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Dorthaan Kirk: A Life in Jazz

Interview with WBGO's jazz ambassador

Dorthaan Kirk and the mayor of East Orange, NJ, at the unveiling of "Rahsaan's star" on the East Orange Walk of Fame. Photo by Johanna Fee.
Dorthaan Kirk

For many of us, Dorthaan Kirk is the face of WBGO—a tireless ambassador for the country’s largest jazz station and for the music. Her official title is special events and community relations coordinator, but her work history runs deep; she was a founding member of the station 34 years ago, not long after the death of her husband, multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk. You’ll read about that in her own words. Her “Service ” work, originating and continuing to book and oversee Jazz Vespers at Bethany Baptist Church for more than twelve years, is purely a labor of love—for her church and for the music. And that has grown and sprouted some wonderful offshoots, the most recent one is her own room! Dorthaan’s Place in NJPAC will host jazz brunch beginning in October, monthly to start but more often as it develops into an event! But well before Dorthaan arrived on the East Coast, she was part of an informal network of families that opened their doors and dining rooms to traveling jazz artists—welcoming places where a home-cooked meal could always be counted on.

Dorthaan Kirk: Music has always been part of my life. I grew up in Texas—Houston—and so you know there was blues. I heard jazz, blues, big-band music, even country and western. We didn’t separate the music into categories back then. I liked Dolly Parton, the Coasters, Lightnin’ Hopkins—he’s from Texas, you know. These were some of the popular people of my generation. Music was in the neighborhood, you didn’t have to leave your neighborhood to hear music. Maybe, if it was a huge concert you wanted to go to, you might go downtown to this big theatre called, I think, the Auditorium. But the music was all over: little bitty clubs, not so little clubs, bigger clubs. Of course, just like kids do now, my friends and I would get smuggled in to hear the music if we weren’t old enough.

I moved to LA to go to LA City College when I was just 17 years old. I thought I was all grown up! The first time I heard Miles Davis was around then, at the Crenshaw Theatre, at Adams and Crenshaw. It’s probably gone now. Shows used to start at 2 a.m. after the clubs closed and that’s when I heard him perform.

I had a little job after school making 90 cents an hour. I was rich! So I hung out, went to hear the music with friends. Everything was cheaper—cigarettes were 17 cents a pack; gasoline was something like that a gallon. We were just having fun. I didn’t try to meet the musicians at that time. I just enjoyed the music; I don’t even recall who the sidemen were with Miles. We didn’t really notice who was who—the headliner was most important to us when we were just young kids having fun. That was who we went to see, party to, or whatever. It wasn’t till my years with Rahsaan that I had any clue about any sidepersons.

As the time passed, I got more and more of an appreciation of the music. But then, I used to just love to go out and “throw down” to the Impressions, the Coasters, groups like that. We did the whole thing. That was when we were partying back. But as the years went past, and I don’t even know when it happened—I got an appreciation.

People used to categorize different kinds of jazz: east coast jazz and west coast jazz. The east coast jazz was also called progressive jazz. I don’t know if you’ve heard about that separation but that’s the way it was. That is probably why I don’t ever remember John Coltrane coming to LA. But Miles came, and Rahsaan was in LA all the time, and they were in the “progressive” category. Heck, if Rahsaan hadn’t been in LA all the time, I wouldn’t be here talking to you. Of course, I know there were a lot of people coming through LA that I never saw there. Like Mingus, or Dexter. I don’t remember ever hearing Ernie Andrews in LA, but that was maybe because he was on the road with Harry James. I didn’t have an east coast/west coast preference. If you liked it, you liked it.

Long story short, whatever kids do now, go out to hear the music they like, that’s just what we did. There were a lot of musicians who came through Los Angeles in the late ’60s, early ’70s. I’d go to the Palladium to see big concerts—Creed Taylor would do these dates at the Palladium, have maybe George Benson as the headliner, but would add somebody like Freddie Hubbard and some other big names on the concert. He would record those concerts and switch up leaders on the records so that different leaders would have records from the same concert date.

And I’d go to the small clubs too. Wednesday nights, there was an organ player, Earl Grant, down at a little club on Figueroa Street, and I’m not usually into organ, but I liked that; I can see his face now. There was a little place on Western Avenue, Tiki Island, I saw Johnny Otis there for the first time. Marty’s was a good local club on Broadway, but it moved to a fancier place after the riots. I remember the day the riots started. I say that we initiated the riots, August 1966. Most of the stores were destroyed in the “Hood” and Marty’s moved to either Baldwin Park or…anyway, it was renamed Marty’s on the Hill. That’s where I first heard Carmen McRae; Horace Silver, too. Then there was Shelly’s Manhole in Hollywood…

When I met Rahsaan, I was still married to my first husband—and Rahsaan had nothing at all to do with our breakup. We went with our friends to the It Club on Washington Boulevard; it was 1963. I remember who was with Rahsaan because they were nuts! Vernon Martin, Jimmy Hopps, and Rahn Burton were in the group. Everybody wore suits back then.

A Home-Cooked Meal for Traveling Musicians

My first husband was from Baltimore and he was a big jazz listener. His buddies in LA were jazz fans too. We were part of a community of places that were hospitable to traveling musicians. Musicians knew they could come to this house or that house and get a good home-cooked meal—all over, in a lot of cities. We became one of those homes. I cooked. I have always liked to cook. And I had a husband and three little girls to cook for all the time, anyway. To this day, you’d think I had 25 children, I make a big Sunday dinner every week. Anyway, after we met Rahsaan, he became one of the artists who came around.

Rahsaan was different because he was so visual—even though he was sightless (he did not like the word “handicapped”). It was like “WOW!” So I got to know him. And the girls got to know him before we were all a family. He loved kids and ended up being like a father to my girls.

Moving East

Rahsaan and I moved East. I had a great job with the Department of Social Services in LA, pension plan, Rolls Royce health plan, raises every year, all that. They allowed me a year off, so I went wandering for that year with Rahsaan to test the waters. This was 1970 and I was still young, in my early 30s. My children were in Houston for the summer already with my mother when I made this decision, so they stayed with her and I visited them often. I kept my little stucco house in LA just in case and we started out in New York for a year.

Rahsaan had the idea that he could teach at a conservatory or his own music school and go on the road too. He felt he shouldn’t have to be on the road 365 days a year. Since most of the work was on the east coast, he’d have less traveling time by living there. At first he had his sights set on Boston—with Berklee and the conservatories there. But rent was sky high in Boston, and Rahsaan, who was very conservative in spending, thought that it was stupid to pay that much money to anybody for rent. While we were living in New York, we went down to Philly to see his friends Bill Carney and Trudy Pitts and they encouraged us to settle in Philly while Rahsaan made up his mind what he wanted to eventually do. Now, time was passing; I didn’t have my kids with me, going from New York to Texas and back, and it was a good idea to go there where expenses were cheaper and money went so much further—even though Rahsaan had resources and was very generous with us.

We found a house at 4714 Greene Street in Germantown, a pretty section of Philadelphia. $120 a month for a two-story three- (or was it four-) bedroom house-living room, dining room, kitchen, one and a half baths. That sounds so foreign, crazy. What if we made what we made now and the rents were that cheap? Wouldn’t the world be a better place? Anyway, I brought the children back from Texas to that house.

I hated Philly. Coming from the west to the east is a culture shock by itself. And Philly is even more of a culture shock than New York. I still get excited when I go to New York. It was just like you read about in the magazines back then. You say, Wow, this really exists. There isn’t any place like it. You know what I mean?

Philadelphia is old and dirty. I have since learned to appreciate it. But the projects, people stacked on top of each other, were a shock. Even in Watts there is grass, little shotgun houses, it’s not dirty like back east. In the east you’ve got people on the street. In LA and even Houston, everybody’s in cars, so they’re not making dirt on the streets. You don’t see dirt, you don’t see people. Still, today, when I go back to Houston, it’s a shock. Where are the people? We stayed in Philly 18 months and then moved to the house in East Orange, New Jersey, where I am today.

First Trip Overseas

So initially I had culture shock in the east. Like I had on my first trip to London. Rahsaan was booked there for six fricking weeks! I cried every day for the first two! I hadn’t fully adjusted to the east coast yet and here I was in London in winter. Rahsaan had a circuit of places he would be at certain times—and London was in the winter. People knew that’s when they could come and hear him there, every year or every 18 months. So we went in January 1970 or 71 and were going to be there until March!

Rahsaan had been there many times. He tried to warn me about the ways London was different, like in the hotel, he would say, “Don’t order bacon and eggs, it won’t be what you think.” Me being me, I ordered bacon and eggs. And everything went downhill from there. We went to an Angus Steakhouse. I had to fight with them to get the steak cooked like I wanted it. “No pink, no blood,” I’d say. And they’d just go, “Oh you Americans, you’ll ruin the meat. ” I was so frustrated. And that shepherd’s pie. But that’s their culture.

And the money! The year I went the first time, they were switching over from the shillings to the decimal system. That was a real test. You got this money that looks like play money but that’s what you’ve got to spend. So the first thing to figure out is the relationship between the old money and the new money—and then how much the whole thing is worth in American dollars. How much is a shilling? This all devastated me.

Now Rahsaan had it all down pat. He’d been going there since the mid-sixties. At first he came alone, playing with Tubby Hayes and different people. Eventually he got big enough to bring his own group. So for him it was like being in New York and he loved the money. The bills were all different sizes, and he could tell what was what. American bills are all the same sizes: 10-dollar bill, hundred-dollar bill, they’re all the same size.

I cried but I stayed. My ass was stuck. Rahsaan at first went with me everywhere I wanted to go. He paid so I didn’t have to deal with the money. Finally, one day, he said, “Look, lady,” that’s what he said when he was pissed at me. “Look, we’re going to be here for six weeks. I can’t go with you everywhere and neither can nobody else! So you’re going to have to figure all of this out. Here’s the money. You go downstairs and ask them to get you a taxi when you want to go out. Then you get back in a taxi when you want to come back. You are going to have to do that.”

I sat up and paid attention. “I got it from here. I can do this.” And I was ready the next time I went. I learned what to bring from home and what was good there. I brought my own toilet tissue the next time. I brought my own cigarettes—Rahsaan hated me smoking. And I discovered Indian food—it was good; we also went to an itty-bitty German soul food restaurant, they had this pork chop and German potato salad! We could have eaten at Ronnie Scott’s, of course, that was good; Joe was the cook’s name, but we would have had to wait till at least 11 o’clock to eat—Rahsaan didn’t go on till 10, I think, or 11. Who wants to wait that long to eat! I remember Blossom Dearie opened for Rahsaan at Ronnie Scott’s. That’s where I met her.

I got a lot of jazz history from going to record stores with Rahsaan. He would go to record stores literally every week, no exaggeration, and go through all the new releases. It didn’t matter whether we were home or in Colorado or Texas or England, we had to get to a record store. So obviously I had to read to him from the record covers. He wanted to know the name of the record, the leader, all the side persons, who wrote the liner notes, what did they say, what were the tunes. Everything. That was a nightmare, but guess what? It stuck with me. You’d be surprised what you would learn and not even know that you knew it until years later.

I met a lot of musicians. Artists of all kinds are different. They’re cool. I guess their minds work differently than ours. They are smart, maybe that’s why their minds are different: Musicians, visual artists, actors and actresses. I got to know some of that theatre crowd that used to hang out at Phoebe’s on Second Avenue because of one of Rahsaan’s dear friends in Chicago, Abena Joan Brown, who was very involved in African American theatre; Woody King had a Black theatre over in Soho, the New Federal Theatre, and Rahsaan’s friend established something like that in Chicago on the South Side. She would come to New York with the group a lot and we would hang out. That’s how I got to meet all those nuts over at Phoebe’s. They were so interesting, and absolutely fascinated me because they were really out there and I was just an average Joe. We became very good friends. And then there were The Last Poets, a group that used to come to see Rahsaan, very popular in the 1970s—into the Revolution. I don’t know where they are now. But I did not get involved in politics. There was no room for it. My life didn’t get directed there.

Taking Care of Business—Rahsaan’s Legacy

I did not concern myself with the business of music until Rahsaan died. I didn’t have anything to do with it except to collect receipts, and that’s the truth. Rahsaan was real old-fashioned, even though he was only 41 when he died. He looked like he was 60. He was an old soul—he had been here before. Some people have heard me say that and not known what to think. There’s a guy who performed at my church, Noel, he loved Rahsaan, and we would talk about him. He said to me, “There was just too much energy. He died so young because there was too much energy and brilliance to be contained in one body.” Nobody else ever said that. That’s heavy. Too much to be contained in one body. It is true.

Rahsaan used to say that he was misunderstood. People didn’t understand him. So he didn’t try. Even with me. There was stuff I would ask him and he wouldn’t even try to explain.

I was so mad at him! He died and my questions weren’t answered—neither the ones I was brave enough to ask him nor the ones I had in the back of my head to ask him that I never did ask. He could be really weird and not answer stuff. Like why did he break those chairs? In the early ’70s, he would break a chair at the end of every performance. Did you ever see him perform? His last song was always “Volunteer Slavery.” So hitting on the gong and all the musicians playing avant garde, the bassists and the drums, this wasn’t enough. He had to break a chair. I didn’t get it.

Well, the breaking of the chair had gotten to be a signature of sorts. Now some places had a lot of money at that time. The colleges had money. The kids could bring in jazz, rock, whatever they wanted. But other places did not. When Rahsaan broke the chair at Shelly’s Manhole, I remember Shelly made him pay $12 every time he did it.

I finally got the courage to ask him. “Why do you do that? What does that mean?” It was hard work to break chairs. Some of them were put together very well. And the college kids, this was back in the acid days, they would be screaming, freaking out. They got so frenzied, almost riotous. But when I asked him, he was like, “Oh, you wouldn’t understand.” He had a way of dismissing me. I hated that. I asked him one more time. “Is this your way of protesting the system?” Well, he didn’t answer me again. But Rahsaan would not have let me go around thinking something that wasn’t true. I assumed that was the right answer. I always wanted to do my own interview with him. I needed to know some answers.

Rahsaan was not afraid of dying. He would talk about dying very freely. He used to say that death was just another level of living or something like that. To me, no way. When you’re dead, you’re dead. I can still see Hilton Ruiz once, when he was 19 or 20 years old. We were on a plane, maybe a 747 or DC-8, a big plane, and there was a lot of turbulence. Hilton was all scared. He came up to sit by Rahsaan. Rahsaan was saying, “What’s the matter, brother? Everything’s going to be ok. If it go down, I just go down playing my flute.” He had an almost embracing attitude toward death. Whereas, me, it’s like, “Oh no, not ready!”

When I saw that his health was deteriorating and he’d made out a will leaving almost everything to me with certain stipulations, I would ask him, “Rahsaan, what about so and so with your music?” He used to say, “You’ll know what to do.” Yeah, it made me feel good that he had so much faith and trust in me to leave me with the music and the publishing , to protect his image and the music, even though I did not know a lot about the music and I’ve tried to live up to what he wanted or didn’t want.

Even though Rahsaan had health issues, the day he died it was the farthest thing from my mind. People live a long time on dialysis and with high blood pressure, issues like that. And even though he didn’t always do what the doctor told him to do, it didn’t seem like he was dying. It was a Monday, he died of a heart attack in the car on the way to the Indianapolis airport. We were going to Joe Siegel’s in Chicago. It was like, “I’m out of here.” Thirty years later his friend Joel Dorn—a week after I did the tribute to Rahsaan—also died of a heart attack in the middle of the day on a Monday not in the hospital (Joel was in his ophthalmologist’s office). That still creeps me out. So similar.

Ok, so he dies. And people come after me with this and that. Now Rahsaan early on had made me read This Business of Music—you know, with the brown cover, just so I would understand something about what was going on and why he wanted his own publishing company, which he did have, RoKir Music. I read it and I didn’t understand a darn thing. So I read it again. And again. It started making sense when he would go into the recording studio and record his music or someone else’s music; then I was living what the book was talking about. So I’d go back and read it again. Things aren’t a big deal unless you don’t understand them. Then they’re a big deal.

People wanted me to sign away this and that. Lease Rahsaan’s music. I could talk to the entertainment lawyers but the decisions were mine. And it wasn’t my music, even though it was mine now on paper. It was Rahsaan’s music. I have tried to do the right thing regardless of the money offered. And I was someone who could use some money. But when I didn’t know what to do, I did nothing. And you know what, that worked!

So I had some money. I wasn’t going to be homeless. My two younger daughters were in high school and my eldest was working at Bamberger’s. She had a baby who I looked after during the week. I sat home with my Yorkshire terrier, a Doberman and a grandbaby. By the way, that baby is 37 years old now. On weekends I went to New York to see friends. And I thought I would just spend the winter—Rahsaan died on December 5, 1977—figuring out what to do with myself.

I did that until February when Steve Robinson and Bob Drinkwater who were running the Vibration Society up in Boston called and started pestering me about what I was going to do. It had been a hard winter and there was still snow on the ground. “Leave me alone,” I kept saying. “It’s too soon.” Steve is out in Chicago now at WFME. He had done the Radio Free Rahsaan program with Rahsaan, so we were all friends. Well, he insisted on visiting me with Bob, wouldn’t listen to no.

WBGO Is Born-A New Chapter

Long story short, Steve, who is full of ideas to this day, had an idea that I should meet this guy Bob Ottenhoff who was starting a public radio station over in Newark. It wasn’t even a radio station yet. It was just a license. Well, I didn’t even know what public radio was, although I figured out later that Rahsaan must have been listening to public radio stations all along. He didn’t like commercial this and commercial that.

Steve insisted that I meet the guy and insisted to the guy that he hire me right then. It didn’t take any nudging. Bob said, “Ok.” Just like that. I was thinking, Hmm. I already know that Steve is crazy. This guy must be crazy too. But it really wasn’t that crazy. Steve knew that I knew every musician that existed back then; he knew that I knew all the record companies. Steve worked in public radio up in Boston so he understood what a start-up station would need and that I was the perfect person to be part of this one with plans for a straightahead jazz format. At that time, RVR was still on the air with its commercial jazz format, etcetera etcetera.

So Bob was like, ok, I’ll hire her. They had talked and they either knew what they were doing or had a lot of luck. Because now it’s 34 years later, and WBGO is 24 hours on the air and going strong. But when I came on board in October 1978, the station was located on the fourth floor of Newark Central High School. The license had belonged to the Board of Education and was transferred to Newark Public Radio Inc. I was the third person that Bob Ottenhoff hired—just because Steve told him that I would be an asset. I didn’t understand it but they did.

We had nothing but a board of trustees and a $75,000 grant from the federal department of Health, Education and Welfare to start. Bob was in the process of doing three things when I came on board: hiring his own staff, finding a building to buy (he had three that he was looking at), and, most important, easing out of the board of ed format and into the WBGO jazz format that it would become.

This was a big deal in Newark and some people are still mad even though the board of ed had started not to utilize those airways for the kids. Bob credits Kenny Gibson, who was Newark mayor back then and a saxophone player of sorts, for being behind him. It was really meant to be.

You know that BGO are the initials of Bob Ottenhoff’s name? Robert George Ottenhoff. The station was born to Newark in 1949 and that was when Bob was born, too. And as much as we tried to change the call letters, we could not do it. Every combination we tried was already taken. So WBGO has been a very unusual experience: a series of coincidences—which are only coincidences to atheists or agnostics, because we are all watched over by a higher being.

Bob chose the building we are in now over one in West Orange and an old furniture warehouse here in Newark that would have needed a lot of work. He paid, I remember, $125,000 for it in 1979. Can you imagine? It was drugland in 1979, though. Where the new New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) is now, there were these two-storey motels, you know what kind I mean; a methadone clinic down the hill…. The neighborhood was really bad. Now we’re in the center of the arts district.

An Exciting Time

People he hired were all really excited about the prospect of being in on something new and wonderful and the music and all that stuff. Everything we did was successful! When we get together now and look back, we’re amazed. Weren’t we stupid? we’ll say. But it all worked! We were too stupid to think that something would not work.

It was a community. Eventually it got to be nine of us, which meant we could be CPB (Corporation for Public Broadcasting) qualified. You had to be nine. Our first program guide was done on a stencil machine. I ruined some clothes. We all did it all. We were the maintenance people, did the coffee, made the program guide.

September 8, 1980, WRVR went off the air. At WBGO we were 18 hours up to then. We went 24 hours that day! Bob had no idea where he was going to get the money to hire a new person for those extra hours, but he did know that he had to take advantage and he did. I guess the rest is history.

My role has changed some over the years; obviously, my strength was with all the artists I knew. My first title was Music Coordinator. None of us knew what that meant because we didn’t have Program Director blah blah when we started. Al Pryor was the music director at first; he was the fourth person Bob hired; later the title of Program Director was created and he did that. He and I are still really good friends.

Ok: when I started, there was Bob Ottenhoff; his administrative assistant, Maxine Biggs; George Achaves, who would be considered the operations person; and he inherited Gil Abby, the engineer from the Board of Ed-he needed him, he kept him. So he had those people, then me, then Al. Bob knew he wanted news and public affairs, so he hired Fred Fishkin, who I think is still at CBS Radio. Then he hired Mercedes Sandoval for PR and Membership. Then we stole Rhonda (Hamilton) from Boston; Art Vincent; Al Pryor would do a show; James Brown came in—Mr. New York, as I choose to call him. Long story short, it grew from there.

I’ve pretty much done the same thing, just more of it, since we began: special events and community relations. That’s how we got known—special events, because we didn’t have money to buy ads or take spots on other stations or what have you. So when there would be jazz events, concerts, shows, we would be there; we would get sponsorships, have our propaganda, and we would get to be known in that manner. And that really worked. We don’t do as much of that now, but I still arrange the interviews, the art shows at the station, and yeah, a lot of stuff.

Bethany Church and Jazz Vespers: A Departure for a Baptist Church

I belong to Bethany Church in Newark; Dr. Scott was the minister there when I joined and he retired after being there 37 years. Dr. Howard came in October 2000 and he is great. Jazz vespers started with him. Bethany had a Saturday service, the first Saturday of every month, that only about 25 or 30 people ever attended. Well, Dr. Howard came up with the idea of making it a jazz vespers, which was unheard of in the Baptist Church. He seemed to know about me before I ever knew he existed, which is amazing, so I guess he was planning for me to be involved with it.

Knowing that the Baptist Church has a philosophy of fire, brimstone, and the devil’s music being jazz yaddadadda, he is so smart, here’s what he did. He told the congregation all about the idea. He said, “Anyone wants to sign up, we’re going to go to St. Peter’s Church in New York, to their jazz vespers.” Girl, we had a busful! And the rest of us, who wanted to hang out after, we drove over. Dr. Howard did not try to sell anybody on this. He just said, “If you want to check this out, come.” So we went over to St. Peter’s, Pastor Lind was the head at that time, and the people saw how the jazz vespers worked. Some people were for it and some were not. Enough were for it that we instituted jazz vespers at Bethany and now we average about 200 people for that service every month, sometimes as many as 350 or 400, depending on the artists. This is a big part of what I give back to the church. I take care of jazz vespers.

Dr. Lind and Dr. Howard had known each other at the New York Theological Seminary when Dale Lind was a student and Dr. Howard was the President-the first African American President. Dr. Howard was the chair of the Rutgers Board of Regents—the first African American chair since its inception in 1766. Because of him we have had some heavyweights come to speak at Bethany: Cornell West, Dr. Gates…. I was able to get Bill Cosby for January 2013 because I have a relationship with him—he sat in and played drums with Rahsaan at the Village Vanguard; that’s when I met him and we’ve been in contact off and on since that time.

Saturday, June 2, ended our twelfth season of jazz vespers and we haven’t repeated the same artists except when we chose to. I don’t know where those years have gone.

We just ask that the people who come understand the value of what they are getting. Of course, we are the church, so we are free, but all this music, all these great musicians who happen to live in the tristate area and are available to come to us, we hope that the listeners are supportive and show it with their presence and their pocketbooks. Our budget is isolated from the rest of the church’s budget, we got some grants when we started up, and now we are doing ok. Hey hey.

Jazz Vespers is like a part-time job for me and for the two people who run the technology for the performances: the Lee brothers (I call them the geek brothers because they’re into all that): Billy does the sound; he used to work for Apple. Jonathan runs the computer plant at Montclair State. So the two of them do the PR and Billy does the booklet, graphics and all that, along with Dr. Howard and Dr. Howard’s secretary. The other people on the committee are great but their responsibilities don’t kick in till right before: the reception committee, you know, greeters. I hand out Hot House and the New Jersey Jazz Society publications with them.

You think that I’m working all the time. But I’m not. Some of it I could do in my sleep, I’ve been doing it so long. I could go home and look in my Bethany files right now and find tons of musicians who are completely appropriate and who haven’t done jazz vespers for us yet.

What I do at Bethany is my spiritual work, my church and my volunteer organization. When I go there on a Sunday, I can’t wait to hear what Dr. Howard is going to say; he is a theologian, and he talks about issues that are staring us all in the face and he makes examples from life. That’s your motivating factor. But yeah, it could seem like a lot of work to someone else.

I guess because of how successful Jazz Vespers has been, Bethany has been asked to be part of a lot other jazz and cultural events in Newark, and I help organize and curate those too. Sometimes things get crazy. I’m looking at October now and here’s what’s going on. I’ve got Jazz Vespers October 6, and I kick off the WBGO Children’s Series; then the Geraldine Dodge Poetry Festival is October 11-14. The organizer of that has been to jazz vespers and he wanted Bethany to host one of the events. So we’ll do that. Right after that is the James Moody Jazz Festival. That’s NJPAC and WBGO. But NJPAC has designated Bethany as one of the venues to present music in.

Dorthaan’s Place—Kickoff October 21, 2012

The last day of the festival is special. October 21 is the kickoff date for Dorthaan’s Place, my own room at NJPAC! I am so excited. I’ll have one Sunday a month at first—this is a jazz brunch—and we’ll see what happens. There are a couple of challenges presented that I’m thinking about: How is it going to be structured to keep people happy so that they can both eat and listen to the music? How can we make sure that people aren’t too talkative and disrespectful to the music? And the music has to be jazz brunch appropriate: good music, up-to-date music, but it’ll be real grassroots.. When it takes off, we’ll do it maybe twice a month and so on.

That’s a lot! It is, isn’t it? Originally Published