Detroit’s rich musical heritage is often celebrated in print, in performance, and in film. The pleasures of Motown, the earlier jazz histories, as well as the rhythm and blues scene of the Motor City have been justly celebrated, often by bringing back musicians who left for New York or Europe to pursue successful careers. But there have been many superb jazz performers—native or adopted—who never left, or who returned home for other reasons.
The jazz community in Detroit is a close-knit one, and many artists have a strong commitment to transmitting their knowledge and love of music to the next generation, keeping tradition and pride in local accomplishment alive during very difficult times. In many ways the model for this kind of selfless dedication has been the pianist Barry Harris, who taught so many Detroiters decades ago before he moved to New York. Among those who continued this kind of work in the Motor City, chief honors go to Marcus Belgrave, Wendell Harrison, Donald Walden, and Kenn Cox. Just over a year ago we lost the latter two, while Belgrave and Harrison are still going strong.
One of their most successful and dedicated students is bassist Marion Hayden. She started out with classical music, first on piano and then on bass, but soon gravitated towards jazz and eventually became one of the top-call bassists in the city, working not only with her peers but also often with her old teachers. In turn, she is now in great demand as an instructor, transmitting her knowledge to students in various contexts, including at her alma mater, the U-M. For years she has been part of the all-female ensemble Straight Ahead, has worked as an accompanist to various local and visiting musicians, and has led her own ensembles.
Hayden was intimately involved with the music of saxophonist Walden and pianist Cox, whose passing has left empty spaces in the local jazz scene that are still unfilled. For years they played together in various combinations; her big-toned bass was an integral voice in Walden’s last group, Free Radicals, and she collaborated memorably with Walden and Cox in jazz and poetry sessions featuring Melba Boyd’s recitations. She also shares with her two late mentors a broad range of interests in the arts and politics, a commitment to social justice, and a deep respect for the jazz tradition. Walden and Cox worked on creating original musical voices while celebrating and respecting the legacy of African-American music, with a special love of Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, and Charles Mingus.
Hayden also holds to these values, but she adds the great Detroiters to her list of cherished ancestors and has created the Detroit Legacy Ensemble to carry on their music. The group comes for the first time to Ann Arbor on January 8, when Hayden performs at Kerrytown Concert House in the company of tenor saxophonist Vincent Bowens, trumpeter Dwight Adams, pianist Henry Gibson, percussionist Mubarek Hakim, and drummer George Davidson.