Back in the Detroit groove

"Although we're jazz lovers who love live music in clubs and concert halls, we got tired of having to hear what's essentially an intimate art form in a cavernous space. Or worse yet, in a smoky club with drunks and loud talkers who distracted from the music." So says Andrew Rothman, who, along with his wife Diane, came up with a solution to their qualms three years ago — namely, presenting live jazz concerts in the comfort of their own West Bloomfield living room.

Home concerts are hardly a new idea; houses around the country have been hosting them for years. In the pop world, both Carole King and Pat DiNizio of the Smithereens have done national "living room" tours. But the Rothmans would like the idea to become even more popular.

Andrew got introduced to the "living room" concept about nine years ago. As a gift for his 40th birthday, his mother and wife hired the Bill Heid Trio to perform at the Rothman house, making it Andrew's most cherished musical memory. Years later, though, an incident at a Pontiac jazz club got Andrew and Diane thinking seriously about doing home concerts regularly. It was supposed to be a special evening out to see Andrew's favorite pianist, Tommy Flanagan. It was the first time they ever saw Flanagan live, but the evening was a big disappointment because people were talking loudly throughout the show.

The Rothmans are what you might describe as a quintessential upper-middle-class suburban couple. Andrew, 49, is a health care attorney; Diane, 50, owns an advertising firm. Married for 22 years, they have two children. Andrew's been a jazz enthusiast since discovering Miles Davis' music as a kid growing up in Oak Park. He studied classical piano and dreamed of becoming a musician, but ended up studying fine arts when he didn't get accepted to music school. Diane's taste in music is more eclectic, including classic rock, opera and country, in addition to jazz. She admits that — although she's assisted her husband in organizing these concerts and has become friends with many jazz musicians as a result — Andrew is the family's true jazzbo.

After weighing the pros and cons of using their home as a concert hall, the Rothmans hosted their first show, presenting pianist Jessica Williams in front of 30 invited guests. The gig was a hit, so they immediately scheduled another, one featuring pianist Steve Kuhn. They even named the series: "The Detroit Groove Society."

"We felt that we had to be more professional and organized after the success of the first show because we wanted other topflight musicians to take what we were doing seriously," Diane says.

Since then, they've hired such in-demand national and local jazz musicians as pianists George Cables, Bill Mays, Cedar Walton and Bill Charlap, as well as vocalist Pattie Wicks, guitarist Mark Elf and bassist Paul Keller. A trio composed of drummer Sean Dobbins, pianist Tad Weed and bassist Kurt Krahnke just completed a live recording at the house this past month.

Bassist Keller has been doing home concerts around the country for years and says the gigs are a welcome change.

"These concerts are a breath of fresh air, literally, for musicians who generally play in rooms where the music is not necessarily the main focus of the evening," Keller says. "Andy and Diane's civilized approach to these relaxed but special events make the concerts fun for the musicians as well as the listeners."

The musicians are paid a guaranteed flat fee of $1,200 plus 100 percent of whatever cover charge. They're also given a recording of the concert to do with as they please. And to make the musicians' time in town really worthwhile, the Rothmans arrange for the musicians to have gigs at other venues, such as the Firefly Club and Kerrytown Concert House.

The Rothman's ultimate goal is to get even more couples involved in hosting home concerts. So far, one of their friends has hosted two local shows, including saxophonist Javon Jackson's Super Band.

The Rothmans' shows are $50 for national acts, $35 for locals; advance tickets required; reservations can be made by e-mailing [email protected]

Charles Latimer is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]
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