SPECIAL DETROIT MOMENTS
New stories will be added to this section as we go. In Detroit, I met many wonderful musicians and friends, these stories are my "special Detroit moments".
As a little boy of eight or nine, I saw Billie Holiday with my mother who took me to the Paradise Theatre to see Billie perform with a big band. But I never thought I would see her as a person up close. Then when I was eighteen or nineteen, my friend Mouse Kattes, who was the doorman at the Flame Show Bar, snuck me in and put me next to the dressing room. From that perch I watched Billie come off the stage with her pianist Mal Waldron and said hello to both of them and shook their hands. This was near the end of her life and although she tried her best to smile, I could see her sadness.
Back in the 50s the Blue Bird Inn was THE jazz club in Detroit. I played there, everybody played there when they could. And that’s where I met Bill Evans. He came to Detroit with Miles, Trane, Paul Chambers- the “Kind of Blue” group. When my wife Shirley and I arrived between sets, Bill was standing at the door it seemed almost in tears. I thought Bill was banned from the dressing room and was afraid to go out into the street alone because of the racial tension. So I saw the situation and said, “You need a drink,” and took him to the bar.
I was impressed with Bill’s playing on “Kind of Blue” with piano notes out of tune and how he used them.
The next time we saw each other was years later in New York. By chance we met at the home of a studio pianist who had given his key to my alto sax friend and we were soon surprised to hear Bill opening the door with his key. We were playing and Bill joined us. Bill sat down to my right and together we fooled around on this Steinweg (an early version of Steinway).
I’ve always been after an orchestral sound like Bill Evans.
I first met Geri Allen when Marcus Belgrave picked me up from the airport returning to Detroit and insisted on taking me to hear his great new student Geri Allen. “You’ve got to come and hear one of my students-she’s playing at a club next to Wayne University.” She was finishing the set when we walked in and she came up to Marcus and me and said, “Hello, Mr. Lightsey,” with tears rolling down her cheeks.