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Before Motown: A History of Jazz in Detroit, 1920-60 Paperback – June 22, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Besides the auto industry, Detroit is best-known for Motown the jubilant pop tunes of '60s bands like the Temptations. But Detroit produced music before the '60s, argues Lars Bjorn in Before Motown: A History of Jazz in Detroit, 1920-1960, written with veteran jazz broadcaster Jim Gallert. Swedish-born Bjorn, a sociology professor at the University of Michigan, explores the city's music scene from its pre-Big Band era to its 1950s "Golden Age" to rhythm and blues. Copiously researched Bjorn and Gallert interviewed over 90 club owners and musicians with never-before-published b&w photos and period advertisements, this large-format book will appeal to jazz enthusiasts and Detroit denizens. For the many European fans of American jazz, Plymbridge will make it available in the U.K. and Europe. ( Aug. 13)
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

During jazz's formative years, a surprisingly large number of influential performers hailed from Detroit and its environs. Much activity centered on the influence of Wayne State University's music department, where musicians took classes as well as planned various promotional and educational events for the city. They created a strong musical community that artists such as Yusef Lateef continue to this day. All of this is brought to light in this engaging, intense review of the musical developments of Detroit's jazz artists apparently the first book-length treatment of the topic. In addition, Bjorn (sociology, Univ. of Michigan) and jazz broadcaster Gallert provide a source of social commentary, tying the musical activities to life for the predominantly African American community. Over the last 20 years, the authors conducted 93 interviews with the scene's movers and shakers. In July, the Motor City celebrated its 300th birthday, so this title is also timely. Highly recommended for academic, large public, and music libraries. William G. Kenz, Minnesota State Univ., Moorhead
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Series: Music of the Great Lakes
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN REGIONAL (June 22, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0472067656
  • ISBN-13: 978-0472067657
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 0.6 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #440,175 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Of course nowadays they would just look at you like you were crazy, but in Detroit from the 30's through the 50's they would have taken you to one of the places described in this book: Club Plantation, the El Sino, the Greystone Ballroom, the Forest Club, Frolic Show Bar, Flame Show Bar, Cozy Corner, Blue Bird Inn, Sportree's Music Bar, or any of about 90 others. This book has the maps, pictures, facts, anecdotes, and solid economic and social explanations to bring this era alive. This history has already been so erased from the face of Detroit that there are hardly even any decaying buildings left. All is empty lots with bricks sticking out of the soil; places as evocative as the service drive of an expressway. Who could know that Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Bix Beiderbecke, Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, played or spent time here?
How else could you know about Detroit musicians like drummer J. C. Heard who fanned out across the country, blending their talents into the bands of Lionel Hampton, Fletcher Henderson, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, and many others?
You might read this book to see how the Detroit influence added to the influences of New Orleans, New York and Chicago to the world of jazz.
Or you might read it to find out why Detroit is where it's at in its own musical history.
Or if you lived in Detroit, you might read it to understand the significance of the mute things around you, through which maybe you drive to work each day.
But man, read it!
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Format: Paperback
What's this .... Lyrical Life Before Berry Gordy? In Motown?

And how!

Bjorn & Gallert gracefully waltz their way through this story as broken down by decade (1920s thru 50s), with the stage set in each respective chapter by an analysis of pertinent peripherals -- the economic overtures, associated demographics and resultant "shifting sands" of the years' various musical venues.

Then it's on with the show, kicking off with a historical backdrop summarizing the rise of Detroit as Motor City and the consequential influx of black laborers from the South who packed along their Blues; with the authors staking claim that it was the spontaneous combustion of the mixing of Blues with Society Bands that eventually became known as jazz, right after WWI.

The 20s, of course, were subsequently a time of Big Band Jazz in Detroit as elsewhere, and the book focuses on the local and regional successes of McKinney's Cotton Pickers and the Jean Goldkette Orchestra. As swing music then precipitated during the 30s, Paradise Valley (near today's Comerica Park) became the center of black culture in the area, providing fertile ground indeed for a good many such bands, a number of which the authors touch upon.

Personally, as a Basie-KC man & fan I wasn't as much interested in this section of the book, however, I did take special notice of two items, (1) the vivid, warm recollections of the Bennie Moten band's appearance in Detroit in 1932 (with the authors reiterating & underscoring Detroit's importance as a stopover for nationally touring black performers) and (2) the inspiration that those days afforded to young locals like J.C. Heard, a future world-class drummer who ultimately came back home during the 60s and whose son (Eric) I attended high school with.
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Format: Paperback
My uncle, Joe Jaffee owned the Parrot Lounge along with Al Green and others. He told some cute stories of the club, including the time he got mad at Billy Eckstine for smoking marijuana. The parrot, as legend goes, became so foul-mouthed from listening to the drunken customers, that my Uncle finally had to get rid of it.

This book is extremely well-researched; maps are included of where the spots were located, and the pictures are very vivid. There was a recent book published about Detroit's history that completely ignored the nightclubs, and this book fills in the gap. In fact, in most books that have been written about Detroit's nightclub scene, you always see Al Green and the Flame, but never a word about the other clubs and or owners.

This book is definitely a must-have for music lovers and historians alike.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The book covers most of the clubs and performers who were a part of the Detroit jazz scene.For some
folks this may come as a surprise that there was a very prolific jazz scene before Motown started.If
you review many of the performers in jazz from 1930's to 1980's or so you will find a large percentage
of them from Detroit,or moved to Detroit to be involved in the jazz scene.Great read.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a book for all the "young' uns" who think they know Detroit's rich musical legacy but somehow always forget or ignore the story of jazz in the city. Or more likely, they just didn't know. The writers obviously did their homework and pay tribute to hot spots like the Graystone, Blue Bird Inn, Flame bar, Forest club, and more, which sadly has fallen into that same deep hole so much of the city's past has gone into. Readers will learn a lot from this excellent book.
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