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 browsingfor example, on Facebookand 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...