Man I love Detroit. It’s so black in here,” exclaimed legendary saxophonist Donald Washington, kissing the mike onstage Friday night at the Bohemian National Home, as musicians behind him slapped each other on the back and wiped sweat on their sleeves. Washington, in town from Minneapolis, meant to encourage the catcalling crowd in Bohemian's library. But sitting on the edge of their seats, the gathering of about 50 needed no encouragement.

It’s the unexpected that changes things. Earlier that evening, petite dancers Belinda Reid and April Green stretched while wearing cumbersome winter coats over their blue leotards. Vocalist Teresa Mora (visiting from Coney Island where the former Detroiter now lives) sipped on “anti-freeze” -- Dixie cups of whisky splashed with Coke. And from the sound check, it sure seemed like the Vizitors — led by pianist Kenny Green and featuring saxophonist Skeeter Shelton, Mora and AACM’s Dushun Mosley on percussion — were going to perform a meditative set of free jazz.

However, as the show got going, more and more men walked in carrying big black cases. The dancers performed slow and subtle movement around the room, and Mora alternately howled and whispered while these men shook hands, pulled out their horns and wet their reeds. Green began introducing guests, one after the other, who joined in a song at a time. Those guests included such talents as Washington, poet Aaron Ibn Pori Pitts, saxophonist/floutist Michael Carey, trombonist William Townley, and (the man who nearly stole the spotlight if the spotlight hadn’t been so big), saxophonist Adeboye Adegbenro, leader of Odu Afro Beat Orchestra.

Washington stood back and eyed Boye very carefully as he repeatedly changed rhythms without a single road bump. Before the audience knew it, six horn players, two bassists, a piano player, a vocalist and the drummer packed the stage with such intense sound and energy that some couldn’t contain themselves. In fact, the musicians huddled and began jumping up and down as they wailed.

The crowd never even bothered to wait for the end of a song to stand, to whistle or to groan, loud and low: “Skeeeeeeet!” and “BoyYAY!” and “Ibn!” During these moments, the performers onstage would turn their faces from the room, smile really big, and shake their heads. It was the best kind of reunion -- the kind that made strangers in the audience feel like family and led newcomers to understand the reason behind this insane music.

Saxophonist and Detroit lover Donald Washington

Photo by Andrea Canter


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