The Graystone International Jazz Museum was located in downtown Detroit. The museum housed photos, posters, video tapes, books, and other jazz memorabilia. Noteworthy items in the collection included John Coltrane's piano, J.C. Heard's drums, and sundry items from the Graystone Ballroom. It was originally located in the AFL-CIO building at 716 Lothrup, and moved later to 3000 East Grand Boulevard, to 1521 Broadway, and finally to 1249 Washington Boulevard. The GIJM was, for most of its existence, the only jazz museum in America.
According to Jim Dulzo and Steve Bryant, James T. Jenkins was inspired to provide a museum for jazz history and artifacts after Duke Ellington passed away in 1974. Part of Jenkins' mission at the GIJM was to preserve and restore the Graystone Ballroom. After being damaged by a nearby fire in the early 1970s, the ballroom fell into disrepair and was ultimately torn down in 1980. In 1991, the museum moved into a formal bridal shop at 1521 Broadway. Jenkins acknowledged the space had a number of issues due to its age, but remained optimistic about the museum's future. At some point between this move and 1994, the museum moved yet again to 1249 Washington Boulevard. After Jenkins passed away In 1994, Thomas "Beans" Bowles took executive directorship of the museum. Bowles, a former band leader who had previously participated in a number of GIJM concerts and served on the museum's board, attempted to move the museum in a new direction. In an interview with James Nelson Wright, he stated a desire to found a jazz school in Detroit.
The museum was plagued by perennial funding issues which led to its ultimate demise. In a 1991 interview with Jim Dulzo, Jenkins decried the elimination of Michigan Council for the Arts funding opportunities. Later the same year, Larry Gabriel reaffirmed that the "museum struggles financially and administratively." After Jenkins died in 1994, Thomas "Beans" Bowles took on the executive directorship. According to James Nelson Wright, Bowles sought support for the museum through private donors, corporate backing, and volunteers.
The Community History Jazz Series, which conducted and taped interviews with fourteen of "Detroit's finest local musicians" was completed under the direction of Larry Gabriel in 1989 with financial assistance from the Neighborhood Builder's Alliance.
The Graystone International Jazz Museum offered a number of concert series over the course of its existence. Many of them were hosted at the University of Detroit, including the "Jazz in the Afternoon," "Saturday Night Cabaret," and "Sunday Jazz Matinee" series of the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 1990, free "Blue Monday" concerts were hosted during the summer at Hart Plaza, and in 1994 they were held at the Detroit Press Club inside the Renaissance Center. Some of the artists featured in GIJM concerts included the Alma Smith Quintet, Pistol Allen and the Magnificent Nine, The New Graystone Orchestra, Thomas "Beans" Bowles, Miller Brisker and the Detroit Saxophone Experience, the Gene Key Quintet,1 Chicago Pete and His Detroiters, Jimmy Wilkins' Kansas City Seven, and Kenny Burrel.
The Graystone International Jazz Museum was a unique institution. The loss of the museum and the dispersal of its collection was a blow not only to local but national jazz heritage. The story of the GIJM is consistent with a larger pattern in which Detroit's music venues are destroyed or fall into disrepair. The historic Monroe Theatre Distict, the many jazz and blues clubs of Paradise Valley, and the Graystone Ballroom itself all shared the same sad fate as that which which befell the GIJM. How many more repositories of Detroit's music legacy must we lose before taking serious steps toward preservation?
Donna Gloff, "About the Graystone"
Dan Austin, Graystone Ballroom
1. Also spelled "Kee" in a Michigan Chronicle article of 1994, "Struggling to survive, Graystone Jazz Museum presenting Ellington fundraiser."