John Dana 1941–2018

John Conrad Dana was a distinctive personality among Detroit bassists. John had a rich, deep sound, and his smile would light up the bandstand. Most people referred to John as a “lovely man,” who seldom, if ever, expressed a negative thought about a musician. Or, about anyone. Born in Saginaw, Dana tested himself on trumpet, piano, and football during high school. His elder brother Hamid stimulated John’s interest in jazz, especially the string bass. Dana made friends with the instrument during his years at Central Michigan University. After graduating, he lived in Detroit from 1964 to 1971 and found the music scene much to his liking, offering a palate of traditional to avant-garde bands that welcomed Dana’s rich sounds. He decamped to Manhattan late in 1971 where he quickly established his reputation as a fine bassist who took musical chances. Musicians like Kenny Dorham, Art Blakey, Rashid Ali and Roland Kirk used Dana.

He returned to Detroit in 1982 and brought with him a wealth of experience and a dependence on alcohol. Dana crawled out of that pit of despair and torment and remained drug- and drink-free for thirty-six years. He was deeply immersed in the Rosedale Park Baptist Church for many years. He was sincere, gifted, respectful, and older pianists loved him. Dana worked for years at Sweet Lorraine’s with Johnnie Allen and Alma Smith. He worked in avant-garde bands like The Lincoln Street Music Company and was active in the Detroit Artists Workshop.

John Dana was happy to share his love of life and music with his many friends and admirers. Detroit was a better place for John’s presence.