Monday, December 5, 2016

Heaven Was Detroit, Part 3

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

I hope everyone is getting in the holiday mood. This will be my last post in 2016. I'm heading out of town for a few weeks. To all my readers out there, a very merry Christmas to you (or whatever it is you celebrate), and a healthy and very happy New Year!

The fourth jazz piece included in Heaven Was Detroit is about pianist and arranger Teddy Harris. Harris, for me, was the glue of the great Butterfield Blues Band ensemble (with a horn section) that I saw do several exciting concerts in New York City when I was a teenager. It was Harris' charts, his thing. What a great fusion of jazz and blues! I knew nothing about Harris until I read the piece by Lars Bjorn and Jim Gallert. It turns out that Harris, apart from his jazz roots, was the Music Director of the Supremes for more than a decade. The authors point out that Harris functioned as an elder to younger musicians, continuing the longstanding Detroit practice of mentorship:

"Nurturing musicians essentially forfeited their chances for national exposure and recognition. A city's reputation is made by those musicians who leave; it is sustained by those who remain. Musicians who remain are special, and they form the backbone of our jazz community. Louis Cabrera, Barry Harris and Marcus Belgrave were among their number."

Born in 1934, Teddy Harris went to Northern High School, another Detroit secondary school with a great music program. The program was run by Orvis Lawrence, who played with the Dorsey Brothers and Glenn Miller big bands. Also at Northern at that time was Tommy Flanagan, Sonny Red and Donald Byrd (before he transferred to Cass Tech).

In c. 1950, before Frank Foster joined the U.S. Army, said Harris, Foster would meet with the budding Northern High musicians:

"Frank Foster used to help me. . . . He was becoming a pretty astute arranger. He would come over to [Northern]. We got out of school at 2:30. He would get Donald Byrd, Sonny Red, and myself and Claude Black and take us to his house where he would teach us how to read his arrangements."

                             (Teddy Harris, 1970)

Bill Harris' short piece on drummer Roy Brooks mentions that Brooks attended Northwestern High School. Brooks and alto saxophonist Charles McPherson were regular listeners at the back door of the Blue Bird Inn. Too young to be admitted, they listened to Elvin Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Pepper Adams and all the other greats that were playing there nightly. In late 1959, Brooks replaced Louis Hayes in Horace Silver's group.

Though outside the purview of this blog, those interested in post-1950 Detroit developments, should read Farooq Bey article and Larry Gabriel's two pieces.

As a sprawling anthology covering the entire breadth of jazz and vernacular music in Twentieth Century Detroit, much of the work will not excite Pepper Adams listeners who are narrowly focused in jazz up to 1956. Nevertheless, three other tidbits that caught my attention: R.J. Spangler's piece discusses the 1940s, around the time when Pepper Adams came back to town: 

"Clubs like the Flame Showbar, the Club 666, and the Club Congo all had house bands, chorus lines, shake dancers, ballad singers, blues singers, and more. These were big productions. The auto plants were humming round the clock. People had a few bucks to spend and clubs were full. There was work for musicians and entertainers."

John Sinclair's piece on bluesman Johnnie Bassett includes a surprising blurb about the great after hours jam sessions that took place at the West End Hotel:

"My sister was a waitress there in Delray--Louise, she was a waitress out there at the West End Hotel for a long time. Those guys used to have that session out there every weekend. It started at two o'clock in the morning and it'd go from two to seven a.m. Kenny Burrell, Tommy Flanagan, Paul Chambers, Yusef Lateef, all the guys used to come through that was playin' down at the Flame [Show Bar], and the Rouge Lounge, used to come out to the sessions."

Lastly, in John Sinclair's piece on blues in Detroit, he describes the Hastings Street scene:

"Except for a couple of raggedy blocks straggling south from East Grand Boulevard, Detroit's Hastings Street is gone now. The Motor City's major African American entertainment thoroughfare was gouged out in the late 1950s to make way for the Walter P. Chrysler Freeway. . . . But for twenty years before that, Hastings Street swung all the way from Paradise Valley downtown for fifty or sixty blocks north. . . . In its prime years, Hastings Street throbbed with music, from the elemental blues of John Lee Hooker [and others,] to the swinging jazz of the Teddy Wilson Trio [with drummer J.C. Heard), Maurice King and His Wolverines (with vocalist LaVerne "Bea" Baker), Paul "Hucklebuck" Williams, T.J. Fowler, Todd Rhodes and His Toddlers, and the Mathew Rucker Orchestra. Jazz stars like Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Billy Eckstine, and Cootie Williams played the Forest Club or the Flame Show Bar as well as the Paradise Theatre on Woodward Avenue, sharing the stage with rhythm and blues recording stars like Dinah Washington, Wynonie Harris, Amos Milburn, B.B. King, and T-Bone Walker."

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