As I walked up to the Kerrytown Concert House, I double-checked my phone to make sure I was in the right place for the Tad Weed Jazz Master Series: Tribute to Ron Brooks. The sign in front told me I had arrived, so I walked up to the front door of what was most certainly a house, and restrained myself from knocking. Poking my head through the door, I found that the interior was set up with a bunch of chairs in multiple different rooms, all facing a well lit stage. And on my right, a kitchen. Yep, definitely a house.
I settled in, adapting to my surroundings. The people around me greeted each other, all seeming to know each other from similar experiences. At around 20 years younger than almost everyone in the room, I was not a part of that community. But I smiled to myself while flipping through the program, enjoying the atmosphere of camaraderie in what was certainly a house but also seemed to be a home.
Soon, the first three performers — pianist Rick Roe, bassist Kurt Krahnke and drummer Sean Dobbins — entered the living room and made their way to the stage. They shook hands with the people in the front row, even giving some of them hugs. There was a general air of community. Then Roe counted them off, and on they went. In a flurry of well-rehearsed invention, the group displayed their mastery of the instruments and of cohesion. Exchanging smiles and glances, they soared through tune after tune, barely stopping for a breath.
About halfway through the show, the band ceased their incredible medley, and Dobbins addressed the audience for the first time, inviting Ron Brooks, the father of Ann Arbor jazz, to the stage. Giving a brief introduction for the man everyone in the audience already seemed to know, they then began another set of songs with the legendary bassist at their side. Brooks welcomed the crowd into the performance, smiling with them, laughing with them, even singing along to his instrument. The music was a perfect blend of familiarity yet inventiveness, nostalgia yet passion — it made you want to cry and dance at the same time. The music perfectly encapsulated the venue: intimate with an air of excitement.
The concert concluded with a Q&A for Brooks in which he described his time in Ann Arbor. He opened the first jazz club in Ann Arbor, called The Bird of Paradise, hosting numerous soon-to-be jazz stars, from the Count Basie Orchestra to Dizzy Gillespie. He said his goal was to give jazz to the next generation, and he succeeded. Dobbins admitted to missing many first hours due to his frequent visits to the club when he was in high school. And now he’s an accomplished drummer playing with the very musicians who inspired him in the first place.
The Brooks Tribute Concert not only introduced some truly incredible jazz music, but it also revealed a legacy in Ann Arbor. This community, audience members and jazz artists alike, have all found a home in music, and a lot of that is thanks to Brooks. During his time in Ann Arbor and at The Bird of Paradise, Brooks fostered a community musicians and music lovers, and formed lasting bonds with that community. The Kerrytown Concert House not only displayed this community beautifully, but conveyed the home jazz found within their very own house. Ann Arbor jazz has a rich history and a thriving community even today. As long as the new generation finds their place in jazz, or the Kerrytown Concert House, the community will never die and the music will never stop.