Braille Monitor                                                    February 2009

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Blue Collar to Blues: Groovin’ in Detroit 2009

by Fred Wurtzel

Fred WurtzelFrom the Editor: Here is NFB of Michigan President Fred Wurtzel’s take on the Detroit music scene. In case you find yourself with a free evening during the 2009 convention, you will want to take note. If you are tied up every evening, at least you will know something about what you are missing. This is what he says:

The culture of a place is a product of its geography, people, and experiences. Detroit, “the arsenal of democracy,” produced the tanks, trucks, and airplanes that won World War II. Detroit’s proximity to Great Lakes shipping along with iron ore, limestone, and coal made it the center of manufacturing around the burgeoning automobile industry. When called to serve our nation in the perilous fight with two powerful enemies on opposite sides of the globe, Detroit’s manufacturing behemoth was readily converted to the output of anything made of iron and steel that could be shipped to our brave troops by road, rail, or water.

The success of Detroit as a world manufacturing center drew throngs of creative, hardworking, and energetic people from throughout the world and especially from the southern states of the United States. Detroit was and remains a true melting pot of culture. Music from Appalachia, blues from the Mississippi Delta, and gospel from the Bible Belt mixed with Italian, Polish, Greek, German Jewish, and a multitude of other influences to create many musical and artistic hotspots. These cultural roots are well known in popular music. Detroit is, of course, the birthplace of the now expatriate Motown Records that monopolized the pop music charts in the sixties. Some other names you will recognize from Detroit are Mitch Rider and the Detroit Wheels, Bob Seeger, Aretha Franklin, Eminem, and Kid Rock.

Blending the industrial roots with the soul, jazz, and international flavor of the city, Detroit is the birthplace and world center for techno or electronic dance music. Memorial Day weekend features an international three-day festival that drew eighty thousand in 2008.

Except for the gigantic success of Motown Records, Detroit may today be best known as a jazz center rivaling New Orleans. Here are just a few of the contemporary names in jazz who have their roots in Detroit. A product of Detroit's fertile musical environment, Usef Lateef attended Miller High School, where he hung out and jammed with Art Mardigan and Lucky Thompson. Milt Jackson was there at the same time. Kenny Burrell attended Miller High after Lateef. Along with the comedian Lilly Tomlin, another Detroit high school, Cass Technical, produced the likes of Geri Allen, Ron Carter, Donald Byrd, Regina Carter, Paul Chambers, Wardell Gray, Sir Roland Hanna, Doug Watkins, Gerald Wilson, Charles McPherson, Marcus Belgrave, and Curtis Fuller.

Michigan Federationists are proud of our heritage. We are eager to share our many wonderful museums, restaurants, and clubs. If you are a jazz enthusiast or enjoy cool jazz when you relax or want to experience what it feels like to be in a club that is an incubator of great sounds that will influence music for the next century, you will want to make time to visit some of the places below from the Website. This is a short list of places reasonably accessible from our convention hotel. You may wish to search the Web for other venues a little farther away. These places mainly feature jazz but may have other offerings, so check ahead unless you are like me and like surprises.

Attic Bar, 11667 Joseph Campau Street, Hamtramck, Michigan; (313) 365-4194
If authentic Detroit blues live music is your thing, then it's hard to beat Attic Bar in Hamtramck. It doesn't look like much from the outside, but hey, that's Detroit.

Baker's Keyboard Lounge, 20510 Livernois, Detroit, Michigan; (313) 345-6300
Baker's Keyboard Lounge claims to be the world's oldest jazz club. While we can't attest to that, we can tell you that over its long history Baker's Keyboard Lounge has played host to nearly every important and infamous live jazz musician in the country. A Detroit staple for nearly eight decades, Baker's Keyboard Lounge with live music nightly is a powerhouse in the Detroit jazz scene.

Bert's Jazz Marketplace, 2731 Russell, Detroit, Michigan; (313) 567-2030
Bert's Jazz Marketplace jams with straightforward, smooth Detroit jazz and serves it up with fantastic food all night long. When big names roll through town, Bert's Jazz Marketplace is their place to come in for impromptu sessions.

Centaur Bar, 2233 Park Ave., Detroit, Michigan; (313) 963-4040
If we could use only one word to describe Centaur Bar in Detroit, it would be “swank.” Luckily, we can use many more. Smooth jazz, either from live acts or over the sound system, expertly fills up the Art Deco interior, which evokes the most sophisticated places of the jazz age. The food, drinks, and service are top notch, and the clientele is diverse--all ensuring that Centaur Bar will be around to fill your jazz and libation yearnings.

Flood's Bar and Grille, 731 St. Antoine, Detroit, Michigan; (313) 963-1090
Flood's Bar and Grille is an upscale joint where Detroit's elite come to drink and mingle under the velvety blanket of smooth live jazz. The sumptuous bar serves some of the best cocktails in Detroit, and the nightly live music, jazz or otherwise, pumps the crowd up to frenetic levels--easily one of the best reasons to pull some dress clothes out of the closet.

Gem Theatre, 333 Madison Ave., Detroit, Michigan; (313) 963-9800
Built in the 1920s, the Gem Theatre is a marvel from the Jazz Age that's been fully restored to its one-time brilliance. The Gem offers more than just live jazz; it also houses world-class productions of comedy, drama, and musicals in a cozy cabaret setting, mixing dining, drink, and elegance with intellectual food for thought. The architecture alone is a Detroit must-see.

Memphis Smoke, 100 S. Main Street, Royal Oak, Michigan; (248) 543-4300
The blues and food are straight from the South and conveniently relocated in Royal Oak at Memphis Smoke. At this premier venue for live music, which consistently brings in the best blues and rock talent, you can relax, enjoy a drink, grub on some excellent down-home food, all while getting your blues fix. A fixture on best-of lists, Memphis Smoke aims to satisfy.

Nancy Whiskey's, 2644 Harrison, Detroit, Michigan; (313) 962-4247
Detroit boasts some spectacular live music clubs, and the best ones for blues come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Here, Detroit's best-kept blues secret comes in the shape of Nancy Whiskey's, a hole-in-the-wall-type tavern that is visited every week by Detroit's best blues artists. The food and drink are cheap, there's never a cover, and the blues are simply smoking.

SereNgeti Ballroom, 2957 Woodward Avenue, Detroit, Michigan; (313) 832-3010
The SereNgeti Ballroom consistently brings in the biggest names in jazz. Detroit jazz legends are a weekly staple, and the live music and voracious range of talent are enough to satisfy old and new jazz aficionados with equal zeal.

The Jazz Loft, 529 Monroe, Detroit, Michigan; (313) 962-7093
Located in Detroit's historic Greektown, the Jazz Loft's resident house band dishes up some of the smoothest jazz of any club in the city. Live music mixes with DJs spinning the same soul-filling sounds in an intimate setting that gets jumping. The Jazz Loft is an excellent place to mingle, imbibe, and hear that true Detroit jazz sound.

The Rhino @ Harmonie Park, 1407 Randolph Street, Suite 100, Detroit, Michigan; (313) 963-6244
The Rhino @ Harmonie Park blends a supremely stylish atmosphere with live jazz, light menu fare, and exquisite cocktails to create a unique entertainment venture, but don't let the swank ambiance fool you; this club gets jumping.

I will probably be too busy to join you at one of these clubs during our convention, but don’t you miss the fun.


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