This one's for Robert

By Lawrence Cosentino

Jazz returns to Creole Gallery after two years

All vibrations disperse and die. The physics are inescapable. But one pluck on a familiar double bass can push healing circles back into the air.

On April 3, Rodney Whitaker will pull a few strings and the peeling walls of the Creole Gallery will pulse with jazz for the first time since the venue’s owner and guiding spirit Robert Busby died in February 2007.

Whitaker, MSU’s Jazz Studies chief, will lead his jazz group, faculty soloists and guest vocalists in a concert that will benefit the Robert P. Busby Jazz Scholarship Fund. Meegan Holland, Busby’s life and business partner for 10 years, is booking the concert in collaboration with Robert Busby’s daughter and the Creole’s inheritor, Ena Busby.

“It just all fell together,” Holland said. “Ena was ready for it, I was ready for it, and Rodney was raring to go.”

It’s the first concert Holland has produced in two years. Soon after Busby’s death, she moved to Grand Rapids. “I just haven’t had the heart to do it up until now,” she said.

But the Creole has not been idle since Busby’s death. Ena Busby has kept it going with a variety of events, including WLNZ’s Grand River Radio Concert series, plays by Peppermint Creek Theatre Co. and Riverwalk Theatre’s Black Box series, the Old Town Poetry Series and ongoing art exhibits.

Still, a lot of people — jazz fans in particular — haven’t had the heart to return since the tragic end of Holland and Busby’s musical partnership. Even Whitaker and his fellow MSU Professors of Jazz, who filled the funky shoebox with music many times, haven’t returned since Busby’s death.

In the Creole’s heyday, Holland and Robert Busby snagged one jazz coup after another, from big names like Wynton Marsalis and Mose Allison to lesser-known but insiderp l e a s i n g artists like M o u t i n B r o t h e r s Band and the Rova Saxophone Quartet.

All of them loved Busby and the vibe at the Creole.

“He was very humble around the musicians, because he just loved them so much, and loved the Professors so much,” Whitaker said.

The last time Whitaker played the Creole was in 2007 with visiting piano man Johnny O’Neal.

Usually, after a gig, Whitaker and the Professors kept Busby up until the wee hours. “They’d always come up to Robert’s apartment afterwards, maybe drink a little too much,” Holland recalled.

Busby was unusually talkative on the night O’Neal played the Creole, but Whitaker and his wife, Cookey, were exhausted from a string of concerts and went home early. “I regret it, because that was my last time talking to him,” Whitaker said. “I wish I would have kept him up to 5 or 6 in the morning.”

Holland said it’s “bittersweet” to do a jazz concert without Busby, but after two years of mourning, in which much of Lansing shared, the time felt right. She hasn’t decided whether her involvement in Friday’s concert will be a oneshot or not. If she books another Creole concert, she said, it will probably be in a different genre from
jazz, with proceeds to help Busby’s other passion: Old Town.

This time
around, Holland found everything is more than twice as hard without
him. She doesn’t even like the way the tickets turned out.

something Robert would have handled,” Holland said. “They don’t look as
good as what he’d have.”

It’s difficult for her to go to any live
concert, let alone at the Creole. “Every time I go, it just takes me
back to watching live music with Robert,” she said.

But she knows Busby
wouldn’t like the idea of letting the Creole’s jazz chops sag. “What he
would love about this is that we’re helping jazz students in his name,”
she said.

The Busby scholarship, started in 2007, has helped students
with tuition and lifechanging trips to Japan.

Holland said she
and Ena Busby have grown closer since Robert Busby’s death.

“Now we
just have this bond,” Holland said. “She’s what I’ve got, and I
certainly have stories about Robert that she loves to hear.”

Robert Busby Memorial Concert

Jazz Orchestra with Rodney Whitaker 8 p.m. Friday, April 3 Creole
Gallery 1218 Turner St., Lansing $25 Tickets available at Archives
Books and Elderly Instruments (517) 242-0295