Marion Hayden: Sonic Solidarity Interview

Marion Hayden, bass violinist and activist, discusses her relationship to Detroit music, the music scene that mentored her, and the impact of COVID-19.



Carleton Gholz: Good morning Marion. 

Marion Hayden: Good morning, Carleton

Gholz: Welcome to Sonic Solidarity, a new podcast from Detroit Sound Conservancy. We’re sitting down with our second interviewee. Our first one was with Lauren Hood, our board member and longtime friend. This one’s with a dear, dear friend and musician, Marion Hayden. And because we’re going to assume that some people may not know all the characters in Detroit, if you were from Detroit though, you would know Marion, but if you aren’t, maybe you don’t. So Marion, can you briefly just describe who you are and what your relationship is to Detroit music?  


Born and Raised

Hayden: Sure. I was born and raised here in Detroit and I consider myself a product of the Detroit music, the Detroit music scene and all of its various aspects. I went to, I attended Detroit Public Schools, and received what I considered to be an excellent musical education there, in classical music and just the foundations of how you play music. I’m a bassist. And so that’s my primary instrument, although I did start off on cello. And through also through the Detroit Public Schools at that time, I was able to get access to some of the great jazz musicians that live here in Detroit and that we were very fortunate to have resident, as resident musicians here in our community. And these are people that brought just a world of knowledge about the music touring experience,  


A very deep understanding of the relationship between jazz and musicians and people and its importance in the world. And I received a really thorough education from those musicians, which would be people such as still living folks like Wendell Harrison and Ursula Walker, Buddy Budson, and Charles Boles. And then, Charlie Gabriel, the great saxophonist. And then folks who have joined the ancestors who I love dearly, such as Marcus Belgrave and Donald Walden, Kenn Cox, Roy Brooks, you know, George Benson, just a plethora of really, really great people. So, I figure, I feel like it’s my mission to continue that legacy and that’s what I do, bring that forward in terms of my own personal work and also my work with, with young musicians.  


Gholz: What is your main instrument?  


Hayden: My main instrument is the bass violin. That is the instrument that I choose to speak through. 

Gholz: And do you play any other instruments or that’s your main one? 

Hayden: That really is the main thing that I do. Over the years I’ve come to try to express myself as a composer because that’s part of what we do as musicians and particularly in the field of jazz in particular. But I am definitely no pianist, but I will do what I have to, to be able flesh out my ideas. But I’m a bassist that’s really what I speak through. 

Gholz: And then do any parents, brothers, sisters, older brothers that were musically inclined? Or are you the, main, first, progenitor in your family?  


An Undercover pianist

Hayden: Well, you know, a couple of things on that. Actually my brother, younger brother who did play a little trumpet coming up. My father was actually quite a good pianist, but he was kind of an undercover pianist. He didn’t let everybody know how quite, how great he was, but I’ll just say this in my family, which was a really important thing and I think in a lot of other families at the time, we had a piano in our house and just like other families, I can only speak for the Black community cause I know that community pretty well, and it was pretty much a given that everyone was going to have some access and some responsibility to spend some time learning some music. Learning, even if you took piano lessons for a couple of years, everybody was going to do that.

So as far as I’m concerned, there was just a lot of respect and love for the traditions of learning music and live music in the community in general when I came up. And that was one of the things I think that really nurtured me and so many great musicians in Detroit.  


Gholz: I saw the photo today of Ellis Marsalis’s home, cause Ellis, Mr. Marsalis passed away just these last 24, 48 hours in New Orleans. And the photo was of him, his piano in his home with the drapes closed. You know, it felt very like, I’ve been in that living room, you know, I’ve been there, I’ve been in those rooms in Detroit, the piano in the front room with the family. And it really resonated for me.

Hayden: I know it well. 

Gholz: Let’s get to the right now. How are you doing? How is your health? How’s the health of your family? Just generally, how, how are you doing? How are you coping right now?  


Hayden: You know, I think that we’re doing pretty good. I mean, well, let me just say we’re all healthy, so that gets an A right? If anybody who’s feeling good, we’re feeling healthy and none of us, all of us are asymptomatic, no symptoms of the virus. I’m really happy about that. We’re kind of pretty much doing, you know, staying in lockdown. We have plenty of food. I just think that emotionally it’s a different environment I know for me personally.

And just not being able to be out and around other musicians. I’m very fortunate that I do have two sons and a husband, and they’re really super lovely people to be around. And at least my youngest son is in the house and he also is a musician, so we can have some musical interactions and we can have some drum and bass get downs.  


And then my husband, who is a visual artist is a, you know, does a lot of painting and really keeps us all very uplifted spirits with just the way he’s able to bring through his art. And so that part is good. But you know it certainly has been — the landscape for performing artists has definitely changed. I mean, I just had, I was supposed to do a camp in late July, mid to late July. Like I think it’s supposed to start around July 18th in Washington State. And that just got canceled. Oh, ok.

So this thing has very real repercussions

So this thing is [has] very real repercussions. And they seem to be reaching a lot further then I think we would’ve thought. Probably when this first started most of us were thinking that things would possibly turn around by the summer and we would be able to continue to engage in all the things that we love doing, educating and performing, in person, and it looks like we are going to be in some sort of, where we are right now, possibly a little longer than than we thought.  

So that’s, that’s, um, that’s, that’s troubling.  


Gholz: I was going to ask you about that exactly. You’ve already moved into my next question, which was sort of how has your career been impacted? I mean, most, Detroit musicians, unless you’re a member of the DSO [Detroit Symphony Orchestra], for instance, and you’re in a union, right? And, I don’t know as of this morning, I don’t know all the status of those musicians, but you know, that’s a regular salaried position and then they have a union fighting for them. But most musicians in Detroit are catch-as, you know, a phrase you used yesterday over text would be “capturing” monies, right? Capturing a little cash when they can and opportunities.

And many musicians have another job, right? You know some of the musicians that have survived the longest in the Detroit scene are musicians that have full time jobs, maybe with the City, and then music is something that they do in that time after work. So how has the crisis affected your musical career so far? And I know you did the Blue Llama jazz club. Maybe you want to say something about the event that you did with Straight Ahead.  


Hayden: Right. Well, we were just kind of fortunate that we already had, Straight Ahead did have a live stream from the Blue Llama last week Friday. And they were, you know, with a lot of social distancing and they were of course closed to the public. That felt good. It felt good. It was so good to be able to see my band so that we can have a chance to collaborate. But I’m thinking all that kind of stuff is actually going to be way more difficult now because I think things are just getting, day by day we’re hearing things that are just so much more serious. But, I felt, we felt that we could possibly do that one.  


Everybody said they felt good about that. But I think other than that, I think that we’re just going to have to think about other ways to be able to explore what we do. I was supposed to actually be at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola on Monday of this week. Then that of course got shut down. Right? That’s right. You were going to be seeing us. 

Gholz: Yeah, Absolutely.

Hayden: That got shut down in the middle of March and just pretty much everything at the camp. I think I got an invitation to work at a church on Easter, I’m probably going to, definitely going to decline that. I just think, no, I just think we just shouldn’t be, we just can’t be in each other’s spheres. I think it was, you know, everybody’s just, it’s just, just, just the way it is.  


So I think that we’re trying that, we’ll have to, to engage in other ways. A couple of things if you wouldn’t mind.

Gholz: Sure, absolutely. 

Hayden: I would like to see those that are funders be a part of the support system for musicians. I have seen some of that and it’s been really great. I was just in on a conversation with South Arts, which is down in Atlanta, and they’re launching a major campaign to assist artists. And assist artists in a way that makes sense for artists. When you have a lot of people that are freelancing, a lot of times their work doesn’t come with a contract. Their work came with an agreement by text or an agreement on email or it’s something that they’d been doing every Friday night for crazy amounts of years and that’s still a job, right? Those are all still jobs. And so I think that there has to be a way for funders to step in. 

A lot of these budgets that they have have already been promised to them, that money is already in their coffers. It would be really helpful at this time if people thought about the folks on the other end. I would say that. And that’s kind of actually one of my main soapboxes these days. And I think also we’re going to have to think about ways that musicians actually like to be active. So we need to think about ways that we can support musicians in place in their homes. 

Gholz: Yeah. 

Hayden: What kinds of things can we do to allow them to bring something to the table that they have that does not involve them having to collaborate with anybody unless it’s collaborating together on like we are on a Zoom or FaceTime or something because now, and I’ll tell you there’s an organization, there’s some organizations that have been doing that.  


They’ve been trying to propose to artists to do something that would be akin to an Instagram post, something very short and proposing to pay artists for those things. I think that’s a really great idea. I just think they’re just going to have to be a little bit more inventive other than saying, okay — which is what most of my folks said to me — which is we would love to have you in 2021. 

Gholz: Nope. 

What at this point?

Hayden: Well, I do appreciate that, don’t get me wrong! I really appreciate you having me in 2021. Now we are at this point in April of 2020. What at this point? You know what I mean? What at this point therein lies the question for me in so many of my brother and sister artists, what at this point? 

Gholz: Absolutely. And you’ve already — Marion this is perfect. You’ve already hit questions I’ve already asked. I mean I think about even DSC and where we are and we had a conversation last night with our board officers to talk about brass tacks and how much money we got and what could we do if we can’t bring in any more funds this year. Can we survive, you know, real brass tacks conversations.

It’s taken eight to ten years to build our organization and 20 years of my career to do it. But musicians are birthed from four, five, six, seven, eight years old. And it’s not like if we lose a couple of musicians this year, we can gain them back next year. Some kinds of programming, you can do that, right? Cause there will be people there and what have you, but you lose a musician now, they’re not replaceable. I mean, I’m trying to be as objective about that as I can. 

Hayden: Yeah, sure. 

Gholz: It’s like the actual hours and time to reproduce musicians is impossible. It’s impossible. You just have to build the humans. There’s no other way around it.  


Gholz: I was thinking about this last night, we were watching on Instagram Live a DJ you may not — I don’t know if you know this DJ, Marion, but DJ Godfather? 

Hayden: I don’t think I know him. It’s a guy?

Gholz: Anyway. Yeah, he’s a guy and he plays very fast booty music. 

Hayden: Alright. 

Gholz: And it’s fun. It is fun. Exactly. Hands in the air, hands in the air. So anyway, it’s a lot of fun. It’s very youthful, even these guys who are getting older now and they’re, their audiences are getting older, but the vibe is one of youth and exuberance and…

Hayden: Sure.

Gholz: And up, you know, it’s all up. But he’s so talented. He’s scratching and doing all these things. And how many hours did he play to get to that point? I mean, it’s just unbelievable. And the idea that somehow we could replace — his name is Brian Jeffries — the idea that we could just replace him next year and just pause everything he does and hope he survives to next year is — it’s nonsense.  


Gholz: You know? And I think people get that a little bit. Especially people, musical people, people who have done some amateur musician — like who tried to play — I think they have an appreciation of how skilled and talented people are. You know, I played clarinet, so when I hear Wendell [Harrison] play and the tone that he gets, I say to myself, “Oh, that’s, that’s time,” you know? 

Hadyen: Yeah it is. 

Gholz: But I think for the lay person or even maybe the funder even might need to be educated more there. Just to follow up to that question and then I got a last one of the — I think we’re doing really well. We’ll make sure this all got recorded here. Is there anyone else, especially I think about our — again just DSC is not a political activism group particularly so we want to be conscious of calling out politicians or what have you. But is there anything else you’re seeing out there in terms of our leaders, other leaders in terms of the arts, beyond funders? I think when you say funders, I think what you’re saying, I hear what you’re saying is foundations, like the people who normally step up for the arts.

But you know, governments also step up the arts, National Endowment for the Arts. We have grant funding through Michigan Council for the Arts. It’s not a lot, but it is significant. So is there any other kind of things that you’re seeing? I really love that you brought in this idea from Georgia. You know that you’re seeing other crews sort of coming together. Is there anybody else or anything else you’d want to see from our leadership here that would help musicians?  


People are really hurting right now

Hayden: Hmm. Well I don’t know. It’s, I almost hate to say anything cause I don’t want to sound quite so self-serving because I know that a lot of people are really hurting now. 

Gholz: Nurses, doctors. 

Hayden: I just saw unemployment figures, something like 6.6 million unemployment. I can’t even fathom what that is. And people who are lining up for food too. 

Gholz: Yup. 

Hayden: Or food, which is really scary. That’s really scary when you think about people who are lining up just to be able to feed themselves and their families. I haven’t really thought that much about it. I just, you know, keep trawling my emails and just looking for signs of hope, looking for signs that anybody really understands. I mean just the idea that people would cancel musicians and major concerts and leave them with zero.

Now these are cancellations I’ve heard musicians speak about. I was just on a conference call with several artists and I’m just not going to drop any names. But we’re talking about major, major venues where they canceled you two days before. And you know that budget was already in place, that check was cut and they left musicians with nothing. They left artists, visual artists, dancers, people in the arts with zero.

See that to me, those kinds of things they need to be a top down, when you talk about folks like NEA, any of those kinds of folks that can actually make a difference. That has to be a top down, an entire attitude about how we’re going to support different segments of the population. Different segments of the population need to be supported in different ways. So even in Detroit, they finally decided, some light bulb came on that said that they must turn on people’s water. 

Gholz: Yeah. 

Hayden: That was that they are turned off. Right. So they were willing to take a huge gamble with people’s lives for years now in Detroit with crazy water shutoffs and apparently some smart person decided that perhaps in the middle of pandemic when people need to be washing their hands all the time, folks have to have water in their homes, you know? And so we just have to — it’s like there’s just so many components to what’s gonna really help. And it just really is too bad that it is taking this.

Gholz: Yes 

Hayden: For folks to figure out that’s the society. And then I’m going to leave us with one more thing. 

Gholz Yes please. 

Digital Access

Hayden: And that is this idea of the inequities in people having digital access, internet access. That is a huge thing that is yet another thing that we are getting ready to slam into in terms of a brick wall. The inequities and access to online and digital apparatus platforms. The whole thing. That is getting ready to be a huge thing. I already see it in the music community now. I mean there’s folks that may have a cell phone, they can send you a text and stuff, but maybe they can’t afford to, they don’t have enough data on their plan, to load up Zoom or some of these other platforms in which they can collaborate with folks. Just don’t have it, can’t do it, can’t even scan something onto their phone. They have no, just don’t have options.

This is going to be an issue, also it’s  already an issue.  


Gholz: Yup. No, I’ve already gotten some ideas for some things to do and we’ll talk after off screen about some things too, just having this conversation has been really helpful. We’re getting up to about 30 minutes here, so I don’t want to belabor people but let’s look for some hope here. Obviously you were working, looking forward to some teaching in the summer, that’s sort of nebulous, but when we get out of this, when things start to loosen up again, we definitely don’t want to go back to the old normal. I think what you’re saying with these water shutoffs and all this stuff, it’s not like what we left was all that great. People in Detroit were suffering before all this happened, so we definitely don’t want to just to go back to what the status quo was, we want to improve. 

Hayden: Can’t do it. 

Gholz: We have to, we have to be better coming out of this. No matter what happens. I definitely hear you saying that. But looking forward, what else are you looking forward to coming up? What projects were you planning for this year that you’re still sort of holding onto at this point?  


Hayden: I got it. I received a grant to do a revision on a suite that I composed some years ago that is based on the life of Phillis Wheatley. Phillis Wheatley, who was the first Black woman published. She was an enslaved young woman who was enslaved at the age of nine from Senegal, brought here and was purchased by some Quakers in Boston. And she just has a really interesting life. So I’ve revisited her life through music. I did a piece as a whole suite of music based on her life. And then I got a grant to do a revision on that. 

Gholz: Amazing. 

Hayden: And so that was slated for June.  


Hayden: I’m not sure if that’s going to happen, but as soon as it can happen I look forward to that. We’re also going to do a celebration of the music of Kenn Cox, hopefully in November. And I’m really, really looking forward to that and I’m just going to keep composing and working on things. I encourage all my fellow musicians to just — we just have to kind of keep doing what we can as best we can through this, you know? 

Gholz: Yeah. And of course with DSC we still are looking forward to bringing in funds for the Blue Bird, getting that roof completed, getting some musicians in front of the Bird on the regular, you know. However, even while we’re under construction, somehow playing on the street, you know, some funding for that, just something to connect with. We don’t want to have the building just sit there for a whole year with nothing. That’s not the plan. So hopefully there’s ways, hopefully we won’t have to completely tighten up, hopefully we’ll still have some good programs.

Marion, I just want to on a personal note, just say thank you for now two years and really last year you really came on in a huge way. We were a partner and curator with us on a number of projects, just sending love to you and your family. And this has been Sonic Solidarity with Carleton Gholz executive director, Detroit Sound Conservancy with the great Marion Hayden, bassist, musician, and Detroiter forever. 

Thank you Carleton

Thanks so much.

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