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Trumpeter Walt Szymanski comes home for cold weather, hot jazz
After a decade of living in Ecuador, Walt Szymanski finds coming back to Detroit -- especially in the winter -- a bit jarring.
"Yeah, I'm used to seeing the sun every day," the 60-year-old trumpeter and Detroit native says with a laugh. "I saw it one day here, and it's tried to peek out at other times. But that's OK; I'm no stranger to this."
That's certainly true. Starting as a seven-year-old soprano soloist in the male choir of Detroit`s St. Raymond church and subsequently moving to trumpet and studying at Oakland University (where he later taught), Szymanski has built a who's-who caliber career. He's played with jazz luminaries such as Clark Terry, Thad Jones, JC Heard, Oscar Peterson and many others, as well as with Aretha Franklin, the Four Tops, the Temptations, the Brides of Funkenstein and more. He also co-founded the Motor City Jazz Quintet.
His resume includes composing, arranging and artistic direction tenures with the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, the Detroit Dance Collective, and, after moving to New York City during the late 80s, working with the Billy Strayhorn Project, the Cab Calloway Orchestra and the groups Emergence and Trio WAG.
But hailing from Detroit, Szymanski says, is an essentially part of his musical makeup.
"The thing about Detroit is the level was always super-high -- and still is," he explains. "The variety of what you could play here...I've crossed over into every genre you could do here -- even punk, techno. It's like a brotherhood, and as long as you can play, you can do anything.
"And the thing I notice when I come back is the young cats are all doing it, playing at a high level. Even in New York, I feel like the cats in Detroit were dealing a little more seriously with the music."
Szymanski says being in Equador -- where he followed OU Jazz Studies director Marvin "Doc" Holladay after his retirement -- has allowed him to be even more serious about his music. Living in a village outside of Quito, Szymanski spends most of his time composing, including regular work for BET and, in the past, arrangements for "Dancing With the Stars" and "American Idol." He also has a number of regular clients in New York and has started a New Orleans-style Second Line band that has the support of the Equadorian cultural ministry.
"This was the whole idea of moving down there," Szymanski says. "I don't have to compromise my music anymore. I don't have to be working on something and say, 'Oh, I've gotta play this wedding' or do some gig I don't want to, but I need the 80 bucks.
"That's been eliminated from my life, and it's beautiful. I just practice and write music. I get to do those 20-hour, 30-hour writing sessions and don't have to worry about it. And I can ride my bike in the Andes and have extended lunches and dinners with friends. That's to too bad, you know?
Wednesday-Saturday, Jan. 7-10. 6 and 8:30 p.m. seatings.
Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe, 97 Kercheval, Grosse Pointe.
There is no cover charge.
Call 313-882-5299 or visit www.dirtydogjazz.com.
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