Friday, December 21, 2018


Vocalist Shahida Nurullah
It’s shameful the jazz vocalist Shahida Nurullah doesn’t have a weekly residency at one of the many jazz venues in Detroit. Nurullah is inarguably one of the most well-rounded vocalists in the game, and she’s a masterful interpreter of the great American songbook, which she’s currently treating audiences to during her four-night engagement at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café with a wonderful rhythm section that includes bassist Jaribu Shahid, drummer Sean Dobbins, and pianist Ian Finklestein, an in-demand young lion on Detroit’s jazz scene who Nurullah has an obvious affinity for. Nurullah let the capacity audience know that Thursday night during her two-hour set, praising Finklestein after several of his solos. Nurullah’s voice was potent and lovely as she rejuvenated familiar standards. Nurullah’s rhythm section opened with Duke Ellington’s “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” after which Nurullah joined them. In the spirit of the holiday, she sang the Christmas classic “This Christmas” with such feeling her voice would’ve given the song’s author Donny Hathaway goosebumps. After that Christmas favorite, Nurullah, Shahid, Dobbins, and Finklestein jumped feet first into the deep end of the American songbook, reworking classics written by Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, and George Gershwin. Nurullah is four-decades into her career, and her voice remains intoxicating. She made standards such as “Nice Work If You Can Get it,” and “I Was Doing All Right” seemed fresh off the assembly line. That’s Nurullah’s most glaring gift. Also, when Nurullah dug her heels into love songs, she possessed the magic to make the devil fall in love. Don’t get it twisted, Nurullah isn’t all polish and glam. She has a playful streak which the audience witnessed when she sassed things up, belting “I Can Cook Too”. The other attraction was the terrific piano playing of Finklestein who’s matured into a wonderful jazz pianist. Finklestein understands the nuts and dynamics of backing a vocalist of Nurullah’s genius. A hallmark of a well-rounded jazz pianist is the ability to accompany a vocalist. If Nurullah is ever given a residency at a top jazz club in Detroit, I beg Finklestein will be her regular pianist.

Sunday, December 9, 2018


Pianist Cyrus Chestnut
The jazz pianist Cyrus Chestnut is no stranger to cover projects. Two of Chestnut’s popular cover albums are “Cyrus Chestnut Plays Elvis” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” the latter which Chestnut recorded sixteen years back. Friday evening at the Paradise Jazz Series at Detroit’s Orchestra Hall, Chestnut’s quartet performed cuts from a “Charlie Brown Christmas” and cuts from his latest High Note release “Kaleidoscope.” The concert was the Paradise Jazz Series annual Christmas hit, which over the years have been performed by female jazz vocalists. Chances are nobody there gave a rat’s ass this time around a jazz pianist was performing because Chestnut is one of the top pianists in jazz, and he rarely performs in Detroit.  Chestnuts has long been considered the leading jazz pianist of his generation. A generation that includes Jason Moran, Orrin Evans, Marc Cary, Anthony Wonsey, and Jacky Terrasson. Before Friday’s evening concert started, Chestnut warned the near-capacity audience the music they were about to hear would have melodies, rhythms, and changes they have never witnessed or would likely witness again. Then Chestnut, drummer Chris Beck, bassist Eric Wheeler, and saxophonist Steven Carrington turned selections from “A Charlie Brown Christmas such as “Skating,”  "My Little Drum,”  "Me and Charlie Brown,”  “ What Child Is This” into the blues, so much so you wondered if those compositions were blues originally. Hell, Chestnut even infused “Jingle Bells” with blues changes. When Chestnut performed cuts from his new record the audience got to hear his virtuosity unencumbered and hopefully the audience left the concert with a clearer understanding of why for decades now Chestnut has been so lavishly praised for his improvisational genius. Chestnut fingers at times zoomed across the piano keys. There’re beautiful flourishes that left the audience members cheering and wondering how in the devil he pulled that off. Chestnut’s band-mates were equally stunning too, particularly saxophonist Steven Carrington. Carrington has a meaty tone on tenor, and there’re many choice exchanges between him and Chestnut.

Monday, October 29, 2018


Christian McBride and Dianne Reeves
The 2018-2019 Paradise Jazz Series opened Friday evening at Detroit’s Orchestra Hall with a double bill that featured a duet from Grammy winner’s bassist Christian McBride and vocalists Dianne Reeves, and saxophonist Tia Fuller. Friday’s set was the second time McBride and Reeves have performed as a duo. From the onset, it was clear McBride and Reeves hadn’t spent much time rehearsing, and they were winging it. McBride and Reeves are master improvisers and performers and the duo was engaging, and the near-capacity audience was thoroughly enthralled by the performance from start to finish. McBride and Reeves have loads of chemistry and a high level of reverence for each other’s respective talent. Reeves spent most of the set scatting, which by the end of the set had become a bit annoying. Reeves undoubtedly has one of the greatest voices in music, and surely a large segment of the audience would’ve preferred she spent the set just singing. To Reeves’s credit, she has the scatting thing down to a science, and she’s arguably one of the best in the game. McBride surprised the audience toward the end of the set when he moved from the bass to the piano. Surprisingly, McBride is a pretty competent piano player, but he shouldn’t harbor any future aspirations of playing piano full-time. McBride and Reeves had the audience hyped for saxophonist Tia Fuller’s set. 

Tia Fuller
It was Fuller’s first time at the Paradise Jazz Series. Fuller is no stranger to Detroit. She is one of the stars on Detroit’s Mack Avenue Records, and she has an excellent body of recordings the most current being “Diamond Cut.” Fuller’s set was not one of her best, given the string of memorable performances she’s put on in Detroit over the years, particularly at the Detroit Jazz Festival. Fuller’s playing Friday evening was surprisingly inconsistent in spots and strong in others. She was test-driving a new trio. The new band has yet to gel fully. Fuller called selections from “Diamond Cut” and spent a good amount of time explaining to the audience the album's origins. Fuller’s set was a last-minute inclusion, which might explain why Fuller didn’t show up with her regular bandmates such as drummer Rudy Royston and bassist Mimi Jones, or some of the stars on “Diamond Cut.” The Paradise Jazz goers are experienced jazz-heads. Maybe Fuller wasn’t aware of that and that the series wasn’t the appropriate setting to dry run a new trio.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018


Pianist Alexis Lombre
For a year or so, the word circulating around Detroit’s jazz scene is the jazz pianist Alexis Lombre is a serious talent, and after she gains more experience as a session leader and as a bandleader she could possibly fill the void in Detroit’s jazz community left by the death of the great jazz pianist and educator Geri Allen. That’s a tall order for Lombre to embrace, but Lombre embodies the passion for jazz and she’s certainly skilled. For those not yet familiar with the pianist, Lombre is a native Chicagoan and a senior at the University of Michigan. She’s studied under the great jazz pianist Benny Green, and she’s currently under the watchful tutelage of the Grammy-winning jazz bassist Robert Hurst. Lombre has been working professionally for seven years, and she’s earned a weekly residency at Cliff Bells, which was held for many years and made a coveted local gig by the dynamic jazz saxophonist Marcus Elliot. I caught Lombre’s show Tuesday evening, curious to discover if all the praised afforded her was deserved. Lombre performed with a marvelous trio bassist Brian Juarez and drummer David Alverez II, who’s Benny Green’s go-to drummer. Two numbers into the first set, I was sold on Lombre. Lombre open with a few cuts from her recording “Southside Sounds”. The depth of her chops was there for everyone to marvel over as her trio swung through “A Blues In Tyne,” and “Lonely Path,” a number she composed while still in high school. After Lombre got the audience going, the trio performed modernized interpretations of familiar oldies such as “Caravan,” and “Autumn Leaves”. The second set was also dynamic. Lombre invited a few special guests to the bandstand. There was some damn fine blowing from the promising jazz trumpeter Trunino Lowe, who’s building quite a name for himself around Detroit. Lombre never allowed the second set to morph into a jam session. The special guests mix perfectly with the trio’s chemistry. One of the many highlights was the trio’s rebranding of the Weather Report gem “Elegant People” and then seamlessly segueing into Herbie Hancock’s classic “Maiden Voyage”. Lombre is foremost a swinger. She’s also, an adept arranger and composer, and she possesses an abundance of stagecraft. Most importantly you can hear history in her playing as if she invested time pouring over the music of great jazz pianists such as Wynton Kelly, Bobby Timmons, Chick Corea, and Herbie Hancock. The praise Lombre has received in such a short time on Detroit’s jazz scene, I’m convinced, is well deserved.

Monday, September 17, 2018


Sheila Jordan
It’s a shame the legendary jazz vocalist Sheila Jordan only performs in Detroit every decade or so. When Jordan gets booked in her hometown, however, you can bank on a memorable show. Sunday evening Jordan played two sets at the Willis Show Bar thanks to fellow jazz vocalist Joan Belgrave, who thought it worthwhile to bring Jordan back to Detroit for a two-night run. Belgrave opened for Jordan, and she got the full house sufficiently hyped for Jordan hour-plus set. Jordan is 89 and she still has an excellent voice Plus, she hasn't lost one bit of her stagecraft. She began the 7:00 pm set with “How Deep is the Ocean,” wasting no time wrapping her voice around the audience like an anniversary gift. Jordan was backed by a tight rhythm section bassist Marion Hayden, drummer David Taylor, and pianist Mike Jellick, who Jordan had a ball flirting with throughout the set. Hayden, Taylor, and Jellick aren’t Jordan traveling band, but they played as if they’ve been with the vocalist for years. They performed mostly standards such as “If I Had You,” and “The Touch of Your Kiss,” “Autumn in New York,” and “I Got Rhythm.” There was a goose bump inducing version of Abbey Lincoln’s “Bird Alone.” Jordan dazzled the audience even more with her original “Workshop Blues,” which she encouraged audience participation. For decades now, Jordan’s hallmark has been infusing herself into whatever song she’s singing. It’s her unique brand of improvisation, telling stories in the middle of songs as if the melodies trigger distinct recollections. That’s what the audience enjoyed for nearly two-hours Sunday evening. Jordan kept the scatting to a minimum thankfully. At this late leg of her storied career, Jordan still knows how to work the shit out a song and a crowd, too. As for the Willis Show Bar, it proved to be the perfect venue to showcase such a beautifully seasoned voice. Let’s pray it won’t be another decade before Jordan returns home.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018


Ernie Krivda is among a small group of tenor saxophonists after hearing them blow eight measures of a tune, for example, you’re able to identify them. Krivda’s playing is a mix of sophistication and raw horsepower. Those traits are evident on his new release “A Bright And Shining Moment,” an album Krivda made two-decades ago with his then popular band Swing City, but he never released. In fact, he forgot he even made it. Last year, he founded it cleaning out his basement, and after listening to it decided to put it out. The 16 tracks on the album cover a lot of ground swing, bop, and the blues. In his native Cleveland, Krivda is a jazz God with a work history that includes stints with Quincy Jones, Jimmy Dorsey, Ella Fitzgerald, Buddy DeFranco, and Sarah Vaughn. As a bandleader, Krivda has populated the planet with a string of hit albums such as “The Alchemist,” “So Nice to Meet You,” “The Glory Strut,” “Blues for Pekar,” and “Requiem for a Jazz Lady.” Being a jazz educator is equally important to Krivda as creating great jazz music. A few weeks back, I Dig Jazz talked with Krivda about “A Bright And Shining Moment,” his humble beginnings as an opening act at the famed Cleveland jazz club The Smiling Dog Saloon, and his perspective on the current state of jazz education.

Congratulations on another wonderful album.

Well, thank you.

I listened to it again last night, and I believe it's the kind of swing that you don't hear a lot of currently. Will you talk about the making of this album?

My wife told me that the basement was a pigsty and to go clean it. So, as I'm cleaning the basement, I came across this CD. I said, "Oh, I forgot about this." I listened to it, and I said "Wow." I really like this. I said, "Jeez, why did I forget about this?"

Were the musicians on the album from your Swing City band?

Yes. Swing City, the band on the CD was put together to teach at Tri-C jazz studies program, which had just started. It wasn't like this was the faculty, and then they put the band together. This band was put together to be the faculty. The program was all about teaching from the standpoint of the old-time mentoring. We all wanted the teachers to be guys that were working musicians because that's the way the young musicians back then learn. It always was for me.

I like the spectrum of jazz. If you listen, the music on this album actually combines a lot of different elements. There's like small group swing like you would hear in the 40's. Then there's kind of a West Coast elements that you would listen to in the 50's. It's kind of a combination. I wrote all the charts except two, and six of the tunes are mine. The band was a working band, and we were paid to rehearse by the school. We were doing programs all over town. It was a very unusual situation.
So, all the music had been recorded.

How popular did Swing City become?

We were working all the time, and we won local awards, and we did all kinds of programs. A lot of the music comes from some of our concerts. We did a tribute to Gershwin, and we did a tribute to Hoagy Carmichael. So, we were doing all kinds of stuff. We were very prominent.

Why did you guys split up? Listening to the album, it’s obvious it was a unique band with loads of chemistry.

A guy that was very instrumental in putting this whole thing together was a guy named Max Dehn, a young guy who went to school in Michigan. Well, he's not a young guy now, but he was a young guy back then. He came in, and he wanted to do this. And he had a lot of experience getting grants for nonprofits.  He had a vision, and I shared his vision. So, we kind of worked together at putting this program together. And then he left. He went to become a lawyer. And so, when he was gone, the support for what we were doing kind of started dissipating. And so, we couldn’t keep the same personnel. Because the personnel came from all over. Like, the bass player was Marion Hayden, who I’m sure you know.

Oh, absolutely.

All right, and the drummer is John Bacon. John Bacon is from Buffalo. And the trombonist was the late, great Gary Carney. He's out of Columbus. So, we had people from all over the place.

Now that the album is out, do you have any plans to reunite the band for a tour to promote the album?

Well, I'll be traveling with a quartet playing music from the album. As far as putting together the old Swing City band, this is 20 years later. A couple of people, Marshall Baxter Beckley, who sings “Summertime “on the album passed away. And Gary Carney passed away. And everybody is a little older. We were always playing, continually rehearsing. It would be challenging to capture that again.

Did you have to do a lot of fine-tuning to the album?

I had it remastered. But the only thing I did then was put together the package. You know, liner notes and all that, and I got a digital artist to put the cover together and all that kind of stuff.

It was a great thing that your wife sent you down to the basement to clean up.

I know, that's the way things happen sometimes. I don't know if I would have found the recording otherwise.

Do you recall why you shelved it in the first place?

When it was finally done, that's when everything started changing at the school. I guess I went on and I was doing other projects. I went into a period where I recorded a lot of different music. So, that may have been how I forgot about the recording. Plus, the tension of what was going on at the school at that time, and everything changing, and the band not being together anymore.

You have a fantastic body of work. How does this album compare to your others?

It's like, I really can't compare. It's like your children. Because that's what it is. So how do you compare your children? Well, they're different, you know. And you could talk about the differences and the different things you were thinking about at this time or that time. But they were all unique to that time, which is probably why I recorded them.
How was Cleveland’s jazz scene back in the day when you were getting started professionally?  I heard that Cleveland had a fertile scene back then.

Well, it did. It was the 60's, and of course at that time jazz was a relatively popular form, and a lot of cities had good jazz scenes. Cleveland had a good jazz scene the location of which was in a kind of the middle of a circle of a bunch of other great jazz scenes. So like, Detroit, for example. Detroit was just a couple of hours away, and Detroit musicians always used to come down and play. I knew saxophonist Larry Smith. You know Larry?

Oh yes, Larry is one of the significant cats in Detroit. He has been for decades.

So, I knew Larry since 1950. You know, he was down here playing with Eddie Bachus. That's the first time I met him. And I got a great tenor man named Weasel Parker, who you probably don't know because he was in Detroit with the Basie Band. Then he came down here. Joe Alexander, a great tenor player, used to spend time in Cleveland and go back and forth to Detroit. Then you have over to the east, you have Pittsburgh, which is a great jazz town, especially then. And Buffalo. And down south, Columbus. All these cities are just like hours away. We were kind of right in the middle, and Indianapolis to the west. You got Cincinnati down there too.

So, all these jazz scenes kind of circled Cleveland. And the music always came through, you know, like touring bands. Like, if you were traveling, if you were going east you came through Cleveland. If you were going south, you came through Cleveland. If you're going west, the same thing.
So, there was a lot of, a variety of music that came through. But I always loved the music of the region. And there was a lot of common threads that bound the musicians together.

There was a trendy jazz club in Cleveland that was instrumental to your development because you were able to play with some nationally respected jazz musicians the club booked. And you were able to learn the trade from cats such as Herbie Hancock, Cannonball Adderly, and Chick Corea. Tell me about that club.

The Smiling Dog Saloon. I cannot tell you, describe to you the neighborhood it was in, which is the near west side of Cleveland. You know, if you're going to open a jazz club, this would be the last place you would open a jazz club.

And how it began, it's just an unbelievable thing. But it happened. It was an old converted building. It kind of had some size to it, but it was a dive. It was filthy. It had the smallest dressing room that I've ever seen in my life. But for five years, from 1970 to 1975, every touring jazz act of that period played The Smiling Dog Saloon. Everyone. It is easier to mention the musicians that didn't play there.

McCoy Tyner played there. Elvin Jones played there. Cannonball Adderley and Stan Getz played there. The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Band played there. The Maynard Ferguson big band played there. Yusef Lateef played there. Eddie Harris played there.  Woody Shaw played there. I mean, it was just everybody. Every touring jazz act, six nights a week. And I was very fortunate to get the gig as the house band at The Smiling Dog Saloon.

And the club had this thing where a local group would open for the headliners. So, I had the band that opened for these guys. So, I was able to spend all this time listening, learning, seeing how they performed, the show that they put on, the showbiz aspect of it. And just all kinds of things. I was very fortunate to be able to sit in with many of the bands.

Some of them became my friends. Cannonball Adderley became a close friend, a mentor of mine. And I had always idolized Cannonball as a young musician. So, I couldn't believe this was happening. Anyway, and this environment, you know, Weather Report played there. It was also the time when composing started to become important. I mean, it was always going on, but it became important. So, I was writing, and I was encouraged to write.

And so, in that period, I developed the music that I eventually recorded for Inner City in 1976 and 1977 for that label. It was my first recording. I developed that music at The Smiling Dog Saloon. And I sold it. I was able to get to New York because Cannonball hooked me up with Quincy Jones. And I toured with Quincy, and I made some money, and I saved it up. That's how I went to New York, and I was there for four years. It all started at The Smiling Dog. The learning, the focus on specific aspects of what I was about, and it was an incredible time. I couldn't have paid for that kind of education.

It seems that being an educator is just as important to you as being a major player.

The Smiling Dog period, by the way, that was the end of the six nights a week thing. Because it was right after that, the reason that ended because many jazz musicians started playing concerts and could make more in one night than they could the entire week playing at The Smiling Dog Saloon.
So, that whole mentoring process of playing on the road with bands changed. So, everybody started gravitating towards education. And I always looked at it like this; jazz musicians, the first reason they get into teaching is that they need money. So, they start teaching.

After you've been teaching for a while, you start to become altruistic. You, say things like, "Well, the music has been really good to me. And I feel I need to give something back to the music." So, every jazz musician just patting themselves on the back as they become altruistic about teaching. You start to realize you need the students as much as the students need you.

As you get older, things change. Being around young people is wonderful because they have this incredible growth energy. They want to get better. They need to get better. And you feel that energy. And that helps you maintain.

They keep you learning, and music is a lifetime learning situation. You either get better, or you diminish. So, you need to be around the people that are trying to get better, and teaching that became so important to me just relating to these young musicians.

How do you feel about the way that young jazz musicians are coming up? It seems to me they are really learning more in academia now. Back in the day, the learning ground was sessions and playing in various bands and orchestras.

Well, that was the thing, that’s how we learned to be a part of a band and traveling.

Yeah, exactly.

You learn from the leaders, the different leaders that you play with. That was one of the reasons that the jazz studies program at Tri-C, that's how it got started with the idea of using working musicians. I felt that teachers were teaching, everybody was starting to play like they teach, rather than teaching like they play.

I have problems with a lot of jazz education. It used to be, you learn from bandleaders. Now, bandleaders, and what is the primary objective of a bandleader? The primary aim of the bandleader is to keep the band working. So, if you have a gig with somebody, you had to help him keep his band working. So, and you learn that.

Then if you went to another band, it was the same thing. A guy that had to keep his band working. How'd that happen? So, if you played in enough bands, then you started to learn how you keep working. And the big factor is, how do you relate to the audience? How does the audience relate to you? How can you work on this communication? Most of the young musicians are playing for each other. That's all they have to play for.

There seems to not be a lot of situations for these young jazz musicians to play with older musicians. In Detroit, for example, you have a lot of young musicians who graduate high school or college and immediately start their own bands.


So, it's a kind of learning as you go situation for them. And it's almost kind of sad to see. They're coming up in a time where there's no established band, and the youngsters must rely on their own devices. I noticed there is a severe lack of professionalism. You made a reference to how they relate to the audience, and you’re right. It seems like they only play for themselves. Most of the time, you can tell that they aren't rehearsed. They don't have set lists thought out. They're poorly dressed.
They're poorly dressed. They have music on the stand. They're reading off the stands.

Yeah, so do you believe that can be corrected? If so, how?

I still teach at Tri-C, and I have what is called The Jazz Workshop. That is my student band. Now, I run this band as if it is my band. I play with it. And we play, we don't just have rehearsals; We play gigs, all right? But they have to play as if they're playing in my band. There's a lot of guys that have been in this Jazz Workshop, and they're out there playing. Many have their own recording contracts and are doing it. 

Also, you must wonder if youngsters are out to develop their own sound.

Well, here's the thing; first, that used to be a mandate. We're talking about stylists. So many different stylists played this music. It's unbelievable that you can tell within the first eight measures who those stylists were. Right, now, this used to be something that was valued. And one of the reasons it was appreciated is leaders like to hire guys that had their own thing, which gave their band some distinction, and the audience would like that. 

You know, hearing something that was distinctive to the band. And of course, you had groups, like the Duke Ellington Orchestra where the whole band had its own uniqueness. But that was quite common then. It was like it was a marketing vehicle for a musician to develop his thing. So, it was encouraged.

There's no way you can really teach somebody to have their own thing, you know. But you can encourage that. And so, there, if you start listening seriously to players like Yusef Lateef. I think he was great, I loved the way he sounded. Oh, there's Paul Gonzalez. He had his own thing. Of course, Coleman Hawkins, you know, he had his own thing. Stan Getz, he had his things. So, you start listening to all these different people, and if you start listening seriously enough to the things they do will become part of what you do. And the combination of these things can make up a distinctive style.

At least, that's what I did. And I think a lot of guys do that. They put together various aspects of different people and came up with their own way of doing things. And that's one way to look at it.

The youngsters that I’ve heard are serious about the music, but what I hear mostly is technique.

Right, because you can teach technique. You can teach theory. You can teach patterns. But what happens is, everybody is coming out of school, and it's all the same. They're playing the same vocabulary, the same manner. And that is the problem. There are things that you do when you're trying to relate to an audience through the band that you develop, that you cannot teach in schools.

Saxophonist Ernie Krivda
Sounds like jazz education programs have some shortcomings.

Where else are we to go, though? I mean, frankly, if it wasn't for the schools, I don't know where the music would be. So, you have to say that. Jazz music has kind of given up on the idea of being important music to a large part of the country, to the world. It's kind of settled comfortably into being a niche. I have a big band called The Fantasy Big Band. 

The band has been together 27 years, but every time we play, whatever, the audience size is, whether it is like the thousand that showed up a couple of weeks ago at this Jazz Fest to hear us, or 75 people, or 20 people whatever the band plays it has an impact that's obvious to people. Why can't it impact much more? This music can’t just be some cerebral endeavor, a science project. There must be robust, emotional, and physical elements in the music. I mean, you're competing against Rock and hip-hop.


So, you can't compete with that music being up on the stand dressed like a bum, you know, with reading music off a wire music stand, up there and not really having rehearsed the music well. And not thinking how it's going to go over.

There must be, I think, more effort. And one of the things I say about the music on “A Bright And Shining Moment,” it's a people's music. It's there for people to groove to, and that music came out of an educational situation. We did it a little different, mind you, but that's where it came from. So, it certainly, if something can't be taught, it could be encouraged. So, anyway, that's my two cents on that.

It's not the young musician's fault. It's just the situation that they find themselves in. And they're trying their best given the cards they've been dealt.

Yes. And there aren't a lot of people explaining things to them.

That's another issue, too. Nobody is telling them you know, you don't show up for a gig wearing sneakers and skinny jeans. You should have on a shirt and a tie."

Right. You try to look like you're doing something important, you know.

Right, right.

You should look like playing jazz is an important thing. And it's got some gravitas. The other thing is if you think about it for a second when jazz education first started, and I talked about this before it began to build up in the 60's we got old guys who were kind of coming off the road. And they were starting to go to school. They went to school to get a degree so they could teach. Now, that first wave of guys who were teaching in school, those guys were ex-road rats. Those guys were working musicians that you know, now we're teaching. So, they had a direct connection to that which made jazz musicians. How many generations removed are we from that now? It's a considerable number. So, each generation has less of a connection to the stuff that we're talking about, that happened back then.

Was touring with Jimmy Dorsey your big break?

If it were the 1940's, it would have been my big break. But this was in 1964. And Lee Castle was running the band. He's a great player. And he played with everybody. And he had a close affiliation with Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. And there were a couple of good players. But we were a ghost band, and so we were playing the hits of the Dorsey’s. And we're going around playing one-nighters. We weren't catching anybody's attention in the jazz world, really.

You know, we were just working. We were at the tail end of the big band thing. And it was the same 16 guys all the time, so we weren't picking up anybody like they started to do later. So, it was the same guys. So that was good. And it was a great learning experience. It was my first gig. I had to buy a tenor to play in the band because that was what was open. So that was a big deal. Because I always wanted to do that. 

And then, so I got an opportunity, and so I borrowed this and that and got a tenor. And that's when I started playing tenor. And so, it was the first road gig that I had. And it was the first working under a demanding leader. And so, once again, a little story here. So, Lee Castle was not a bebop guy. Tommy Dorsey was not a bebop guy. Lee Castle worshiped Tommy Dorsey. All right, I, on the other hand, was this young bebop guy. So here I am, and then once again, the leader's interest is to keep the band working. 

And so, to do, that at this time, the mission of the band was to recreate the music that Jimmy Dorsey and the band made famous. So I mean, they played "So Rare" every night. You know. The guy played that did a great job on that. But then there were various things that I had to do. There was this medley of tunes. 

And one of the tunes in the medley was "Indian Summer," which is a beautiful tune. And Lee says to play the melody, and I started adding all this bebop stuff, and Lee told me again to just play the melody, and again I started with all this bebop inspired stuff. And he comes to me, he says, "Look, if you don't play the melody on that tune, I'm fining you 25 bucks."

Now, I was getting 135 bucks a week. Next time we went to play the tune, I played the melody. 
That's jazz education. You're in a professional situation. You got to do what's necessary, you know. So, you must learn how to do that, or it's going to cost you money. When it starts to cost you money, then you begin to realize the importance of being able to do that.

Yeah, the band wasn't put together for you to be playing bop licks.

No, that was not the goal of the band. It was a dumb kid thing. I was 18. So that's how you learn. That's how I learned, the hard way.

Saturday, September 1, 2018


Terri Lyne Carrington
The 2018 Detroit Jazz Festival started Friday evening with memorable performances from headliners the Resident Ensemble co-led by Grammy-winners drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and bassist Esperanza Spalding and the Chick Corea Akoustic Band. The sets couldn’t have been more diverse. The Resident Ensemble’s set was a big shout out to the late Detroit jazz pianist Geri Allen. The set was a mix of Allen’s familiar and lesser-known compositions. Both Carrington and Spalding worked extensively with Allen, and were comfortable with her compositions which straddled the lines of post-bop and free jazz. The Avant-garde pianist Kris Davis completed the rhythm section. Saxophonists Dave McMurray and Ravi Coltrane were the special guests. McMurray, who’s riding the success of “Music is Life,” his acclaimed debut recording for Blue Note Records, was of excellent form on flute. And Coltrane had several mic-dropping solos. The ensemble did a tremendous job of presenting Allen’s music although the band might have been a bit too out there for the seasoned jazz purists the Detroit Jazz Festival attracts. Davis fingers, however, zoomed up and down the keys as if haunted by Allen’s ghost on Black Man,” “Open on All Sides,” and “Printmakers”.    Maurice Chestnut tap dancing on Allen’s “Running as Fast as You Can “was the moment most of the audience thought about on the drive home.
Chick Corea
Corea’s, the festival’s artist-in-residence, Akoustic Band—bassist John Patitucci and drummer Dave Weckl--was tighter than a new suit jacket. The band made a name for itself in the late 80’s, and during the band’s hour-plus set, Friday evening they revisited some of the music that made the band a household sensation. The showstopper was the band’s version of “In a Sentimental Mood,” which Corea dedicated to Aretha Franklin. The band played it so beautifully I couldn’t help wondering if Franklin’s spirit caught that part of the band’s performance en route to heaven. The band received an ovation, and a second one when they closed the set. The audience was so worked up they would’ve rioted had the band not agreed to an encore. Each member played an improvised solo. Corea is the leader, and Patitucci is undoubtedly the band’s muscle. Listening to him walk the bass on “A Japanese Waltz” “That Old Feeling,” and during his encore solo, a case could be presented that Patitucci is the greatest jazz bass player of his generation.

Sunday, June 17, 2018


Ask the jazz drummer GayeLynn McKinney why it took her so long to record her dad’s music, she says without hesitation, she was focused on building her music career, and she didn’t want to do it by exploiting her dad’s reputation. McKinney’s dad, Harold McKinney, was a nationally renowned jazz pianist, composer, vocalist, and musicologist, and a towering cultural figure in Detroit responsible for teaching scores of young jazz musicians at his weekly workshop The Detroit Artist and Jazz Performance Lab. The pianist left boxes and boxes of his original compositions most of which was never recorded. McKinney’s daughter over a stellar music career that’s approaching three-decades has built quite a name for herself. For years, she has been the soul of the female jazz ensemble Straight Ahead, which achieved international acclaim and put out a string of hit albums on Atlantic Records. Whenever notable jazz musicians such as Steve Turre, and Benny Golson hit Detroit and need a drummer McKinney gets the call. McKinney’s vast musical acumen and versatile chops has capture the attention of music royalty outside of jazz as well. McKinney has become the queen of soul, Aretha Franklin’s, go-to drummer. Five years back, McKinney finally decided it was time to put out her dad’s music.  Last month, the Detroit Music Factory released “McKinfolk: The New Beginning”. The project took McKinney all of five years to complete, having staged a series of aggressive crowd-funding campaigns, and assembled a multi-generational group of Detroit jazz musicians to perform her dad’s music. There’re 11 selections on the recording, and each has a different group of musicians playing her dad’s tunes. The album is wondrous, opening with a snippet of a conversation a nine-year-old McKinney had with her dad as he sat at the piano working on some music.  I Dig Jazz caught up with McKinney recently to discuss the project, which she did enthusiastically while also reminiscing about her career, and her encounters with the legendary jazz drummer Max Roach.

When I first talked to you about McKinfolk: The New Beginning, you said that you got the idea for it from a dream you had about your father and that in the dream he chastised you because he had all this music, and nobody was doing anything with it, especially you.  Will you talk about that dream, and how it inspired you to finally do this project?

Well, what's funny about that, I was on the road with Straight Ahead when I had that dream. I was in St Louis, and we had done a sound check, and I had gone back to the room to take a nap, you know, take that little power nap before showtime. Michelle [McKinney, Harold McKinney’s wife] happened to be on that same show. She was singing with us. So, I went to sleep, and at this point, this is when the dream took over, but it was so weird because it felt real because I was still in my hotel room. I heard a knock at the door, and I looked through the peek hole, and there was this guy standing there who looked like an aboriginal person, and he had on this white turban and a white robe. I was like wow this guy is really striking, so I opened the door apprehensively, and I'm looking at him like, "May I help you?"

He stood there and didn't say anything, and while I'm looking at him, my father peaked from behind him grinning. I was like, “Oh my God Dad”.

He chuckled. Then he looked at the guy, and the guy stepped aside and motioned for him to come on, that he could come into my room. So, he came in, and he looked like he was about forty-something years old, and he was dressed nice. Soon as he came into the room, the smile left his face. By this time, Michelle was also sitting at the desk in my room. He says, “you got to do something with this music!”, and I said, “Well I am doing something with this music, Dad.  I'm right here with the girls, and we're playing music.

He was staring at me and I said, “What music dad?”, and he was getting ready to tell me and the phone rang and woke me up. So, I was really upset because I was like, “Oh my God! He was about to tell me”, so that was it for that dream.

Then three years later, in 2009, Chris Collins came to me and said, “Hey, we're doing a family-theme at the Detroit Jazz Festival this year. We're going to celebrate the Jones [Elvin and Thad] Brothers and celebrate some other brothers, and other families, so why don't you do some of your father's music?

 How much music did he leave behind?

Michelle has been the guardian of this music and trying to keep it safe, you know. So, when I did that concert for the Detroit Jazz Festival in 2009, I was like okay, so this is what dad wants me to do. At that point, that's when I decided on the name McKinfolk, which I really didn't come up with because dad had this name back in the '90s when I used to play with him. The original McKinfolk was me, dad, Uncle Raymond, Auntie Carol, and Michelle. Then, the folk part was, you know, whoever he asked to play on the project.

We had Regina Carter one time playing with us, and just different people playing with us. So, we always had these different musicians playing with us. The McKinney’s were the nucleus. When I got busy with Straight Ahead, I kind of stepped away from the McKinfolk.

So, that made me say, “That's what I'm going to call this project. This is going to be the rebirth of McKinfolk” because after dad died McKinfolk passed with him.

This first project and I didn't do any new stuff really. Well, it’s going to be new to some people's ears, but some other it will not. I decided for this first project to redo some of the music that he composed in 1973.

There are a couple of songs that have never been recorded, that he played live sometimes. One of them is called “Nostalgia,” which Michelle wrote some wonderful lyrics to. The other two was “After the Sunset,” and “Night Blues,” which “After the Sunset” Regina's playing on it, and I have Perry Hughes playing on “Night Blues”. Miche Braden is singing both of those songs because those are the ones she used to do with dad. Michelle also wrote lyrics to “White and Blue,” which was an instrumental piece that dad had, and Buddy Budson did the arrangement on “Nostalgia”.

 Would you have ever recorded your father’s music even if you did not have that dream?

That's a very interesting and a good question. Honestly, in my mind, I was thinking I want to make my own music. I love my father. I love his music, but I didn’t want to be given everything. I wanted to make my own way as a musician. Dad made his way and became this great person, this great and respected musician. I wanted to make it under my name, too.

Honestly, recording his music wasn’t on my mind. I was focused on trying to do my thing, so to speak, but when he did come to me in that dream, that alerted me it was something I needed to do. Then when Chris came to me about the festival it became clear that I needed to do something.  So, that's why I'm glad that whole thing did come to fruition because it really was not on my mind because I was trying to focus on putting GayeLynn McKinney out there.

What were some of the challenges that you faced making the project? I know you went on an aggressive campaign to pay it because it was going to be an expensive endeavor. You have some heavyweights on it such as James Carter, the late Geri Allen, and Marcus Belgrave.

Honestly, I did two crowd-share fundraisers. One was Kickstarter. I started with Kickstarter I did Kickstarter twice. The first time I didn't succeed because with Kickstarter, you must raise the entire amount you're trying to get, or you don't get any of it. I must've been about $2,000 shy of reaching the goal and I didn't get it. So, then I did it again, and the second time around, I did get it, so that's what got me started. I did three songs with that first round of money.

Then I went away from Kickstarter and did Indiegogo because with Indiegogo whatever you raise at the due date you get to keep. So that was cool because then that got me a couple more songs done. Now I was about four songs deep with that first batch of money, but then that money was gone, so I was like, Okay. Well, I'll just keep trucking away. As I get money, I'll do a song when I can.

The musicians really did work with me. They weren't charging me some ridiculous or some outlandish price. They were working with me because they wanted to see the project get done, too. I don't know if it was for my dad or just out of love for me. I love them for it. Anyway, then, I said well, it's going to probably take me a long time to do this project because I knew I wanted Geri Allen on it, especially when I found out she was living here, and I knew I wanted James Carter on it, and I knew I wanted Regina on it.

Here's a funny story. You know, I had tried out for the Kresge fellowship, back in 2009, and I didn't get it, and I was really upset about it. I was just frustrated. It was a lot of work, and I was like, I am not doing that again. When 2014 rolled around, that's when I said I am a spiritually motivated person, and God is always with me.  

So, I kept saying to myself, "I am not doing that again". Suddenly, what started as this little quiet voice, said, "Well, if you apply again you'll get it". Of course, I completely ignored that and was like, "Nope. I'm not doing that again. That was too much work. It was too heartbreaking'. I’m not doing that again."

So, I just kept going about my business. Then about two weeks before the deadline, the voice got louder. "If you apply, you'll get it!" Finally, the last time I kept hearing that voice, I said out loud, "Okay!" The people in my house was like, "Who are you talking to?" That day I sat down and decided to go ahead and do it, and the rest is history. Sure, enough, I did apply, and I did get it.

That's a nice grant that they give to deserving artists.

It's a no strings grant, which you can do what you need to do with it, and it couldn't have come at a better time because all kind of things were going on, and I needed money for, one of which was to finish this project. So, with that, I was able to get the last four songs done. That's when I got Geri Allen, and during the 2014 Detroit Jazz Festival Kevin Mahogany was in town, and I had asked him to participate.

I said, "I see you’re going to be at the festival. Can you sing a song on a project?" He was like, "Okay. Sure. What do you want me to do?", and I said, "I'm doing my dad’s music. He said, "Well, you send me music." So, I sent him the music, but I ended up singing the verses, and he ended up doing this ridiculously wonderful scat solo on the song. It was cool. I did all that in 2014. Geri and James were on the same song.  

So, I was able to go ahead and finish it up, and then I got another blessing from a guy who’s a musician friend. He didn't make his money as a musician though. He made his money with an invention that he made. So, because he loves music and musicians, he built this ridiculously fabulous studio in the basement of his house, and he did all the mixing and mastering for me for free.

Who is this guy?

Well, I don't know if I should say his name, out loud because I think he loves doing it, but he doesn't want everybody to know. It's like, if you end up meeting' him, and going' to his house to do some work, then he'll offer his studio for free.

So that's why when I can, I'll take a musician friend of mine and say, "Hey, you should come with me and come over here and meet this guy. Then, in the process of meeting him, if you express, "Hey, I would like to record one day" or something, he'll say, "Well, why don't you come over here". That's how he operates, but he's not trying to publicize that too much.     

Who are some of the other Detroiters on the project?

I have John Douglas, Marcus Elliott, Glenn Tucker, Vincent Chandler, Michael Jellick, Ibrahim Jones, Rayse Bigg, Vincent Bowens, Buddy Budson, Chris Codish, Cecilia Sharp, Marion Hayden, Perry Hughes, Ralphe Armstrong, Marcus Belgrave, Wendell Harrison, Alvin Waddles, Bill Meyer, and Dwight Adams. 

Damn, that’s a Who's Who of some of Detroit's finest jazz musicians.

Yeah. I have a wide array of piano players because you know dad was a pianist, so I wanted to not only get the people that had worked with him or studied under him.  Geri, she did a little studying under him, and Glenn Tucker, who didn't know him, but I wanted him on the project because he played some stuff that sounded so much like dad.

 Glenn has a gift for channeling the masters like Kenn Cox and Claude Black. Glenn is one of the young jazz musicians who’s really in tune with the masters.

You’re right. I love Glenn’s playing, and ironically his birthday is three days after Dad's.

Were there any challenges writing new arrangements for your father's music, or playing them as he initially conceived them? I mean, did he write complicated arrangements, or was the material uncomplicated and easy for musicians to stretch out on?

His arrangements were difficult as they were, and I rearranged more of the rhythmic aspect of them, I didn't do it on all of them, but on a few of the songs. I just arranged the rhythmic feel of the song and kept his actual arrangement the same, but the rhythm was different.

You also got the Detroit Jazz Factory involved with the project.

Yeah, I did sign a deal with the Detroit Music Factory, and that was a difficult decision because in some ways it's like am I getting ready to give this project away. I've been signed to a record label before with Straight Ahead, and that was not the most pleasant experience, as far as, what we got out of it. So, I was leery about the signing, but already it's a better experience than what I had with Atlantic Records, and probably because Detroit Music Factory isn’t a big, huge label. It's a smaller label, so I was pretty hands-on with everything.

Darrell Garrett, who's the A&R guy for the Detroit Music Factory, we worked well together.

Darrell is a great music executive. He’s singlehandedly made the Detroit Music Factory a great entity for Detroit jazz musicians.

Yeah, he's a good guy. I really like him a lot, and he's the guy that came up with the cover for the CD, which when he sent it to me, I pretty much broke into tears. Even right now, we're working well together, so I just feel like it's going to be good. I feel better about it than when I was going into it.

You said it was a hard decision, so what made you go with the Detroit Music Factory?

I put out a record in 2006, but you never heard anything about it, did you?

I have that recording.

Let me put it this way. It went a little way in Detroit, but outside of Detroit, it didn’t do well. That’s back when the internet wasn't quite like it is now, and I wasn't quite as internet savvy either, so I did the best I could trying to push it through the internet. If I would have had actual promotional dollars where I could've gotten it on the radio, gotten it in some magazines, gotten it in in places where lots of people could hear it, it would have probably done better, but I didn't have promotional dollars.

What made me decide to go with the Detroit Music Factory was two things. One, they had expressed interest in it, and I really like Gretchen [Carthartt-Valade, the owner of Mack Avenue Records] She really wanted to have the project. Number two, I thought about well, they'll have more promotional dollars than I have; and if I can be hands on and if I could stir the project into the places where it needed to be advertised then us working together could be a good thing, a good fit. So, oh you know we did some negotiations and stuff, and in the end, I said Okay. This is good. I can do this. I was still nervous about it, but at that point, I had to have faith.

The experience has been decidedly different from the experience you had with Atlantic Records.

That’s right.

Do you believe it’s that way because the folks running the label are Detroiters and they’re not so much profit driven, and they genuinely want to help the Detroit jazz musicians get their music out?

They want to profit too, and so do I. We've negotiated a nice deal and so if this record sells, we'll both make money. So, there is some profit-driven aspects, but the difference is they're not all about making money and the artist makes nothing. They're about we’re going to push this project, so we can all be happy.

And Darrell, I really feel like he wants to see it succeed as well because it's only going to make the Detroit Music Factory look good, they’ve had some good projects under Detroit Music Factory, so the more good projects they have the more that they get put on the map and get really noticed and known as a company to be reckoned with.

Kind of like Motema. Motema was a company that I hadn't known too much about, which I met the owner. She's a cool lady, and she put Gregory Porter on the map.

  At Atlantic were they adamant about how they wanted to deal with a project, and didn't let you guys have a lot of input?

Yeah. That's the thing. We didn't have a lot of input over there. They pretty much made all the decisions, and unfortunately, too, we got signed at a time where there was a lot of transitioning going on. The guy who signed us, he left. Somebody else came into the picture, then the guy who was head of the jazz department, he was an older gentleman, had been there for a long time, since Coltrane and them guys. He had been there since they were there, and we came in at the tail end of his time, and he died. Then the jazz department just went crazy behind that and went into chaos.

Your dad had a large body of work. Are you going to do more recordings of his music?

I want to. My goal is to take some of those pieces and have piano players or whoever wants to do some arrangements, and I'll record the arrangements, you know, just like Buddy Budson did with “Nostalgia”. That was a piano piece. It had never been a band piece. It's a piano piece, and he did such a beautiful arrangement of that song. I would've never thought of that. So that's what I'd like to do is give other piano players or musicians an opportunity to do some arrangements of his music. That's kind of like what dad was like too. He liked to hear what other ideas people would come up with.

Pianist Harold McKinney
What was it like growing up with Harold? He was such a beloved figure in Detroit and nationally, too. I mean, all that he did musically, then as a jazz educator. , I used to sit in on the sessions that he used to have at SereNgeti Ballroom on Thursday nights. I would just go in. I was the only non- musician there, but he would let me sit in and just kind of listen to him teach the young musicians.

 I told this story at the Dirty Dog. I had a special alarm clock. The alarm clock in my house would be my father. He had this sonata that he was working on for years. So, I would wake up in the morning with him working on that sonata. Meantime, my mother, who was, you know, my mother was an opera singer when she met Dad. She did opera, and she sang in productions like Carmen, and things like that, and she was a model. So, she had a little career going on when she met dad.  I always say she got sucked into jazz, but around the house, she would be singing' some opera. So, I would wake up to some jazz sonata and opera in the morning.

That would be my alarm clock, and I would get up, and a lot of times, the first thing I would do before well, especially in the summer and before I started school I’d go straight down the basement and start practicing the drums. That was normally the first half of my day would be.  Dad would have some kind of rehearsal over at the house with Marcus [Belgrave] and other jazz musicians.

I would be either watching rehearsal sitting by drummer George Davidson's feet, right next to him, really close, which he told me later he was always worried that my nose was going to get caught up in the hi-hat cymbal because I was sitting' that close. It's just like I had to be in it with him. I wanted to see what his feet were doing. I wanted to see what his hands were doing. So, I was doing that, or I would sometimes be upstairs with my mother, and a huge loud argument would erupt in the basement between dad and Marcus. I'd be like, oh my God. Mom! They are going to kill each other. She'd say, "Oh, no honey it'll be alright in a minute", and sure enough a little while later the music would start back up, but the arguing was really funny because the argument would be about music.

They'd be having this heated discussion about music. So, that's pretty much what my life was like growing up. He gave me very valuable tidbits. I remember one day when he had a rehearsal, George Davidson would leave his drums. He still has that kit too. It was a green sparkling drum kit, a nice kit, and he would leave it set up. As soon as he would go out that front door and get in his car and turn the corner, I'd be like whoosh!, right on those drums.

I would jump on the drums, and one day I said, "Dad!  I'm George Davidson! , and my father said, "Well that's good, honey, but I want you to be GayeLynn McKinney". So, I would say, "Okay, I'm GayeLynn McKinney".

He taught me good tidbits like don't put myself in a box. He said, "Learn all styles of music. Learn everything. Learn everything about all styles. Learn country music, learn everything."

He was like that because, in my house, he had all kinds of records. I used to sit, and just sit by the stereo and listen to the records that he had. He had some Temptations. Of course, it was a mix of mom’s stuff too. He had some Pink Floyd. He had some Beatles.

Because of that, I did expose myself to different styles of music and tried to mimic as many of those styles as possible. Boy, he couldn't have been more right about not putting' myself in a box.

That was probably the most valuable advice that he gave you.

Absolutely, and I pass it along to my students too. I tell them Look. You know, I like rap. That's cool to listen to, but hey, open your mind up. Listen to some other stuff too, because if you plan to do this as a career, you want to be able to be versatile. You'll work a whole lot more if you're versatile".

What attracted you to the drums?

You know, I do not know. My mother said when she was pregnant with me, that I was busy. My father verified it. He said because, at night, they would be sleep, and if she happened to be sleeping up against his back, he would wake up and feel somebody tapping him. He said a couple times he would wake up and say, "Gwen! What do you want? What do you need?", and she wouldn't say a word, and he'd fall back to sleep. A little while later, he'd feel it again. "Gwen! Why you keep tapping me?"

She's like, she told him, "That is not me. It's the baby." So, apparently, I was destined to do this because she said I was always moving around, always just moving. One of the reasons why she bought me that drum set was because I didn't care what I had in my hand. I was going to beat on something, on the table, the desk."

She didn't like that part when I would have my knife and fork, and I'd be going to town on the table.

Finally, when I was two, they bought me this little drum set, and I remember it was an orange sparkle drum set. It was really tiny, and it had these little trashcan cymbals on it. Man, they bought me that, and I was beating' on that thing every day, all day.

Who were some of your influences?

Well, I had sets of drummers because like I said dad exposed me to so many kinds of styles. Traditional jazz set drummers were first and foremost was Max Roach because I was up close and personal with him. There’s a story you've probably heard before, where this particular day dad had rehearsal and this tall man came in and I didn't know him because usually, it was either George Davidson or somebody I knew. I was like, who is this guy, and when I looked at his hands, he was carrying a stick bag.

So, he sat down at our dining room table. You know kids don't have a sense of personal space, so I sat right next to him, close, right on his shoulder. He looked at me out the corner of his eye. I didn't say anything. I just looked at him. So, he didn't say nothing either, and he opened up the stick bag and laid it out on the table, and there were these red drumsticks in there, and I said, "Ooh!"

He looked at me out the corner of his eye again, so I mustered up the nerve and tapped him on the shoulder, and I said, "Hey, can I have those sticks?" Now mind you, I'm 10 at the time, and I had the nerve to ask this man for his sticks. He chuckled at that point. He finally broke his silence and chuckled, and he said what are you going to do with these sticks?"

I said, "Well, I am going to take them and play with them."  He said, "Oh you want to be a drummer, huh." I said, "Yeah". And he said, "Okay". He said, "Well I tell you what, I'll give you these sticks, but you have to listen to me first."  He said, "I want you to remember the melodies of every song". I said, "The Melodies?" My face was all scrunched up. I said, "Why I got to remember the melodies? I play drums."

He said, "Yeah, I know. That's all drummers think about is the rhythm. I want you to think about the melody too, because if you think about the melody, it'll help you learn the song better, and if you take solos, people will know where you are."

I said, "Oh. Okay". There was a moment of silence, and I said, "Hey, can I have those sticks?" He took the sticks out his bag, he said, "Here, girl. Take these sticks and go on."

What he didn't know was that message stuck in my head like glue, and I know the melodies of many, many songs. Like, I'll know the melody before I know the name. Just a footnote to that story, well two footnotes.

One is, when I got to be 17, this was about the time that I started reading' about who the major players were in jazz, and me and my friend was looking' at this book, and it was a picture book with a little story about each person because I wasn't one to look at album covers. I just put the music on and immerse myself in the music. So, I hadn't known who these people were really, so I started looking' at this book and I'm reading'. I got to this one page, and I read the story and everything, read a little about him, and I looked at the picture. I looked at my friend, I said, "Oh my God!"

"This is the guy. "She said, "What are you talking about?" I said this is the guy, when I was 10 years old that gave me some drumsticks. She said, “Quit lying'! That’s not him. He didn't give you those drumsticks. "I said, "No, I'm telling' you the truth. This guy, Max Roach, gave me some drumsticks."

And I had no idea, at 10 years old, who he was. I just knew he was a drummer, and so I was mad then, because I was like, you mean I had this famous man's drumsticks in my hands, and I didn't frame them and hang them up on the wall! I played with the sticks until they were toothpicks.

That was my next question. What did you end up doing with them, or do you still have the sticks?

No. I played with those sticks every day, until they were toothpicks. I said to myself, honestly that's probably what he would've wanted me to do with them anyway, you know, is use them for what they were supposed to be used for.  

So fast forward another 10 years or by this time Straight Ahead is signed to Atlantic. We ended up opening for Max Roach, at the State Theater. During sound check, he was standing by the front looking at us, and I said, "Oh my God! That's him". She's got a nice picture of Max holding him when he was about one year old, and it was from that day at the State

I walked up to him, and I said, "You know, I know you don't remember me. We’re talking years ago, and  before I could finish, he said, You’re that little girl took my drumsticks". He said, "You're Harold McKinney's daughter. You took my drumsticks."

I was in awe. I couldn't believe that he remembered that, and I managed to tell him, I said, "You know, I just want you to know that what you told me that day did not go in vain. You told me to remember the melodies of every song, and to this day I have hundreds, or maybe a thousand or so, melodies in my head."

So, yeah, back to your original question. He would be my first and foremost influence as far as national drummers. George Davidson is a big influence on me too. I told you I used to sit by his feet. Then after him later came Elvin Jones, and I loved him because of his use of triplets, and I loved to study him too. I studied him a lot. Then, of course, I love Art Blakey and Tony Williams.

 Do you think your parents and your dad would have been disappointed, had you decided to be a doctor, or an architect, or something other than a musician?

My parents were cool. They would have been supportive of anything I decided to do, and if I decided not to go into music, they would've been cool with it, if I was happy.

How has the jazz scene changed over the course of your career, particularly here in Detroit? Because it seems like right now there's a wave of these young cats that are playing, that didn't have the benefit to study with the likes your dad, Teddy Harris and Donald Walden and some of the other greats who are no longer with us.

Well, you know the beauty of those guys is that they passed it to us. As a matter of fact, you know it's funny because for years I tried to run from teaching, because I'm a performer. I don't want to teach. I want to perform", but it was almost like it was always thrown back at me that I was going to have to teach, that there was no way that I was not going to teach. That is what my father was, and I believe that's what he intended for me to do as well.

The truth of the matter is, I have really enjoyed teaching. I love it, especially when I have students that are serious and work at what they're doing, and work at their craft. I love it! I have two students now who have done very well for themselves.

Even though they didn't have dad, and Kenn, and Teddy, to study under those guys passed along to us, we're passing along to them, and we're making them study those guys. So, they can see where the music came from, so they can know it's not just us giving these lessons in music and sometimes life. It's these guys. This is where it came from. Look at this. Look at these guys so you know where it came from. That's why this crop of musicians that are coming' up now, a lot of them have that same diligence and are really serious about what they're doing.

Now, I will say this though. We're a whole lot nicer than my dad, Teddy, Donald, and Kenn were. They were very serious. You could not be slacking and half doing stuff because they would let you have it. Nowadays, kids are a little different. They're a little more sensitive, so you must be a little different in your approach to how you get them to do something. At times, I wish that they would've been able to meet dad.