Detroit, heads-up for one amazing Friday evening. Catch a screening of the Cinetopia film RESILIENCE, then enjoy the DJ Holiday CD Release Party. celebrating the work of a very special Detriot jazz vocalist. It happens tomorrow — Friday, June 10 — at Bert’s Warehouse Theater in Eastern Market, starting at 7 p.m.
Cost is $20 per person (at the door). Cinetopia Festival Pass holders get in free.
RESILIENCE is French director ARNO BITSCHY’s compelling depiction of the struggles and triumphs of Detroit in the time between the bankruptcy declaration and the Mayor’s 2015 State of the City speech. Bitschy captures Detroiters speaking about what’s bad in their city (foreclosures and water shut-offs) and what’s good (community, creativity, and toughness), with a captivating soundtrack provided by local jazz and rap artists, including DJ HOLIDAY AND BAND, who will perform following the film and Q&A. Presented in partnership with PROGRESSIVE ARTS and CINEMA DETROIT.
A few steps from being homeless, and currently being treated in Receiving Hospital for asthma and COPD, embattled singer, DJ Holiday, plans on attending and performing at her first CD Release Party on Friday, June 10 at Bert’s Warehouse.
After singing for most of her calamitous 70 plus years, the event will mark DJ Holiday’s first professional recording, all thanks to the many fans of her artistry who know she is something special – the real thing. No flashy maneuvers or crass commercial appeal, DJ has fashioned herself after the singer she has idolized most of her life – the late and great Billie Holiday, and she sings straight from the heart.
Producer pianist, Bill Meyer, has led an all-star cast of local and national jazz favorites, all willing to lend their talents to make this naturally gifted artist more available to the public. With the likes of world class musicians including bassist Ralphe Armstrong, drummer Gayelynn McKinney, sax phenom James Carter, and legendary clarinetist Charlie Gabriel (currently with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band) among many other names, DJ presents an array of powerful classics ranging from torchy ballads to frantic New Orleans rousers. In a collection of songs led by an original written expressly for the songstress – Before I Go – she invites the listener to go on a journey through her life, by way of her amazing voice and songs she has loved to sing. The CD closes with the song Billie Holiday always closed her sets with – Strange Fruit.
This all takes place during an evening of arts and activism, starting with a dramatic French documentary, Resilience, which will receive it’s national debut as part of the Cinetopia Film Festival. The sound score is provided by Detroit jazz and rap artists, including DJ Holiday and the RGB Trio which runs Detroit’s longest running award winning Open Mic Jazz Jam session every Thursday at Berts Jazz Club. It’s there that people have become aware of DJ’s amazing appeal and that’s because owner Bert Dearing has provided jazz stages since DJ first arrived in the area in the early 60s.
The 7:30pm film screening and 9:30pm CD Release Party will be followed by a Gala Party bringing together the music and film worlds, along with many of the activists who are featured in Resilience, a film dealing with Detroit’s recovery from bankruptcy. The full evening costs only $20 and Berts famous food offerings will be available all evening. And there will be a chance to get an autographed CD from DJ – assuming she’ll be released from Receiving Hospital in time.
All proceeds from the sale of the CDs will go directly to DJ Holiday
LINER NOTES BY DAVID TOLLINGTON (former Warner Bros Canada executive)
The first time I saw DJ Holiday was at Bert’s, the venerable Detroit jazz club in which the RBG trio (legendary bassist Ralphe Armstrong, renowned Detroit pianist Bill Meyer and drummer Gayelynn McKinney, daughter of the great jazz pianist Harold McKinney) has been hosting the open mic nights for years. Late in the evening, Bill Meyer called DJ up to sing her one song for the evening. And my jaw had dropped.
As Bill explained later, “A lot of people look at a woman like that and ask: can she really sing? And then it comes out and whoa! I’ve seen so many jaws drop night after night at the club. There’s something there that’s hard to describe. But it’s what people look for in an artist, or should look for: truth, the real story. I mean, this is the real thing…and the people know that.”
Like jazz itself, DJ never tells a story the same way twice. So who’s to say what of her story is true or not? Then again, just because you’re not playing the melody doesn’t mean you’re not expressing the truth, even with a name. And like Eleanora “Lady Day” Fagan, Barnaggo Honey Jazz Defreece has gone by many names herself. “Ya, that’s the name my mother gave me – Jazz,” said DJ, recounting her mid-50s youth in Newark, New Jersey. “When I was nine, I left home, sang in bands and ended up in Detroit. That’s where Charlie Gabriel (a fourth generation New Orleans jazz saxophonist and now a member of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band) put the D on my name – he called me Dr. Jazz because he said I knew the music so well. That became DJ and I never looked back.”
With the tumultuous years between Newark and Detroit being unspeakably difficult, DJ’s details – like times and places – remain largely a mystery. “I don’t know time,” said DJ. “Just the gig – that’s all I remember. I lived on the bandstand.” Back then, those bandstands included everywhere between Chicago and New York City…and Syracuse, where DJ found herself stranded. Catching a ride to Detroit, she managed to find a room beside Bert Dearing’s first club in 1968 – the Black Horse. “I knew I had to get up there on that bandstand,” said DJ, still a teenager at the time. “I mean the music was going so hot. So I would sit in the corner, just waiting.”
But when DJ moved into an abandoned house on the west side and Bert moved his operation to the Eastern Market in 1987, the weekly pilgrimage became much more difficult. At first, DJ walked. And then she biked. But over time, Detroit’s cold winters caught up with the Carmen McRae style she had developed. “I used to have mink clothes on – shoes, hat and everything,” said DJ. “But the cold…it gets up in the vocal chords and scratches down. So when you hit that high note, you can’t get the air through. Then I had bronchitis and when I got well, that’s when the gravel came out and I couldn’t be dealing with Carmen. And so I took up Billie instead.”
Armed with the RBG Trio and his own Detroit New Orleans Band, Bill Meyer decided a DJ Holiday album had to be made. “The idea came from the sense that nobody really sings or sounds like DJ anymore,” explained Bill. “She’s completely innocent, with no calculation or ulterior motive. And as with Buddy Bolden – the guy who started jazz! – nobody really knows what he sounded like because there are no recordings. So how can you rave about a woman like this without having an official recording of her?”
True to natural form, all the tracks on this album, except for a few fixes and solos, were recorded live with DJ and laid down in just two three-hour sessions. And speaking of the solos, the heavy hitters like James Carter and Charlie Gabriel had been only too pleased to jump in. “A lot of people wanted to be involved,” stated Bill. “In fact, more people wanted to do it than I asked!”
Opening the album is “Before I Go”, a song written by Meyer expressly for that purpose – as an invitation from DJ to witness a set of songs that express all that she’s ever known. As such, the album flows through the Billie Holiday standards that DJ performs regularly at Bert’s, ranging through “What A Little Moonlight Can Do” (one of Billie’s first hits) to “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” (recorded by Billie for her last album in 1959) and closing appropriately with “Strange Fruit”, the song that Billie used to finish her shows.
Having just now sat through the songs, I thought of that first time I saw DJ. Back then, I didn’t know who she was or anything of her story…but the way she drew each one of us inside the song only required us to listen. And as DJ says at the end of the title song, “If they ask, tell them DJ Holiday sent you to the gallery of souls. So here’s some songs for you, my friend. Listen.” Yes. Just listen…