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Straight Ahead at Detroit Jazz Fest, 5 Things To Know

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

Posted: Saturday, September 1, 2018

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Straight Ahead made big news more than 30 years ago as an all-female jazz group out of Detroit.

And it's doing the same thing today.

Group members Regina Carter, Marian Hayden, Gayelynn McKinney and Eileen Orr, along with newcomer Alina Morr, have joined forces to play as Straight Ahead once again -- back in February at the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe in Grosse Pointe Woods and on Saturday, Sept. 1, as part of the 39th Annual Detroit Jazz Festival. The troupe will celebrate a legacy of breaking ground over the course of four albums and international performances, making music that sounds as fresh and impressive now as it did back in the 80s and 90s...

The Straight Ahead members voice surprise that it's been more than three decades since the group started -- and 25 since this configuration last played together. "When (jazz festival chief) Chris Collins first said that, I was like, 'What? Wait a minute -- he's wrong,'" Carter, 51, says by phone. "Then I started counting back, and he was right. Y'know, you blink your eyes and all that time has passed. It's scary. It didn't feel like that long at all. When we got together it definitely wasn't awkward; It felt like if anything it had been a couple of months."

The February show at the Dirty Dog was a good warm-up for the jazz festival, according to Carter. "It was fun. I'm glad we had a chance to do it. It was a good way to get used to playing together again. It felt natural to come back together; It felt like no time had passed. I came back home maybe two weeks ago just to rehearse again and it was nice 'cause it reminded me of the old days when we'd get together three, four, five days a week to play. It's really good."

Straight Ahead is one of the festival acts that has committed to paying some sort of tribute to the late Aretha Franklin -- appropriate since some of the members have worked with Franklin over the years. "I did a couple of gigs with her way back, with a string quartet" Carter recalls. "There was one at her house with a big band and strings; It was a private party and she had a chef downstairs and she was cooking upstairs, very down-home. I recorded on 'A Rose Is Still a Rose,' which Lauryn Hill produced, but (Franklin) wasn't in the studio. I know we all have to leave, but when you grow up with someone who's the soundtrack of your life, it's hard."

Being an all-female group wasn't necessarily a mission for Straight Ahead, Carter says. "I don't know if that was a thought in the beginning, even. When it got together I know they wanted an all-female band, for whatever reason. Sometimes people would say, 'Oh, it's a gimmick to have,' but the band really worked hard and were serious musicians. It wasn't just about being an all-girl band; We were serious musicians who just happened to be women. There's not that many role models, and history has forgotten about so many of them. When people would even try to say it was gimmicky, no, we can play. Why is an all-woman band a gimmick and an all=male band isn't? People hear it and go, 'Oh, they can really play.' But we had a lot of support from fans and other musicians. People who knew, they knew it was for real."

Straight Ahead isn't committing to anything beyond the jazz festival yet. "We haven't gotten that far," Carter says. "I think we're just like, 'Let's see what this is gonna be.' We just have to see. Sometimes just doing a reunion concert is where it should stop -- sometimes. We just haven't talked about it. We want to enjoy playing the festival together. If anything more happens it has to be natural and organic."

If You Go:

Straight Ahead 25th Anniversary Reunion at the 39th Annual Detroit Jazz Festival

5:15 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 1.

Carrhartt Amphitheater Stage, Hart Plaza.

Admission is free. VIP packages are available.

Visit detroitjazzfest.org.

Also: Straight Ahead members will participate in a panel discussion at 2:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 3, in the Jazz Talk Tent at the festival.

Web Site: www.detroitjazzfest.org

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