Uneasy With Detroit Development, Jazz Pianist Starts Conversation With Music

Pamela Wise has lived in Detroit since 1984. The changes she sees happening in development and gentrification may cause her unease, but also spark inspiration for her creative practice.

Pamela Wise drives around her neighborhood. She’s been living here since 1984.

“It’s really weird, because you see new houses, and next to the new houses you see places just falling apart.”

She’s not sure how she feels about this transformation, seeing both pros and cons. She points out one building. 

“This place has been vacant for a long time, and I can see where they’re starting to change it,” she says. “There’s a black developer doing these houses. I understand that she’s making this very affordable.”

“Artists are reflective of what’s going on in our community. We’re like the newspaper for our community.” – Pamela Wise, pianist

It’s complicated. 

“All of a sudden you see all these different people, it’s like they just dropped down out of a spaceship,” she says. “That’s not a bad thing, its a little different, but you are wondering, well, what’s going on here?”

Click the player above to hear Pamela Wise perform ‘Uneasy Spaces.’

Screen Grab
Screen Grab

Pamela is a jazz pianist. She has played all around town for decades.

“Artists are reflective of what’s going on in our community. we’re like the newspaper for our community.”

In response to the changes she’s seen, Pamela composed a few songs. One of them, ‘Uneasy Spaces,’ is about “transitioning from one place to another, being pushed out of a space and you gotta try to make due.”

She’s also the music minister of a church on Detroit’s west side, where she brings people together to listen to songs like ‘Uneasy Spaces’ and discuss the changes in the city. She wanted to use art to ignite a spark in people.

Pamela may be uncertain about the future. In the meantime, she will play the piano, compose songs and bring people together. 

This piece was produced as part of the Transom Traveling Workshop in Detroit, Mich.

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