Harpoon Notes for May 8, 2019: Apotheosis of Jazz

President Greg struck the Rotary bell, and everyone rose to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” to Tom Strode’s delightful accompaniment. Along with the prelude, this would be just the opening salvo to a remarkable meeting filled with music.

Inspiration: Jim Irwin, tanned, rested, but clearly still overheated by Florida’s sun, bounded to the podium. “Here are some words of advice from people a lot smarter than me,” he began mirthfully. “In dealing with others, remember you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. And since actions speak louder than words, try not to get up on the wrong side of the bed, because you’ll have a tough row to hoe; and you’ll find it hard to give someone else the benefit of the doubt.” Taking a breath, he continued his proverb parade: “Your goal is to read between the lines before you go off half-cocked and forget that you can’t please everyone. Remember, the grass isn’t always greener…[and] don’t put all your eggs in one basket, since you can bet your bottom dollar others will. And for Heaven’s sake, be positive…And finally…if you’re ever called upon to give advice publicly, DON’T USE CLICHES!”

Song: Maestro extraordinaire, Rick Ingram, came up next. “I’m sorry, but when I was choosing the music, I thought it would still be raining.” His audience only half-laughed as all knew the cessation of precipitation could be shorter than the Christmas Truce of 1914. “So, let’s sing ‘Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head’ — there’s a Rotary message in the lyrics.” And there certainly is, especially in the last two verses. “…Cryin’s not for me ’cause I’m never gonna stop the rain by complainin’. Because I’m free. Nothin’s worryin’ me.”

Greg, looking over at Rick: “Didn’t Burt Bachrach write that? It’s from ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’, right?” Rick, smiling, nodded in the affirmative. This seemed to please Greg, for he launched into the greeting and volunteer appreciation with real verve. Now, whether Greg identifies more with Newman’s Butch or Redford’s Sundance (or lawman Joe Lefors), we’ll never know. What we can surmise, though, is that Pat’s Katharine Ross keeps the big guy very much in line.

An announcement was made that Ken Nesbitt will be the speaker at this Friday’s Rotary meeting at Glacier Hills. Ken will speak about regional innovation and tech transfer.

VITA Tax Return Recap: Bob Mull came to the podium and delivered a terrific recap of his team’s achievements helping people by preparing their 2019 tax returns, and saving them a bundle of money in the process. “We thought we’d be lucky to do 50% of what we did last year,” Bob began. “We’d lost two key volunteer [preparers], but we were up 17% — 1,181 returns [923 in 2018], logging in 1,666 hours of service.” VITA, which stands for Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, is a free service for lower-income taxpayers provided by United Way of Washtenaw County. Bob heads the prep team, and with his Ford Motor product development experience combined with an indomitable Rotary spirit of “Service Above Self,” the record-breaking refunds achieved were impressive, but perhaps not surprising. “Life-changing” was the term he used to describe the difference those refunds meant to the families served. One taxpayer, Miss Jones, a single mother working two jobs, received more than $6,000 in refunds. Bob also cited growth in the use of Scan-and-Go returns — 132 this year — which are prepared later in the day by the volunteers. He urged Rotarians and guests to consider volunteering next year. Thorough training is provided. The website is uwwashtenaw.org/volunteerforvita. As Bob aptly expressed, “It’s not easy, but very rewarding.” Here is the power point presentation Bob shared:


Remembering Howard Cooper: Greg asked Past Presidents Beth and Joe Fitzsimmons to come to the podium. “Joe and I, actually most of us, recently lost a very special friend — Howard Cooper. Howard passed away at the age of 90 on March 7th,” Beth began. “For the past several years we would spend time with Howard and his wife, Anne, at the Cooper’s home in Naples and at our home in Frankfurt, playing bridge and golf. Yes, it is hard to believe that Howard was 90 years old. For example, just five years ago, he and Anne took several biking tours in Europe.”

After marveling at Howard’s “most remarkable head of hair — a beautiful shade of brown without a single gray hair [a family trait]…Wish we could have bottled those genes!” Beth recounted how Joe had met Howard 40 years ago, “when Howard was chair of the Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce and asked Joe to find new members and to raise some dollars for the organization. That probably was Joe’s first introduction to fundraising.” In fact, it changed the course of Joe’s life: “In many ways, he helped to launch Joe into his 2nd career — raising money for good causes.”

“Much has been said about his generous gesture upon selling Howard Cooper Import Center in 2012 — giving each of the 89 employees $1,000 for each year of service…For some of the long time employees, receiving a $30,000 check was life-changing. His generosity made national news…He told the Ann Arbor News, “I wanted to thank my employees and that was the way I could do it. I hope it makes a difference in their lives as they have in mine.” Beth added, “Not only was he generous with the bonuses but they all retained their jobs.” After enumerating Howard’s many civic activities and philanthropies, including his nineteen-year membership in Rotary (“He was a multiple Paul Harris Fellow…a member of the Sustainers Society and a Distinguished Service Awardee”), Joe gave a moving testimonial to their friend: “Yes, he launched my second career in fundraising…He was a wonderful Rotarian, and a very good man. Please remember him, as we do, if you will.”

RCAA Team Bowling Championship! — Team Captain, Dick Elwell, came up, proudly donning our maize and blue bowling shirt, and declared “On behalf of the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor Bowling Team, it’s an honor to present the 2019 present the 2019 Bowling Championship trophy.” A thunderous ovation greeted Dick’s announcement. He held the two-foot high trophy over his head, said a few words to Greg, then declared, pointing to the audience, “This is your trophy!” He then gave the names of all the teamembers, admitting in the process, “We had to draft a couple of bowlers [from outside the Club], but we did it!” Congratulations, Dick, and the whole team.

Tom Millard, incoming Branding Committee chair, then introduced our ‘speaker’: Pioneer High School Jazz Band director, David A. Leach. “It is with great pleasure, on behalf of the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor, to welcome back the Pioneer High School Jazz Band for an encore performance.” After citing Pioneer’s Fine Arts Department’s winning of the National GRAMMY Signature School designation “in 2006 and 2011…making it the first high school music program honored twice by the GRAMMY Foundation as the number one public high school music program in the nation,” Tom regaled his listeners with a brief bio of Mr. Leach, who has served as Director of Bands since 2002: “He was named Band Teacher of the Year by the Michigan State Band and Orchestra Association in 2006 and 2010, and is currently serving as the organization’s president. He has received honors from the United States Marine Corps for sending his students to the Marine bands, including two in the Commandant’s Own Marine Band in Washington, DC.

“For over one hundred years, tens of thousands of students have participated in the Pioneer band program, and have consistently numbered among the best at state solo and ensemble competitions, and are regularly chosen to appear at state, national and international festivals and competitions. It is again my distinct honor and privilege, to introduce for your listening pleasure, under the direction of David A. Leach, the Pioneer High School Jazz Band.”

From Louis Armstrong to Dizzy Gillespie, from Ella Fitzgerald to Cary Kocher’s arrangement of “Pitiful,” composed for his daughter, Ella, who is the band’s lead singer, the concert was incredible. The audience marveled at the beauty and range of Ella Kocher’s multi-colored voice, along with the virtuosity of the soloists on trumpet, sax, trombone, keyboard, string bass, and guitar. The number “Please Don’t Be That Way” rolled along like a heaving sea, capturing perfectly the panache and discipline of Glenn Miller’s orchestra. “Nobody had a bigger influence than Ella Fitzgerald,” Leach declared, and Pioneer’s Ella did the great chanteuse justice. Again, in “Pitiful,” Ella’s alternately plaintive and sassy declamation ran the gamut of desire and soulful regret. One of your reporter’s favorites was one that David confessed “wasn’t that popular with the band,” 1979’s “Birdland”. Highly eccentric, the piece seemed to compel 110% from each musician; truly, there wasn’t an instant of ‘dead air’ as instrument after instrument tossed melodic variations back and forth in a flamboyant fretwork of delight.

“We’ll close with ‘Georgia On My Mind,’ Leach announced, as if to allow his audience a moment to reconstitute — until the sublime tenor sax solo broke everybody open again.

A spring concert not to be forgotten.

“To paraphrase Mark Twain, people have said that Jazz is dead, or dying,” Greg added upon regaining his voice, “but that has been greatly exaggerated.”