Commentary: Renaissance man

Oct 1, 2012

Most of the time, the media cover people in a way that portrays most of us as being essentially one-dimensional. 

We are doctors or lawyers, filmmakers or politicians; gourmet cooks or entertainers, et cetera. I think that we also miss a fair amount of fascinating people who don’t fit into traditional categories.

This summer, I met one such man, a soft-spoken East Lansing attorney named Bob Baldori, who has helped get a lot of high-tech startup firms off the ground in a number of states.

He is also a paramount “foodie” who delights in growing his own crops and whipping up amazing dinners.

In fact, I met Baldori this summer at such a dinner on Mackinac Island. When I asked whether he thought of himself more as a lawyer or a chef, he said “neither.” He said he was mainly a musician, a boogie-woogie piano player who, for 40 years has performed with Chuck Berry. He wasn‘t making this up.

Not only that, Baldori had a fairly famous band in the 60's called The Woolies, who had a hit called Who Do You Love? that most self-respecting baby boomers can still belt out in the shower.

For the last few years, however, when not in the courtroom, Baldori has been making a full-length feature film called Boogie Stomp, which is part the history of boogie-woogie jazz and mainly the story of the legendary Bob Seeley, another Michigan artist little known here, but widely regarded as the best boogie-woogie piano player in the world.

The film was better than what I saw at the Traverse City Film Festival this summer, though the festival showed no interest in it. The other day, however, Baldori got a call from Clint Eastwood.

The Clint Eastwood. He wants to show Boogie Stomp at the Carmel Film Festival later this month, and afterwards, have Baldori and Seeley perform live and probably jam with Clint.

Presumably, without the empty chair. The other night, Baldori  told me all this over a multi-course dinner he made himself in a house in Okemos, which he also built himself and where he lives with his wife, the artist Kelli Boyle, and their 13-year-old daughter, Lia, who talked to me about the similarities between Charles Dickens and he early James Joyce. By that point, I was past being surprised. So, I asked Baldori what he thought was the biggest problem was in Michigan today.

Oddly enough, he said it was the same one that enables him to earn a living and support his art. Our insane drug laws. He doesn’t much enjoy medical marijuana cases, but they pay the bills.

But Baldori says that after a long legal career, he has no doubt that the harm to society caused by outlawing weed far outweighs any damage marijuana use could do. He noted that the Michigan Supreme Court has declared that “there is not even a rational basis for treating marijuana as a more dangerous drug than alcohol.”

My suspicion is that there are a lot of similar issues our society should be discussing, and a lot of people like Baldori whom we should be discovering. I even think we’d find their stories far more interesting than one more day in the latest Kwame Kilpatrick trial.