The Michigan DpIly-Tuesday, May 16, 1978-Page 7
A nightat the Bluegrass Opera
By R. J. SMITH
It was Taylorville, Kentucky, but it was the same story all over the South. It
was post-Civil War, and the time of the New South was just beginning. In countless
towns, young men were swept up in the migration that took them off the farms and
into mines or textile mills. For those who escaped that fate, there was uncertainty;
many fled to the North, hoping to find work in more humane factories. Promising
to return once they had enough money to insure their never having to work in the
mines, they got caught in a bind of paying for- that new car and paying off on the
home. They never returned.
It is an old story, and one with a rich history. In different forms, it is told in the
work songs of slaves taken to America, and it rings out in the urban blues, as
blacks moved north to industrialized cities like Chicago and Detroit. The Band's
song "King Harvest" also speaks of this migration. It is a story that has been
related for a long time - and it is one that deserves to be heard.
THE ORIGINAL Bluegrass Opera Company of Detroit tells it well. In
chronicling this northern transit from the city of Taylorville, they related to the
people at the Ark F# iday night a refres ing concept of Detroit, if not a novel one,
and a musical feeling that was often quite xhilarating.
Entitled Stuck in Detroit, the show can hardly be called an opera - it is more a.
strung-together series of vignettes. Written by a Detroit journalist named
McKirgin, the show nonetheless was neither drawn out or disconnected; it
remained simple enough to tell many small stories satisfyingly.
For instance, there is the story of Reggie Taylor, who's family "treats him like
tome hillbilly." Reggie took some ideas and opened a tool and die shop, and now
he's got a Grosse Point home, "a fine Detroit wife," three kids, and six cars. But
Reggie finds he has a life that doesn't provide the essentials - his wife won't fix
him biscuits and gravy, and the kids don't like bluegrass.
ANOTHER CHARACTER we follow is Tim Buskirk, working throughout the
opera to send his wife Inez enough money to come to Detroit with him. By the end,
we are told he never will. The song that follows is austere and plaintive, and very
Where,.is the-gireft behind?
and where are the dreams that I cannot find?
he plans crumble and fade.
asradedmy lifefor a hadufrus
Another song, titled "Snow on the Ridges, Blood on the Coal," about those who did
not escape the coal mines, is similarly affecting.
The opera, which includes performers David Cahn, Steve Whalen, Herschel
Freeman, Lee Kauffman, and Bob Wakeman, was paced well, blending several
slow tunes bordering on straight country with plenty of traditional "rave-em-up"
bluegrass picking. Two criticisms: the harmonies, when their attempts were
audible at all, were often ragged. Also, the faster songs just didn't seem to go fast
enough. Perhaps this had something to do with the fact that a last-minute stand-in
bass player was used.
THE SHOW ended with a very up-beat pro-Detroit theme, one which rings true
even if it should be latched onto by Coleman Young as p.r. for the town. One
character says at the end of the show: "I still hear people complain about how they
want to go home - that's just a bunch of hogwash, there's nothing for them back
there . . . I've lived in Detroit for 25 years, and besides, all my friends are up here now."
In the end, the idea of modest satisfaction is at the root of being happy with life
in Detroit. And the band, several of whom are struggling to find work as bluegrass
musicians in Motown, firmly believe their message.
Black or white, the men who moved north into towns like Detroit sought com-
munity in their life, be it from friendships or the friendly union. It was a necessary
thing, for they were stone-cold in facing a whole new way of life.
Bluegrass is a music of community, where no one musician is the leader. At
the Ark, the Original Bluegrass Opera Company play with a great deal of frien-
dship, trading off solos and vocals with warmth. Their story and their music are
captivating, and always a lot of fun.
Jazz marathons fill the airwaves
. By MATTHEW KLETTER
While the gusty winds blew and the
rain sprinkled on Ann Arbor last Satur-
day, many people were privileged
enough to experience a day of non-stop
jazz music. The WUOM-WVGR Jazz
Revisited Colloquium and the WCBN
Miles Davis Marathon filled the air,
bringing a spectrum of pre- and post-
atomic bomb jazz.
At 10:00 P.M. Friday night, WCBN
D.JRoger Cramer started the festivities
with the Miles Davis Marathon by
presenting a program entitled "Miles
Electric Move" (1968-75). Cramer, the
originator of the marathon, played the
most recent Miles material, featuring
musicians such as Ron Carter, Herbie
Hancock, Wayne -Shorter, Tony
Williams, George Benson, Chich Corea,
Dave Holland, Josef Zawinul, John
McLaughlin, Jack DeJohnette and
Keith Jarrett. The morning hours
featured many of these musicians in
Floyd Miller's interpretation of "Miles
of the Sixties" (1961-68). At 9:00, it was
five hours of "Miles & Coltrane," in-
cluding Elvin Jones, Milt Jackson and
Gil Evans and Cannonball Adderly.
THE EIGHTH annual Jazz Revisited
Colloquium got underway by 9:30 as
papers on Duke Ellington were read by
Dave Jones, Edda Schmidt and Dave
Crippen. The scholarly papers initiated
and welcomed what was to be thirteen
hours of pre-atomic bomb jazz (1917-
45). Held in the Michigan Union, the
colloquium featured a live broadcast
from the University Club, the
Washtenaw Community College Jazz
Band, Jim Tapogny and friends, as well
as taped music arranged by Hazen
Schumacher. As I arrived at the Uni-
versity Club Terrace I could hear the
Ellington classic "Don't get around
much any more" being performed by
the Washtenaw Community College
Jazz Band. This was followed by "Take
the 'A' Train".
Hazen Schumacher directed the af-
ternoon, balancing it between live per-
formances and a tape he arranged from
the 9000 78's Jazz Revisited proudly
carries in its library. After the live per-
formance the tape played "Never Know
Lament," a Spike Jones classic recen-
tly put out on the New World record
label. The Community Jazz Band per-
formed "Willow Weep for Me" which
was followed by "Life Goes to a Party"
on tape, followed by the Charlie Parker
.classic "Scrapple from the Apple."
THE LIVE sets were fantastic and
carried the old-time spirit of jazi far
beyond the Union. The b-and kicked out
riff after riff of straightforward purist
jazz. The tape continued with Cole Por-
ter, Count Basie, Lester Young, Joan
Morris and many others. Schumach-
er explained that Jazz Revisited started
ten years ago on WUOM and today is
carried by 180 PBS stations at 5:30 on
Saturdays. Schumacher sees jazz
gaining popularity on campus. This
trend is exemplified by the American
Studies course which was offered this
year as "History of Jazz."
Meanwhile, as 2:00 approached, WC-
BN put Miles' "From Bird to Cool"
(1945-55) through the air waves as DJ
Stan Freeman narrated the Bebop and
Cool jazz stages of Miles Davis on
The marathon was due in part to the
recent return of Miles to the recording
studio, after a three-year absence due
to illness. It lasted 29 hours, and in-
cluded a "Survey of Styles" by Charlie
Wolfson and a highly articulate presen-
tation of "Orchestral music of Miles
Davis" by John Sinclair.
Returning to the University Club, I
found the crowd enjoying "Jazz Me
Blues," a number which took off where
Ragtime and March music left off. The
live part of the colloquium ended on a
comical note with the "Original
Dixieland One-Step" by the New
Orleans Rhythm Kings and a live per-
formance by Percy Danforth playing
Bones. Danforth, 77 years old, played -
as if he were 20, followed by a recording
of "Things ain't what they used to be."
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