Features On Detroit Musicians

Phelbert Quincy Lasley III was one of Detroit’s better known musicians. He was admired,and respected; a generous soul with a buoyant personality. Phil spent a decade in NY making the Loft Scene and gigging. Lasley was in vocalist Chuck Jackson’s orchestra too. This is a bio of “Lord Plushbottom”

Mathew Rucker began leading a band while he was a pupil at Miller High School. “The Spirits of Swing” toured nationally. When work slowed, Mathew bought a cab. Ten years later he owned a cab company!

Jimmy Wilkins led one of Detroit’s finest big bands for a half century. He cut his teeth in Count Basie’s “New Testament” band. After leaving Basie and working with Jimmy Forrest and others, Wilkins returned to Detroit and formed his own big band. It was a Detroit Icon.

Johnny Allen was an important part of Detroit’s music scene for seventy years. He won a Grammy for his work on “Shaft.” He played, composed, and arranged in many musical genres. He was also a respected teacher. He flew ‘under the radar’ and wasn’t over-publicized. Johnny Allen had only a single “day job” in his music career.

John Jean Goldkette built the Graystone Ballroom and his Victor Recording Orchestra and McKinney’s Cotton Pickers into nationally acclaimed bands. He was a major player in Detroit music, but lost it all during the Great Depression. He tried to regain his acclaim, but failed.

Johnny Trudell has been a respected Detroit bandleader for sixty years. His Orchestra has been, and continues to be, a learning experience for Detroit musicians. Trudell was a session man for Motown Records back in the day.

Willie Anderson (“Willie A”) impressed critics, musicians, and fans with his immense talent. He was one of Detroit’s finest pianists, the creative equal of Flanagan, Harris, et.al. Despite many job offers, Anderson refused to leave Detroit.

Maurice King made his mark on Jazz as a leader, composer, and arranger. He’s better known for his ten years at the Flame Show Bar, but he played key roles at Motown Records. He was a troubleshooter who was called on to fix music problems. He was the Artistic Director for the Spinners too.

Olujimi Tafataona has been leading his band, In The Tradition, since 1996. He joined the Shrine of the Black Madonna and changed his name from Christopher James. This feature shares his upbringing, philosophy, and his growth as he moved through excellent Detroit bands prior to forming In The Tradition.

J.C. Heard put down roots in many places: Japan, Philippines, Los Angeles, N.Y.C., and of course, Detroit. When he left Detroit in 1939, he went to N.Y.C. and became a SuperStar! We present a survey of J’s career.

Johnnie Alexander Bassett came to Detroit from Marianna, Florida, when he was ten.. He studied clarinet, alto sax, and guitar in High School. He soon gained notoriety, and worked with R&B pianist Joe Weaver as well as John Lee Hooker. Bassett finally got a chance to live by his guitar only.

Joseph Robert St. John (1908-1994) was a very interesting guy. He’s also one of the few Detroit musicians who recorded in the 1940s.

Clarence and Kay Baker. Clarence “Moon” Baker inherited his bar from his dad, Chris. Baker’s may be the oldest Jazz club in the World, but regardless, it’s always been a great Lounge. The younger Baker featured Detroit, National, and International talent in his eponymous club. Baker’s really came into its own during the 1960s. When he finally wanted to sell the place, it took two tries before he found the right guy.

Alma Smith was one of Detroit’s last elegant pianists. A child prodigy, Alma played Vibes as well as the Hammond B-3. She was in the Counts and Countess, a trio which made records and Soundies. Smith had many followers. Fortunately, she was interviewed many times. We have written the biography of Ms. Smith.

Teddy Harris, Jr., was a all-time favorite. Teddy was a man who was given many gifts. Maybe his greatest gift was his ability to teach young musicians about Jazz, and making a living playing music.

Ed Sarkesian produced Detroit’s first Jazz Festival, in 1959. Before that he owned the Rouge Lounge, the main showcase for national Jazz groups, from 1950-58. Ed was a great gentleman, and a true Jazzer. We hope you enjoy this feature.

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