Paul Schauert: #RecordDET Interview

Carlton Gholz: Welcome to the Detroit Sound Conservancy. My name is Carlton Gholz. I’m the Executive Director and Founder of the Detroit Sound Conservancy, and… this is going to take a lot of concentration. There’s a lot of construction in the New Detroit, even at nine o’clock at night, in the Capitol District here in Detroit. You can hear that. So we’ll preserve that for posterity. I’m with Paul Schauert, who is now at the Detroit Institute of Music Education, but he’s also a teacher – lecturer? Lecturer. Lecturer at Oakland University, and an Ethnomusicologist. And so let me bring you in here. Paul, briefly describe who you are. I just sort of gave this a little bit away, but you can say more. Briefly describe who you are, and what is your relationship to Detroit music?

Paul Schauert: Alright. Well, I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, and then sort of migrated around the Midwest to do my college education. Grew up studying… really playing drums, playing music, playing in bands, playing in rock bands, and then eventually decided to major in music. Went down to University of North Texas, which has an amazing percussion and jazz program. Spent four years there, did a bachelor’s in Music Performance and, uh, really got… sort of merged my interest in jazz with my interests in African music. Did a study abroad in Ghana in West Africa. Just really fell in love with African music and decided to pursue that in my graduate career. Went to Indiana University in Bloomington, did a graduate degree in Ethnomusicology and African Studies.  Spent a lot of time in Ghana, in West Africa. Working on my dissertation research, with the national dance companies there. And that really was a huge part of my graduate career. And, finally coming to an end of that [laughs] I’ve got a book coming out next year on Indiana University Press, about my work with the dance ensembles in Ghana. Anyways, that’s a whole other life really then than what I’m doing now. What I’ve been doing for the last three years, I’ve moved up here with my wife who works at Wayne State and we moved up here in 2011 and I started working at Oakland University. I taught African music, African American music, world music, rock and roll, jazz, all sorts of things there. And then just this past year I got a job over at DIME and I’m the current Head of Education there.  Kind of an admin sort of dean-level position, which has been really great. There’s a lot of exciting things happening there, which I’m happy to go into, but I won’t, I won’t go into it too much at the moment. So that’s kind of where I’m at with my career. I still play music from time to time. I have my last kinda, I think, four albums of my own, of my own compositions, which are kind of Afro jazz, electronica, all mixed together in various ways. I’ve been doing a little of that around the city. Once in a while you’ll see me pop up here and there and do a few little shows here and there with my own compositions. I’ll leave it there.  


First Detroit Record

Gholz: What was the first… since you didn’t grow up in the city or in the area, so maybe this question will be interesting for you. What was the first Detroit record you remember hearing?  What was it, how’d you hear it, and what’d you think?

Schauert: My first Detroit… I mean, growing up I always heard Detroit music, but I didn’t really even know it was from Detroit. I heard techno, I heard Motown, which obviously came from Detroit. I think as far as purchasing a first, like, a specifically Detroit record, I don’t think I even did that until I actually moved to Detroit. Which, you know, just a few years ago. And I think my first one had to be, I think, Cosmic Cars, you know, Cybotron of course. Just really loved the old techno sound. Sort of that primary… the old techno sound. Just love the old analog gear and the 808s, whatever. That was, I don’t know. I love new techno or whatever you want to call it, electronic music, but I dunno, there’s something about the old, the early eighties techno that just really appealed to me.  I guess the kind of stripped down sound of it, I’m not sure. I just remember Cosmic Cars just seemed like a Detroit record because obviously it’s just talking about cars. So, I mean, it’s such an obvious connection, but, at this point, even before I heard that record, I was kind of already into Afrofuturism, so I kind of understood that angle of where it was coming from and sort of its connections to Sun Ra and P-Funk and Earth, Wind and Fire. I kind of sort of knew that history already. And so I really appreciated Cosmic Cars for not only the purity of the music, but also just the concept and the sort of the philosophy behind it really resonated. For whatever reason, I think partly because of my interest in African and African American music and culture, partly because of my interest in sci-fi [laugh]. That just seemed to really resonate with me. It also, I mean, as somebody coming from a jazz background. I just, I had heard kind of all that stuff, growing up and in school and I hadn’t really delved into electronic music until the last maybe five or six years. And it was really looking for some new sounds. I kind of had sort of ODed on jazz a while ago when I was an undergrad. And so techno just really sounded fresh to me. I mean that, that Cybotron stuff, even if you listen to it today, even though, what, they’re nearly 30 years old or whatever, it just sounds so fresh. I don’t know.


Gholz: Older. 

Schauert: Is it older? Something like that? 

Gholz: Yeah. 

Schauert: 30 some years old. 

Gholz: Yeah. 

Schauert: ‘82, whatever it was.

Gholz: ‘84, ‘85.

Schauert: Yeah. It just sounds so fresh.  Even if you listen to it right now, there’s just a freshness to it, and sort of a purity and, I don’t know, I want to almost say like positivity to it. It’s dark, in a way, but it’s not so dark like the later kind of UR stuff, or something that’s really dark. I don’t know, there’s just sort of like an innocence about it [laughs]. 

Detroit History that Deserves More Attention

Gholz: Motown is known the world over. Describe one aspect of Detroit music… we’ll talk about this Detroit Music History class you’re conducting right now, but so far… Motown is known the world over. Describe one aspect of Detroit music history that you wish got more attention. 

Schauert: Okay. Yeah. Well certainly… that question… Wow. Okay. The rattling in my brain. Okay, so certainly the Detroit Music class that I’m teaching now, I’m teaching, it’s called… what is it called? Detroit Music Heritage: Sounds of the City or something. It’s an honors college class over at Oakland University. Which I, for whatever reason, decided that I was qualified to teach, and then dove in, whether I was really ready or not. I decided to do this even though having only spent three years in this town, I decided somehow I’m qualified to teach a class on Detroit music. But luckily I got all my friends like yourself and others to come and help me out with that. But anyways, the class has really taught me so much, even if my students don’t learn anything, I certainly have learned a lot. But anyways, as far as what needs to be, what work needs to be done, there’s so much. But for me, I had Lars and Jim come in the first week of class, Lars Bjorn and Jim Gallert. They wrote, of course, Before Motown, the book on Detroit jazz. And that book ends, basically, describes jazz in Detroit from the turn of the century up through about 1960. And then Motown kind of takes over. But in that class, I gave a lecture on post bop, Detroit jazz, and there’s really no literature on Post Bop. I mean, there might be a few things here and there. I couldn’t find them. So jazz past 1960, Detroit jazz past 1960, I think really deserves some major attention. Marcus Belgrave, just to name one. I mean, there’s just so much there. And Lars and Jim told me that they’re actually currently working on a follow up to that book, which can’t come soon enough, I think. So that’s one, one aspect. I would urge anybody to, just even to publish an article, just a journal article on… something scholarly that shows that yes, there was, jazz in Detroit didn’t just stop at 1960. There was a lot of jazz that was made post-1960 in Detroit. 


The Importance of Academic Research

Gholz: Paul, for people who aren’t academics and don’t exist in that world and don’t have doctorates and all that kind of stuff. Can you just explain: why is it important to have good solid academic research done on music? I mean, obviously, the Detroit Free Press has a writer, the Detroit News has a writer. There’s people writing. So what’s the need for academic research, to you? What’s good about academic research, if we can pat it on the back here for a second. 

Schauert: Yeah. Not pat ourselves on the back too much. Journalists are great and there’s a lot of great journalistic articles out there on Detroit music. Obviously Creem comes to mind. It’s just an amazing resource. Some journalists are trained and some are not. They just kind of do it because they love the subject, or whatever. I think the one thing that I’ve gained through my training as a graduate student and whatnot is just a broader perspective of sort of theoretical issues, historical issues, social context, those sorts of things. And sometimes you find it in journalistic writing and sometimes you don’t. And so I think the real value of having a scholar, a trained scholar, write about Detroit music, or any music, is that you get a broader perspective that connects the music to broader conceptual frameworks, broader sort of social and historical, activities and discourses, to use an academic sort of term. So you get a broader feeling of how that music really matters in terms of its broader intellectual substance, I guess.  


What does Detroit sound like?

Gholz: Let me follow it up. In terms of Detroit music, what do you think the most – so far in the class, I mean we’re almost to middle October here, so you had been in the class for almost a month and a half, and you’ve had a number of people come in and speak. What do you think is the most important question you’re pursuing in that class?

Schauert: Probably something along the lines of: what does Detroit sound like? And why music matters so much in this town. Why does music matter so much in Detroit, even more so than maybe other cities? And why has Detroit… these are several questions, I guess. Why has Detroit, particularly, produced such a massive amount of really profound music, you know? What I’m really trying to get at is the particular connection between the landscape, the actual landscape and the social landscape, of Detroit and how that has really encouraged the development of the sound of the city, is the sound of the city’s music. You could talk about other things, like is there a Detroit sound? I mean, I think that question has been sort of asked for a long time, but nobody’s really come up with any great answers. I don’t know if we will either, in that class. My one thing I definitely want to show is that there’s a diversity of Detroit music. A lot of times people think of Detroit music, they think of Motown, they think of techno, maybe. I think a lot of people don’t even understand that there’s just such a range and such a diversity of musical sounds that exist in the city, and have existed for such a long time. I mean, even Craig Maki stuff on country music, I mean, nobody really knew that stuff existed, honestly, until he came out with that book. That’s why it’s really important to have places like the Sound Conservancy or other scholars that actually dig into this stuff so we don’t lose it. I mean, if that book never came out, who would know that this whole country music scene existed in the ‘40s and ‘50s? It would just be erased from the collective memory. It’s so important. And I think it’s important to get it across to young people early on. I’m trying to encourage the students to do primary source research. And for their final project, they have to take an underexplored topic and they have to find out what those topics are, and which ones are explored and which ones are underexplored. They choose an underexplored topic and they write essentially a Wikipedia-type entry for it and get it out there and increase the awareness of these kinds of things. And dovetailing with what the Sound Conservancy does, ideally I’d like to upload those type of encyclopedia entries, those student entries up onto the DSC page or the Detroit Wiki or something that we’re also working on with our project here.


Interest in African Music

Gholz: Two more questions here and then we’ll have a stiff drink [laughs]. Paul, you are, as far as I can tell… we’re all African, right? We all go back, we’re all African. We all know that, right? But we know you’re not from Africa, you’re from Indiana. So was there anything when you were younger – or Chicago, you know, these areas, the Midwest, just west of us and just south of us. Was there anything when you were younger that pointed to the kind of work you’re doing now? Was there an earlier moment when the idea of Africa called you? I mean, I don’t want to be too romantic about it, but, just a moment early on where you were like – and then later you were like, “Oh yeah, that was there.” Anything like that. Does that make sense as a question?  

Schauert: Yeah. Well, I grew up playing drums. So you can almost predict what I’m going to say next, right. People who think about – or, I should say, African music is often equated with drums, right? It’s almost synonymous with drums. But anyways, I was a drummer since I was, what, eight or nine years old. And most people my age were – and I was too – studying rock music, heavy metal, whatever, then jazz and later things. But basically when I got into junior high I started studying congas and hand drums and djembes and that, things like that and just really fell in love with the music. It offered something different than other music I was listening to. It offered something more social, in a way. Or sort of, also more spiritual. And this is also a trope that gets placed on African music a lot, but certainly when I was in college everybody was into jazz, specifically big band jazz, and that was the thing to do at North Texas. But for some reason it just wasn’t resonating with me very much and it just didn’t seem very deep. It seemed, everything was like, “Oh, what kind of licks can you play?” Can you play this rudiment or that rudiment? It was like, it didn’t have much substance to it in my mind. And, African music just was so deep in terms of the social significance of it, religious significance, spiritual. And I just really wanted to delve into that because I felt that African music had such a deeper meaning to it, and I came to realize that American popular music also has really deep meanings to it as well. But at the time I was just kind of like headed on a jazz overload and African music just offered this sort of more anthropological sort of framework, or avenue, for me, and then I just really got into anthropology and just really loved how it lined up, I guess. It just offered something really substantive that I could really sink my teeth into in terms of just intellectual curiosities, and just a different way of looking at the world. And seeing a whole culture, if there is such a thing as African culture – which of course there’s not – but yeah, at the time I was thinking, “Oh yeah, African culture. So much deeper than American culture, and it’s got all these layers,” which just fascinated me. They still do. Unfortunately, I don’t get over there as much as I’d like. A couple of years ago I was there, but it feels like a world or a lifetime ago that I was really studying African music deeply, and now it’s kind of coming to an end with the book project.


Advice for DSC

Gholz: Well, you get a grant fund for a Sound Conservancy Africa tour, so don’t give it up yet. Last question for the night. Give us some advice. You’ve really been with us now for over a year, and you came to meetings, you know, you’ve been coming to meetings, so you’re in. You show up. So can you give us some advice? We’re still pretty young though. So what kind of advice would you want to give us moving forward? What should we be doing? Concentrating on? Any thoughts on that, particularly?

Schauert: Well, I show up, I guess. I show up to meetings. So you guys have been nice enough to let me continue to show up [laughs] and haven’t kicked me out yet, even though I’m an outsider coming in. Most of the folks that are in Sound Conservancy are kind of born and bred in Detroit. So I’m happy to be part of it, really, and to see this grow. So what should we be doing now? We have a lot of things that we could be doing, and are doing, and we just need to do more of it. I think we need to raise our profile. People, a lot of people still don’t know who we are. and that we’re out here, and that we’re actually… we exist. So we need to do things. Social media is one thing. This is a great event, I definitely try to shout this out as much as possible. I think this is a really cool event. So raising awareness, I think. Speaking of raising – raising funds. And we need to have more events. Probably another Kickstarter but other events in the city that we could sponsor, or would be for our benefit, but would serve the community more. I think we need to reach out to scholars a bit more. Like all the folks that I’ve had speak in my class, I think we need to reach out to them more. And to other scholars. I mean, a lot of them know who we are. The scholars, at least, sort of have heard of us, but they don’t really know what we do, and they don’t know that they can contribute. And they’re the type of people that we need to connect to more and get them involved in a very serious way. So yeah, just building the community, you know, building the profile. Building the piggy bank [laugh]. 

Gholz: Yes. Thank you to Paul Schauert for persevering through… as we build the New Detroit, everybody – could we get a hand? I don’t know if anybody’s out there. [smattered applause] There you go. This is the Detroit Sound Conservancy. 


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