis. This is what he wrote on a blank page: To a bright young writer with a big future be like Miles, blow! He was poetic when encourage me Tamara and Terrance.

Of our trio, Terrence had the most potential, but he was insecure. He wanted to be a literary scholar. I don’t know if he achieved that goal. Suddenly, he stopped coming around. He never explained to me or Tamara why. Years later someone told me Terrence was involved in gay rights activism.

Tamara left next. She enrolled in the New School for Social Research in New York. We corresponded off and on for a year. She loved New York. She attended a lot of literary events, and had landed a job at a publishing company. I forget the name of it. She stopped writing me.

I stuck with Kofi. For awhile, our friendship was solid. I helped him move hundreds of books and jazz albums. We traveled to New York on a train, and drove his belongs back to Detroit in a U-haul truck.

On the way home, we visited the famous Apollo Theater, and dined at Sylvia’s Soul Food restaurant. Not much sightseeing but it was good to be away from home. Months, after the trip, Kofi started to change.

He became distance, moody and temperamental. I think often about the incident that broke our friendship. Writer Ishmael Reed came to Detroit.

He was the feature poet at the Detroit Festival of the Arts. He and Kofi were friends. Before the poetry reading, I had lunch with them at Bush’s Garden of Eating, a mom and pop soul food restaurant on Woodward Avenue.

After lunch, we went to Kofi’s place where he interviewed Reed. Kofi was writing a book titled “Words & Music in America: Talks with 25 African-American Writers and Musicians, 1980-1990.

Reed and Kofi set at a card table. I set on the arm of Kofi’s loveseat snapping photo with a disposable camera.

Weeks later, Kofi asked for copies of the photos, which I promised to provide. For whatever reason, I forgot the promise.

One evening, Kofi yelled at me for not giving him the photo. We argued back and forth. I slammed the telephone down. Weeks later, I saw him at the public library. He walked by me, and didn’t say a word.

We never apologized. Often I ask a mutual friend about him. Kofi is still writing and teaching. His biography of Malcolm X is one of the most thoroughly researched books I’ve read about the civil rights leader.

The mutual friend gave me Kofi’s email address. I wanted to send him copies of some of the jazz articles I’ve written. Mostly, I just wanted to thank him for introducing me to jazz music, and encouraging me to write.

Monday, October 1, 2007


I stopped by Melodies and Memories today, a record store in Roseville, MI. Last year, I went to M&M for the first time. I was blown away by their massive jazz section According to the owner, the shop has over ten thousand jazz albums. It would take the average jazz enthusiast two life-time to comb through all the jazz cds and albums that were fighting for my attention.

I went to M&M to purchase two rare solo albums by pianist Red Garland a friend had told me about, but refused to loan me because I still have his copies of A Tribute To Blackwell featuring Don Cherry, Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden, and Ed Blackwell, and Dewey Redman's African Venus.
M&M didn't have the albums. However, they did have It's A Blue World and Moods Ville Volume 1 (The Red Garland Trio+ Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis.),which I bought.

Lately, I've been heavily into Garland thanks to another jazz friend who discovered the pianist work a few months ago. She speaks of Garland with such awe the last time we hung out I felt compelled to revisit some of his albums on the Prestige record label that I purchased years ago.

I haven't listened to It's A Blue World and Mood Ville Volume 1 yet. This weekend while my wife is out shopping with her mother, I will spend a few hours listening to those recordings. I hope they are comparable to his other Prestige albums.