Thursday, January 28, 2010


Dear Duke Ellington,

Last night, at the Main Arts Theatre in Royal Oak, MI. I attended a screening of Bruce Broder's documentary "Chops". Broder followed the Douglas Anderson High School of the Arts jazz band in Jacksonville, Florida as they prepared for the prestigious "Essentially Ellington" competition, which is held yearly at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York, The jazz musicians at Douglas Anderson are something to behold. They were enthusiast and attentive, The students embodied a genuine respect for your musical legacy, and they were serious about mastering your music.

The students weren't cocky or undisciplined at all. They encouraged each other. They horsed around some, but when it was time to practice, they were all business. Their humility amazed me. They always felt they could play better. TJ-a trombone player and the most polished and talented of the bunch-said he practices religiously because he wants to be an exceptional musician not a mediocre one. That was the mindset of the youngsters as they learn your music.

Duke, Douglas Anderson had some stiff competition. Battle Ground High School and Garfield High School, two bands from Seattle were formidable. They'd competed at "Essential Ellington" before, and they appeared to be more confident. However, they were robotic and they couldn't improvise. Douglas Anderson had an edge. They were taught to infuse the music with their emotions, and they spent a lot of time learning how to swing thanks to Ron Carter, a Duke Ellington clinician from the Lincoln Center, The school hired Carter to teach the band the mechanics of swing. Carter broke down the basics of swing and fed it to each student like Halloween candy.

The day of the competition, Douglas Anderson was still not sure they could wipe out the competition. Duke, they did, and you would've been proud of them. They were the last band to perform. While the other bands played, they watched from the audience. The pressure was on. Douglas Anderson didn't buckle. They played your blues "Black & Tan Fantasy". It was a brave move to play a blues when. The other bands played your swing tunes. Here's the thing that floored the capacity audience and the judge, which include trumpeter Wynton Marsalis: midway through the blues Douglas Anderson through in a chunk of the ditty when the "Saints Go Marching In" The audience went ballistic. After their performance, the late 60 Minutes anchor Ed Bradley said Douglas Anderson who more polished, and had better solos. Bradley was certain they were going to win the competition. Duke, they won hands-down.

It's hard to make me cry, I don't cry at funerals, but when those kids from Douglas Anderson finished and the crowd cheered like they're at the Super Bowl I became unglued. Broder did a wonderful job chronicling how music and dedicated teachers who believe in their students can bring out the greatness in them.

Thanks for the music,

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


The first time I listened to "For the Love of You", your new album, I didn't care for it., and I contemplated telling my reader's to stay away from it. Sunday, I decided to listen to it again thinking I may have rushed to judgment. I played it most of the day, and again Monday evening. Joe, I'm on the fence. You were brilliant throughout, particularly on "Bright Side Up". I thought you played two vibraphones simultaneously on "Cinema Paradise". You assembled a tight-knit band pianist Geoffrey Keezer, bassist George Mraz and drummer Clarence Penn. The album could've been magnificent with just the four of you. You took a big risk including Kenny Washington. It backfired. Proven bandleaders, which you are, like to take chances. That's admirable, but this time around, you should've been conservative. Gambling on a vocalist didn't work out. In the past, some critics compared Washington to Nat King Cole and Donny Hathaway. I couldn't detect their influence when Washington sang. He's an okay singer.However, comparing him to Cole and Hathaway is way off base. On the love songs "For the Love of You" and "The Shadow of Your Smile", for example, Washington was unconvincing. He didn't sound as if he felt the lyrics. Joe, midway through the recording, I wondered if you knew for sure the kind of album you wanted to make. I wondered if you plan to make a jazz vocal album, an easy-listening album, or a mixture of both. Anyway Washington wasn't a good fit. His style is more appropriate for a church choir. Last year, you test-drove the group at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola in New York, and the concert was a big hit. Maybe live is the best situation to experience the group.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


In 2000, you were scheduled to perform at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, MI. Back then, you're my all-time favorite pianist. You had two styles playing loud like a cannon, and soft like your fingers were stuffed with feathers. I spent a lot of time listening to your albums "Gene Harris at Maybeck", "Black and Blue", and "The Gene Harris Trio Plus One". I wore out three copies of the latter. So when I heard you're performing in Ann Arbor. I planned to skip work to attend the concert. The promoters canceled because you died. Of the jazz pianists I've listened to, I admired your music the most. You could make me dance one moment and cry the next.Last week, Resonance Records sent me "Another Night in London", a live album you made in Englandin 1996. The album is part of the Resonance Records Heirloom Series, which issues unreleased recordings by noted jazz musicians. Bassist Scott Lafaro album “Pieces of Jade” was the first album released. Your album was the second. Do you remember making it? You played with guitarist Jim Mullen, bassist AndrewCleyndert, and drummer Martin Drew. "Another Nights in London" is a terrific live date. It's lean. There're only six selections. Most are standards, but you give each a blues and gospel twist. On "Sweet Georgia Brown", you made the piano howl. On "Meditation", your gentle side took over. You played softly like the piano keys were silk. Listening to the album, I felt as if I were at the concert absolutely spellbound by what was happening on the bandstand.

Monday, January 11, 2010


After I listened to your new album, "Here in the Moment" I wondered why you chose to only performed standards. Your singing is comparable to the best jazz vocalists of our time. The great Nancy Wilson immediately comes to mind. However, you played it safe this time around. I wondered if your producers convinced you to sing only standards. Do jazz record label executives encourage vocalists to be conservative on their debut and sophomore albums. Maybe making an album of standards is a rite of passage for jazz vocalists. Maybe they don't feel legitimate until they've proven they can sing the classics. R&B and pop singers always search for new material, the hottest songwriters and hottest producers. Many jazz vocalists are afraid to take chances. Gail, it's time to put away those jazz golden oldies. On your third album, you should only perform new material. The album will be a big success because you have what it takes.

Friday, January 8, 2010


Jazz vocalist Nancy WilsonLutcher, I always look forward to talking to you at the Detroit International Jazz Festival. Over the years, we've had some lively discussions about Detroit jazz. We've always been on the same page concerning our musical taste and the Detroit jazz musicians we respect. We believed Nancy Wilson is the classiest jazz vocalist of all times.Four months have passed since the 2009 jazz fest. I've been trying to locate you. I didn't see you at the festival. That's unusual and was a cause for alarm. I asked some of your friends about your whereabouts.

I wondered if you were ill. Neither knew why you were absent. I asked Marcus Belgrave if you were sick. The trumpeter, who introduced us at the 2004 festival, didn't know. Man, I missed you. I'm writing this because I have been thinking about you lately. Monday, I was in my basement looking for biographer Barry Miles' book about poet and novelist Charles Bukowski. I've been on a Bukowski kick lately.

Off and on for a months, I've been reading Bukowski's collection of short stories "Hot Water Music" and "The Captain Is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship", a collection of essays. I forgot I had stuffed three aticles you'd given me Inside the Bukowski biography. You wrote the articles in late 90's. You profiled pianists Harold McKinney and Barry Harris. When we first met, I told you I wanted to read your work. I asked about your background. You shared bits and pieces of it.

You attended Wayne State University. Journalism was your major. You didn't say if you graduated. For years, you wrote a column called "Jazzin' Around Detroit". That was a hip name. I want to use it for the title of my first book. The late jazz vocalist Nellie Lutcher was your cousin. When we met, you're 65-year-old. You had some health problems. You didn't go into specifics. To correct the problems required surgery. To attend the jazz festival, you postponed the surgery. At first, I didn't believe you. Then I realized you're serious, and I thought you were nuts.

I told my mentor, who is a big jazz fan what you did. He understood why. He commented you're a real jazz man, and there are others jazz diehards of your generation who are equally extreme. Lutcher, I love jazz, too. If I needed surgery, I wouldn't put it off to attend a jazz concert. However, I respected your dedication. Lutcher, do you remember our first meeting? I do like it happened hours ago.

It was the year the great Nancy Wilson headlined the Detroit jazz Festival. We met backstage. You had on a jacket and necktie. Your press credentials were attached to the left lapel, and a camera dangled from your neck. When I saw you, I wondered why you wore a suit to an outdoor festival. You definitely stood out. I asked Belgrave about you. He said you were an important jazz journalist. For decades, you covered the Detroit jazz scene.

After we broke the ice, I asked if you had any clips of your articles. I wanted to read them. You had three clips on you. You gave them to me. The clips were worn with notes and telephone numbers scribbled on the back. We had something in common. We have our clips on hand. Weeks later, I read the articles. I like them immensely. Your style was non-judgmental. The jazz musicians that you wrote about seemed to trust you implicitly. We exchanged telephone numbers. Occasionally, I'd call to make sure you're okay and still writing regularly. Months after we met, I wrote an article about pianist Horace Silver. You expressed how much you enjoyed it. The compliment boosted my spirits. .

I'm worried about you. I wondered if you had died. losing you would be a devastating blow to the Detroit jazz community. There're only a few jazz journalists covering the Detroit scene. In my book, you're irreplaceable. Maybe it was a fluke you miss the festival. Maybe you had an ailing family member to care for. Maybe you just needed a break. Maybe you hit the lottery. And you purchase a small island. I can imagine you lounging on a beach, sipping an exotic drink listening to Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Barry Harris, and Harold McKinney on your iPod. Five decades writing about jazz, you deserve a break. Lutcher, I'm going to stay optimistic that you're still jazzin' around Detroit.