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Meet Andrew Rothman


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In my office I have outfitted a Bluetooth connection from the computer to a huge, vacuum tube 1957 Telefunken Opus 7 table radio with six speakers. It sounds warm and fabulous. But my preference is to listen to my LPs on my ancient tube amplifier and my 50-year-old Bozak speakers. Heaven, I'm in heaven...
Lawyer, audiophile, lifelong arts enthusiast, our newest Super Fan's life plan was to be a classical pianist, until college took him in another direction. But it was two "major epiphanies" (the first time he heard Miles Davis and, later, Bill Evans) that turned him into a jazz Super Fan—such a Super Fan, in fact, that he and his wife, Diane, host a house concert series that since 2004 has been presenting some of the world's top jazz musicians. (Be sure to click on the main image to see a slideshow of some of luminaries who have performed in the Rothmans' concert series.)

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I live in West Bloomfield, Michigan, just outside Detroit. I was born and raised in Detroit and environs and lived in Detroit proper until the fifth grade (1967), when we moved to the suburbs. We were always going into the city for cultural events, shopping, parks, etc. After high school, I attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I had studied classical piano seriously from the age of six, and I fully intended on being a performance major in college. College had other plans for me, however, and I became an art history major (I've always loved art). But I had the opportunity to attend numerous jazz concerts presented by a student group called Eclipse Jazz. They brought everyone in: Charles Mingus, Chick Corea-Herbie Hancock duo; Sonny Rollins, Count Basie, and many, many more. I also attended many classical concerts there, including hearing Vladimir Horowitz four separate times.

After college, I knew it would be difficult to land a job with an art history degree, so I went to law school. I attended Wayne State University in Detroit (same alma mater as Donald Byrd, Joe Henderson, Yusef Lateef and Kenny Burrell). I graduated from law school in 1982 and have practiced in a small firm since then, representing health care providers. I love what I do, but it also helps to support my music habit!

What's your earliest memory of music?

I remember listening to my parents' records (both LPs and 78s) when I was probably three or four years old. They had lots of classical albums, some jazz, Broadway cast albums, and big band/swing 78s. I still have many of those old records, including the 78s. I particularly remember playing Ella Fitzgerald Live in Berlin , and many Modern Jazz Quartet records (my dad loved vibes and Milt Jackson). I also remember listening to Albert Schweitzer playing Johann Sebastian Bach on the organ.

How old were you when you got your first record?

The first LP I remember buying was Something New , by The Beatles. I was probably seven or eight years old. I remember walking up to the record store on Livernois and Seven Mile Road in Detroit and buying it. I also remember buying my first classical record (which I still have). It was the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, with Rudolph Serkin and the Columbia Symphony, conducted by Alexander Schneider. I was about nine years old. (Funny how I can remember that, but I can't remember what I had for breakfast today).

What was the first concert you ever attended?

It was the Detroit Symphony, conducted by Sixten Ehrling, in 1964 at Ford Auditorium. The piano soloist was Lorin Hollander. He played a Mozart piano concerto. I fell in love with Mozart that night.

The first jazz concert I ever attended was the Erroll Garner Trio, at the Light Guard Armory on Eight Mile Road. My parents took me. I was amazed hearing that group. I remember Garner being so short that he sat on the telephone book! He also hummed and grunted while he played. I was about 12 or 13 at the time. My parents also took me to a local club to hear a great local big band, the Austin Moro Band. I remember not being able to see the bandstand through all the cigarette smoke. Later, I heard George Shearing at my high school auditorium (the first time I ever heard anyone play Chick Corea's 'Spain' —I went out and bought Light as a Feather immediately afterwards. It had just come out).

Was there one album or experience that was your doorway to jazz?

Besides the Ella and MJQ albums I mentioned earlier, I had a major epiphany when I was in junior high school. My older sister came home with a Mile Davis album, Basic Miles (a now out-of-print collection on Columbia). I put it on the turntable, and that was that. I went to the record store and bought more Miles, as well as Coltrane, Red Garland, and Donald Byrd records. My second epiphany was the first time I heard the Bill Evans Trio. I can't remember when this was, exactly, but I remember they were playing it in the record store and I stood there, stunned, not believing my ears. Of course I then had to buy everything I could by Bill.

How long have you been going out to hear live music?

Ever since my parents took me those many years ago. More so once I was in college.

How often do you go out to hear live music?

I go out as often as I can, at least every couple of weeks. Sometimes multiple times per week. Often I'll hear multiple gigs in one night. When I'm in New York City I do this all the time.

What is it about live music that makes it so special for you?

There is no experience on earth like hearing great music, live. It's a combination of being in the moment, hearing great artists in that moment, and the interaction with the audience and the acoustics of the venue (even the bad acoustics, on occasion). I always see friends and others I know when I go out, and that makes it a more special, communal experience. It can easily transform a horrible day into a great day, so in that way it's very therapeutic.

What are the elements of an amazing concert?

Great musicians, great acoustics, a respectful and enthusiastic audience, all of which combine to put you on another spiritual plane, "in the zone." I remember feeling this way the first time I heard Sheila Jordan live, how she immediately takes you captive in the palm of her hand. I've felt that way many, many times over the years. It's transcendent.

What is the farthest you've traveled, to get to a jazz performance?

The farthest I've actually purposely traveled to hear jazz is only to New York City. I try to get there a few times each year. But I always try to hear jazz whenever I travel. I remember about 30 years ago being in San Francisco, and looking in the newspaper to see who was playing where. We ended up going to the Venetian Room at the Fairmont Hotel, to hear Mel Torme with George Shearing's trio. That was one of the most memorable experiences I can remember. Same thing the first time I heard Bobby Short at the Carlyle Maranhão, and we sat right next to the piano. It was like having a private concert. The farthest I've actually heard jazz was at Ronnie Scott's, in London.

Is there one concert that got away that you still regret having missed?

More than one. The first was Count Basie with Ella Fitzgerald, in Ann Arbor. Another was not hearing Pavarotti in Ann Arbor in 1975, which I think was his first performance in the area. Another one was skipping Ray Brown at the Bird of Paradise club in Ann Arbor. We were tired and said, "We'll catch him next time." There was no next time. He died the next day, in Indianapolis.

On the other hand, I did get to hear Chick and Herbie in duo, twice. And I got to what turned out to be my favorite concert ever, which was the Milestone Jazzstars band, around 1978. This was Sonny Rollins, McCoy Tyner, Ron Carter and Al Foster, all in their prime. I think my jaw is still on the floor.

If you could go back in time and hear one of the jazz legends perform live, who would it be?

If I'm limited to one, it has to be Monk. If I get two, then I'll add Trane. If three, I'll add Bird. If I get a few more, then Billie Holiday, Bill Evans, and Duke Ellington.

What makes a great jazz club?

Great sight lines and acoustics, great but unobtrusive service, An audience that is there to listen and not gab all night, and an intimate atmosphere. My favorite club is the Village Vanguard. I also love {e:Smoke Jazz & Supper Club, Birdland, and Mezz Mezzrow. For glitz, Dizzy's Club Coca Cola. Locally, we have a new club in Ann Arbor called the Blue Llama that is absolutely first class. Great acoustics, great service, great food and drink, and they book great artists, both national and local. And unlike many places outside of New York, they book for multiple days.

Which club(s) are you most regularly to be found at?

In Detroit and environs, it's Blue Llama, Cliff Bell's, Aretha's Jazz Café, the Dirty Dog, Baker's Keyboard Lounge (great soul food!), Bert's Market Place, and Kerrytown Concert House. In New York, the Vanguard, Smoke, Jazz Standard, Dizzy's.

Is there a club that's no longer around that you miss the most?

I wouldn't say "miss," since I never had a chance to go there, but I would love to have had the chance to go to Bradley's. It sounds like heaven.

Tell us about your local involvements in the arts.

Since 2004, my wife, Diane, and I have presented jazz house concerts in our living room, under the name of Detroit Groove Society (DGS). The seed for DGS was planted many years earlier, when we went to hear my favorite pianist, Tommy Flanagan, at a local club. There was a group of three couples at the next table, and they talked incessantly throughout the set, as if Tommy were mere background music. Afterwards, Diane and I were talking about it and thought: "Wouldn't it be great if there was a place to hear great music in an intimate surrounding, with an appreciative and enthusiastic audience that came for the music and was respectful to the artists and the other audience members?" A few years later, we had the opportunity to bring the great pianist Jessica Williams in from the west coast for our first house concert. It was so well-received, that we brought her back a couple of months later. Then we formalized the Detroit Groove Society name. Since then, we've been fortunate to have many great artists play here, both internationally-known and local greats. These include Cedar Walton, George Cables, Patricia Barber, The Cookers, Bill Charlap, Bill Mays, Geri Allen, Steve Kuhn, Michael Weiss, Emmett Cohen, Dan Tepfer, Joey Calderazzo, Anat Cohen, Joe Locke, Pat Bianchi, Marvin "Smitty" Smith, Peter Bernstein, Randy Napoleon, Fred Hersch, Helen Sung, JD Allen, Danilo Pérez, Arturo O'Farrill and many more. The musicians love playing here, and the audience loves being here, too. It's a match made in heaven.

I'm also fortunate to be on the Board of Trustees of the Carr Center, a Detroit-based arts organization that focuses on serving the entire community, with music, dance and arts programs. The musical focus is on jazz. Geri Allen was our first artistic director and started the organization on the current path, which is fantastic. Since her untimely passing, the artistic directors include Dee Dee Bridgewater and Terri Lyne Carrington, and they are doing a fantastic job, as is Oliver Ragsdale, our CEO. They are presenting world-class programs in Detroit, and mentoring youth to ensure the development of the next generation of artists.

Do you have a favorite jazz anecdote?

My favorite jazz experience involves one of my favorite people on the planet, George Cables. The first time George played Detroit Groove Society, we had about 12 inches of snow late that night, and he was snowed in and couldn't fly home. So the next day we hung out during the day, went to my favorite used record store (Encore Records in Ann Arbor), and as we walked in, they were playing a record and George listened and said, "I think I'm on that record." Sure enough, he was on it (a Freddie Hubbard album). He graciously autographed it for the store, along with a few other items. We had dinner at my house that night and spent the evening playing the piano for each other. Fabulous night!

How do you discover new artists?

I'm constantly listening, on radio, streaming, and through recommendations of friends whose taste I trust. I also have to say, there is something in the water here in Detroit that produces the best jazz musicians in the world. When you think that this city produced the likes of Tommy Flanagan, Milt Jackson, Yusef Lateef, Geri Allen, Bob Hurst, Paul Chambers, Alice Coltrane, Kenny Burrell, Louis Hayes, Curtis Fuller, Sheila Jordan, Betty Carter Donald Byrd, Pepper Adams, Elvin Jones, Thad Jones, Hank Jones, Kenny Garrett, Regina Carter and dozens of others, not to mention the great mentors who settled here, like Marcus Belgrave, you begin to understand the great jazz tradition here. That tradition never stopped with these elders. There are so many fantastic young musicians here and the pipeline never stops, thank goodness. They play all over town and they are all fabulous.

We're also fortunate to have an institution like the Carr Center, which mentors young artists year-round. Our artistic directors, including Dee Dee Bridgewater and Terri Lyne Carrington, along with Debbie Allen in the dance program, Savion Glover, and the great artist and photographer Carrie Mae Weems, keep this tradition alive. They mentor young musicians, artists and dancers in the Detroit Public Schools and bring great art to those who are underserved.

Vinyl, CDs, MP3s?, streaming?

Vinyl and CDs. No streaming, except when I'm browsing—for example, on Facebook—and someone posts a link to a YouTube video. In my office I actually have outfitted a Bluetooth connection from the computer to a huge, vacuum tube 1957 Telefunken Opus 7 table radio with six speakers. It sounds warm and fabulous. But my preference is to listen to my LPs on my ancient tube amplifier and my 50-year-old Bozak speakers. Heaven, I'm in heaven...

If you were a professional musician, which instrument would you play and why?

Piano. I already play it (for myself only), and I have a beautiful restored 1930 Steinway L that I love.

What's your desert island disc?

John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman. Its only flaw is that there are only six tracks.

What do you think keeps jazz alive and thriving?

People like you two, who go beyond the stage and keep the interest out there. Also great club owners who risk everything to present live music. People like Spike Wilner in New York and Todd Barkan, now in Baltimore, and the owners of Cliff Bell's and The Blue Llama and the Dirty Dog here in Detroit. And places like the Carr Center, which is dedicated to keeping this tradition alive, and not stuck in some museum someplace.

Finish this sentence: Life without music would be...

Unimaginable, intolerable.



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