In 1989, Detroit’s Graystone International Jazz Museum recorded a series of video interviews with local musicians for their Community Jazz History Series and made them available to visitors in their museum space. Journalists and jazz lovers Larry Gabriel and W. Kim Heron conducted the interviews.
25 years later, save for a photocopied press release collected in the E. Azalia Hackley Collection
’s vertical file, the VHS videos had been largely forgotten. Perhaps more importantly, only four of the 14 interviewees are still alive.
In 2014, the tapes are a revelation.
The Graystone Collection
Kenn Cox’s interview
is a great example. Both a talented pianist and a sound activist who emerged in the 1960s and helped found the independent-minded Strata Records in the 1970s, Cox represents a cultural moment in Detroit -- revolutionary, troubled, joyful -- now quickly receding from view. In the interview, Cox is witty, thoughtful, and honest. He describes his creative influences, his opinion on what jazz had become, and makes sure the viewer knows, for “the historical record,” where John Coltrane used to hang out when he came to town to perform.
Cox is, simply put, the real deal; and Gabriel, though edited out, expertly prompts the keyboardist’s animated responses and regular laughter from off screen, creating a sonic dialogue for the ages.
Last summer, the Detroit Sound Conservancy
conducted a successful Kickstarter
to launch an oral history archive for all genres of Detroit music so that conversations like these would inform our goal of preserving the indigenous music of the city. The Graystone tapes, provided by Larry Gabriel, a writer and the Grand Marshal of the Gabriel Brass Band
, were our first focus after we delivered gifts to our backers. (Veronica Grandison, a Model D
regular, has written eloquently
about the project.)
These tapes, most of them now digitized and transcribed for the first time, provide an opportunity for music lovers and Detroiters of all persuasions to look back at Detroit’s long impact on the 20th century, reflect on who we were and what we accomplished, and prompt us to formulate exactly what Detroit should sound like in the 21st century.
So that’s what the DSC is going to do.
We want to invite to you to our first conference on Detroit music entitled “Conserving Sounds, Telling Stories”
on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend (May 23, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.) in the Music, Arts, and Literature Department and the E. Azalia Hackley Reading Room at the Main Branch of the Detroit Public Library
The conference will feature local researchers like ballroom historian and musician Leo Early
and expat experts like the Oak Park-raised, Brooklyn-based writer Mike Rubin
, as well as journalists, scholars, archivists, and sound activists like the aforementioned W. Kim Heron. They all will be telling stories and presenting papers on the history and culture of Detroit music. The event is being chaired by our own dance-genre scholar and DSC VP Denise Dalphond
. You can look at the full schedule here
We are especially excited about our keynote panel to be moderated by Walter Wasacz, formerly of Model D (...and CREEM
, and Metro Times
, and Sounds
, and…), on figuring out exactly what is so Detroit
about Detroit music journalism.
We believe that journalists are archivists as well as important critical voices who ask the “so what” question when interviewing music makers and crafting sonic stories. Why should we preserve the voices and ideas of musical people who, like Kenn Cox, may seem out of step with how we listen and perform today? What is required of us, listening a generation later, to not only grasp the facts being presented, but also understand, even in a minor way, the imaginative motivations of past Detroiters? We trust that Wasacz will set the table for a scribal feast that ought not be missed.
Two years ago, I wrote a piece here
introducing the DSC. We are excited to share the progress we have made in establishing ourselves, introducing Detroiters to each other, learning from other cities, and following through with archiving our shared heritage.
It has been a busy two years.
We got a website and logo designed by the precocious Dylan Box
. We introduced historic preservationist Rebecca Binno-Savage
to United Sound Systems
owner Danielle Scott, Detroit Public Library Friends Foundation
President Patrice Merritt to Submerge
’s Mike Banks, and KICK
’s Curtis Lipscomb to Interdimensional Transmissions
’ Brendan Gillen. We donated acid free boxes to veteran scenester-archivists like Zana Smith at Spectacles
and still-young rockers like The Sights
’ Eddie Baranek. We conducted field research at Third Man Records
in Nashville, the Stax Museum
in Memphis, the Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation
, and the Rock Hall’s Library and Archives
in Cleveland. We have partied in Boston with Mike Servito
and at Model Z.
with Danny Kroha
We have learned, are still hungry, and now want to hear from you.
See you at the Library.
Carleton S. Gholz, Ph.D. is the founder of the Detroit Sound Conservancy and a board member of the Friends of the E. Azalia Hackley Collection at the Detroit Public Library. He is currently writing a book about Detroit music after Motown and in the process of moving back to Detroit after nine years of advanced schooling and psychogeography. Follow the Detroit Sound Conservancy on Twitter and Facebook.