Friday Feature . . .


Photos courtesy of Roy Feldman

Let Freedom Swing


Carr Center hosted Jazz and Democracy concert


By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

What cooler way for youngsters to learn about democracy than with a live concert of jazz, the music of inclusion that helped bridge the racial divide in the U.S.?

The Carr Center in downtown Detroit is hosting a multi-performance concert series, supported by Jazz at Lincoln Center Carr Residency. The first concert, “Jazz and Democracy,” was held November 15, with morning and afternoon performances by the Rodney Whitaker Quartet, featuring Whitaker on bass, pianist Xavier Davis, Diego Rivera on sax and drummer Sean Dobbins, and vocalist Rockelle Fortin.

On the eve of President Obama’s inauguration in January 2009, retired Supreme Court Justice and jazz lover Sandra Day O’Connor teamed up with musician, composer, educator and Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center Wynton Marsalis for a concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. The conversation between these two icons about how jazz captures the essential principles of American democracy resulted in three documentaries, “E Pluribus Unum,” “We the People,” and “A More Perfect Union,” and led to a “Let Freedom Swing” educational project for schoolchildren.

The November concert illustrated the ideals of American democracy through the lens of America’s greatest and most democratic art form — jazz. The next in the series will be “Jazz and the Civil Rights Era,” with two performances, at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on January 24, 2015. The concert will focus on the music and personalities of the 1950s and ‘60s, a time of social and political upheaval in America that was reflected in the music of the era, and demonstrates the impact of jazz as a form of protest and instrument of social change. The final concert, “Jazz and the Harlem Renaissance,” is slated for May 13, and will focus on the innovations and achievements of the 1920s and 1930s and the importance of Harlem in the development of jazz. 

“This is an important series,” says Oliver Ragsdale, president at Arts League of Michigan and head of the Carr Center. “As a person who grew up with the Leonard Bernstein Young People’s concerts, I recalled the influence that those concerts had on my musical life. Now they are being created with a focus on America’s music — jazz! One audience member, George Hill, was so excited by the concert that he bought Rodney Whitaker CDs for all of the young people in the audience.

“Rodney Whitaker is one of the premier bass players in the world — he’s Detroit home grown and shares his talents everyday as an educator both at Michigan State University and deep in the community,” Ragsdale adds.

 Whitaker, professor of Jazz Bass and Director of Jazz Studies at MSU, is also the Artistic Director of the MSU Professors of Jazz, former Artistic Advisor of Jazz at Wharton Center, Director of Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s Civic Jazz Orchestra and a member of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. The jazz educator also has presented master classes across the nation at locations including at the University of Michigan and Detroit International Jazz Festival.

The Detroit native and graduate of Wayne State University has earned an international reputation as one of the world’s finest jazz double bass performers. He completed a seven-year tenure as bassist with Wynton Marsalis’ Septet and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and has toured the world over the last 25 years, collaborating and performing with legendary jazz artists and leading symphony orchestras. He has also toured internationally with the Roy Hargrove Quintet, and has appeared and presented master classes at the International Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE) conferences.

For more information on this concert series and other events, visit or call (313) 965-8430. The center is located at 311 E. Grand River, Detroit. Discounted validated parking is available for the Z Deck at Grand River and Broadway.


About the Carr Center

The Arts League of Michigan (ALM) is a center that develops, promotes, presents and preserves the African and African American cultural arts traditions within our multicultural community. Over the years, ALM has offered a wide array of programs, services and activities for both artists and audiences.

The development of the Carr Center is the next step in the evolution of the organization and moves to establish it and ALM as major participants in the cultural life of our community and the nation. Named in honor of Virgil H. Carr, past Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Arts League of Michigan, this facility will be recognized as the premier center for African and African American cultural arts programs and activities in the nation