What Is Your Motown Memory?

Learn About Claire Daly’s Motown Memory, Share YOUR Motown Memory

Claire’s Ultimate Motown Memory

2500 Calvert Avenue N.W.

motown memoryThat is the address of the Shoreham Hotel in Washington D.C. where baritone saxophonist Claire Daly experienced her ultimate Motown memory.  She was just a little girl vacationing with her parents and siblings when three women who worked at 2648 W. Grand Boulevard in Detroit crossed her path.  That latter address not only serves as the title of this fabulously forward-looking tribute to the past but of course was the home of the legendary Motown Records.

“It was a big room in the Shorham Hotel and my father asked if he could bring the kids in for just a few minutes,” Claire said excitedly recounting the story.  “I remember the huge stage with all the colors, glamour and sparkling lights.  It was one of those amazing childhood experiences, where even though I couldn’t tell you the songs they were singing, it was an awakening, or perhaps a “happening.”

“The next day,” she continued, “we were at the swimming pool and my father points and says, ‘there are two of the ladies that were on the stage last night. ‘  I ran up to our room and grabbed a pad that said Shoreham Hotel and asked them for their autographs.  That’s how I met Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson of the Supremes and that little piece of paper stayed in my drawer for years.”

Just a few years later in her very early teen years jazz began to consume her life but she never lost her love for Motown or the great American pop music she grew up on.  She also never ever considered making a complete album revisiting that music of youth until the jazz raconteur Doug Moody asked her.

“This music is in my fiber.  When I hear it or think of it, I’m transported back to that kid growing up in Yonkers in my bedroom with the radio,” she said. “And it’s not just me, just about every jazz musician has a Motown story. The Motown musicians were jazz musicians.”

While that may be true there’s a really good reason why there haven’t been many complete Motown jazz tribute albums.  There have been some great individual covers of Motown hits in jazz history and a few nice compilations from the major jazz labels.  But if you throw out songs from Marvin Gaye’s divinely inspired masterpiece What’s Going On and the work of Stevie Wonder, Motown hits – though crafted by many a Motor City jazz musician – aren’t conducive to stretching out musically.

The concept is equally hard for jazz singers as well as instrumentalists.  In fact besides Kevin Mahogany’s 2002 release on Telarc, Pride And Joy, even hard boiled jazz aficionados would be hard pressed to name three or even two Motown tribute album from a jazz musician.  There have been many covers with imaginative arrangements, but aside from Gaye’s epic and Stevie’s ditties I can’t think of another one released before 2015.

quote winter memoryPart of the reason is that even though some of the biggest Motown hits were played by jazz musicians, melody wasn’t always the most important thing at Hitsville U.S.A. in Detroit.  The limited use of chord changes, the dependency of simple rhythmic patterns and repetitive hooks on top of hooks just aren’t conducive to serious harmonic exploration by jazz musicians.  So while Diana, Flo and Mary may be dear to her heart, no songs originally sung by the Supremes made the cut at Claire’s audio rendering of 2648 W. Grand Blvd.

“It was a much more difficult process than I thought it would be,” she admits of the effort.  “I didn’t want it to be a smooth jazz record and I didn’t want it to sound corny.  So I spent many a glorious night listening to music on Spotify.  In fact the indisputable highlight of last winter for me was being under headphones listening to Motown music until four in the morning.

“Then when it came time for arrangements…Let’s just say the band came over to my apartment quite a bit,” she said with a hearty laugh.  “They were very generous with me as we took ideas and worked them out. Peter Grant’s father was a musician/producer and I actually think he’s got great ears for arrangements. He should have arranger credit here!”

By Mark Ruffin

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