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Best of Detroit 2003 

He’s been a Big Apple sensation for more than a decade, but his hometown still figures into saxophonist James Carter’s major successes. Last year, he crossed the jazz-classical divide with panache, performing with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in “Concerto for Saxophones,” commissioned for the occasion from composer Roberto Sierra. He reprises the concerto with the DSO on Oct. 16-18 as part of the gala inaugural month for the new Max M. Fisher Music Center. And in early 2004, Warner Bros. releases the first of two volumes of all-star Carter sessions cut at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge in Detroit. In November, Columbia releases Carter’s Gardenias For Lady Day. An homage to Billie Holiday, it’s his label debut, his first release in three years and his first recording with strings; typical of Carter projects, fellow Detroiters are prominently featured.

When he’s back in town, which is often, Carter is likely to jam with the cats at Baker’s and Bert’s Marketplace, which he considers two of the best things about Detroit, along with the new SerenGeti Ballroom. Why does a star jam? “Public practice never stops,” says Carter. “There’s always something new to learn and somebody new to meet musically.”

A jazzy dresser, he has plaudits for the Broadway in downtown Detroit, Fashion International in Southfield and Rags, a former Fairlane shop he tells us is relocating downtown. For dining, he gives a big thumbs-up to the Rattlesnake Club in Detroit, Joe’s Crab Shack in Sterling Heights, and BD’s Mongolian Barbecue in Royal Oak.

Back to main index of Best of Detroit — A character study

The co-owner of Young Soul Rebels record store and label (which will release the vinyl LP version of Detroit band Slumber Party’s latest album, 3) can be found many nights holding court on the downtown bar scene. In fact, that’s one of his fave things about the city.

“I’ll just say, ‘the bar’ — meaning the Garden Bowl, the Bronx and Lager House,” says the ever-gregarious Buick. “I like the idea of the collective ‘bar.’ I love going out and having all the people who are there and who work there be friends of mine.”

When not tipping an elbow, though, Buick’s likely relaxing at his home in Detroit’s Woodbridge neighborhood.

“I love my house. I love Woodbridge — and I think most people would agree with me,” he laughs.

“It’s a big ol’ house that I feel comfortable in, and I like the fact that I can sit in my back yard and play with my dog and hear nothing but crickets. There’s always pheasants in my back yard. It’s like living on a farm in the middle of the city.”

It also helps that he’s convinced that the ghost of a member of the Stroh family who was murdered in the house is somehow on hand to watch over things.

Of course, life can’t be a 50-50 split betwixt shut-in and night-owl. So it is that Buick’s third spot in his 313 trifecta is a lonely softball field under the Ambassador Bridge where he and his pals partake in the occasional pick-up game. “It was, at one point, a weekly league of people that had no business playing softball.”

“It’s right under the bridge. It’s a sweet place and no one messes with you,” he says, sounding as close as he ever gets to wistful.

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As characters go, few are as full-blown as Chuck Costa. A native of Malta, he’s been in Detroit since 1951, with his paint store on Grand River housed in a sprawling building that dates to 1875. “Custer was fighting the Indians when this place was built,” he says with a grin. Described in a newspaper article as “the king of clutter,” he has an office packed with antiques and oddities — a replica of a suit of armor more than 11 feet tall, a slot machine, a toy Ferris wheel to name just a few; the walls are covered with signed photographs from celebrities such as Robert Goulet and Kenny Rogers to politicians of all stripes — Ronald Reagan, Hillary Clinton, Dennis Archer.

The Archer photos are particularly interesting, seeing as how Costa once ran against him. He also took on Coleman Young, and last ran against Kwame Kilpatrick. His latest project is an attempt to construct a $5 million memorial along the Detroit River commemorating the World Trade Center. In addition to a show of patriotism, Costa sees the effort as a way of creating much-needed jobs. Given his passion for economic development, it’s not surprising that he lists the Port of Detroit as one of the best things about his adopted city.

“This is a major international port,” he says. “Most people don’t have any idea how many ships go through here.” He’s right about the port’s economic impact. According to the most recent statistics, more than 17 million tons of cargo pass through the port annually.

Costa is a bingo fanatic, playing seven days a week. And his favorite place to play? “Windsor,” he smiles. “All the guards on both sides of the border know me.”

Back to main index of Best of Detroit — A character study

Stacey Thomas is a thief. A good one. What she steals is the ball. From opponents. Which is one of the reasons her team, the Detroit Shock, is one game away from the WNBA championship at press time — after spending the previous season dwelling in the league’s cellar.

A product of Flint Southwestern Academy (are they putting something in the water in Flint to produce so many fine basketball players?), she attended the University of Michigan, where she set a Big Ten Conference career steals record. She also became the Wolverines’ all-time leading rebounder and fourth all-time leading scorer. In her fifth season as a pro, she has earned a reputation as a fierce defender.

She also has a fondness for banana pudding. As for her “Best Of” choices, the Somerset Mall tops the list of her favorite places to shop.

“I have long arms and am muscular, so sometimes it is hard to find shirts that fit,” she explains. “but I can always walk away with something I like from Somerset.”

One of her fondest memories of Detroit is attending the annual Thanksgiving Day parade as a kid.

“I always looked forward to that,” she says. “It was usually freezing cold, but the atmosphere was very exciting.”

Back to main index of Best of Detroit — A character study 18-20 THU-SAT • MUSIC Frank Pahl — He could be Thelonious Folk, Bric-a-Brac Bacharach, Awry Cooder. When he gets his automatons going, he is our hometown Rube Goldberg of roots music. Frank Pahl is eccentrically shindigging for three nights to celebrate two new recordings. On The Mayor of the Tennessee River, on PelPel Recordings, he helps the Shaking Ray Levis back-up the monologist and NPR commentator David Greenberger. The Back of Beyond is Frank as a leader (of other musicians, of automatons, sometimes of just his multitracked lonesome) on Japan’s Novel Cell Poem label. This week’s collaborators include guitarists Eric Gustafson (Brothers Groove) and Carl Michael, synthesizer improviser Dennis Palmer (Chattanooga’s Shaking Ray Levis), the Scavenger Quartet and Terror at the Opera; Jeffery Steiger delivers opening monologues Thursday and Friday. Thursday, Sept. 18, at Kerrytown Concert House, 415 N. Fourth Ave., Ann Arbor, call 734-769-2999. Friday and Saturday, Sept. 190-20, at Detroit Art Space Gallery, 101 E. Baltimore, Detroit; call 313-664-0445.

19-21 FRI-SUN • MUSIC Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival — It’s a stripped-down, indoors fest this year, but intense nonetheless. Randy Weston — a towering talent who makes the piano sing and shout — makes his first area appearance in something like 20 years by appearing Friday and Saturday at the Bird of Paradise (312 S. Main, shows at 8:30 and 10 p.m., call 734-662-8310). Deborah Coleman, one of the hottest blues guitar slingers on the scene, is at the Firefly Club on Friday (207 S. Ashley, shows at 9 and 11 p.m., call 734-665-8310). Also at the Firefly: the Easy Street Jazz Band for a 5-8 p.m. happy hour on Friday; Brazil and Beyond on Saturday at 9 p.m. (expect some of their crafty samba-style Beatles material), and the Praying Hands Gospel Choir for a Sunday gospel brunch at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. For more information, call the clubs or check

20 SAT • ART Rona Pondick: A Fifteen Year Survey — More than 15 works cover a broad spectrum here, including two room-size installations and an outdoor exhibit. Pondick’s most recent pieces are fascinating hybrid sculptures that fuse human and animal forms. "Pondick merges traditional casting techniques with 21st century digital technologies to achieve uncanny results," says Joe Houston, curator of exhibitions at Cranbrook Art Museum. In one of her most unsettling pieces, Monkeys, Pondick scans her own body using rapid-prototyping computer technology and melds her form with the forms of primates. (We could joke about monkeying around, but we won’t.) At the Cranbrook Art Museum (39221 N. Woodward Ave, Bloomfield Hills). Call 877-462-7262 for more information.


20 SAT • PERFORMANCE ART Liquid Silver — Detroit's performance-art Pied Piper is saying goodbye with a final blowout this weekend. A flamboyant and well-known presence in the downtown Detroit arts scene, Ziam has been throwing Liquid Silver events for 10 years. What’s a Liquid Silver event? Well, this weekend’s production is expected to include a host of models from over the years (beautiful people from the streets of Detroit), a bright display of Ziam’s funky, found-art costuming and fashion design, as well as his signature songs. Some of his shows have blown our socks off, others have been less than stellar, but we have a sneaking suspicion this one will be worth catching — especially if you’ve never seen one. The lovely Sky Covington is the opening act, so we’re expecting her classic lounge singing. The show is supposed to start at 10 p.m., but bring your patience just in case. Tickets are $20 at the door, $15 advance. At the Metropolitan Center for Creative Arts, 6911 E. Lafayette, Detroit. Call 313-259-3200 for more information.

21 SUN • MUSIC Pavarotti Farewell Concert — Speaking of goodbyes, Luciano Pavarotti has been performing since he was 5 years old, and at 67, he says he’s looking forward to some time off. Of course, with a talent the size of his, the international victory lap is to last until 2005. We could recount career highlights of this one-third of the Three Tenors. We could wax about how became known as the "King of the High C’s" with one stellar 1972 performance. We’ll just agree that he deserves the rest. What is expected to be his last Detroit performance is at the Palace of Auburn Hills (2 Championship Drive, Auburn Hills). Call 248-645-6666 for information.

A Canadian politician once told me that if you put a frog in a pot of water and slowly increase the temperature a degree at a time, Mr. Hoppy would be completely cooked before he realized anything was wrong. I have no idea whether that is actually true for amphibians. But it does seem to be true for the American people.

Without exaggeration, George W. Bush, light blue tie, silly smirk and all, is the worst president this nation has ever had. Yes, I know my history. Richard Nixon was a nasty crook, Warren Harding was a slob, U.S. Grant’s administration was hugely corrupt, and James Buchanan failed to do anything to stop secession.

They were all bad, but nobody has done as much to ruin the nation and mess up the world as the reformed drunken frat boy whose daddy failed at the job before him.

You can’t blame the voters too much; most of them didn’t even want him. He had to be inserted into the Oval Office by right-wing partisans on the U.S. Supreme Court after the people narrowly chose Al Gore.

The wise men then predicted he would run a moderate, healing administration. Ha. Since day one, his government has worked hard, and largely successfully, to beggar the lower- and middle-classes for the benefit of large corporations, and nibble away at our civil liberties. Worst of all, he has gotten us into a senseless war with no end in sight with the wrong enemy in the wrong place at the wrong time.

We’re only beginning to reap the fruits of this disaster. I’ve been reading Daniel Ellsberg’s excellent memoir, Secrets, which is largely about how a succession of presidents got us into our Vietnam disaster without ever really understanding what they were doing. Dubya’s Iraq policy seems like déjà vu all over again, except worse. His crowd makes what we did in Vietnam seem reasonable. David Halberstam’s book on the men who got us into the Indochina quagmire was called The Best and the Brightest. Today’s headlines cry out for a sequel: The Worst and the Stupidest.

We apparently invaded Iraq for the same reason my dog lifts his leg on the neighbor dog’s tree. The two reasons given — that 1) Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction” and 2) was involved in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — have been revealed to be totally false.

Meanwhile, we have 127,000 soldiers stuck on the burning sands of Iraq. Every day, a few get shot in the back by local guerrillas who want us out of their country. Last week, we retaliated — and managed to kill 10 Iraqi policemen and a hospital worker. Nothing like winning the hearts and minds of the conquered — oops — liberated people.

During Vietnam, our policy was that we would go home if the North Vietnamese would stop trying to take over the South. What’s our policy in Iraq? Your guess is as good as mine, or Colin Powell’s.

George Bush, remember, once sneered at the idea of “nation-building.” Now he talks as if that is our most sacred honor and duty, and hints we’ll be there for years and years. Except blustering Donald Rumsfeld, his recycled defense secretary, doesn’t seem to agree. “I don’t believe it is our job to reconstruct the country,” he told the New York Times last week. “The Iraqi people themselves will have to.” That is, when and if their new masters — us — let them.

Without any doubt, Washington was totally unprepared for the aftermath of war, unprepared for everything from the need to prevent looting to — oh, yeah — set up a new government. Most of all, they never imagined that the Iraqi people, no matter what they thought of thuggish Saddam, would see us as occupiers.

Which they do. The United Nations would take things over if we were wise enough to allow it. But for whatever reason (Oil? Pride? Worry Iraq might get a government it wanted?) the administration says no. So our men sit in the sand and are shot. And this costs, they say, $5 billion a month.

How much is that? Well, if you made a million dollars a year, it would take you until the year 7003 to reach $5 billion. The actual cost is probably higher.

Incidentally, the nation’s finances went from enormous surpluses in 2001 to the largest budget deficit in history this year. That has huge consequences for our future, starting with the interest and inflation rates. You might suppose all this would mean the president’s gang would be willing to at least postpone more tax cuts for the rich.

Not on your life. Yet today the Shrub is a heavy favorite for re-election, mainly because one shrewd band of terrorists hijacked four airplanes two years ago, and he has talked tough since and blamed them for everything from sunspots to hip hop. Next year, we do have our one chance to fire him. We don’t have to do so, of course. After all, as they used to say in the boardroom at Enron, the next four years could be really interesting.


Now for a good Texan: Jim Hightower, populist, former elected Texas official and nationally syndicated radio host, author, and damn funny storyteller, appears next Wednesday night, Sept. 24, at 7 p.m. at the Centre for the Arts on Southfield Road in Southfield. He plans to explain “if we’re the world’s strongest nation, how come we have such a puny health care system?” Admission is free, but the sponsor, the Michigan Alliance to Strengthen Social Security and Medicare, can use all the donations they can get. They are, in fact, so desperate that when they needed someone to introduce him, they were forced to resort to asking me.

Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines “character” as “one of the attributes or features that make up and distinguish an individual.” Also, as “the complex of mental and ethical traits marking and often individualizing a person, group or nation.” And finally, as “a person marked by notable and conspicuous traits.”

“The Best of Detroit 2003” is subtitled “A character study.” It’s all about character.

We’ve selected a cross section of individuals marked by notable and conspicuous traits and asked them to share their stories and provide a few of their own personal “Best of Detroit” selections. Their responses — from favorite nightclubs and restaurants to neighborhoods, community organizations and sports idols — are reflections of themselves, and of the character of this place we call Detroit.

The cast — 16 characters in all — has been beautifully photographed by Chris Gustafson, a Dearborn native who now resides in Redford. He has no formal photography training, but since winning the top prize in Metro Times’ 2002 Photo Contest, Gustafson has completed numerous assignments for the publication, including eight covers. (His Web site is Gustafson’s renderings leave little doubt — the guy’s a character.

Kelly Brown
David and Matt Lee
James Carter
Chuck Costa
'Papa Joe' Zainea
Louis E. Jones
Dave Buick
Jeremy Harvey
Stacey Thomas
Devin Scillian
Elena Herrada
John Conyers
Mick Collins

Goods & Services
What to get and where to get it.

Best Food
Sooner or later, you have to eat.

Best Nightlife
Where to go when you don’t want to stay home.

Best Civic Pride
Every day in every way, we are getting better and better.

Readers’ Picks
You called ’em, we counted ’em.

Worst of the Best
You can’t be serious — or are you?

Previous Winners

(Sorry, no information is currently available for other years in this same award category.)

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