Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Barry Harris
If you’ve ever hung out at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café after a show there, you likely overheard a musician complain about the house piano. Listening to world-class jazz pianists Johnny O’Neal, Charles Boles, Gerald Clayton, Aaron Diehl, Claude Black, and Cliff Monear played the house piano. It would've been impossible for a layman to tell it needed tuning. Those guys could make a toy piano sound amazing.
The owner of the Dirty Dog, Gretchen Carhartt Valade, must have gotten wind of the complaining. Recently, she bought a 7’ Steinway piano and flew in one of the greatest bebop pianists, of all-times, Barry Harris, to christen it. 

Harris, 83, is a native Detroiter. During the 50’s his Detroit home was sort of a bebop training ground where he schooled then newcomers jazz musicians like Donald Walden, Charles McPherson, Lonnie Hillyer, Teddy Harris, and many others.

In 1960, Harris moved to New York, joined Julian “Cannonball” Adderly’s band, made some great bebop albums for Riverside Records like Barry Harris at the Jazz Workshop, Preminado and Chasin’ the Bird, and over time grew into an internationally sought after performer and jazz educator. To this very day, he remains such.  
At the Dirty Dog, Tuesday evening, people paid $50.00, a steep cover charge for one set of music. But the people are ultra Barry Harris fans. If asked to donate a kidney to hear Harris live, in all likelihood they would have obliged.
As customary, Harris played oldies like “Tea for Two,” “All God Children’s Got Shoes,”  “Ruby My Dear” plus songs by his idols Bud Powell, Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.  Amazingly, the concert never felt like a ceremony.
Harris chatted with old friends, well-wishers and the media before the concert began. The Detroit Free Press jazz critic Mark Stryker, radio personalities Judy Adams and John Penny, and the Detroit Jazz Festival’s Artistic Director Chris Collins were in the house.

Gretchen Carhartt Valade sat at the bar next to Tom Robinson the CEO of Mack Avenue Records. Occasionally, Valade cheered Harris on, whistling as if she was court side at a Detroit Pistons game. Photographer John Osler, whose excellent book “Detroit Jazz Documenting the Legacy of Gretchen Valade” was recently released, snapped photos of the concert. Harris, obviously, was elated to be home. It showed in his performance

At 7:00pm sharp, the house lights dimmed. Harris sat at the Steinway. He bounded with it right away, handling it attentively and lovingly like a first date. He opened the concert with a fly take on Staryhorn’s “Lotus Blossom,” followed by George Shearing’s “She”. 

Then Harris introduced his longtime band-mates drummer Leroy Williams and bassist Ray Drummond. Harris tied the subsequent songs on his set list with a story about a make-believe married couple Judy and George who started out madly in love but after making nine kids ended up divorced. 

Harris been working such antics into his concerts for decades. At times, last night’s concert felt like a vaudeville show, especially when he made up the song “7,5,2, Dirty Dog” on the spot. He's a showman. Though he's up there in age, his playing is still vibrant, lucid and beautiful. 

Near the end of the concert, he played an Ellington medley. Then  Harris finally spoke about the significance of the christening—or as he put it—blessing the Steinway. Harris has a closet filled with honors. It was the first time he was invited to christen a piano. He he performed as if it was the highest honor he's received.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


Freddy Cole
This article was published in the Metrotimes
Jazz vocalist Freddy Cole never had a sibling rivalry with his older brother Nat, one of the most renowned male vocalists of all time and one of the first African-American entertainers to have his own television show. The late crooner immortalized such songs as “Unforgettable” and “Mona Lisa.” Fact is, when the brothers got together they seldom discussed music and mostly talked sports.
Cole, 82, has a voice that’s smooth and endearing with 30 albums to his credit. His 2010 album, Freddy Cole Sings Mr. B, was a tribute to his role model, Billy Eckstine, and garnered a Grammy nomination. Detroit is one of Cole’s favorite cities to perform. In September, he sang at the Detroit Jazz Festival and he makes his second appearance this year at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café.  I Dig Jazz talked to Cole about his early memories gigging in Detroit and making his mark as a jazz vocalist. 
Can you recall your first performance in Detroit?
Actually, I remember it vividly. The first time I played in Detroit, it was this month in 1953. I played at the Flame Show Bar on John R and Canfield. I played with local guys like Beans Bowles, and a trumpeter, I can’t recall his name right now, but he ended up being Diana Ross’ music director. The band I played with had a lot of Detroit cats. I got the opportunity to meet all the jazz cats like Donald Towns, who became my good friend.
Back then, before you began gigging in Detroit, were you hip to its reputation as a happening jazz town?
You know, I’m from Chicago and being young back then, and being in the music business, I would hear things about all the cats that could play. Detroit is where I met and became friends with Kenny Burrell.
 Your older brother, Nat “King” Cole, was one of the greatest jazz vocalists of all time. Was there ever a sibling rivalry?
Surprisingly, there wasn’t. When we used to get together, the music was the last thing we talked about. People have a hard time understanding that, but that’s the truth. We were sports enthusiasts: baseball, football and basketball. Our conversations would drift to sports over music.
 Did being Nat’s brother open any doors for you, career-wise?
 There was no golden path laid out for me. I had to do what I had to do. Fortunately, I’ve made it. I didn’t start to make any strides until I proved that I belonged with my peers. My peers started to recognize the work I was doing, that I wasn’t up there on the bandstand trying to mimic my brother. I really started to put something together collectively around 1989. That’s when I started doing a recording per year. Before then, I had recorded in Europe. 
 Did the record companies ever push you to copy Nat’s style and way of singing?
You know, I always rebelled against that kind of thing. I never did that. I was never a part of my brother’s name being eight feet tall and my name being two feet tall. I wouldn’t have any part of that.
 Musically, who was your biggest influence?
Billy Eckstine. He was everything. I first met him when I was 9. He was a family friend and he was a close friend with Nat. As I got older, Billy would offer me advice here and there. I watched how professional he was. I tell young musicians all the time, “You have to be professional.” When he hit the bandstand, he was all business. To this very day, I look at it as: You came out to see me with your wife. You buy drinks and dinner. Right there, a couple hundred dollars are gone. You are dressed sharp and your wife has on her Sunday best. And here I come on the bandstand in torn jeans and sneakers? That picture doesn’t look right to me.
 You’re 82.  What keeps you going?
 The music keeps me going. It is the only thing that I can do. If there were something else out there for me, I would do it. Once a musician, always a musician. It’s a profession you can’t retire from. mt
Freddy Cole appears Nov. 22-23, at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café, 97 Kercheval Ave., Grosse Pointe Farms. For reservations, call 313-882-5299.

Sunday, November 10, 2013


Drummer Ralph Peterson
Ralph Peterson’s Unity Project concert, which kicked off the Jazz at The Centre monthly series, was the first concert when it was over my reporter’s notebook was almost empty. It wasn’t that way because Peterson’s band—saxophonist Craig Handy, trumpeter Josh Evans and organist Jake Sherman—sucked, quite the contrary. Throughout the concert I was too busy patting my feet, bobbing my head, and high-fiving the guy seated next to me to take notes.

Peterson put on an exciting concert, setting the bar high for the acts Skip Norris, who dreamed up this series, have booked in the coming months. Norris wasn’t overpraising Peterson by telling the crowd at the Paul Robeson Theatre in the Northwest Activities Center that Peterson is one of the most exciting jazz drummers in the nation.

Peterson, a native of New Jersey, is a tenured professor at Berklee College of Music with 20 albums on the market. Like his idol and former employer the iconic drummer Art Blakey, Peterson has a knack for spotting and for developing young talent. Some of his former students performed on his highly touted album Duality Perspective.

Friday night, Peterson started the two hour concert with a duet with Jake Sherman, one of Peterson’s former students. They horsed around for roughly 10 minutes before Handy and Evans crashed the party. 

Sherman was supposed to be the focal point of the band. He’s a capable organist with a ton of promise. But at times he seemed outmatched. His soloing although competent and imaginative didn’t move the crowd like Peterson’, Handy’s and Evans’ soloing did.

Evans is a fire-breather. He reminded me of trumpeter Sean Jones. On Moontrane and Katerina Ballerina, Evans was blowing so forcefully I thought the trumpet was going to blow up in his hands. He came in a close second to Peterson for the most memorable concert highlights. Peterson surpassed him by only a nose hair.

On the bandstand, many jazz drummers are hams. Honestly, Peterson can be one at times. Last night, on a few numbers he got beside himself twirling the drums in the air. Still, he is a jazz drummer I could listen to daily. 

He came up with unbelievable solos throughout the concert. A few years ago he weighed over 300 pounds, he told the audience. He’s lost over 100 pounds. Watching him play, I wondered if he lost the weight performing. All night, he worked out on the drums like a fitness nut.

The music was right on, and Peterson’s Unity Project was the ideal band to kick off the Jazz at The Centre series. The sound system was too loud. Some of the people in the front row moved near the back of the theater. Peterson was constantly signaling to the engineer to adjust the microphones. The technical glitches got in the way of it being a flawless concert.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


Drummer Ralph Peterson
Jazz at The Centre is a new concert series that opens in Detroit Friday November 8th at the Paul Robeson Theatre in the Northwest Activities Center. Three concerts are scheduled. First up is the enterprising drummer Ralph Peterson. In December, the All-star jazz band The Cookers plays, followed in January by trumpeter Roy Hargrove.

The JATC's Artistic Director Skip Norris promises a world-class series comparable to Jazz at Lincoln Center. Norris, a native Detroiter and a longtime concert producer, who eats, drinks, and sleeps jazz, believes Detroit needs an ongoing, affordable jazz series headlined by some of today’s acclaimed jazz musicians and bands.  

If you attend jazz concerts around Detroit, you have probably seen Norris, a tall man with a clean-shaved head who wears well-tailored suits.  I Dig Jazz shot Norris some questions about the hotly anticipated series and his long term goal for it.
Skip, what motivated you to start Jazz at the Centre?

The JATC concert series was started to fill a definitive void in presenting internationally known jazz artists in Detroit. In recent years, I’ve found that a severe malaise was creeping into the environment and venues didn’t really address the tastes and wants of their core audiences.

 How will JATC be different from the Paradise Jazz Series, and the University Musical Society’s jazz program?

 What makes JATC different is that you will have the finest artists in the jazz idiom playing in a great room at a fantastic price point. It’s actually the best of both worlds.

 What were some of the challenges organizing the series?

 To be candid, very few if any. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve worked with major jazz artists over the last 25 years. It usually takes me about 2-3 hours to conceptually book a series. Unlike pop music promoters, I don’t need the media to tell me what’s hip. I trust my ears over any magazine or radio sound byte.

 Why is the Paul Robeson Theater the right venue to host the series?

The Paul Robeson Theater is an acoustically perfect room which boasts 488 seats with no obstructions and superb sight lines. More importantly, the room lends itself ideally for Jazz music because of its similarity to Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Allen Room. The biggest advantage the theater has its located in the largest community center in the City of Detroit – and, in one of the most economically viable areas in the city.

How long have you promoted jazz concerts?

I’ve been producing shows for more than 25 years. I’ve been fortunate. I have worked closely with many of the greatest artists in the idiom. People like Branford Marsalis, Ralph Peterson, Wallace Roney, Mulgrew Miller, Tony Williams, and Cyrus Chestnut gave me great opportunities to work with them on projects. In the last few years, I’ve really done more writing and advising artists like Victor Goines, Eric Reed, and Joe Locke.

What inspired you to become a concert promoter?

I think the more accurate term is producer. I’ve been around jazz musicians my whole life and worked as a road manager on a number of tours. I simply wanted the music to be presented correctly and the audience be engaged in an intelligent manner. To be totally candid, I’ve worked with a number of jive people who dishonored the music and the artists in a bad way. I simply decided I could do it better and have integrity as my primary focus.  

You have drummer Ralph Peterson, The Cookers, and trumpeter Roy Hargrove booked. They don’t come cheap. Who’s sponsoring the series?

We have several sponsors who have come on board – MGM Grand Casino, Intunes Rentals, Yamaha, and a few private individuals. It really says a lot about their support of me. I’ve been doing this for a while and people simply believed in me.

 Was it difficult getting sponsors?

Not really, sponsorship is simply people and organizations seeing your vision, your objectives, and simply aligning their framework with yours. Believe it or not, there is no magic formula. We just simply articulate our cause.

What will it take for Jazz at The Centre to be a big hit, and what are your long term goals for the series?

I believe that if you bring in the best artists, in the right room, at a great price, and act with integrity, success is eminent. I don’t think you can play people short. If you just bring the real goods, people will come and support the music. The Detroit Jazz Festival proves that every year. No one has ever brought world class jazz artists into the heart of the city in a concert setting. My argument is that the jazz audience is hip enough to see that this is where the music truly should be.

Jazz at The Centre Friday November 8th with jazz drummer Ralph Peterson. Northwest Activities Center 18100 Meyers Rd. Detroit, MI 48235 general admission tickets $30.00. For more information call 1-248-238-8102

Sunday, November 3, 2013


Saxophonist Wayne Shorter
Saxophonist Wayne Shorter’s Quartet is one of the most significant bands in the history of jazz said Chris Collins Saturday night at Orchestra Hall. Collins, the Artistic Director of the Detroit Jazz Festival, remark was a build up to Shorter’s quartet two hour concert featuring jazz bassist and vocalist Esperanza Spalding with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra conducted by Vince Mendoza. 

Collins is not afraid to put on lavish projects. He deserves credit for dreaming big though some of his projects have been too ambitious. Shorter's concert was not exciting.

It opened with Shorter’s quartet—pianist Danilo Perez, drummer Brian Blade, and bassist John Patitucci—digging in on a number titled “Gaia” that had more movements than a Swiss Army wristwatch. It took the quartet almost 40 minutes to complete. Yes, the quartet is one of the best ever. It is also one of the most self-indulgent. At times, you wonder if the quartet makes music for the populace.

For most of the opening set Perez and Blade shouldered the workload. Blade was the quartet’s workhorse. He was so charged near the end of the “Gaia,” banging away like a lunatic, he nearly fell off his drum stool. Somehow he managed to recover without missing a lick. 

After a 20 minute break, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Esperanza Spalding joined the quartet. Shorter did not give the DSO anything interesting to do. They were like props. 

Spalding  was uninteresting, too. She is a Grammy winner and has been extolled as a game-changer. She is a wizard on the bass. But she did not play it last night. She only sang, and it was hard making out the lyrics. You wonder if it would have been a better concert if the DSO had sat this one out, and if Spalding was not limited to just singing.

Saturday, November 2, 2013


Doug Halladay (Photo by W. Kim Heron)
This article first appeared in the Metrotimes

Doug Halladay, one of Detroit’s great jazz creatives during the late 1960s and ’70s, was on vacation in Mexico with his wife Sandra in 2009 when he began feeling as if something had sapped the energy from his body. Concerned — having never been seriously ill before — he cut his vacation short and went to his family doctor. His blood pressure was suspiciously low. After finishing the exam, his doctor admitted Halladay to Henry Ford Hospital where he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a blood cancer that attacks the blood and bone marrow.

To stay alive, Halladay needed a bone marrow transplant. Acute myeloid leukemia was the cancer that killed the famed jazz saxophonist Michael Brecker in 2007 after a lengthy and unsuccessful search for a donor. Halladay was luckier. His search turned up Herman Eyr, a 25-year-old in Germany. The transplant was performed in May 2010. It beat back the cancer, but left Halladay partially blind in one eye.

“Life takes on a different meaning when you come through something like that. I was so grateful to the doctors and the nurses at Henry Ford that I wanted to do something to give back,” Halladay, 69, said on a Sunday afternoon in late summer, sitting on the patio of the co-op he owns in Lafayette Park and petting his collie Sasha.

Halladay is a tall and a thin man who looks like a cross between a retired NBA forward and a college professor. After enjoying success in music, Halladay left the business in the 1970s to embark on several different career paths, including stints in educational television, school reform and health care reform.

On this particular afternoon, he talks about being a leukemia survivor, about his efforts to educate African-Americans, Arab-Americans and Hispanic-Americans about leukemia, and about how this relates to his return to jazz.

A study published in the Journal of the American Cancer Society in 2010, reported African-Americans are 40 percent less likely than whites to receive bone marrow transplants for blood cancer treatment, and they account for only 7 percent of the 8 million people registered with National Marrow Donor Program.

Halladay’s pianist friends Buddy Budson and Keith Vreeland convinced him to organize a benefit concert. The concert attracted a bunch of sponsors, including Henry Ford Health System. Twenty-five Detroit jazz musicians participated in the concert, which raised $20,000. Halladay put on two more concerts at the Kerrytown Concert House in Ann Arbor and the historic First Congregational Church in Detroit. Pianist Charles Boles, who arranged some music for the concerts, said the Detroit jazz musicians were eager to help Halladay because he’s a good man.

“I think first and foremost, the jazz musicians like him as a person, and they respect his ability as a composer. That’s why they were eager to help Doug,” Boles says. “A lot of times, people won’t help you if they don’t like you. They have to like you. I don’t care what caliber of musician you are. I think Doug is a fine man for what he’s doing, and he’s an excellent music writer. In spite of his illness, he has grown considerably as a composer.”

Halladay grew up in Grand Rapids. He’s a largely self-taught musician, although he took courses in music theory and harmony at Albion College. He played trumpet up and down the North Shore of Chicago with pianist Eddie Russ, later to be part of the popular Detroit group Mixed Bag. Russ also recorded with the great saxophonist Sonny Stitt.

“When Russ touched the piano, it was like a godsend. He was like the great jazz pianist Wynton Kelly. Eddie showed me a lot, and we played a lot of gigs. He was one of those unsung heroes who never got the right recognition. He died of kidney failure,” Halladay recalls.

In 1967, Halladay moved to Detroit and hooked up with jazz musicians, such as Kenny Cox, Charles Moore, Doug Hammond and James “Blood” Ulmer. Halladay bought a Victorian house on Lincoln Street, renting rooms to saxophonists Phil Lasley and Faruq Z. Bey. They formed the Lincoln Street Band with bassist John Dana, drummer Danny Spencer and pianist Keith Vreeland in the rhythm section.

Halladay quit playing in the early ’70s. Some of his musician friends begged him not to. “Honestly, I wasn’t a good trumpet player. I wanted to play at a certain level and I couldn’t do it. To play at a high level of creativity on the Detroit jazz scene, you had to be on the bandstand six nights a week doing it. I didn’t want to spend the weekends playing weddings and polka gigs, or doing what musicians have to do to make a living.”

He earned a graduate degree from Wayne State University, and later worked as the director of communications at Channel 56. “I had other interests outside of music,” he says. “I grew up in the ’60s. I was involved with the civil rights movement. I was a member of SNCC. I got a master’s degree in urban sociology and race relations. My wife and I bought a home in the city, and we’re involved with trying to improve the quality of life for people in Detroit. So, I’m proud of what I’ve done to try to make Detroit a better place. My music took a back seat to that.”

Halladay kept writing music, but it wasn’t performed publicly. That changed when he put on the benefit concerts. The first concert was recorded and released as bye the New Beginnings Ensemble. “Point of Interception,” the opener, has the rhythmic feel of and early Blue Note recording. Other compositions such as “Samba for Eddie” and “Only the Noze Knows,” show that he’s essentially a swing-conscious composer. The players sound as if they had an absolute ball playing his music and never wanted to stop.

Halladay never thought he’d be spending his days at home composing music — or having it played for a worthy cause. There are two more benefit shows coming up. First is Nov. 2, at Historic St. Matthew’s & St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church, underwritten by a grant from the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute. In December, at Kerrytown Concert House, a concert featuring arrangements by pianist Gary Schunk of some of Halladay’s Latin music is scheduled. Lately, he’s taken a stab at writing big band music.

“I’m alive, and I’m grateful to be here and do what I can do on this planet. I want to get the message out, particularly to minority people who are dying out here because they can’t find a match, whether it’s leukemia or other types of blood cancers,” Halladay says.

It just so happens that getting the word out also involves spreading some interesting music as well. And that benefits us all.

Doug Halladay’s New Beginnings Ensemble performs 4-5:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 3, at the Historic St. Matthew’s & St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church, 8850 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-871-4750; $15 in advance, $20 at the door.