I know this is not a northern Michigan topic. It is a Michigan topic.
The Detroit Free Press reports that Baker’s Keyboard Lounge is for sale.
I hope that whoever buys it can build off its history as a world jazz legend.
It hosted John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald and others at its height in the 1950s, as Mark Stryker points out in the above-linked story.
He doesn’t mention possibly its saddest moment. That was when Eddie Jefferson – one of the quirkiest and warmest voices in jazz – was shot and killed outside the club.
My fondest memory of Baker’s was from when I was in fourth grade and had recently gotten my first guitar.
My dad asked me if I was going to play jazz.
“Ptuh!” I said. “You don’t play jazz on a guitar.” Hey, it was all Beatles, Monkees and Cowsills for me at that stage.
“Well,” he countered. “Have you ever heard of Kenny Burrell?”
No, I hadn’t. He wasn’t, and has never become, a household name. But to my dad, who was immersed in jazz, everyone should have known it. In addition to being a jazz fanatic, he was a critic for the Detroit News. He was going to Baker’s to see Burrell, a Detroit native, the next Sunday evening and asked if I wanted to come with him.
My mom was kind of concerned, since it was a school night. But to my dad, it was worth it in order to keep me from becoming a rock musician. Everyone knows jazz musicians are a much healthier, happier bunch.
So I went with him that Sunday to see Burrell and get my first taste of live jazz guitar.
Clarence Baker made sure I had enough tutti-fruitis to drink. And Burrell came over during a break and asked me about my new guitar and my musical aspirations.
The next morning, I told my class about my initiation into the nightlife, which gave my teacher an opening the first time I got an answer wrong.
“It figures, from someone who’s been sitting in a bar all night long,” she said.
My mom was aghast when she heard of the teacher’s comment. But I knew it couldn’t hurt to have that girl with the freckles thinking I was just a little bit dangerous.
Fond memories aside, I hope whoever does buy Baker’s keeps it going and can maybe build on its past glory.
I believe that anytime the state’s largest city can keep one of its unique landmarks thriving, it’s good for all of us.