The Concerts by the River in Jefferson-Chalmers, Detroit

March 17, 2012

I lived in the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood for close to 25 years, a good part of my life. These concerts were pretty wonderful. I got to most of these shows and others.

Frank Bach, John Sinclair, R.J. Spangler, James O’Donnell, Rick Steiger and my friends and my siblings were all part of the scene. There were also sorts of neighborhood people, and too, various Detroit music lovers in attendance.

The park’s by the Detroit River. There’s a canal off to the side, or there was. I haven’t been there in years. I’ve been back to the neighborhood, but not to the park. It was a beautiful thing and it a shines with golden memories. Some of those memories entered through the ears.

Just this line-up alone: Griot Galaxy and Bird-Trane-Sco Now. “Sco” was for Roscoe Mitchell. The young James Carter played in this band. Griot Galaxy is legendary and beloved.

Then the Detroit reunion show. The Sun Messengers opened, including some of my friends (previously mentioned). Then the All Star Band including Marcus Belgrave, Charles McPherson, Roy Brooks, Ken Cox and Will Austin! Wow!

People had picnics. Some even went swimming. I might have other posters or flyers for this. If so, I’ll post them as I find them.

Frank Bach played a big part in these shows:

“Frank also served on the board of the Creekside Community Development Corporation, using his experience in the music industry to lead the production of the annual Concerts By The River jazz series.” (from the site linked to below).;view=text

Jefferson Chalmers:


My First Real Performance

October 4, 2011

In late November of 1978, I did a show or two with my friends in the jazz ensemble Kuumba.  I’d been to a few practice sessions to get “in tune’ and to make sure that the band had an idea of what I was going to do.  I think I’d done a few things at our Catacombs Coffee House.  These were mostly solo or done with just one sax and/or drumming as backup.

This was different, as it was with a whole band.  In a way,  I think that they were my first real performances.  Ten years later, in 1988, I started to do puppet shows.  Fifteen years later, in 1993, I joined the Don’t Look Now Jug Band.  Twenty years later, in 1998, I co-founded the Space Band (aka spaceband).  This latter is most similar to what I did here.

Kuumba started as sort of a neighborhood band.  Most of us grew up in and around the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood, on Detroit’s East Side.  It was almost like a jazz “garage band” at first.  I think I remember an actual garage show, or maybe two.  They played at the Catacombs Coffee House sometimes.  I was on the staff there.

They turned into the Sun Messengers a few years later.  The main people I knew included Rick Steiger, James O’Donnell, R.J. Spangler and Jon Worrell.  Jon also did puppet shows, which helped inspire me to try that.  Rick’s still in the Sun Messengers.  James and R.J. co-lead the Planet D Nonet.   They both do other stuff as well.

With the band, including Jon Worrell

I was doing hard work with a landscaping company.  I’d rake the leaves into a tarp and lug them into the truck.  Around this time, I finished with that work.  From my Journal at that time: November 22 “Go to a Dress Rehearsal with Kuumba.  The Lion’s Club’s really small…I do my spontaneous poetry (The Land Without Clocks) to the tune of Rick Steiger’s “Capture the Moment.”  The band is described as including “James O’Donnell, Musa trumpets, Rick, Tim and Fred on saxes, Jabbar on Baritone Sax, Dave Springer on bass, Rick on percussion, Sule on drums and Gary Laehn on trombone.”  Tunes included “Brainville” and “Take the A Train.”

I know that the Rick on sax was Rick Steiger.  The Rick on percussion was R.J. Spangler.  Jabbar was the late, great Arnold “Jabbar” Clarrington, right?  I see in the photos that Jon Worrell played sax  and clarinet.

The next day was Thanksgiving.  Then that Friday, November 24, 1978 was the show.  I’m not sure where it was. Was it at one of those bars on Charlevoix on Detroit’s East Side.  Or was it at the same “Lion’s Club” where we rehearsed?  The latter is more likely.

My notes at the time: “It’s on!  The first thing you notice is that its way too crowded, over 200 people in that little place….I have a conference with the band right before they go on.  They’re in their ties and sharp/hot clothes.  Kuumba takes that “A Train.”  I’m on about the fourth number, “Capture the Moment.”  I go up and chant and shout pure, spontaneous poetry.  It’s real “stream of consciousness poetry, bases on the theme of the “Land without Clocks.”  It’s the point where all arts become one, the face on the wall out of the curved, reclining sphere of deepest eyeblack.  YES.  I’m a “hit.”  More surrealism, yes!  The band continues.  I go talk to folks.”

The first three photos are of my performance with Kuumba.  The last two photos, I think I took. Jon did an Alfred Jarry/ Pere Ubu puppet show.  Kuumba played a second set, going into the wee, wee hours.

The band including Rick Steiger and Jon Worrell

In addition:

January 14, 1979, Sunday, the Catacombs Coffee House: “I do some poetry with the KDJ Sun Messengers: Spangler, Akunda, Jabar and Musa, sax, percussion etc.  It goes really well.  I do a few old things and new ones done spontaneous/on the spot.”

Tom Ze

March 31, 2011

I’ve long loved the music of Brazilian Tom Ze.  He’s an experimentalist yet is accessible to those of us with open ears.

I’m really into Brazilian music from samba to forro to Bossa Nova to Tropicalia and more.  Ze started out as part of the Tropicalia movement in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.  Then he sort of “fell off the map.”  Only the most devoted Brazilian music fans were aware he was still working.

Then later, in 1990, David Byrne released some of his great 1970’s material on the Luaka Bop label.  Then came, The Return of Tom Ze in 1992.  This helped to bring him back in the spotlight, outside of Brazil.

From 1998 to 2010, there have been five more records that I’ve heard (and maybe a few that I haven’t).  His work is consistently wonderful to me.  It always sounds like “my kind of music.”

He uses homemade instruments and household appliances to make his music.  He always seems to be experimenting and “pushing the envelope” a bit.

Also, when I can find English translations of his work, it’s always well worthwhile getting a better idea of just what he’s saying.

Here’s further information and a poem.  Hooray for Tom Ze!

his Wikipedia page:

in Portuguese:

A 1993 interview:

A 2001 article:

Information on a 2006 documentary film, which (eventually) I was able to see:

A 2010 article:

At the end of last year, I wrote a poem for Tom Ze in my long-running “zine-thing” Thing” The Poetic Express and here it is:

Samba in a Maze

in the thread of music, in stitches,

notes cloak themselves and dance around the shadows

___blurry, yet “much tropicalista.”

making this, out of that:

machines that sing out and make beats.

What you wear effects what you play.

Fun is for fun.  Love is for love, don’t break it!

Cylinder Recordings

February 4, 2011

I’ve heard my share of recordings transcribed from the old cylinder recording process.  They’re usually pretty scratchy sounding like distant voices from the past. 

Yet some of this material is fascinating to me.  I’m surre I’ll find time to check out some of the old sounds ready to hear at various websites, especially the University of California, Santa Barbara stuff.  It looks like they have quite a bit.

You have to be a real “music nut” to get into this I think.  Sometimes I’ll hear a few things that sound just ok before I hear something funny, odd or surprising.  Like much of exploring popular culture, it’s like panning for gold.

Sometimes the patina of time-passed produces it’s own charms.

I’ve heard of modern day performers recording stuff on cylinders, interesting.

a source for early recordings on CD:

The history of cylinder recording on Wikopedia:

wax cylinder recording fans:

Walt Whitman’s voice?

from The Department of Special Collections of the library of the University of California, Santa Barbara:

Burnt Sugar (in Detroit)

November 10, 2010

at MOCAD November 5, 2010

I’ve always been curious about the musical group Burnt Sugar.  I’d heard good things about them, but very little of their music.  I caught them here, last week and got some of their recordings.  Both were quite good and most enjoyable.

I’ve been reading Philip Freeman’s 2005 book Running the Voodoo Down The Electric Music of Miles Davis.  It’s a nice overview of Miles’ music from 1968 to 1991.  It includes a section on Burnt Sugar and their “expansive vision.”  Freeman notes that “Their music absorbs funk, reggae, electronica, jazz, rock, soul, hip-hop, heavy metal, and twentieth-century classical, and combines it all into a heady, psychedelic sonic trance, built on a foundation of thick, muddy basslines, that feels like it could go on forever.”  It also quoted writer/bandleader Greg Tate on Miles, Jimi Hendrix and more.  I remember reading a lot of Tate’s old writings in the Village Voice too. 

I have two Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber records.  One from 2001 (the first I think) and one from 2004.

This performance, entitled TWO OR THREE THINGS SHE KNOW ABOUT WILD:  A Primer In How Sisters Freely Conduct Themselves in The D, included a contingent of Detroiters.

The band included Mazz Swift  on violin and vocals , Latasha N. Nevada Diggs on effected vocals & Soundscapes,  Greg Tate on laptop, guitars and baton, Jared Michael Nickerson on bass and The Next Detroit Harmolodic Arkestra (Joel Peterson on upright bass, Duminie Deporres, James “the Blackman” Harris, Skeeter CR Shelton, Michael Carey and others).

The Detroiters  “sat in” with the regular Burnt Sugar group.  They did a special piece organized for this performance.  It was quite good, I thought, well performed, funky and fun.  I’d seen them rehearsing the night before.  I just spied it from the sidewalk for a minute.

They have some things in common with one of my own musical projects, Detroit’s Spaceband.  These include use of projections (“light shows”), spoken word/poetry, unusual instruments and unusual combinations of instruments.  Greg Tate conducted most of it, standing on top of a box.

There was a good vibe to the whole evening.  Most of the local musicians, I’d seen many times, in a variety of contexts.   The regular Burnt Sugar, New York band that I spoke with were friendly.  It was out there!

Information on the MOCAD performance:

Some video interviews from All About Jazz:

Anita O’Day 1919-2006

October 30, 2010

at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958

I’ve always liked Anita O’Day’s singing. It’s just recently though that I’ve been really listening to her work more closely.

In her early days, as a teenager, she do the dancing/walking marathons. This was mostly around Chicago. Lord Buckley was one of the MCs and they were friends. He encouraged her. In her book she says “…Dick Buckley was very rhythmical and he took a special interest in my singing.”

Later, in 1954, she got to hang out with Charlie Parker in Detroit. She was at the Flame show Bar and Bird was playing at the Crystal Lounge. She says that they hoped to do an album together and that Parker told her “you come from the same branch of the tree as I do when it comes to time.” Eight months later he was dead.

O’Day did have a wild sense of time, she could really sing. she attributed part of her sound to losing her uvula in a tonsillectomy when she was a child.  She developed her own style, leaning into the song and swinging.  She wasn’t as concerned with “selling the melody.”  She’d usually sing most of the words but sometimes she’d be singing them very fast

She loved Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday’s singing as well.  They both really influenced her.  She performed with the Gene Krupa band.  She had some famous duet numbers with trumpeter Roy Eldridge.

She had some wild times too, as detailed in her book 1981 High Times, Hard Times and the documentary film Anita O’Day The Life of a Jazz Singer. The film includes candid interviews with her discussing her career and life.  It also has a lot of clips of her singing,  There are also a lot more clips of her performing on the bonus disc of the DVD.

Eventually, she “cleaned up” and got off the drugs and alcohol.  Despite health problems, she got it together and was still singing and performing at the end of her life.  I’m looking forward to exploring her work.


The film:

Detroit Jazz Festival 2010

September 25, 2010


These giant “Gaudi puppets” are from the Cleveland Museum of Art.   


I really loved the Detroit Jazz Festival this year.  I missed Friday night.  Instead, I went by my art exhibit.  Then I saw Salim Washington sit in with the Planet D Nonet on the east side.   

Saturday, I caught part of the Brad Felt Nu Quartet Plus (very good).  Then, also on the Pyramid stage, was Salim Washington and the Harlem Arts Ensemble.  It included special guests such as Detroiter Akunda Hollis on congas (I remember his work going back to the late 1970’s).  That was an excellent set, I thought.  I loved it.  This grouping was an octet including guitar, violin and rhythm section.  Washington played various instruments and  Kuumba Frank Lacy played trombone and more.   

Salim Washington & The Harlem Arts Ensemble

Then, over at the Waterfront stage I caught most of “Hot Pepper”, a tribute to baritone sax player Pepper Adams with Barry Harris and Gary Smulyan.  I’ve often caught Harris’ annual year-end holiday shows.  It’s always a joy to catch a set from one of original bebop pianists.    

It turned out to be a pretty cool to cold evening.  I caught some of Terrence Blanchard’s set.  Then, it was back to the Waterfront stage for Mulgrew Miller & Wingspan.  Both sets were enjoyable.   

I took off and as I left, I saw they’d started a fireworks display.  After I got off my bus, at the Art Institute, I could still see the fireworks downtown.   

The end of the set for the Maria Schneider Orchestra

Sunday, I got down there just in time for the Maria Schneider Orchestra.  I really  loved that too.  There were some scorching solos and some sweet ones. Maria Schneider’s the composer, arranger and conductor.   She worked with Gil Evans and her work has an impressionistic quality.  

I caught parts of other acts including piano duets from Kenny Barron and Mulgrew Miller.  Soon though, it was back to the Pyramid stage for one of the most experimental groups of the festival.  Trio M is an improvisational “leaderless trio” in ways. It features Myra Melford on piano, Mark Dresser on bass and Matt Wilson on drums.  Melford is especially impressive.  She plays the piano percussively, even using her fists at times. 

I caught some of the “jazz talk” programs over the weekend.  I didn’t get to as much of that as I’d hoped but what I caught was well worthwhile.

For the rest of the evening, I went around sampling various bands.  I’d usually just stay for a few numbers.  My friend James O’Donnell (on trumpet) was part of the group LL7.  Bassist Robert Hurst’s quartet included  Mulgrew Miller on piano, Bennie Maupin on woodwinds and  Karriem Riggins on drums.   

I really enjoyed the tribute to Ray Brown too.  This included bassist Christian McBride, pianist Benny Green and again, Riggins on drums.  They did some of Brown’s arrangements and compositions. 

Tribute to Ray Brown

There’s always been a problem with the loud music on one stage overwhelming the quiet music on another stage.  The late pianist Tommy Flanagan’s final festival performance was a noteworthy example of this.  It must have been in 2000 or 2001.  His quieter ballads were completely drowned out by electric guitars and other loud sounds from the biggest stage. 

The Tierney Sutton Band made use of this.  Singer Sutton and her pianist  Christian Jacob actually tried to respond to and improvise with some of the music from the other stage!   I just happened to catch  this.  The night was like that, wandering and digging “the feast.” 

For the finale, I crossed Jefferson and caught the last part of the Mambo Legends Orchestra.  They were also swinging and were a lot of fun.  There were people dancing.  The audience was really into it. 

The Mambo Legends Orchestra

Monday, Labor Day, I got down in time for about half of drummer Roy Haynes set (shame on me for being late.  I blame the busses).  He sounded great and looked great  He’s a real living legend. 

The weather was cooler again and a bit rainy.  I caught parts of sets by Kurt Elling and Branford Marsalis.  Then, one of the highlights, New Orleans’ Allen Toussaint.  He played and sang a lot of his old hit songs like Lipstick Traces, A Certain Girl, Working in the Coal Mine and many more.  I loved his recent, jazzier record Bright Mississippi.  He did Singin’ the Blues from that.  It was just him and a piano, a great end to the festival. 

Branford Marsalis and band   

Last year’s festival: 

Metro Times Blog:

(this is one post of several)

Salim Washington: 

I’ve been reading this book he co-wrote: 

Barry Harris: 

Maria Schneider: 

A review of an earlier Trio M performance: 

Myra Melford:

Mark Dresser:

Roy Haynes: 

Allen Toussaint:

The Mighty Sparrow

July 29, 2010

I’m a big fan of the Mighty Sparrow.  He’s often very sharp politically and socially.  He often very funny too.  Sometimes he’s outrageously funny.  You can’t quite believe what he’s singing.

Other times, songs don’t work as well.  He can be too serious or too frivolous.  Yet even here, there are dumb throw aways and great throw aways.  I have to admit that I’ve only scratched the surface of his lifetime output.

He is also called Slinger Francisco.   I once saw him perform at a free Summer concert in New York City.  It was a memorable show.

I know his earlier, classic work better than his newer stuff.  That 4 CD Ice Records set is wonderful (I’ve got 3 out of 4) plus I’ve got a few LPs on vinyl.  Long live the Mighty Sparrow!


lyrics to 1964’s Martin Luther King For President:

Barack the Magnificent:

The Ice Records Series:

Recent health problems and death rumors:

One of his songs deals hilariously with death rumors!

Rahsaan Roland Kirk

May 19, 2010

Rahsaan Roland Kirk was a master musician.  He was also magical and unafraid of humor.  He played a wide variety of instruments, often several at a time.  Yet he didn’t like being labeled as a “gimmick performer.”  He was a musician through and through.

I just finished an extensive study of the man.  This included playing his recordings (mostly on vinyl) and reading the liner notes.

He was born August 7, 1936.  He probably wasn’t born blind.  There’s a story he lost his eyesight at the age of two, due to a mistake by a nurse.  He started playing music as a child and kept at it.

His career included a stint with Charles Mingus and many dates as a leader.  He was a good composer.  His music included such titles as Bright Moments, The Inflated Tear, Volunteered Slavery and Portrait of  Those Beautiful Ladies.  His instruments included flute, harmonica, stritch, manzello (which he called a Moon Zellar), alto sax, melodica, piano, lyricon, sirens, whistles, nose flutes, bells and many others.  His primary ax was the tenor sax.

I also enjoyed the impressionistic biography by John Kruth: BRIGHT MOMENTS The Life and Legacy of Rahsaan Roland Kirk.  It was published ten years ago, in 2000.  There were a lot of good stories, quotations and appreciations contained therein.

I also recently saw some live performances on video.  In one from Milan, Italy in November 1962 you can see him interact with pianist Tete Monontoliu (who was also blind).  They had a pre-arranged maneuver that when Kirk wanted Montiliu to stop playing, he walked over to him and took his hands off the keyboard.  At one point, you can see drummer Kenny Clarke “lay out” and just watch the one-man horn section in amazement.

On the same DVD, there was another performance from Prague in the Czech Republic in October, 1967.  Here, you get to see Mr. Kirk play the nose flute!  He was really something!  I wish I’d got to see him live.

I likely would have if he hadn’t died at age 42.  He’d recovered from a stroke and managed to keep playing for a few years.  His intensity and technical vibrancy were somewhat diminished.  Yet his inventiveness and his soul kept going.  A second stroke took him, too soon, all too soon.

Update, 2016:

I just saw the solid new documentary about Rahsaan,  The Case of the Three-Sided Dream. Track it down now or wait for the DVD. It’s still playing in theatres, here and there.

Sonny Rollins

April 22, 2010

I’ve seen Sonny Rollins perform three times in the past five years.  First, at Lincoln Center Outdoors in August 2006.  This was a free show playing to a huge crowd and was just great.  I’ve included a review in the web links below.

Then, in October 2007, he played Detroit’s Music Hall.  Again, he was in fine form and put on a memorable show.

Earlier this month, he played here again at the Orchestra Hall.  It’s a beautiful space with fine acoustics.  Now, it’s used mostly for the symphony orchestra.

Back in the 1940’s it was the Paradise Theatre and there were many great jazz concerts there.  Sonny Rollins commented on this during the show.  Being there again brought back memories.  I think that being back at the “Paradise” helped inspire him.

The band included mainstay Bob Cranshaw on bass, Bobby Broom on guitar, Kobie Watkins on drums and Victor See-Yuen on percussion.  Mr. Cranshaw’s been playing with Sonny Rollins since at least 1962!

This was the first show of a world tour that has him booked through November.  He played two sets.  His energy was phenomenal.  He didn’t seem to “lay out” much.

Sometimes his concerts get mixed reviews.  I just saw a bad review for his show last Sunday in Boston.  Yet I’m convinced that I saw three good ones.

Even on something of an “off night” he’s well worth seeing.

Paradise Theatre Information:

The show I saw in New York:

P.S.  His recorded output is mammoth.   I especially like the past few records (including a studio recording Sonny Please, a live recording and a compilation of live performances).  His early Prestige stuff is wonderful.  Silver City and his Ken Burns Jazz CD are both top-notch compilations.