Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Pianist Dave Brubeck Last Sunday, I posted my five favorite albums released in 2008. Today I want to share with the readers Of I Dig Jazz my top five concerts of 2008. First, I should explain I attended many performers, and received quite a few good albums. I challenged myself. I only selected five concerts; choosing more would have been too easy.

1.) Dee Dee Sharp
2008 Detroit International Jazz Festival

The others vocalists who performed at the jazz fest should have scheduled their lunch break around Sharp’s set to take notes on how to stage an unforgettable show. The sixty something journey-woman tank was on full. By the time Sharp reached the fourth song of her set, she had to give her band and back up singers a coffee break. They were worn-out.

2.) Sean Dobbins and the New Jazz Messengers
Baker’s Keyboard Lounge

The drummer had a lot to live up too, naming his quintet after the late drummer and bandleader Art Blakey. Dobbins succeeded. The drummer has a gift. He can swing while playing patterns and melodies. His quintet played hard as the original Messengers.

3.) Joan Belgrave
Cliff Bells

I heard the vocalist with her own band for the first time in 2008. The crowd was noisy and unruly. Her voice tamed them. That’s a character trait of an experienced chanteuse. Her performance was a mix of classic jazz, blues, and pop selections. My ears were satisfied after the first set.

4.) Earl Klugh
Orchestra Hall

The guitarist is an unselfish bandleader. Instead of hogging the stage, Klugh shared the spotlight with his band-mates. Klugh bragged about their accomplishments and upcoming project, but he said little about his future aspirations.

5.) Dave Brubeck
Orchestra Hall

As I drove to the pianist’s concert, I wondered if he could still swing. He is 88. After Brubeck soloed on the opening tune of the set, I had my answer. Yes! All night, the pianist worked harder than a contractor.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


Vocalist Cassandra WilsonThe end of the 2008 is near. It is time for my top five jazz albums of 2008. I started the annual list last year. The list had the top five albums I purchased, which included new albums and reissues. This time around, my list only has new albums released in 2008 that I either received or purchased. I replayed the albums repeatedly, and I recommended to the readers of I Dig Jazz.

1.) Cassandra Wilson

Loverly-Blue Note Records

Wilson consistently delivers music that is warm and comfortable.

2.) Bill Cunliffe
Blues and the Abstract Truth Take 2-Resonance Records

This was the first time I experienced pianist Bill Cunliffe. I enjoyed every inches of this albums, which is a remake of saxophonist Oliver Nelson’s classic album for Impulse Records. Take 2 works because Cunliffe did not attempt to emulate the way Nelson made the original.

3.) Sonny Rollins
Road Shows Vol.1-Doxy Records

Rollins wrote the rulebook on improvisation. Live is the best context to experience the tenor saxophonist. If you only have Rollin’s studio recordings, and you want to hear his live material the Road Shows Vol. 1 is a sufficient primer.

4.) The Hot Club of Detroit
Night Town- Mack Avenue Records

The second album by the Detroit based Gypsy jazz band sound as if Django Reinhardt spirit was present during the making of this album. Night Town is that good.

5,) organissimo
Groovadelphia-Big O Records

The Lansing, Michigan based trio’s third album swings from track one to track nine

Thursday, December 25, 2008


Normally, I only blog about jazz music. I made an exception, Seal, because your new album Seal Soul astonished me. I planned to write about your album the day after I purchased it, but I received an email from my editor, W. Kim Heron, at the Metrotimes, a weekly newspaper in Detroit, MI. I write about jazz for, informing me jazz pianist Kenn Cox died after an unsuccessful battle with lung cancer.

The day I designated to write about Seal Soul I instead eulogized Cox. I knew his death was inevitable, but I was still saddened when it finally happened. Cox official going home memorial is Saturday, and I may skip it. Anyway, Seal today is Christmas. I am ready to write about your album.

I fell for Seal Soul after the first listen. Several years ago, my friend, Rene, (not her real) introduced me to your work. I recall one evening I visited her. While she cooked, I picked through her album collection. I disliked her taste, and I often teased her about it. She only had one jazz album James Carter's Conversatin' With the Elders. I asked, as she chopped up a tomato and a head of lettuce for a salad why she purchased that albums. She could not recall, but she disliked it, commenting it was too disjointed for her taste. I did not ask for an explanation. I put it away. Then pulled out one of your albums. I cannot recall the title.

You were nude on the cover. You looked spooky. I told Rene I wanted to improve her taste in music. She smirked. Then called me a one dimensional jazz nut, and encouraged me to play the album. Initially I bulked, telling Rene I was reluctant to because I was hungry and the album may kill my appetite. She threatened not to feed me. So I played the album under duress. I liked it immediately. Seal I cannot remember the name of the songs.

Over dinner, Rene said you look sexy in leather pants. She offered no insight about what attracted her to your music. Sometimes Rene talked to me as if I am one of her girlfriends, and sometimes when she does I ignore her. Occasionally, I have to remind her I am a guy; I do not want to hear how sexy some guy is. Seal, I added you have a good voice, but I refused to remark about your sex appeal. You are a serious artist. That should be acknowledged. I have not talked to Rene in weeks.

I don't know if she purchased Seal Soul. If she did, I wonder if she likes it as much as I do. Presently, Seal, I feel uncomfortable saying I am a fan. I own only one of your albums Seal Soul. A devoted fan would own all your work, and could recite your biography. I know you are married to super model Heidi Klum, and you made this great album Seal Soul that I play at least four times a week.

Your voice suits the 13 classic soul songs you chose to perform. You did not imitate the singers who made A Change Is Gonna Come, It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World, I’ve Been Loving You Too Long, People Get Ready and I’m Still Living You. You approached those soul classic as if you wrote them, and experienced each lyric. You were that thorough. On the surface, it seems challenging, but you make it look easy.

Seal Soul is an homage to those artists. If James Brown, Sam Cooke, Curtis Mayfield, and Otis Redding were still alive they would be elated you handled their music like valuable heirlooms. The next time I talk with Rene I will tell her one day I plan to be a Seal fan, and less of a one dimensional jazz snob.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Pianist Kenn Cox /Photo by C. Andrew Hovan Yesterday evening, Kenn, my editor W. Kim Heron at the Metrotimes, a weekly newspaper in Detroit, MI., emailed me. The emailed said you passed away early Friday morning in your Westside Detroit home you shared with your wife of 42 years Barbara. You had lung cancer. Kenn I wanted to blog about you soon after reading the email, but I could formulate the right combination of words to convey how much I respected you as a jazz musician and human being. Instead of blogging, I went to Targets. Shopping for some reason helps clear my mind.

When I returned home, I still was not ready to write about you so I watched a rerun of the 90’s sitcom Martin. Then a dumb black exploitation movie titled Original Gangsta, which stared Fred Williamson, Jim Brown, Ron O’Neal and Pam Grier. When the movie ended, I was tired and I could not muster enough energy to write.

I had an entire day now to come to grips with your passing, and frankly, I have run out of excuses. This evening, I planned to go to Cliff Bells to hear the Hot Club of Detroit and saxophonist James Carter, but I decided—you probably will think I am absolutely nuts—to stay home to write this blog.

I did not know you as intimately as I knew your comrades the late pianists Teddy Harris and Harold McKinney, drummer Roy Brooks, and saxophonist Donald Walden who helped me out when I set out to make a name for myself as a jazz journalist. I bet when they learn God summoned you home they prepared a lavish home coming celebration. Man, I would love to attend that gig.

I wonder, though, how God plans to divide the solo time among you, Harris and McKinney. God has three of Detroit’s best jazz pianists. Kenn, I heard about your stellar reputation as a jazz historian and as a remarkable jazz pianist countless times before I finally met you last year when I interviewed you for an article my editor encouraged me to write.

We talked for two hours in the family room. The piano you learned to play on was in the room along with memorabilia you collected traveling the world. That afternoon you smoked, and we drank Budweiser beer as you recounted pivots moments of your career. I got the impression; however, you felt uneasy talking about yourself, which may explain why you talked more about the musicians who influenced you such as the late pianist Alice Coltrane who befriended and encouraged you when you started out.

Then you talk about the each member of your band Kenny Cox and the Contemporary Jazz Quintet. You had a swell time working with trumpeter Charles Moore, drummer Danny Spencer, bassist Ron Brooks, and tenor saxophonist Leon Henderson (saxophonist Joe Henderson’s younger brother) and about the recordings you guy made while signed to Blue Note Records Kenny Cox and the Contemporary Jazz Quintet and Multidirection.

You fronted many great bands during your career, but as I listened to you brag about how great each member was I gathered the Contemporary Jazz Quintet was your most cherished. After the interview, you walked me to my car, and I jokingly said I felt as though I had just completed a jazz history exam.

I must be honest. Before that interview I was unfamiliar with your history, and I was unaware you were once signed to Blue Note Records. I discovered Blue Note reissued the albums at the Festival of Jazz and improvised Music. I set next to a skinny white guy who wore a Detroit Tiger baseball cap, khaki shorts, and he swayed back and forth while the musician played.

I took notes at the festival because the publisher of Signal to Noise, a music magazine based in Houston, hired me to review the music fest. During the intermission, the skinny white guy asked me what newspaper I wrote for, but I cannot recall how we began talking about your music. During the conversation, the guy said Blue Note had recently reissued the albums on a single disc.

The next day, I purchased the album. Two hours later, I was in love with it. I called my editor to tell him I wanted to write about you. Just so happened, my editor had heard you at the Detroit Institute of the Arts with your new group Kenn Cox and Drum, and weeks later playing with your trio at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge. At Baker’s, my editor said you played show tunes so beautifully you made him cry. He was enthusiastic about publishing a piece about you. He also sent me some bootlegged albums of your live concerts, which I listened to while I wrote the article.

Before interviewing you, I heard you perform in the early 90’s with saxophonist Donald Walden at the Museum of African-American History, and your work on James Carter’s live album Live at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge. You played elegantly a la Duke Ellington and Oscar Peterson. When you soloed, you took your time giving each note equal consideration. It seem like your fingers were made of cashmere when you performed a ballad.

Kenn, you treated me respectfully as if you had known me for years. You were gracious and welcoming. I wish I had more recollections of you. I felt fortunate, however, to have spent that afternoon with you.

When you arrive in heaven, let Donald, Roy, Teddy, and Harold know that I missed them dearly. Do not tell them it took me so long to express how much I respected you, and cherished the two hours we spent talking last year about you life as an accomplished jazz pianist.

Monday, December 1, 2008


Dear Marcus Belgrave,

I missed your sets Saturday evening at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café. I waited too late to make reservations. The maitre d’ said each set was booked solid. I was pissed. My friend William heard you weeks ago at the Detroit Institute of the Arts. He said you had the stamina of a man half your age, and the next time you played around town, I should attend.

Marcus, I am not a procrastinator. I miscalculated, figuring I could get into the Dirty Dog without a reservation. I was wrong. I talked with your wife vocalist Joan Belgrave last week about writing an article about her soon to be released album and her career. She spent most of the conversation promoting your new album, which will feature saxophonist Charlie Gabriel.

I want to review your album, but first I want to profile Joan. I caught Joan’s first set at Cliff Bells last month. I wrote a blog about how much I enjoyed her voice although some rude people in the audience talked louder than Joan sang.

Marcus, did the audience at the Dirty Dog enjoy your set? That café attracts a sophistical crowd. Are you surprised at age 73 you can still pack a club? I heard you took the gig to showcase some of your pupils from Oberlin College.

Marcus, have you seen the movie ‘Round Midnight, starring tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon as Dale Turner a hard luck jazz musician in Europe trying to make ends meet while trying to overcome his drinking problem? There is this scene where a man, who befriends Gordon’s, sits outside this jazz club in the rain. The man is a big fan, but he cannot afford the cover charge. The man stands outside the club listening to Gordon blow.

Marcus it rained Saturday evening the same time your first set began. I considered standing outside the Dirty Dog. I am not kidding. I wanted to hear you play that much. I thought about you this morning. I wondered how hard you and your pupils swung.

Over the years, I could always rely on you when I needed some insight on what is happening on the jazz scene not just in Michigan but also throughout the country. As long as I have known you, I never heard you play in an intimate setting such as the Dirty Dog. I know you more as a jazz educator shaping the next generation of jazz musicians. I have never known you to be a spotlight hog.

My favorite Marcus Belgrave moment was at the 2003 Detroit International Jazz Festivals. You showcased the current generation of trumpeters who you schooled such as Sean Jones and Corey Wilkes. You called the performance Marcus Belgrave and the Trumpet Summit. To this day, I think about that performance, and the way those trumpet players blew up the stage. You did not solo, and Sean Jones, who currently holds the first trumpet chair in the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and who was one of the first jazz musicians to sign with Mack Avenue Records, stole the show.

You always have great stories to tell. Like when you played with Ray Charles. He underpaid the band, but you said it seem like a bunch of cash because Charles paid each musician in one dollar bills. Two years, ago backstage at the 2007 Detroit International Jazz Festival just before Herbie Hancock’s set. I asked you about saxophonist Leon Henderson, saxophonist Joe Henderson’s brother. I wanted to do a where-is-he-now story on Leon, but I had tough time tracking down information about the saxophonist. I decided to ask you. You could not confirm the saxophonist whereabouts, nor if he was still alive.

Then you told a story about helping the Leon get a job in trumpeter Ed Nuccilli’s orchestra. Nuccilli fired Leon soon after because the saxophonist refused to wear polished black shoes like his band-mates. You said the saxophonist ended up with a job in an auto factory where he had to wear a uniform.

Years ago, when I interviewed musicians for an article about your close friend bar owner Bert Dearing Jr. you recalled Dearing allowing you to run his bar for a month. At the time, you pleaded with Dearing to hire some national acts. Dearing explained why he could not. You persisted. Dearing gave you the keys to the bar. Right away, you hired a bunch of A-list jazz musicians and bands. After each show, you could not pay them. The bar lost money, and you never worked for Dearing again, but you guys remained friend.

You have always treated me respectfully. I thank you for that. That's why whenever you perform in Detroit I try to support you. I was willing to brave to rain Saturday evening to hear you. My wife refused to let out the house. She said our winter property tax bill is due soon, and I could not afford to miss work because I have a bad cold from standing outside the Dirty Dog while it rained. Instead of attending your sets, I went to the after Thanksgiving day sale at Macys. Marcus the next you have a gig at the Dirty Dog I promise I will be the first to make reservations.

Charles L. Latimer