Saturday, November 10, 2012

JAZZ PIANIST KENN COX CELEBRATED

The late jazz pianist Kenn Cox

It’s been awhile since I last wrote you, Kenn. I know I promised to keep you updated on what's happening on the Detroit jazz scene. If you have the time, I’ll bring you up to speed. Then I want to tell you about a celebration Thursday night at the Jazz Café. During the Labor Day weekend, Chris Collins, the new artistic director of the Detroit Jazz Festival, put on the finest jazz fest in recent memory. 

I don’t have the space to explain how unbelievable special the fest was. This time around, there were more Detroit jazz musicians booked. Something you always pushed for. Under Collins it’s come to pass. In September the Societie for the Culturally Concerned honored Yusef Lateef.

Last month, jazz singer Cassandra Wilson opened the 2012-2013 Paradise Jazz Series. Last weekend, Edge Fest in Ann Arbor wrapped up. Jazz Singer Freddy Cole has a four night run at the Dirty Dog, and the Dave Holland Big Band is on deck to play at the Michigan Theatre next Saturday.

Detroiters Marion Hayden, Rodney Whitaker, Geri Allen and Shahida Nurullah are turning out some exciting up-and-coming jazz musicians. Tuesday night, I caught tenor sax player Marcus Elliot’s set at Cliff Bell’s. He’s one of Whitaker’s former students. Kenn, Donald Walden would love Elliot. Mark my word, Elliot is going to be big. Pianist Charles Boles plays Tuesday nights at the Dirty Dog. Detroit’s jazz scene is healthy.

Kenn, I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately. A week ago, I bought “Kenn Cox and Donald Walden Duet at Kerrytown”.  I enjoyed every bit of it, but that’s not the real reason I’m writing you. I wanted to share with you some highlights from the tribute concert and birthday bash your wife, Barbara Cox, threw for you Thursday evening at the Jazz Café.

I overheard a woman say your spirit was present. I can’t vouch for that. The rumor mill has you busy up there in heaven giving God piano lessons, and schooling his angels—who’re jazz nuts—about Detroit’s vast jazz history.

Anyway, Kenn, the Jazz Cafe was jammed with many of your friends and fans of Melba Joyce Boyd’s poetry. Poet M.L. Liebler was the master of ceremony. Barbara invited Melba to participate by using the occasion to launch her new book of poetry “Death Dance of a Butterfly”. Barbara spoke twice. 

Barbara told the crowd what a do-it-yourself jazz genius and wonderful man you were. She talked some about you forming Strata Concert Gallery, which housed the record label the put out your band the Contemporary Jazz Quintet music. Barbara also touched on your other endeavors, which she was a big part of. She noted you left behind 1,000 unrecorded tunes, but she didn’t say what she plans to do with them.

Barbara tickled the crowd when she said: “Kenn and I never swam close to shore,” meaning you guys took chances. Barbara also read passages from your journal nothing too personal just some musings about your work.  

There was a misprint in the Detroit Free Press and the Metrotimes newspapers regarding the reason for the event. They incorrectly wrote your album “Clap Clap: A Joyful Noise” would be available. And I suppose many of the people at the bash was disappointed the album wasn’t there. I know for sure I was.

Barbara explained the album will be released by 180 Proof Records sometime next year. Then Barbara played a cut from the album, which readied the crowd’s ears for Vincent Bowen’s band with Mick Jellick on piano, Jaribu Shahid on bass, and Djallo Keita Djakate on drums. The band was tighter than a fitness trainer’s butt. The band played some of your tunes “Samba De Romance” and “Mandela’s Muse”. When the band played the latter the crowd was hyped. Mike take of the ballad “Emily” calmed them.

Vincent is unsung. His flute preached. His soprano sang, and his tenor wailed. For some crazy reason, the local press has ignored Vincent, but he appears unfazed by that. The local press has also ignored Djallo, an ego-free jazz drummer who has blessed every band he’s been a member of. 

Jaribu is such as a freakishly gifted bass player he could play the upright bass beautifully with his toes. Kenn, the band’s rending of your music would’ve made you blush.  After the live music ended, Barbara showed rare video footage that included still photos of you performing with the late Detroit great jazz musicians Donald Walden, Don Mayberry, Teddy Harris, and Bert Myrick. The footage was touching. Photographer Clyde Stringer produced the video. Melba’s took the stage after the video presentation.

Jazz bass player Marion Hayden accompanied Melba. She opened the reading with an ode to Marion followed by “Working It Out” inspired by you which segued nicely into “A Mingus Among Us and a Walden Within Us,” dedicated to Donald Walden. The poem’s title was a play on the title of Donald’s second album “A Monk and A Mingus Among Us”? 

Melba read a few poems inspired by some members of her family. The reading ended with a semi-militant poem titled “We Want Our City Back” that got the crowd worked up again. It took Melba a minute to find her rhythm. The stage lights were messing with her vision. But once she hit her stride it was on.

Kenn, the celebration was a full-night of reflections, music, and poetry, a fitting tribute from your lady-love, Barbara. Honestly, Kenn, I thought at some point Barbara was going to break down, talking about what a good man you were, but she was elated and humorous. I guess she’s confident you’re up there in heaven safe, happy and having a ball with your Detroit running-buddies.
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