Very live at Baker’s

One guy was crying, the other rejoicing, and jazz swung on this month at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge.

Clarence Baker, whose name has been synonymous with classy jazz for more than half a century, received the last payment on a promissory note in exchange for the deed to the club.

“He was in tears, and I was in joy,” said John Colbert who took over club operations five years ago, along with his partner Juanita Jackson. “He was Baker’s. He realized for the first time … it dawned on him it was gone.”

Colbert, a retired Detroit Police lieutenant, recalled the horror stories that he and Jackson heard at the outset. Heck, the club had changed hands more than once before, with Baker coming back as would-be successors faltered. Seeing Baker’s continue as a jazz club was always a major concern.

Colbert recalls a rocky beginning, but with good food, a strong roster of Detroit jazz masters, plenty of jam sessions and a no-cover policy, the club has thrived.

As if to cap the changing of the guard, Colbert has his biggest event next month as saxophone star James Carter records live June 14-16. Plans for Sonny Rollins fell through, but saxophonists David Murray and Franz Jackson are being discussed. (There won’t be a cover, but it will be invitation-only.)

Carter is a club regular, stopping by to jam whenever he’s in town, said Colbert. In fact, Colbert added, “He grew up in this club.”

And under Colbert and Jackson, plenty of other Detroit jazz musicians (and fans) are getting the opportunity to do the same.

MT managing editor W. Kim Heron contributed to Hot & Bothered, which is edited by MT arts editor George Tysh
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