Parties often take on an energy and life all their own. Hosting a Jazz it Up in the D Celebration to honor Brenda Jones’ (left) re-election as president of Detroit City Council had that distinct energy that comes from a capacity crowd watching performers up close when they put their unique talents together in creative ways. The Stephen Grady Junior Jazz Trio was on hand at our home as we welcomed over 125 captivating artists, community and business leaders and friends to celebrate the next chapter for Detroit. Stephen Jr. and friends Jake and Rocco thrilled the audience with their riffs on sax, bass and guitar. Clearly, they have skills!
As the crush of guests arrived, the talk turned to the news the mayor and his team received earlier. Detroit was not among the 20 finalists chosen in Amazon’s much publicized search for its next headquarters. And it turns out—it’s all about skills.
The news brought a mix of disappointment and resolve into the room. As everyone toasted Brenda, she took a moment to address the group:
“We are blessed to have made so much progress, but we need to make Detroit’s comeback more inclusive, and help Detroiters who want to work, but may lack the skills. More people are betting on Detroit these days, and we need to bet on our people.”
Fixing education and creating a talent pipeline are clearly among many competing priorities. Nothing could have driven this point home more than the headlines that day: Despite all the progress, Detroit still didn’t quite make the cut. Not yet.
Deitrich Knoer, CEO of the Platform (right, center), best known for its acquisition of the historic Fisher Building, said it best:
“Every leader in this community is talking about talent. We all need to play a part in getting this right, and Detroit will roar back better than ever.”
I listened to the syncopated rhythm of the bass in the background as he made these remarks, and it struck me that jazz performance is not only about talent, it’s about diverse elements coming together.
The evening’s three talented musicians (below) clearly enjoyed performing together, the give and take among them a poignant reminder: this kind of energy brings out the best in each other. This is exactly what the talent challenge for Detroit requires. Jazz performance, like all performance, is about collaboration, communication and improvisation.
Reports have since surfaced feedback from Amazon. Detroit, along with our state, lacks the depth and quality of talent they need. The state’s benchmarking studies verify the stark truth: Michigan ranks 29th on high school graduates deemed college or career ready, 32nd on workforce with a technical education, 30th in overall education attainment and 47th attracting out-of-state college students to attend school here.
Test scores of K-12 students are getting worse relative to other states, not better. On the plus side, our international collaboration with Windsor, and cross-county partnerships showcased a resolve to improvise better on key issues.
On another score card, Arts America lists the Top 10 American Jazz Cities, and by their reckoning, Detroit is right there at #9. Jazz is the only art form to have truly originated in America, with its diverse heritage, from its syncopated swing beats to its synthesis of different musical forms. There may just be lessons from jazz and Amazon for Detroit. Elevate our performance. Leverage our diversity. Find the right notes. Get in synch with each other. Play off each other. Get skills!
When it comes to Detroit’s skills gap, we may need to Jazz it Up. Great cities of the future will be defined by their economic opportunities, and the health and well-being of their citizens. It is our moment to reinvest in talent to transform opportunity Detroit into a powerhouse of the 21st century.
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