Homage to Paradise Valley was commissioned by and composed for Akropolis in 2019, with support from the Chamber Music America Classical Commissioning Program, with generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Paradise Valley, a now-displaced neighborhood of Detroit, Michigan, became of interest to Jeff Scott after he and Akropolis visited the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, while Jeff‘s quintet, Imani Winds, was passing through Detroit on tour. Homage to Paradise Valley utilizes Jeff‘s diverse musical background as a jazz and studio musician in New York City.
Comprised of 3 movements, Jeff Scott provides these notes about each movement:
1. Black Bottom was a predominantly black neighborhood in Detroit, Michigan. The term has sometimes been used to apply to the entire neighborhood including Paradise Valley, which reached from the Detroit River north to Grand Boulevard. In the early 20th century, African-American residents became concentrated here during the first wave of the Great Migration to northern industrial cities. Informal segregation operated in the city to keep them in this area of older, less expensive housing. The name of the neighborhood is often erroneously believed to be a reference to the African-American community that developed in the 20th century, but it was named during the colonial era by the early French settlers because of its dark, fertile topsoil (known as river bottomlands). Black Bottom/Paradise Valley became known for its African American residents’ significant contributions to American music, including Blues, Big Band, and Jazz, from the 1930s to ’50s. Black Bottom‘s substandard housing was eventually cleared and redeveloped for various urban renewal projects, driving the residents out. By the 1960s the neighborhood ceased to exist.
2. From the Bantu language of Swahili, “Roho, Pumzika kwa Amani” (Spirits, Rest Peacefully) is a lullaby. My humble offering to the many souls who came before me, and preserved through the middle passage, decades of slavery, disenfranchising laws, and inequality. I am who I am because of those who stood before me. May their spirits rest peacefully.
3. Orchestra Hall where the Detroit Symphony Orchestra now performs closed in 1939, but reopened in 1941 as the Paradise Theater. For 10 years it would then offer the best of African-American musicians from around the country. Duke Ellington opened Christmas week with his big band, admission was 50 cents, and patrons could stay all day. There were 3 shows every day and 4 on weekends. “B” movies where shown between acts. During the glory days of jazz the Paradise Theater saw Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Eckstine, Billie Holiday, and many more. “Paradise Theater Jump” is dedicated to the famed theater and harkens to the up-tempo style of “jump blues,” usually played by small groups and featuring saxophone or brass instruments.
One can learn more about this part of Detroit’s history by visiting the Detroit Historical Society website at detroithistorical.org.