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House & garden > Motor City Cribs and Rides

Motor City Cribs

Putting Detroit's musical wealth in elegant Palmer Woods settings

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Published 2/24/2010

Architecturally speaking, Palmer Woods might be Detroit's greatest neighborhood. Tucked in the northwest corner of Woodward and Seven Mile, the neighborhood was built up largely in the 1920s, with grand Tudor and Colonial Revival homes nestled along winding roads. With every house unique — including houses designed by Minoru Yamasaki, Albert Kahn and Frank Lloyd Wright — Palmer Woods is the antithesis of a cookie-cutter subdivision.

Prominent jazz guitarist A. Spencer Barefield and his wife, Barbara, have called the neighborhood home for more than 20 years. Spencer became a key player in the '80s Detroit avant-garde jazz scene along with cutting-edge contemporaries in Griot Galaxy, playing with such greats as Roscoe Mitchell, Lester Bowie, Andrew Cyrille and the young James Carter. The Barefields' 1937 home is filled with Barbara's luminous, hand-tinted photographs documenting Detroit's jazz scene (some of which were done while working with Leni Sinclair at the Detroit-Ann Arbor Sun paper). The home is also full of Barbara and son Spencer's pottery, and more than a few dog toys belonging to their huge charmer of a St. Bernard named Devo.

Over the years, Spencer and Barbara have given concerts at their home. Three years ago they decided to start a home concert series that celebrated the rich architecture of their neighborhood and Detroit's musical wealth, from jazz to Latin to Arabic, with shows in different homes each month. Last month's concert celebrated Mardis Gras with musicians including trombonist Ron Kischuk and trumpeter Dwight Adams.

It probably doesn't hurt that every show has great intermission food, or that each house is a trip back to a grander time with, as Barbara notes, "huge spaces for performances and celebrating the arts." Spencer nods his head in agreement: "You can't build houses like this anymore."

The Lotus Ensemble performs at 7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 28, as part of the Palmer Woods Music in Homes series. A string quartet of DSO regulars, the Lotus Ensemble, will play music by composers from Bach to Scott Joplin to William Grant Still in honor of Black History Month. Added attraction: Celeste Headlee, former Detroiter and now co-host of public radio's The Takeaway, will be on hand to talk about her grandfather, William Grant Still. For more information visit palmerwoods.org. For more information on
Spencer Barefield visit spencerbarefield.com.

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