Jazz Age(ing): The Joy of Jazz Music in a Senior Living Community

I sat at the keyboard, hands touching the keys but not yet actually pressing them down, thinking about the first notes I would play. These were essential notes, as they would set the tone for the many notes to follow, just like the first words and sentence of an essay sets the tone for the rest of the piece. You would think that once I had picked the song to play, I would know what notes the corresponding notes of that song would be, but that is not the case. I’m a jazz musician, and therefore, every time I play a song, it is different. 

My left hand started to play a familiar, bluesy bass line. I moved into a rollicking kind of rhythm, “bam ba baam ba, bam ba baam ba,” accenting the third beat of the riff, a sound any audience would recognize as sort of a boogie-woogie, bluesy bass line. I started it in the key of C, and then moved it up to the F, and then up to the G, which is part of the simple, typical blues progression. Most people will recognize this as the blues, even if they don’t know it intellectually, because they have heard it a thousand times before in their lives.

The audience responded, moving their heads up and down and tapping their feet. I eventually added my right hand with chords, and now they really recognized the pattern. They started moving their bodies even more. This was a great audience. They were so appreciative of the music and really felt it. When I started adding some cool blues licks they were right there with me, oohing and ahhing.  

After I finished the melody, I started soloing over the form of the tune, as jazz musicians do. I started playing a different song, a short, simple one, then left some space. Space is good. It leaves the brain some room to appreciate the next phase.  

Getting into the rhythm Vibrant Life Senior Living

However,  I was surprised to hear the space taken up by another musician. I looked around instinctively, although I knew no one else was on the stage with me. In a second, I realized the sound was coming from the audience.

“Ba ba de ba do ba de dom!,” the sound said, echoing one of my riffs. I played the same riff on the keys. “Ba ba de ba deedala de dom!,” the sounds said, echoing the first riff, but adding a few more notes. I repeated that riff on the keyboard. We kept doing this. Now the musician from the audience was leading me, and I was following him! 

We kept this up for a while, and I looked up to see who was jamming away, scat singing to my tune. It was a man off in his own world, moving his head up and down, beating his left leg on the ground like a drummer, and singing like he was in a jazz jam session on 54rd street in New York City in the 1950s. 

Except we weren’t in New York City in the 1950s; we were in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in the year 2019. And we weren’t in a blues or jazz club. We were in an assisted living community called Vibrant Life Senior Living. The audience’s average age was 85 years old, and some of them had dementia

But I didn’t care, and neither did they. I was playing, and the crowd was enjoying the music.

The guy jamming with me was an 87-year-old guy named Bob. Bob is a former music teacher, and he is a Musician with a capital M. He plays all sorts of instruments and has a mandolin and guitar in his room, as well as other percussion instruments. We’ve talked about music, and when I talk to him, Bob speaks, acts, and thinks like a musician. It doesn’t matter that he struggles to walk, and sometimes struggles to get the words out. It doesn’t matter that his fingers sometimes don’t work that well, and he can have a hard time playing his mandolin. When I go to his room, we talk tunes and musical styles, and about other musicians, and anecdotes about audiences and joke about what musicians joke about, just like I’m talking to my music buddies my age. We are part of a club, the musician club, and I know he knows what he’s talking about just like he knows I know what I’m talking about.  

Because we were in such a familiar setting, I felt comfortable just stopping the tune mid-stream.  “Ok, hold on here,” I said. “This is too good. Bob, come on up here on our stage with me. If you’re gonna be a part of the band, scat singing like that, you may as well join me here up on the stage.”  

I got up and went over to Bob, who was in his wheelchair. I rolled him over next to the keyboard, and then maneuvered the mic-stand, so the mic was right at his mouth. “Bob, let’s keep doing what we were doing, but this time, sing into the mic. You’ll be my sax player.” 

Group Of Seniors Standing By Piano And Singing Together

Bob was all for it, so I started the tune up again. I started riffing away, leaving some space, and Bob began to riff as well, scat singing into the microphone. He was getting into it, emphasizing every other beat of the riff. And the audience was getting into it, too. They started banging on the tables with their hands and stomping the ground with their feet. They had become my rhythm section – they all just became drummers! I kept playing and singing, and Bob kept scatting away, really sounding like a saxophonist, and my drummers kept pounding the beat for another five or ten minutes. Bob ended with a flourish, and I got up off the keyboard and led my audience/rhythm section to a big finish like a conductor with his orchestra.  

When it was over, there was silence.  We all realized that we had just experienced something magical. For a few minutes, we weren’t in an assisted living community any longer. For a few minutes, they weren’t “residents” any longer.  For a few delicious moments, we were all transported, all of us just people, all of us just musicians, riding on the magical wave of jazz. For a few delightful minutes, “saxophonist” Bob didn’t feel any pain, didn’t feel trapped inside his own body, and instead was jamming away being a real musician, as he had been for the past fifty years of his life. And for a few special moments, all of my “audience/drummers” forgot where they were, both in place and time and instead as the sounds of jazz flowed through the air, we were all in a late night jazz club on 54th street in New York City. 


Author Bio


Author Dean Solden is the founder and co-owner of Vibrant Life Senior Living and has been a leader in the senior health care business for the past thirty years. He also is a professional musician (DeanSoldenmusic.com), writer, speaker, and playwright. He can be contacted at deansolden@gmail.com.

Dean Solden joins Shelley Irwin and a panel of distinguished guests on WGVU’s Family Health Matters

WGVU Family Health Matters Season 19 Episode 5 Dean Solden in Panel Discussion regarding Alzheimer's and DementiaDean Solden joins Shelley Irwin and a panel of distinguished guests on WGVU’s Family Health Matters to discuss important Alzheimers and Dementia topics, including:

  • When should I look at assisted living for my Mom or Dad?
  • What trends do professionals see in Dementia care?
  • How can I recognize Alzheimers or Dementia?
  • How do Assisted Living and Memory Care Communities spend their days with the people who live there?
  • What does it mean to care for the caregiver?

5 Steps to Finding the Right Assisted Living Community

Finding an assisted living community for a loved one can be a daunting task. You want to find the right place for your family member to live, but there are so many factors to consider it can be hard to know where to begin your search. Looking online is a great place to start, but even then it’s difficult to narrow down your options.

To help simplify this process, we’ve compiled a list of steps to finding assisted living online, and what you should look for:

Step #1: Cutting Through the Online Clutter

When you start your online search you’ll likely begin with a local search online, like “assisted living Bedford Township.” Your list of results will include ads, local listings, and organic results.

If you look closely, you’ll notice that the first couple ads are likely not for assisted living communities. Instead, these companies like A Place For Mom and Caring.com act as brokers for many assisted living options around the country. We recommend not wasting your time calling them because they primarily provide you with the same list of communities in your area that you would find with a google search for Assisted Living or Mental Care. You can easily find these yourself. Just scroll down past the advertisements for the local listings.

Step #2: Choosing Quality of Life

Once you’ve found your assisted living websites you can begin evaluating the different communities available in your area. Look at the website as if you were taking a tour of the community. What are they emphasizing? Virtually everyone will discuss their quality of care, but you should go deeper than that and also consider the quality of life your family member will have through life enrichment activities and programs, relationship building, and other . Look at a community’s amenities, programming, and mission statement to get a better understanding of their values and approach to care.

Step #3: Narrow Your Options: Memory Care and Assisted Living

Understanding assisted living gets a little confusing when your loved one needs supervision of care because of their cognitive or memory problems (dementia), rather than their need for physical care. Many people think that if Mom or Dad have dementia and can no longer live at home they need a nursing home, but that is no longer true. Many assisted living communities now offer memory care, usually located in a specialized wing or building.

Assisted living is usually a much more pleasant and residential environment than a nursing home, which can look and feel institutional. You can often have your own room, and some communities offer different levels of memory care to accommodate the different behaviors and potential problems associated with early, mid-stage and later stage dementia.

To narrow your search, determine what level of memory care your family member might need and plan accordingly. Not all assisted living communities may have the services you need, so this can be a way to narrow down your options even further.

Step #4: Assisted Living Tours: Evaluating Off-Line

You’ve picked your top contenders for assisted living communities, but don’t call them yet. Make a surprise visit after business hours or on the weekend, when the administrator and marketing team are likely gone. This will give you a more “real” look at residents, staff engagement, and the community as a whole. If you like what you see you can make an appointment for a tour during business hours and get the full sales pitch.

Step #5: Making The Choice

Ultimately, the assisted living community you choose will depend on a variety of factors like price, quality of care, and location. Taking the time to thoroughly vet each community online and paying an unannounced visit will help give you a better idea of what the community is really like and make the right choice for your loved one.

For more information on assisted living, memory care and nursing homes, you can contact Dean Solden at Deansolden.vibrantlife@gmail.com.

Vibrant Life Senior Living, Superior Township’s first “Sneak Preview” Open House

Our construction sneak-peak open house for Vibrant Life Senior Living, Superior Township was a fun night for everyone. This was our first opportunity to reach out to the community. From other professionals in the senior healthcare industry to website marketers and musicians, the event brought all walks of life together to introduce Vibrant Life Superior to the community, talk about how we can solve a major issue in the senior living industry, and showcase our facility.

Solving more than one problem with Assisted Living

Dean Solden, the co-owner and developer of Vibrant Life Senior Living, Superior Township. took a few minutes to discuss the purpose of the facility with the guests. “Assisted living communities exist because they solve a problem. We provide 24-hour supervision and physical and cognitive care to those seniors who cannot live at home anymore,” said Dean. “However, in doing so, the industry has created another problem. We segregate our seniors, and as a result, we reduce the opportunities for meaningful relationships and stimulation activity, which is a prime ingredient for depression. At Vibrant Life, we have innovative solutions which address this problem, reduce depression, and ultimately create a wonderful environment for the people who live and work here, allowing them to enjoy their lives, to thrive, not just survive.”

Modern facilities and cutting-edge care

This is exactly what Vibrant Life is attempting to create with the new 72 unit assisted living and memory care facility.  By taking a property that has fallen into disrepair, in a growing section of Western Washtenaw County, Dean and his team are hoping to implement new practices in the industry.


Creating opportunities in Assisted Living and Memory Care

Over 60 community members took a tour of the new Vibrant Life.  Some people were interested in finding a place for their loved one, some were looking for employment, others were just neighbors interested in seeing the progress being made.  As the jazz band played, community members enjoyed a picnic style summer spread of hot dogs, assorted fruit, and potato salad, all prepared by Vibrant Life Superior’s head chef, Tiffani Gordon.
Dean also spoke about some of the other innovative things that Vibrant Life will be implanting.

  1. At Vibrant Life, we will have two levels of assisted living and three levels of memory care.  “We pride ourselves on our different levels of care. Not only do we aid people who have physical needs, but we have a special lodge for people with early cognitive needs.  Most other communities don’t have the sensitivity to those with early cognitive needs. We also have a lodge for those with moderate to severe cognitive needs, and then one lodge for later stage memory issues.  “By creating these separate lodges, we offer almost “custom” care. People are with people who are like them, which makes a better quality of life for all the residents, staff and families.”
  2. “No more going to the nursing home for Rehab. At Vibrant Life, we will have our own out-patient Rehab where people can get their Rehab while enjoying their life in one of our beautiful Lodges.  This is a game-changer.”
  3. “Our own in-house neurologist. This is amazing.  We will have our own neurologist, who will follow all our memory care residents. This is unheard of in the industry.
  4. “We have a relationship with the University of Michigan School of Social Work. We will be a field placement for the Master’s level students who will help counsel and support the people who live and work at Vibrant Life as well as their families.  This fits perfectly with our mission.”

A rainy day did not dilute the energy as community members networked with one another and shared ideas with staff about how this Vibrant Life Senior Living can be the best-assisted living and memory care it can be.