The Black Bottom: The Measure Of Man

by Theo Czuk

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 The Black Bottom: The Black Bottom was a neighborhood that served as ground zero for Detroit’s contribution to jazz. Every major industrialized city had them. The speakeasies, the blind pigs, the honky-tonks that were the testing grounds and launching pad of America’s greatest of art form; jazz. It was in these back-alley, late night gathering holes that musicians banded for the voyaging of jazz while it was vaudeville that dispersed the craze across America. This was jazz in its adolescence. The raw, untamed, devil-may-care youth of jazz. The title, The Black Bottom, harkens back to an earlier time in Detroit’s history when the city was an agricultural community and this low basin was legendary for its rich, black soil. There is poetic beauty to this area transitioning from the cultivation of agriculture to the cultivation of music-culture. Today the neighborhood of The Black Bottom is buried under thousands of tons I 375 freeway. But the voices of the people entombed there, and the music they generated, call out from beneath the stone. THE BLACK BOTTOM: The Measure Of Man is what they have to say.About the novel: THE BLACK BOTTOM, The Measure of Man, is a Novel Noir psychological thriller set in the roar of a 1927 Detroit. In the America of the 1920’s, jazz was smack dab in its formative years, distending the edges of the musical landscape. Kaleb Kierka is a man without memory. Locked in the grip of amnesia as a result of a violent beating, he must quickly learn his history or become a victim to it. Kaleb’s narration unfolds of a young man who is at once an owner of an underground speakeasy, a Purple Gang affiliate, and a piano player in the seedier speakeasies of Detroit. Kaleb will need to recover his history quickly if he is to have any hope of avoiding his demise. The narration follows Kaleb as he negotiates the roar of the 20s. But time is short for Kaleb to recover his memory as violence follows him like a dark shadow; a silhouetted memory of a violent chronicle. Jazz, amnesia, the Roaring Twenties, prohibition, gang wars, union wars and 1927 Detroit are all explored in this psychological thriller.


I grew up in Detroit, though in the 50’s & 60’s, so was very interested in this book because of the history of my hometown. I was also drawn to it by the simple fact that I know the author. I haven’t seen him in 40+ years, since the time we shared a flat with another friend on the east side of Detroit. I knew Theo as Ted, and we shared a lot of good times, including watching him grow as a musician. He has since expanded upon his creativity to include authoring this fabulous look at 1927 Detroit, a Detroit that is dynamic, a Detroit that is on the cutting edge of industry, a Detroit that is the conduit for much of the illegal alcohol brought into the States during Prohibition. Not only does the author paint a picture of that city and that time, he has sculpted a portrait of a man lost to himself struggling to find who he is. The use of Blue the psychoanalyzing feline, rhapsodizing the plight of mankind to the tune of a mournful, deep throated Sax, as Kaleb pieces his life together, is a highlight of the tale. However, the search for identity is dovetailed nicely into a page turning thrilling crime/mystery. It was also very easy to fall in love with the characters, even the heavies of The Rubble. For some it was an agonizing hope that life would improve, for others it was a sort of identification with the young boys and their bonding together.

While I never had the chance to trod the Black Bottom streets, as it was during my time that it was plowed under for I-375….though I once got a jaywalking ticket as me and some friends crossed over the, as yet unopened, freeway on our way to Tiger Stadium. So, perhaps I did walk over the spot where Kaleb’s speakeasy lived and breathed the sounds of jazz. 5 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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