Tag Archives: Jazz in Detroit

DETROIT: Old Skool Chillin’ ….

16 Jul


There’s nothing like a Summer night in the city; the sun has set beyond the skyscrapers, the temperature has dropped only slightly, the concrete tightly grips the heat. Out of nowhere a slight breeze ruffles the leaves of trees planted along the streets, it is a welcome gesture. The season is short, we are drawn outdoors to soak it up, we will remember it fondly come January. It is Wednesday evening, Movie Night at New Center Park, tonight we are seeing PSYCHO! We pass through the park gate and grab ourselves chairs, we scan the area and choose where to sit, dusk is falling. New Center Park opened as an outdoor concert, activity and concession venue on the corner of Second Ave and W Grand Blvd in 2010, it was an instant hit. The indoor concession area offers a bar, restrooms and a small amount of seating. A patio off to the right offers menu choices such as popcorn, hot dogs, hamburgers and Better Made potato chips. We are starving, I follow the scent of food and place my order at the outdoor cash register, in an instant both a veggie patty and a burger are placed on the sizzling grates of a grill. While I wait for the food Kris goes indoors for drinks, we arrive at an open table about the same time. We dress our burgers with condiments and vegetables, we share bags of BBQ and Sour Cream & Chive chips; dinner under the stars.

movie 022

movie 009

movie 017

The movie begins just as we finish our meal, we take our seats in the orange folding chairs we had placed on the grass earlier. The sloping lawn has become dense with blankets and chairs, viewers are quiet, all eyes are glued to the big screen. It is 1960, Janet Leigh appears onscreen as Marion Crane, a mild-mannered secretary employed  by a real estate company.  Regarded as one of Hitchcock’s best films, he creates a great sense of tension and doom as Marion flees Phoenix with $40,000.  The Fisher Building’s Golden Tower is aglow, it watches over us as the infamous “shower scene” takes place, it’s even scarier on the big screen. I had forgotten the iconic scene takes place so early in the movie, the close-ups are unnerving. We anxiously follow the characters quest to solve the mystery of what happened to Marion, in the final scene Marion’s car is being pulled from the swamp. Janet Leigh won the Golden Globe that year for Best Supporting Actress. As the credits roll the crowd begins to disperse, we have only a short walk to our next destination.

movie 024

movie 026

movie 030

Northern Lights Lounge is just around the corner on Baltimore. Let’s just say it wouldn’t be surprising to find us here on a Wednesday night, NLL is one of our favorite spots to catch Jazz in the city. Home to live music every evening, each night features a different genre; tonight is Str8 Jazz No Chaser, don’t you just love Wednesday’s? Inside, the bar is done up in funky light fixtures, groovy furniture, knotty pine paneling and glass block windows; it captures the hip, cool style of the 60’s, I think I just saw Joe Mannix walk by…. The music is in full swing, the stage, crowded with visiting musicians. Plates filled with burgers, nachos, seasoned fries and their quasi-famous chicken strips fly by; several steps above your average bar fare, we often partake. Finding an open table near the back, we order drinks, an apple martini and VO & diet will soon arrive. 

movie 035

movie 032

The Mike Jellick Trio consists of pianist Mike Jellick, bassist Miles Brown and Drummer Jesse Kramer, you can find them here each Wednesday beginning at 9pm. The group mainly plays great Jazz standards from days gone by. A song begins, it is easily recognizable, then we are taken on a musical joyride lasting a dozen or so minutes, ending up right back where we started. The musicians are extremely talented, their play looks natural, effortless. Tables near the stage are becoming crowded with hopeful musicians. The trio play the first set exclusively, after that there is an open invitation for others to take the stage. Each session is unique, some nights the horns rule, it is not uncommon to see a flute or guitar added to the mix, on rare occasions we are treated to a vocalist. The music is always top-shelf, Detroit is home to a multitude of fabulous musicians. If you are a fan of old Motown tunes, be sure to stop in on a Tuesday evening, former Funk Brothers studio band member Dennis Coffey will astound you with his guitar-playing skills. Blues more your thing? Thursday is the night for you. Great music, chill atmosphere, delicious food, what more could you want?

movie 066

movie 057

A Night On The Town: Baker’s Keyboard Lounge Detroit

12 Dec


Weeks ago Kris was checking schedules and found a show at Bakers Keyboard Lounge we’d both enjoy, the square representing that Friday on our calendar was blank, so I quickly filled it in. We had  the perfect place in mind to have dinner beforehand. The area of Livernois from 6 to 8 Mile Rd is known as the Avenue of Fashion. This commercial boulevard was the place to shop back in the day; storefront after storefront offered the finest fashions and accessories. Though still fashion-oriented this area of Livernois is now home to multiple galleries, independent businesses, cafes and Restaurants. 1917 American Bistro is located on Livernois at Outer Drive and is a great place to dine and listen to live music. We arrived before the rush, parking is offered in an adjacent lot or on street, we were greeted as we walked in the door and seated immediately. The dining area feels light and airy, large pieces of original artwork hang on the walls, the band was setting up in the front window space. The menu has a nice variety of entree’s, as we watched plates being delivered to tables we noticed the catfish was extremely popular. Offered Cajun style or blackened, both looked delicious so we ordered a piece of each, served with smashed potatoes and vegetable, we added the Veggie Stir Fry and shared both dishes. The catfish was fantastic, the Cajun had a wonderful crunch to it, the fillet itself was delicate and moist, the Cajun spice adding just the right kick. The blackened is smothered in spice and cooked in a cast iron pan, cooked perfectly it flaked easily with a fork and had wonderful flavor. The smashed potatoes had a hint of garlic that was just right, the veggie stir fry was excellent; fresh vegetables tastefully seasoned, cooked just right retaining a bit of crunch, piled high on a bed of rice, delicious! As we ate we noticed a line of hungry patrons beginning to form, the music was set to begin shortly.  We finished up leaving no room for dessert which was probably a mistake as the selections looked divine, oh well, there’s always next time.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

We would spend the rest of the evening at the legendary Baker’s Keyboard Lounge on Livernois in Detroit. Originally named Bakers in 1939, it is said to be the oldest Jazz club in continuous operation in the United States, how cool is that? Opened by the Baker family as a sandwich and beer restaurant in 1934, they soon added entertainment by local pianists. In 1939 son Clarence took over the club after his father suffered a stroke, in addition to local musicians he began booking folks from outside Detroit turning this neighborhood spot into a full fledged Jazz Club with shows nightly. The club was enlarged and in the 50’s the name was changed to Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, the club’s trademark was the piano shaped bar with mock piano keys lining the edges, it’s really something to see.  Baker’s became a regular stop on the American Jazz Circuit and hosted many Jazz greats; Fats Waller, Tommy Flanagan, John Coltrane, Oscar Peterson, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Woody Herman, Nat King Cole, even Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn sang here. The 7 ft Steinway piano was a gift from Art Tatum who picked it out in New York and had it shipped to Detroit. Liberace even made the trip just to see the infamous bar. I knew that Baker’s had an amazing history, but the more I researched and read on the internet the more fascinated I became. The Baker’s website has a nice piece on the history of the club and is where I garnered much of my information. In 2011 new owners took over BKL and are in the process of bringing it back to life, from what we saw Friday night, they are doing a marvelous job.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Local artist Sky Covington would provide the evening’s entertainment with a Billy Holiday Review. We arrived early, as this intimate venue seats only 99. As soon as we walked in the door I could feel a change; the interior possesses an atmosphere all it’s own, like somehow the walls have absorbed and retained all of the memories of the past decades. We have been here before but I still love to pause and take in the bar, I like to imagine it back in the day when the who’s who of Jazz probably sat here until the wee hours of the morning, having a drink and telling their stories, I picture the room dim and smoky. We continued on and were seated in a tiny three-sided booth facing the stage. It looks just like what you’d imagine if you are a fan of old movies; Tiny booths lining the length of the room, a few cocktail tables set near the stage, towards the back of the room are tables where larger groups can assemble. Old photographs and paintings hang on the walls, the black ceiling is exclusive acoustic tile providing superior sound quality. The band took the stage and began to play, I knew we were in for a treat.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

After a couple of numbers by the band which consisted of a piano, drums and upright bass, Sky took the stage. She had a warm rapport with the audience, she began by telling us a little bit about herself and a little bit about Billie, and then she began to sing. What came out of her was the heart of Billie Holiday and the soul of Sky Covington. She did not imitate Billie, though her voice had similar qualities, it was more like her interpretation of Billie. Her voice is clear and soulful, soothing and melodic. The room was becoming increasingly more crowded, many seemed to know her and would stop at the stage for a quick embrace. The first set went by too quickly so we decided to stay for the second. Many visitors used this opportunity to order their dinner; I have never seen so many plates of fried catfish come out of a kitchen! Plates were piled high with golden colored fillets, sides of yams, mac and cheese, fries, and greens accompanied them on large trays. Patrons dug into their late evening meal with a look of satisfaction across their faces. The second set began to a packed house, there was standing room only in the bar. Once again Sky’s voice filled the room with music and emotion. The crowd was more lively by this time and individuals would would talk to the singer from their seats. She performed Billies best know pieces like: My Man, Lover Man, and I Cried For You, her voice draws you in from the first note, songs less familar were equally sensational. We sat there completely engaged for several hours, thoughts never straying from outside the room. The other musicians on stage with Sky were equally talented, the piano player was outstanding, the Bass player, superb, the drummer played effortlessly. Each received loud rounds of applause after individual solo pieces. The entire evening was magnificent, I look forward to our next visit. If you like Jazz, you have to come to Baker’s and experience what Detroiter’s have been lucky enough to have in their own back yard for over 75 years.