Jazz From Ann Arbor by Mark Stryker


Bassist Robert Hurst - Jazz From Ann Arbor

Bassist and U-M professor Robert Hurst makes the case for being the cover star of a future book.

This story originally ran September 16, 2019.

Mark Stryker will talk about his new book "Jazz From Detroit" at AADL's downtown location on Thursday, September 19, at 6:30 pm. We asked him to recommend some jazz from Tree Town.

Ann Arbor makes a number of cameo appearances in my book Jazz From Detroit. Several recordings highlighted in the text were taped live in Ann Arbor, and a number of the musicians featured in the book have ties to the University of Michigan. (The book itself was published by U-M Press.) Here’s a playlist that takes its inspiration from the Detroit-Ann Arbor jazz connection.

Marcus Belgrave, “Mean What You Say,” from Live at the Kerrytown Concert House (Detroit Jazz Musicians Co-Op)
Belgrave, a trumpeter, was a critical mentor to so many jazz musicians who became stars in recent decades that I have an entire section of the book called “Marcus Belgrave and His Children.” The children are musicians he nurtured, including Geri Allen, Kenny Garrett, Regina Carter, Gerald Cleaver, Robert Hurst, Rodney Whitaker, James Carter, and Karriem Riggins. Belgrave also lived in Ann Arbor late in his life. Recorded at the Kerrytown Concert House in Ann Arbor, this 1994 performance features the trio led by the great Detroit pianist Tommy Flanagan, with Peter Washington on bass, and Lewis Nash on drums. The song, “Mean What You Say,” is by another hero of Detroit’s jazz tradition, Thad Jones. 

Bert Myrick, “Paramour,” from Live 'n Well (Strata)
Though Live 'n Well was issued in 1974 on the Detroit-based Strata label under the name of drummer Bert Myrick, the music was actually recorded by the George Bohanon-Ronnie Fields Quintet almost a decade earlier in 1965 at the University of Michigan Student Union. The band -- Bohanon on trombone, Fields on tenor sax, Kenn Cox on piano, Will Austin on bass, and Myrick -- was the best straight-ahead jazz group in Detroit at the time. Field’s composition “Paramour” has a strong Horace Silver flavor. Live ‘n Well was only one of five LPs released before Strata ceased operations in 1976, though several more that were in the pipeline have now been issued.

Geri Allen, “Black Bottom,” from The Life of a Song (Telarc)
The late pianist and composer Geri Allen, who died in 2017 at age 60, taught at the University of Michigan for a decade starting in the early 2000s. Raised in Detroit and mentored by Marcus Belgrave, she was a game-changer. Her distinctive rhythmic bite and personal way of reconciling experimental and traditional ideas made her one of the most influential musicians of her generation. Recorded in 2004, her composition “Black Bottom” is named for Detroit’s historic African-American neighborhood that was destroyed in the 1950s and early '60s in the name of urban renewal. With Dave Holland on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums.

Robert Hurst, “Detroit Day,” from Black Currant Jam (Dot Time)
Bassist Robert Hurst, another Marcus Belgrave protégé, balances teaching at the University of Michigan with touring. His star-studded resume includes Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, Tony Williams, Ravi Coltrane, Charles Lloyd, and Diana Krall. Hurst also leads a dynamite band of mostly young Detroiters. The music casts a wide net. Hurst’s compositions take in African and Brazilian rhythms, post-bop, funky contemporary beats, R&B and hip-hop allusions, electronics, vocals -- all delivered with a heavy dose of improvisation. The optimistic “Detroit Day” features saxophonist Rafael Statin, pianist Ian Finkelstein, vocalist Brendan Asante, percussionist Pepe Espinosa, and drummer Nate Winn.

Marcus Elliot, “Observer,” from Sonic Refuge (Bandcamp)
Two of the leading young musicians on the Detroit jazz scene today have University of Michigan ties. Saxophonist Marcus Elliot earned a master’s degree in improvisation at U-M, and pianist Michael Malis earned his bachelor’s degree there. In Jazz From Detroit, I also call them Marcus Belgrave’s de facto grandchildren, because each studied with a former Belgrave student -- Malis with Geri Allen at U-M and Elliot with Rodney Whitaker at Michigan State University. Malis and Elliot also worked directly with Belgrave late in his life. Released in 2017, Elliot’s “Observer” was recorded with his quartet that included Ann Arbor native Ben Rolston on bass and Stephen Boegehold on drums. 

Former Detroit Free Press jazz and classical critic Mark Stryker is the author of Jazz From Detroit and Destiny: 100 Years of Music, Magic, and Community at Orchestra Hall in Detroit.

Mark Stryker will talk about his new book "Jazz From Detroit" at AADL's downtown location on Thursday, September 19, at 6:30 pm. Books will be for sale and there will be a signing after the talk. We encourage everyone to then head over to the Blue LLama club in Ann Arbor for a free performance of Detroit jazz by the Marion Hayden Sextet as part of the A2 Jazz Fest. Both events are free.