UMS Explores Detroit Jazz

On Saturday, November 4, about forty jazz junkies from Ann Arbor joined a University Musical Society Immersion bus trip “Exploring the Legacy of Jazz in Detroit.” Led by Mark Stryker, the former Detroit Free Press jazz critic, we spent about eleven hours seeing where areas like Paradise Valley and Black Bottom used to be, having a soul food dinner at the iconic Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, and attending concerts at the conjoined Detroit School of Arts and Carr Center.

Our early afternoon concert featured a wonderful duet by Michael Malis on piano and Marcus Elliot on saxophones. The four tunes they played highlighted their Detroit jazz mentors and how rooted they are in that great tradition. The Malis tune “Serpent” was inspired by a dream of two snakes depicted in a stride solo with strong left hand, classical riffs, spacey waterfalls and rivers, followed by Elliot’s sax pushing an upbeat tango and modern dance sound. Another Malis composition, “The Mediator,” started with soft piano chords and a rising argument with the sax, each side presenting its case, covering many ways of looking at the problem, up and down the spectrum, but ending abruptly. They played compositions by two great Detroit mentors: the swinging “All My Love” by Marcus Belgrave, and a great back-and-forth counterpoint on a tune by the fine drummer Lawrence Williams. Williams remained in Detroit for most of his career and never became as well known as Barry Harris, Tommy Flanagan, Elvin, Hank and Thad Jones who went to New York to further their careers. Malis and Elliot also mentioned how much they enjoy playing together, which was evident to their audience.

The concert was followed by an informative talk by Mark Stryker on some of the biographical vignettes from his forthcoming (August 1) book from UM Press, Made in Detroit: Jazz from the Motor City. After a wonderful soul food meal at Baker’s, we were treated to a fabulous cavalcade of Detroit music with The Gathering Orchestra led by Rodney Whitaker, with segments featuring drummer Terri Lynn Carrington and vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, joined by students and tenor George Shirley.

It was quite a day of music.

TOP: Ali Jackson
ABOVE: Rodney Whitaker

photographs by Jeff Dunn