Baker's Keyboard swings into a new era

A new era kicked off this weekend at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge with new owners Hugh W. Smith III and Eric Whitaker officially taking over. It was good news back a few months ago when the venerable jazz institution – and not just for the Detroit as the oldest jazz club in the nation, and most likely the world – landed in the hands of professed jazz lovers attracted to the history at the intersection of Livernois and 8 Mile. The club, which has improbably survived so long, was last rescued by John Colbert back in 1996, but in recent years the club lost momentum and mojo – the recession and a couple of other major blows led to a bankruptcy sale; Smith and Whitaker were the winning bidders for a reported $395,000.

Smith told us to watch for improvements to come at the club – in keeping with its history, he emphasized. And he hinted at some surprises to come on the marquee. And the entertainment offerings for the weekend had the three legs that you’d expect to be keys to success, two generations of local cats (up-and-coming Dave Sharp on Friday and veteran Johnny Trudell on Saturday) and the national attraction on Sunday of LA pianist Mike Melvoin and vocalist (also actress) Theresa Russell.

We caught  Trudell on Saturday, in fine form, with a band including George Benson on sax, Ray Tini on bass and Chuck Chuck Shermetaro on piano. Johnny kept reminding the audience, appropriately, of the club’s history and praise for the new owners poised to continue it. And his band connected to the past – classics by Diz and Bird, Herbie Hancock, the Crusaders – with an interpretive verve that made one optimistic about the future.

It's not exactly a dance club, but Trudell brought some folks to their feet Saturday.


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