Monday, December 23, 2013


Jazz bassist Noah Jackson
Being a Detroit based jazz reporter has many rewards. Chief among them is watching young jazz musicians grow into professionals. In 2004, I met jazz bassist Noah Jackson at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s Civic Jazz program. I dropped in one evening to interview the program’s chair renowned Detroit jazz bassist Rodney Whitaker.

My editor at the Metrotimes asked me to write an article about Whitaker’s career. He had recently returned to Detroit after completing a six year run with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Whitaker was a few hours late for our interview.

To kill time, I talked with some of his students. They impressed me, and I ended up writing a separate article about them titled Teenage Swingers. Noah Jackson was a big part of the program so were pianist Ian Finkelstein, saxophonists De’Sean Jones and Tony Lustig and drummer Thaddeus Dixon.

I remember Jackson most. Back then, he was a husky teen and oddly charming for his age. After I interviewed many of the students and finally Whitaker, Jackson hugged me. Then he reminded me to include him in my article. I planned to because Jackson was a natural, bad-ass bass player. I was sold on his potential, and was certain someday he’d be a serious jazz musician.

I thought about that meeting Sunday night listening to Jackson’s trio - pianist Ian Finklestein and drummer Malik Washington - at the Cadieux Café on Detroit’s eastside. Jackson is a fully grown professional jazz musician now.

In 2010, he released a sweet first album Contemplations: A Suite. It made my favorite jazz albums of 2010.  He graduated from Michigan State University and headed to New York to play and further his music education. He earned a master’s degree at the Manhattan School of Music.

Of late, he’s toured Africa with the legendary jazz pianist and bandleader Abdullah Ibrahim. Enoch Smith, Winard Harper, Salim Washington and Cyrus Chestnut are some of the big-name bandleaders Jackson has played with in New York.

Jackson returns to Detroit annually for a Holiday concert at Cadieux Café and at Cliff Bell’s. Tonight, Jackson’s trio plays Bell’s.  

The trio put on a clean concert last night, deserving of a thankful crowd. But the crowd was noisy and rude. The trio spruced up some jazz oldies such as Thelonious Monk’s Evidence and Thad Jones’ 3 and 1. The show-stopper was the trio’s reworking of Body and Soul, delivered with such warmth it melted the icicles on the café’s gutters and windows.

At 23, Ian Finklestein has become a go-to pianist in Detroit. When tenor saxophonist Benny Golson needed a pianist for a hit at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café, Finkelstein got the job. Malik Washington is a dynamic drummer who has the firepower of drummer Victor Lewis.

Sadly, the table of noisy people near the back of the café didn’t give a damn how good the trio was. . Two women tried to play the jukebox while the trio jammed on 3 and 1. I kid you not. I admired how Jackson, Finkelstein, and Washington ignored the noisy and  the rude people by playing their butts off. But, I suspect deep down they were hurt.

Between sets, I asked Jackson about the noise because he seemed unfazed by it. He pointed out noisiness and rudeness are things jazz musicians have to deal with playing in small clubs. He didn’t let it affect the trio’s performance. They kept their cool and swung as if playing for a well-bred crowd at the Rockefeller Center.
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