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Various Artists: Birmingham Jazz Festival, the Early Years, 1960, Volume 1

We’re not talking about the Birmingham in Alabama or across the pond in England; this is the upscale hamlet just outside of Detroit. And we’re focusing on the geodesic dome in Shain Park, where a noble experiment was launched 43 years ago. City fathers recruited native Detroiter Dave Usher to produce a Birmingham Jazz Festival, hoping to utilize his experience and contacts as a record producer.

During the ’50s, Usher joined with Dizzy Gillespie to found Dee Gee Records and later became jazz A&R man for Argo/Chess, producing such artists as Ahmad Jamal and James Moody. In 1960, as impresario, he managed to put together an eclectic package that included pianist Junior Mance; harmonica player and guitarist “Toots” Thielemans, drummer J. C. Heard, tenor saxophonist Sandy Mosse and vibist Lem Wincheste. Among the lesser-known, mostly local players were pianists Bess Bonnier and Johnny Griffith, bassist Nick Fiore and drummer Dick Riordan. They appeared in various configurations and results were predictably uneven.

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