Sunday, September 13, 2009

Detroit- The Motown Museum

It didn't hit me until we were in the makeshift theater that I was actually sitting in the building where all the classic Motown singles were made. The room was clearly a converted recording studio room, with walls built specifically to accentuate or deflect sound bouncing around the room. So who knows who once stood where I was sitting?

On Saturday morning, Dr. Jazz, a Detroit jazz promoter affiliated with the Detroit International Jazz Festival, charted a van for anyone who wanted to get the tour of the Motown Museum, which is located at 2648 West Grand Boulevard - the same place where the music was recorded. The neighborhood looks like a regular residential area that just happens to have a building with "Home of the Hits" written in script above its front windows. The guys who were giving the tour were really good, too, offering a lot of information without bogging it down with long lists of names or song titles, or just zapping the life out of the history. They really did a good job of letting you know how Berry Gordy started this enterprise, how he kept it going and how the music sounded so good. In other words, they let you know why you should care.

Studio A was the last stop on the tour, which makes sense because that's the most compelling place in the building. That's where all the recordings were done. And there are nearly lifesize pictures on the wall of Stevie Wonder and the Supremes at sessions, so naturally the tour guide (somehow "docent" doesn't seem appropriate at this museum) made some of the ladies do a Supremes formation, some of the guys do the Temps and one of the kids do a Stevie Wonder head wave right in the spots where the originals did it. Group participation usually isn't cool on a tour, but again, there's no tour like this one.

Best line of the tour: Q: What do you call a singer who can't do the Temptations dance? A: A Four Top.

Among the people on this tour, along with me and Jordy, was Ashley Kahn, who among other things wrote the book A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane's Signature Album. And a book about Miles Davis' Kind of Blue. And one about Impulse Records. And he writes for JazzTimes. This is the man I want to be.

Of course I didn't tell him that when I introduced myself. Or any other time over the weekend. I tried to play it cool. So the cat's out of the bag if he finds this.

He was nice enough to take my picture a couple times in front of the museum. I foolishly didn't bring my camera so all I had was my cellphone. I thought the lint that's all over the lense created that Penthouse look, but I actually think it's the sun coming over the building. The second one looks better. After he took this one below, Ashley deadpanned, "You know you're five minutes late for work." Mr. Gordy's gonna whup me.
Then it was back to the hotel and back to the festival.

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