Northwestern at 100 – Part One

image1Last weekend I went home to host my high school’s centennial celebration. I booked a flight to get me there early Friday afternoon and to return really early Sunday morning. The trip to Detroit, my beloved hometown, didn’t start without a hitch. After boarding, we were told the 8:40AM flight was in a “20 minute delay.” At 9, the captain says they were going to need another half hour to fix the problem.

The tuna fish sandwich I brought with me and ate an hour and a half earlier was ready to go so I went to the nearest bathroom smack dab in the middle of the plane. While taking care of business, I heard the announcement that we had to deplane. Great. When I opened the door, the aisle was packed with folks lined up. The half dozen or so poor bastards nearest the bathroom got a nose full of tuna funk. One lady attempted to go in after me but didn’t last two seconds.

My youngest sister lived closest to the airport and was going to scoop me up, but when my arrival time became rush hour, she had to bail because that type of traffic gives her panic attacks. My oldest sister picked me up and drove me to her home in Royal Oak, a northern suburb. She lives near the Comedy Castle, a club I worked once 20 years ago. This was a new location so we stopped by and I went in to check out the new space, and see if anyone I knew was working there Friday night. The room looked great and I recognized many of the comics lining the wall in the hall. However, nobody I knew was performing that night.

Through Facebook I knew there was a pre-gala event at Bert’s, an old-school bar/soul food restaurant/lounge and my sis allowed me to borrow her car to drive down and hang out. I suspect there aren’t too many places left like Bert’s. Situated directly across from Farmers Market, it sprawled across several buildings. In one section, they held dance lessons, and another was the Motown Room.
Northwestern was supposed to meet in the lounge area where they had live entertainment. I sat near the stage and ordered a chicken wing plate with collards and mac & cheese. It wasn’t long before the drummer came to the microphone to announce the beginning of their set. Leading off with a Clifford Brown tune, I was impressed right away with the musicality coming from this mostly youngish group. A baritone sax player sat at a table near us with his horn, patiently waiting his turn. On stage with the drummer was the keyboard player, the elder of the group. Between the drums and keyboard was another young player with his upright bass.

A guitar player sat just offstage delivering his low-key contributions. The trumpet player was maybe the youngest but played with an old soul. After several tunes, the bari player took his solo. I was blown away by his energy, which he held in check the entire time he sat waiting. His eyes were wide and his face lit up like a Christmas tree while he played. He blew fast and strong as if he knew heaven was just on the other side of his solo.

Part 2

William Stephenson


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