Detroit City in the early 1900s was a pulsing industrial center, surrounded by sprawling steel and automotive plants. Jobs were plentiful and workers were needed. During that labor wave, thousands of African Americans from the south flocked to Detroit, seeking work and a better life. With them, they brought the Blues.
The music spoke of the struggles, trials and travesties of African Americans in this land. Detroit embraced the music and soon became a hot spot for the Blues, fostering the careers of such artists as John Lee Hooker, Sippie Wallace and Son House.
In addition, Detroit also had a significant impact on the development of Jazz in this nation. Home to the Mckinney’s Cotton Pickers, one of the most influential bands in jazz history, Detroit was and continues to be an epicenter of Jazz expression.
Not surprisingly, Detroit continues to generate a prestigious roster of jazz and blues musicians today. Their music is offered up at both new and historic venues on a nightly basis.
The Firefly Club in Ann Arbor is Metro Detroit’s premier jazz and blues club. The environs are nostalgic with a touch of casual sophistication. It’s the only venue showcasing both top national and regional talents – from top saxophonists and pianists to local Big Band and Dixieland.
Offering superb live jazz and delicious food in an intimate setting, the Harlequin Cafe in Detroit serves up an authentic decor and even more authentic jazz. The jazz shouldn’t be missed here during Detroit’s famous International Jazz Festival.
A Detroit staple for nearly 80 years, Baker’s Keyboard Lounge has hosted most every important and infamous Jazz musician in the country including Dave Bruebeck, John Coltrane, Oscar Peterson, Cab Calloway, and Betty Carter, to name a few. Equally exciting were the unexpected jam sessions – like the night Nat King Cole came to the club and sat in on the piano or Ella Fitzgerald stopped and stayed to sing. Though those golden years are gone by, audiences are still treated to traditional jazz, delicious soul food, and an amazing historic atmosphere.
When the likes of Wynton Marsalis or Detroit-born saxophonist James Carter come to town, they’re known to hang out at Bert’s Marketplace for an impromptu session. Open since the 1980s, the club has infused down-home jazz and soul food. Here, musicians and the audience are known to jam into the wee hours of the morning.
For an evening on the town, pull out the dress clothes and head to Flood’s Bar and Grille. The sleek and eloquent decor draw Detroit’s elite crowd. A sumptuous bar serves up killer cocktails – made only better by the sound of nightly live jazz and R&B. No jeans, sneakers or flip flops – the dress code is strictly enforced.
While it might be Royal Oak, the Blues and food at Memphis Smoke are straight from the South. This premier venue brings in some of the best Blues and Rock talent around and serves up barbecued pork ribs or spicy jambalaya. Acts take the stage nightly, making the restaurant a lively destination any night of the week.
One of Detroit’s best kept Blues secrets is found at Nancy Whiskey’s, a hole in the wall tavern visited weekly by Detroit’s best Blues artists. The food and drink are mildly priced and there’s no cover charge. Try the Nancy Whiskey Burger with a side of the “Live Acoustic” Jazz and Jam every Sunday.
Say supper club and most Detroiters will point to Seldom Blues. Named 2006 Free Press Restaurant of the Year, the high-end restaurant is located in the GM Renaissance Center and features a unique downtown entertainment and dining experience.
Diners enjoy inspired continental cuisine and a breathtaking view of the Detroit River and Canadian skyline. The Lobby Bar welcomes guests to the smooth sound of jazz while in the Main Bar, premium cocktails are served. No longer is it necessary to travel to New York or Chicago to hear the most talented national and regional artists. Seldom Blues’ own renowned recording artist and partner, Alexander Zonjic, performs regularly with his legendary friends.