Wednesday, July 21, 2010


On my way home from my Saturday workout at the Muscle Gym, I stopped at Car City Records in St. Clair Shores to buy the new album by saxophonist Tim Warfield. At the checkout, counter a record seller poured over a stock of used album a man in jeans, flip-flops and a ripped t-shirt wanted to get rid of. In the jazz section, I spotted my friend Cory and Inez his daughter combing through the cd bins. I tapped Cory on the shoulder. He turned surprised to see me. Inez had two Etta James cds in her hand, and Cory had a stack of cds. The new live recording by the late multi-saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. was on top. Cory explained Inez wanted to go record shopping. Inez is 5-year-old. She loves music just as much as her dad, and she someday she wants to be a jazz singer. Cory said a sings all the time. She wakes up every morning singing. Betty Carter and Etta James are Inez's favorite singers. I picked up the cds Cory considered buying. I recommended "Grover Live". I bought the album last week, and I was sure Cory would enjoy it.

"You have to buy this album. I've been listening to it for a solid week," I said putting the other cds down and handing "Grover Live" to Cory.
"It's been a long while since I heard some good smooth jazz," Cory said turning the cd over to read the list of songs Grove performed.
"Grover was the king of smooth jazz in my book," I said.
“Yeah, I agree. He really knew how to merge jazz with R&B. He was the first smooth jazz cat I heard who could improvise just as well as Dexter Gordon," Cory said.
"As strange as that sounds, you're right. I think Washington started out playing the old stuff," I said.
"I don't know for sure," Cory said. "Grover could do it all sweetly as Dexter Gordon would say".

Inez politely cut into are conversation, wanting to know if they could eat at Red Robins. Cory told her if she had enough money left after she bought the two Etta James albums. By her facial expression I could tell, she was hoping her dad would but the albums. Inez told her dad she'd be wiped out. Cory told her would if she wanted Red Robin's she could only buy one of the cds. Cory reminded Inez he paid for dinner and a movie last night, and now it was her turn to buy dinner. Cory gave Inez a weekly allowance. He made her save half, and the rest she could spend. Cory was serious about not letting Inez grow up believing it's a man job to wine and diner her. He wanted her to be self-reliant, and to treat her husband as a partner. Women that thought of men as their sponsors or personal ATM machines bothered Cory, so he vowed Inez wouldn't grow up with that wine and dine mentality. Cory began instilling certain values in her early. If she wanted something outside of the necessities a parent is obligated to provide, Cory made her paid for it from her allowance. Inez hand one cd in each hand. She looked at both and decided to get the cd of Etta James singing loves sounds.

"Daddy, I'll get this one," Inez said fishing the money out her pocket.
"You go of to the counter and pay for it," Cory told her.
"Grover Live' is wonderful. At the concert which was recorded in 1997 in Chicago, Washington performed some new tunes and a medley of some of his signature songs like 'Black Frost,' 'Inner City Blues,' and 'Inside Moves'. Then for an encore, he played 'Mr. Magic'. Listening to the album, I felt like I was at the concerts dancing in front of the stage. I listened to the album in my car. A few times, I wanted to pull over, get out and dance in the street, especially when Washington was improvising on 'Soulful Strut' and the Paul Desmond classic "Take Five".
"How many smooth jazz musicians you know would tackle a Paul Desmond composition," Cory asked.
"Not many. Grover was never afraid to play outside the box," I said.
Inez returned to the jazz section holding a bag with the Etta James cd inside. Cory decided to buy "Grover Live". He asked if I wanted to go to Red Robins with him and Inez. I told him I would take him up on the offer next time, and that I would see him at the barbershop next Thursday. Inez said good-bye. They walked to the checkout so Cory could pay for the Grover Washington Jr. album. I went about looking for the new Tim Warfield album.

Friday, July 16, 2010


At 11:00pm, my cell phone vibrated. I was proofreading an article I had to file Monday. My family and friends know not to call me after 10:00pm because every night from 10:00pm to 12:00am I'm writing. I removed the telephone from the leather case. Cory, the barber, budding musician, single-dad, music lover and Jehovah’s Witness name appeared on the caller ID. I was annoyed. Then I remembered I told Cory my cell phone is always on, and he could call me whenever he wanted. Normally, Cory only calls me to talk about some great album he's listened to. I answered the phone. Cory's voice boomed out. I pressed the control on the side of the phone to turn down the volume.
"I get you at a back time,” Cory asked. In the background, I heard guitarist Marcus Miller playing behind neo-soul vocalists India Arie.
"Kind of. I was working," I answered. Cory sounded excited.” Have you heard the Herbie Hancock album 'Imagine," Cory asked.
"I didn't know he had a new album," I said.
"I know Herbie not one of your favorite jazz musicians, but you should check out this album anyway. It's great"
"Herbie no longer qualifies as a jazz musician in my book. I wrote him off when he started behaving like a rock star and playing that electronic fusing stuff."
"Chill out, man. You're too hard on Herbie. Some musicians want to evolve and not play the same old stuff their entire career. Miles raised Herbie, and you know Miles was all about staying hip to the latest trends.
"Miles was about keeping his lavish lifestyle. In my book, he fucked up a lot of great jazz musicians."
"I don't want to talk about Miles. ," Cory said.
“What’s so special about Herbie's new record," I asked.
"He's on this global unity kick. He included musicians from all over the world and some popular pop stars like Pink, John Legend, India Arie, Chaka Khan and Seal.
"What respectable jazz musician would record with an angry pop twit like Pink? Herbie has really lost his way.
"Just a minute ago you said he wasn't a jazz musician. Now you're calling him one.
“Herbie doesn't know what kind of musician he wants to be. So far, you haven't convinced me the album is worth buying.
"You already have your mind made up about Herbie. I thought music journalists are required keep an open mind."
"My mind is open enough. I'm not going to like every musician out there.
"The album is good from start to finish. Each musician blends perfectly with his style. The global unity theme is powerful. Herbie is an old man, and he's still trying to make a difference with his music."
"Sounds like a we-are-the-world-like project’."
"Sort of."
"That kind of album is dated"?
"You should check it out. You just may like it"
“I have a list of albums I want to hear," I said.
"Buy the album. You can get it at Borders Books and Music for $12.99. Listen to it for a few days. If you don't like it, I'll buy it back from you".
“If you’re that convinced I'll like the album, I'll get it.
I told Cory to have a good night. Then I turned off my cell phone, returned it to the leather case, and resumed proofreading my article.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Barry, your new album ""Barry Harris Live in Rennes" is more sophisticated than the albums I've listened to this year by jazz pianists. Geri Allen, Marc Cary, Jason Moran, Jacky Terrasson Cyrus Chestnut and Eric Reed released good albums. They’re from a different generation, and they normally deviate from the status quo. On "Barry Harris Live in Rennes, you performed mostly oldies such as "I'll Keep Loving You," “My Heart Stood Still," and "Tea for Two," You built a reputation reinterpreting standards. No one will disagree. Many modern day jazz pianists play the instrument as if they're working out their aggressions. On "Barry Harris Live in Rennes" you’re gentlemanly, taking your time with every note like a romantic. No matter what trends were in vogue, you remained true to your roots and graceful. You introduced Thelonius Monk’s gem "Rudy My Dear" by giving your definition of a true jazz musician. Simply put, they respect and play jazz classics. Classical musicians play Bach and Chopin. You're right jazz musicians should feel indebted to Monk, to Powell, to Ellington, and to Parker. You took a stance early in your career. Be bop was the music you'd play forever. That's what your fans want when they go to your concerts and buy your albums. Never have you let them down. "Barry Harris Live in Rennes" shows you remain devoted to the music your heroes left behind.

"Barry Harris Live in Rennes" will be released July 20th

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


I turned west on Telegraph and Plymouth Rd. en route to 100% Barber Shop. I spotted Cory, who works there and who loves talking about music waiting at the bus stop. White iPod earphones were stuffed in his ears. The barbershop was roughly three miles west on Plymouth Rd. I pulled over to ask Cory if he wanted a lift. Cory removed the earphones and peeked inside my Jeep Sahara, realizing it was me he smiled. Then he yanked on the passenger side door handle
"Are you headed to work?" I yelled thinking he had the volume of the iPod turned up high.
Cory removed the earphone from his ears.
"Yeah, man. The bus is late as usual." Cory said.
"I'm headed to the shop. I have a ten o'clock appointment with KB. Jump in."

I rolled up the passenger side window, and unlocked the doors, removed four back issues of the Metrotimes off the passenger seat.
"Man, you get a new car damn near every month. Blogging about jazz albums must pay well," Cory said.
He removed his iPod from the armband attached to his bicep. He wrapped the skinny earphone wire around the iPod and stuffed it in the pocket of his cargo pants. He strapped on the seatbelt, and I merged back into traffic. Pianist Jason Moran's new album "Ten" played on the Jeep’s CD changer. Jason worked out on his take of Thelonious ode to his wife "Crepuscule with Nellie". I turned up the volume.
Cory said, "Man, I was just listening to that album on my iPod. Jason is something else. He puts most contemporary jazz pianist to shame."
"I wouldn't go that far, but 'Ten' is a good album, and Jason is a sweet ass piano player. I got the album over the weekend and I've been listening to it nonstop since." I said.
"That's the hippest take of 'Crepuscule with Nellie' I've ever heard." Cory said.
"Hipper than Monk's original?" I asked.
"Yeah, in my book" Cory said.
At Plymouth and Beach Daley, I stopped at a red traffic light. Two young girls walked across the street wearing short, short summer shorts and flip-flops.
"This is one of those rare occasions, I agree with you. Jason really proved his worth on that tune. I liked the overall arrangements and the many tempo changes." I said.
The traffic light changed. I took off, and so did Jason on a burner titled "Gangsterism over 10 Years". On that one, I finally heard the Jaki Byard influence many jazz critics raved about since Jason first made his presence felt in jazz quarters during the late 90's.
Cory said: "Jason has been on the Gangsterism theme for a long time. Do you know the story behind it is"?
"Not really. Jason is a creative cat, so I'm sure the story is interesting. The Gangsterism thing should be dull as rice cakes by now. Somehow, he makes each Gangsterism composition sound fresh off the showroom floor," I said.
"Every time I hear one of his Gangsterism tunes, I think about Jaki Byard," Cory said.
"That's funny. I was just thinking the same thing. Critics always point out that Jason is the splitting image of Jaki. I know Jaki was his mentor, but I never thought their styles were similar. Jaki was the kind of piano player who could play every form of Black-American music in one solo. In my opinion, no other jazz piano player could do that. With Jaki it seems so natural."
"The first time I heard Jason. I heard Jaki’s influence. Jason can't play the gamut of black music in one sitting, but you got to admit Jason is just and creative."
"No doubt."
Cory continued, "Jason ain't afraid to think outside the box."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Well, on his other albums, I heard him do some really slick shit. There were two women conversing on the telephone. Their gossiping was rhythmic. Jason improvised on it, turning the conversation into music. That blew me away. On another albums Jason did the same thing while someone scribbled on a sheet of paper. No other modern jazz pianist is that daring and clever."
"Yeah, Jason can't turn just about any minute sound into music. But on 'RFK in the Land of Apartheid', I think he fell way short".
" 'Ten' is a really cool album," Cory said.
I turned left into the parking lot 100% Barbershop shares with Jet's Pizza. Jason Moran was in the middle of "To Bob Vatel of Paris". Jason fingers speed-skated across the piano keys. Before Cory hopped out my Jeep, I asked him if he thought Jason would ever make a straight ahead acoustic jazz album. .
"Making a run-of-the-mill jazz trio album would bore Jason, and his sidemen drummer Nasheet Waits and bassist Tarus Mateen. There's nothing ordinary about Jason. He is an explorer. His albums never really have a theme, but some of the antics he employ are mind blowing."

Friday, July 9, 2010


Tenor saxophonist Steve WoodsThat's face it Steve, you and saxophonist Carl Cafagna respect each other way too much to battle. You called your show last night at the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe as a tenor sax showdown. That was a little misleading. With all due respect, the concert was more of a love-fest, which was fine with me. You feel indebted to great tenor saxophonists such as Wardell Gray, Dexter Gordon, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and Johnnie Griffin. That explains why you boasted about their skills and the legendary tenor sax battles they participated in. I liked you kept your performance with Cafagna, a member of the popular gypsy jazz band the Hot Club of Detroit and a noted bandleader in his own right, kosher.

Both of you are classy jazz musicians. Not once did you all attempt to upstage the other although the opportunities were there, especially when you traded measures with Cafagna on "The Last Train from Overbrook" and "Strollin'". The exchanged between Cafagna and drummer Sean Dobbins was like a nagging old married couple. Sometimes Dobbins plays as if he’s having a temper tantrum, and he's prone to showboating at times, but last night he was the perfect sideman, keeping his ego at bay.

Two things bothered me that I have to mention. First, was the table of women chatting during the performance . Obviously, they showed up to drink and socialized. They refused to let the great music the band played interfere with their chit-chat. The nice couple from San Francisco, seated next to me at the bar thought the women were disrespectful. I told them talking at jazz clubs is commonplace, and club owners need to crack down.

Anyway, the coupled loved the band, and they're coming back Saturday night. The other thing that bothered me was Cafagna long-winded introductions. Cafagna is sort of a raconteur. Sometimes, the stories he tells are uninteresting. Unfortunately, an audience has to endure his rambling. However, when he settles down, his blowing is gorgeous, particularly on medium tempo material.

Your solo on the Billy Strayhorn classic "Chelsea Bridge," was the highlight of the evening. Most great tenor sax player past and present are balladeers at heart. Dexter Gordon and Ike Quebec immediately come to mind. You know how to work a ballad. The couple sitting under the framed photo of John Coltrane cuddled during your solo. The pretty notes you played were touching. The cafe was packed, which is unusual for a Thursday night. Steve, I anticipated the place would be crowded, so I arrived early. You've built a loyal fan base. Teaming up with Cafagna gives your fans more of a reason to support you.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


Dinah WashingtonMrs. Washington, I woke up this morning thinking about your compilation album the "Ultimate Dinah Washington". The album was part of a series Verve Records released some years ago. Verve commissioned vocalist Abbey Lincoln to select 16 songs she loved hearing you perform. There a handful of blues songs she included. I enjoyed listening to vocalists sing the blues because they're convincing. Until this year, I never had the blues. This has been a trying year so far. You may wonder why I’m bothering you. I read your life story. You faced the blues many times, so maybe you could assure the blues is fleeting. A few months ago, a reader criticized my writing style.

The reader called me a weirdo because I write to deceased jazz musicians. What I do is no different from someone visiting a gravesite to talk to a deceased relative or spouse. Essentially, what they're doing is talking to grass and a concrete headstone. That's okay in my book because it give them comfort, knowing they can still communicate with the departed on some level regardless of how strange it may appear. Myself expressions are no different from people praying to an invisible God. Anyway, Mrs. Washington, I'll stop there, and share why I am blue.

In January, I lost my job. I’ve been struggling to stay afloat. This is the first time in my adult life creditors have hounded me. They're out for blood, and I am fresh out. Mrs. Washington, I know there are people in worst shape. Many are homeless. I try to remind myself things could be worst. However, I'm having a tough time adjusting. The hardest thing is trying to be upbeat and hopeful my ordeal will eventually end. Mrs. Washington, I believe God is mad at me, and I wonder why. I'm 43, and I've always lived a clean life. I've never intentionally hurt anyone. I've never asked God for anything. I appreciate his blessings. Until recently, I never questioned his motives. Now I'm feel as though he's picking on me.

For a decade, I’ve done consulting work for the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT). In October 2009, the project a MDOT engineer assigned me ended, and I was laid off, which is common when a project ends, or when the construction season is over. The engineer I worked for praised my performance, and I expected to return in January. That never happened, so I sought an explanation. Two co-workers told me a rumor circulated I had messed up my last assignment. I was shocked the engineer who acknowledged I had done a good job allowed someone to badmouth me.

I asked more questions. I discovered this supervisor, who I will not name, but who's a notorious troublemaker, had badmouthed me. I never liked him. We argued once. I refused to allow him to bully me. Criticizing the quality of my work, I guess was his way of settling an old score. Anyway, another supervisor, who I worked for off and on for years, overheard him ranting and raving about what I supposedly crappy job I did.

I’ve had a steady job since high school. I was always proud I could take care of myself without help from friends and family. That has changed and I've been up and down emotionally. I owe my mom and my sister money. They understood my ordeal, and they loaned me money anyway. I have hawked half of my jazz CD collection. It was heart wrenching selling by Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy, Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins box sets. I sold the box sets for peanuts, but I needed the cash. I had a nest egg, but I spent it on the mortgage, the car note, the property taxes and other household stuff.

Mrs. Washington, I used to be the one my family counted on. I inherited that responsibility a decade ago when my grandmother, Inez Hall passed away. I dream about her occasionally, when I'm about to do something stupid. The dreams are short. In them, she's chastising me. I mentioned my emotional state. I'm not suicidal, but my attitude has been scary. On the surface, I've been cavalier. That concerned me.

I decided to see a therapist. Admitting, I needed help sorting things out was hard. Mrs. Washington, I'm not nuts, but I sought help because I’m afraid I might lose it. I told my mother. She disapproved of me seeing a shrink. I never asked why. She has experienced adversity worst than mine, so maybe she thought I was overreacting. I told her I'm being preventive. I'm convinced therapy was the right move. Mrs. Washington, for now, I plan to continue therapy. Honestly, I felt better after my first session.

Early on, I said I wasn't going to discuss the "Ultimate Dinah Washington" album, but I must renege. Listening to you, sing "Cry Me a River," "Back Water Blues," "Cold, Cold Heart" and "I Won't Cry Anymore" was comforting. Your voice was clear and pure as spring water. I remember reading writer James Baldwin’s account of migrating to Europe. Baldwin had a tough time initially. Playing blues singer Betsy Smith records help him keep it together. Playing the "Ultimate Dinah Washington" over and over for the past week has helped me.

Monday, July 5, 2010


Inside KB's Barber Shop, Cory set in his barber chair with a tall can of Arizona Ice Tea between his legs reading the liner notes of Bettye LaVette's new album "Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook". I was early for my bi-weekly hair cut. Business was slow, so the other barbers Dane and Dex played dominoes. KB was restocking the vending machine, and Marcus watched Sport Center on the flat screen televison that was mounted over the vending machine. Before I set down, Cory asked if I’ve heard Bettye LaVette's new album. Cory always talks to me about music because I'm a music critic for the Metrotimes, a weekly newspaper. Cory is an aspiring musician and songwriter. He plans to quit cutting hair when the music thing takes off. Cory is also a good single dad. A photo of his daughter is stuck in the corner of the mirror behind his barber's chair. I was shocked when KB told me Cory is a Jehovah's Witness. The first time I met Cory, he was drinking Hennessey from a plastic cup. I thought that was odd because Witnesses forbid the consumption of alcohol and listening to secular music was a shunned as well. Maybe Cory reasoned it's okay broke the rules occasionally. I never asked him if his love for hip-hop, R&B, neo-soul, and jazz conflicted with his religious beliefs.

"I bought the album Friday at Border's. It was on sale for $9.99," I said. I removed a back issue of Smooth magazine with a half-naked Stacy Dash on the cover and the sport section of the Detroit News from the chair in front of Cory’s station. Then I flopped down, removed my baseball cap and sunglasses. I put my car keys and sunglasses inside my cap. KB locked the vending machine door. He dropped the key in the pocket of his black smock. He told me that he had one customer scheduled ahead of me. The customer was running late. That was okay with me because I could kill time talking to Cory about LaVette's album.

"I bought it a few days ago myself," Cory said as he slid the liner notes back in the plastic CD case. He placed the Arizona Ice Tea on the counter behind him. "I didn't know you’re into Bettye LaVette. All you ever talk about is jazz”.

"A lot of people think all I listen to is jazz. Jazz is all people ever ask me about,” I said. I saw Bettye LaVette singing "Salt of the Earth" on the David Letterman Show.

"You're the only black man I know how watches the David Letterman Show," Cory said.

"I don't watch it regularly. I was channel surfing. I caught the tail end of her performance.

"Her voice is something," Cory said. He paused to admire the photo of LaVette on the album cover in an all black outfit sitting a lotus position.

"I think she's a blues singer at heart" I said.
"That's what I love about the album," Cory said. "The songs were written by British rockers, but she turned the songs into the blues."

"Yeah, especially on "All My Love," "Wish You Were Here" and "Why Does Love Got to be so Bad". Most of the British rockers were influenced my blues musicians," I noted.
"You mean they stole from blues musicians,"

"I that's a matter of interpretation. I don't want to get into that"
" That's too deep of a topic to get into on a Tuesday." Cory backed off. "Her phrasing is so different".

"Yeah, her voice almost sounds like it's horsed in a beautiful way."

"How long have you been a fan," Cory asked.
"I'm not really a fan. Interpretations is my first Bettye LaVette album. Three years ago, I saw her at the Detroit jazz fest. She was fit and looked better than most 20-year-old women I know. She strolled and flailed about the stage like a fitness instructor.

"I was there. I thought she put on a good show."

"It wasn't nearly as good as this album."

"That's true, I wonder if the record company thought she was crazy when she proposed doing an album of all British rock songs. What do you think?"

"They may've been reluctant, but she strikes me as the kind of woman that knows how to get things done. I think it was gutsy of her to attempt to make this kind of album," I said.

One of Cory’s regulars walked into the shop. He was lanky and he carried a backpack. Cory stood up and motioned him over. The regular played his backpack on the floor next to the coat rack. Then he flopped down in Cory's chair.

"I don't think another singer could've pulled this kind of record off," Cory said.

"Bettye is hard to classify. She can do it all blues, jazz, R&B and rock.

“I bet her record label has a hard time figuring out how to package and market her.”

KB interrupted our discussion, telling me the customer that was scheduled ahead of me canceled his appointment. KB was ready to cut my hair. I told Cory we'd have to continue our discussion later. Then I followed KB to his station.