[JPL] Why Detroit and Philly are joined at their hipness

Dr. Jazz drjazz at drjazz.com
Wed Aug 27 16:37:51 EDT 2008

Wail of two cities
Why Detroit and Philly are joined at their hipness

By *W. Kim Heron* 

A city where young hooked-on-boppers woodshedded and workshopped to 
become some of jazz's heaviest weights of the '50s and '60s.A city that 
some of today's heaviest still praise as their hometown.

A city where such grand achievements still seem underappreciated.

A city dotted with haunted clubs, where the ghosts of gigs past live on 
in the memories of the true fans.

Could be Detroit. Could be Philadelphia too.

"Pride, defiance and apologetics are close to the surface when one talks 
about jazz in Philadelphia, an underdog music in an underdog town," 
David R. Adler, a chronicler of the scene in the Liberty Bell city, 
writes in a recent issue of /Philadelphia Weekly/.

And a bit later he puts that Philly jazz past in perspective: "Philly is 
where Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Lee Morgan, frustrated drummer Bill Cosby 
and so many others got their start, where clubs drew big talent, and 
jazz rang out from countless neighborhood bars. The older and 
not-so-older generations know a time when Philly's jazz-mecca status 
wasn't in dispute."

Substitute, say, Yusef Lateef, Barry Harris and Milt Jackson --- and 
ignore that we don't have a failed jazz musician turned comedy star --- 
and you /could/ be talking about the Motor City.

Likewise, you could look at this year's festival roster and list 
Christian McBride and Terrell Stafford (both among Philly's under-40 
stars and rising stars) alongside Detroit's James Carter and Karriem 
Riggins. Or, to tap an older generation, one can compare Philly cats 
such as Sonny Fortune, Randy Brecker and Robin Eubanks to the 
Detroit-rooted likes of Charles McPherson and Geri Allen.

That's not to say that it's only Detroit and Philly that bear such 
resemblance when it comes to the cities that acted as farm teams for the 
high-profile New York jazz scene of the post-World War II years -- and 
that are playing the farm team role again today.

But it's hard not to look at the rosters of the top bands of the '50s 
and '60s and not think there was something special going on in 
particular with those two cities. A nonscientific survey finds the great 
Miles Davis Quintet of the '50s anchored by Detroit bassist Paul 
Chambers alongside the geographically obvious Philly Joe Jones on drums. 
No Phillyites in Davis' great '60s quintet, but again it was a 
Detroiter, Ron Carter, on bass.

John Coltrane's first great quartet featured his homeboys McCoy Tyner 
and Jimmy Garrison alongside drummer Elvin Jones, originally out of 
Pontiac, but claimed (and why not?) as a Detroiter. And Coltrane's final 
combo featured his then-wife, Alice, originally Alice McLeod of Detroit.

Over in the Modern Jazz Quartet, Philly's Percy Heath on bass and 
Detroit's Milton Jackson on vibes constituted half the tuxedoed 
breakthrough group. In Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, Detroiters like 
bassist Doug Watkins and trumpeter Donald Byrd swung it, as did 
Philadelphians such as Jimmy Merritt and Lee Morgan.

Benny Golson and Jimmy Heath, the Philly elders in this year's festival, 
came up in that era with its "play-better-dig-deeper" ethos epitomized 
by none so much as Coltrane,, whom Golson recalled in a phone 
conversation the other day, was the jazz equivalent of the kid in class 
who got the A's with ease "while you struggled just to get a C or a B." 
But struggle those other jazz acolytes did.

Golson --- whose signal group, the Jazztet began with Detroit trombonist 
Curtis Fuller in its lineup --- disavows the notion that the cities 
where jazz took root had intrinsic influences or styles. Whether you 
were in Philly or Detroit or Chicago, the goal of individuality was 
paramount, he claims.

For those pulled by the tides of jazz, said Golson, "it was camaraderie. 
It wasn't just the two cities. It affected everybody across the nation 
with the same kind of determination to learn and to move ahead."

Much of the music Detroiters can hear downtown this week is an outgrowth 
of that determination --- and subsequent generations of musicians 
emulating it --- whether in Philly or the Motor City.

*W. Kim Heron is editor of /Metro Times/. Send comments to 
wkheron at metrotimes.com <mailto:wkheron at metrotimes.com>.*

Dr. Jazz
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