Sunday, February 11, 2018


Jazz pianist Jason Moran
The Blue Note recording artist pianist Jason Moran inarguably has one of the most inventive minds in contemporary jazz. Never one to think inside the box. Moran was in Detroit Friday evening part of the Paradise Jazz Series. In a 70 minute set, Moran paid tribute to the iconic jazz pianist Thelonious Monk, who would’ve been 100 last year. The concert wasn’t a run-of-the-mill tribute. Moran included video and audio footage of Monk speaking about his life and his work, which made it appear as if Monk’s spirit was on the stage with Moran’s band. Moran also included some biographical information about himself and his affinity for Monk’s legacy. For the tribute, Moran turned his longstanding trio Bandwagon into an octet, and the band performed cuts from Monk’s classic 1959 album “Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall”. Moran opened with a solo rendition of “Thelonious”. Then he brought out his band saxophonists JD Allen and Immanuel Wilkins, bassist Tarus Mateen, drummer Eric McPherson, trumpeter Ralph Alessi, trombonist Frank Lacy, and tuba player Bob Stewart. Many noted jazz musicians the world over have tried their hands at Monk’s music with varying degrees of success. Moran has an intimate understanding of Monk’s work as if Monk set Moran down and explain the inner workings of his music point by point. All concert long, Moran started the music as Monk originally conceived it. Then Moran added his own splashes of brilliance and color via myriad tempo, rhythmic, and mood changes. There’re crowd-pleasing solos by Lacy, Allen, and McPherson throughout the performance. The moments of the concert that most likely played over and over in the audience’s heads driving home were the band’s reworking of “Little Rootie Tootie,” and “Crepuscule with Nellie”. Near the end of the latter cut, the band turned Monk’s tribute to his wife into a blues. The unfortunate thing about the evening was the house was only half-full owing to the nine inches of snow that hit Detroit and the surrounding counties. The people who chose to stay home missed one of the best concerts in the Paradise Jazz Series’ recent history. Even Moran’s encore was outside the box. The band marched through the crowd, leading the crowd into the lobby where the band played an encore. Afterwards, Moran mingled, signed autographs, and snapped selfies as if anxious to greet each concert goer who braved the inclement weather to experience his performance.

Sunday, December 17, 2017


Abundances Glenn Tucker Poly Fold
Currently, there are many young jazz musicians in Detroit making a name for themselves. Detroit has a rich jazz tradition, and the young players are doing an admirable job of keeping that tradition going. My personal favorite is pianist Glenn Tucker, a graduate of the University of Michigan. To date, Tucker has three terrific albums available, the newest being “Abundances”. The album is comprised of nine originals and one oldie but goodie, and the album shows Tucker has grown considerably as a session leader and a composer. You can hear a lot of history in his playing, and he swings harder than a hypnotist timepiece. Tucker is in sound company with bassist Marion Hayden and drummer George Davidson.

Compassion Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano Resonance Records
Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano are two of the greatest saxophonist working these days. For “Compassion,” a wonderful sort of love letter if you will to the iconic saxophonist John Coltrane, Liebman and Lovano pooled their chops. “Compassion” is one of the finest Coltrane tribute album ever recorded. Liebman and Lovano appeared to be possessed by Coltrane’s spirit throughout this session, blowing new life into some of Coltrane’s signature tunes such as “Equinox,” “Reverend King,” and “Central Park West/Dear Lord.

Sean Jones Live From Jazz at the Bistro Sean Jones Mack Avenue Records
This recording is trumpeter Sean Jones’ first live date, and it shows Jones and his longstanding band drummer Obed Calvarie, saxophonist Brian Hogans, pianist Orrin Evans, and bassist Luques Curtis in excellent form. For my money, this is the tightest unit in jazz currently. If you demand proof check out “Art’s Variable,”  “The Ungentrified Blues,” and “BJ’s Tune”. If you aren’t convinced after listening to those cuts, something might be wrong with your ears.

Dreams and Daggers Cecile McLorin Salvant Mack Avenue Record
Wonder if jazz vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant has set some sort of jazz record. She’s put out three albums in her still young career and each has been nominated for a Grammy. The latest is “Dreams and Daggers,” a perfectly wrought live two-disc recording with Salvant alternating between two award-winning jazz pianists her longstanding musical director Aaron Diehl and Sullivan Fortner. This is a flawless outing with Salvant’s voice covering you like a warm blanket on each track.

Radio Flyer JD Allen Savant Records
Tenor saxophonist JD Allen has been on a roll populating the planet with a new release yearly for the past decade. Allen new offspring is a fine album of original compositions “Radio Flyer”. Allen like to stick with what works running with bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston. Here Allen added guitarist Liberty Ellman. In the past, when Allen has included a new player to the mix, the player seemed out of place. On “Radio Flyer, “however, Ellman fits comfortably. It appears throughout this excellent date Allen made the album as a showcase for Ellman’s chops.

Bringin' it Christian McBride Big Band Mack Avenue Records
At some point soon, a conversation should be had if jazz bassist Christian McBride owns the best jazz big band around. Some industry insiders think so because “Bringin’ It “has garnered the big band its second Grammy nod. That aside, “Bringin’ It” is a wonderful album with the band getting buck ass wild on numbers such as “Thermo,” “Full House,” “Mr. Bojangles,” and “Used ‘Ta Could”.

That Feelin’ Mike Ledonne the Groover Quartet with Vincent Herring Savant Records
It’s almost impossible to make less than an extraordinary album with a band that includes saxophonist Eric Alexander, drummer Joe Farnsworth, guitarist Peter Bernstein, and with the incomparable organist Mike Ledonne in the driver’s seat. This is one of those grooving high jazz albums that will give your spirit goosebumps.

In the Moment Johnny O’Neal Smoke Session Records
Jazz pianist Johnny O’Neal is a star on New York’s jazz scene, and at this stage of his hall of fame career, O’Neal is making some of his best music. “In the Moment” is his new masterwork and it proves track after track his chops are still in mint condition. The album has a whopping 16 tracks with O’Neal singing and swinging like hell, and there’s some fine trumpet work by the great Roy Hargrove.
To Love and Be Loved Harold Mabern Smoke Session Records

At 81 jazz pianist, Harold Mabern still plays the piano as if he has four hands. “To Love and Be Loved” is the kind of no-holds-barred jazz album Mabern has been making for decades. Each number on the album is infused with Mabern’s youthful exuberance. And some of his sidemen bassist Nat Reeves, trumpeter Freddie Hendrix, and saxophonist Eric Alexander behave as if they’re happy as fuck to be swinging with the old guy.

Cerulean Canvas Sherman Irby & Momentum Black Warrior Records
Saxophonist Sherman Irby is best known as the lead alto chair for the famed Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Sherman moonlights as a session leader, and Irby has eight stellar jazz albums on the market. Irby’s newest “Cerulean Canvas” may rank among his finest, showing Irby is in the same league as alto greats such as Johnny Hodges and Cannonball Adderley. There’s some wonderful playing by pianist Eric Reed and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. The cuts on “Cerulean Canvas” most likely to stick to your ribs are “Blues for Poppa Reed,” John Bishop Blues,” and “Smile Please”.

Monday, November 20, 2017


Baritone saxophonist Alex Harding

The baritone saxophonist Alex Harding has finally returned to his native Detroit after many years on the road working with marquee jazz acts such as of Julius Hemphill, the Mingus Big Band, and Roy Hargrove, and becoming a constant force on New York’s jazz scene where his reputation as a top commodity was cemented years ago. To celebrate Harding's homecoming, an organization called Celebrate Detroit, run by jazz supporter Rev. Daniel Aldridge, threw a two-hour tribute for Harding at the St. Matthew’s & St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church Sunday afternoon that was fit for royalty. The tribute was hosted by the popular jazz radio personality Maxine Michaels, and Harding performed with three of his groups, opening the program with a terrific duo with drummer Leonard King, who played brilliantly on each number he soloed on. Next Harding played with a quartet trombonist Vincent Chandler, bassist Rocco Popielarski, and King again on drums. The quartet cooked on a mix of originals and standards such as Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence” and Horace Silver’s “Peace”.  On those cuts, Harding’s and Chandler’s virtuosity as soloists were on full display. Harding has a gorgeous tone on the baritone, and he has a knack for making the horn sound, at any given moment, like a tenor sax. At key moments of the concert, Harding appeared to have channeled the ghosts of baritone sax Gods Pepper Adams and Harry Carney, clearly two of Harding’s chief influences. Harding and Chandler on the frontline proved to be the perfect match.  Chandler is unquestionably among the top tier trombonist in jazz, proving that when the zoom lens was put on him. In the second set, Harding performed with his Organ Nation trio drummer Djallo Dakate and the always soulful organist Jim Alfredson. Alfredson had his organ howling and the church walls sweating. Harding closed the program by calling back on stage all the musicians, and letting them run buck wild on the Meters’ classic “Cissy Strut”. The musicians showed out on that number. It was questionable if the musicians had forgotten they were in a church. Harding ended with a touching original “Spirit Take My Hand” that he composed for his deceased grandmother and father. The two-hour concert was flawless with each musician playing as if it was their last performance on earth. It’s encouraging when an organization such as Celebrate Detroit recognize accomplished Detroit jazz musicians while they’re still alive and swinging.

Saturday, November 18, 2017


TLCBO's director Scotty Barnhart
The iconic big band leader Count Basie started his orchestra 82 years ago. The orchestra quickly became known for presenting high-grade swing and blues. The orchestra is still touring with trumpeter Scotty Barnhart at the helm, and the orchestra is currently packed with solid jazz musicians such as pianist Bobby Floyd, trumpeter Kris Johnson, and longtime member’s trumpeter Michael Williams and saxophonist Doug Miller. Friday evening The Legendary Count Basie Orchestra, as it’s presently known, played the Paradise Jazz Series at Detroit’s Orchestra Hall, the first time in a decade. Before the concert started, Barnhart told the near-capacity audience November 17th, 72 years ago the Basie orchestra played a week-long engagement at Orchestra Hall. To sort of commemorate that time in Detroit’s jazz history, the LCBO performed some songs featured during that engagement. The LCBO remains true to the formula that made it legendary, which is swinging until the audience feet are sore and their souls are throbbing. The concert had plenty of mic dropping moments. Topping the list was the orchestra’s reimagined version of Stevie Wonder’s classic “My Cherie Amour,” and deep into the first set guest vocalist Brianna Thomas joining the orchestra for two numbers. Thomas' voice fits comfortably in a large ensemble setting. And her voice seems handcrafted for belting the blues. Thomas didn’t get much airtime. Thomas only sang four songs. It would’ve been heavenly to listen to her sing the entire concert. The LCBO swung below sea level all evening, performing many goodies from Basie’s repertoire such as Frank Foster’s “Who Me,” ”Brand X,” “Back to the Apple,” and “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be”.  The featured soloists were wonderful, particularly saxophonist Doug Miller, and Doug Lawrence. Barnhart contributed some choice solos, too. Not only is Barnhart an exceptional leader he’s also one helluva trumpeter.

Saturday, October 21, 2017


Pianist Joey Alexander

As his story goes, pianist Joey Alexander started teaching himself to play jazz at age six. At age 10, Alexander caught the attention of trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, and Marsalis hired him for a few concerts as a guest soloist with the prestigious Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Alexander is 14 now. He’s cut three jazz albums “My Favorite Things,” ”Countdown,” and the recently released “Joey. Monk. Live!”. Alexander has been featured on 60 Minutes and in reputable music magazines such as Rolling Stone and JazzTimes. Besides the media hype, Alexander has earned three Grammy nods, and he's currently busy touring the globe.
Alexander’s opening set Friday event at the 2017-2018 Paradise Jazz Series at Detroit’s Orchestra Hall was more proof the praise lavished on him  in his very short career has been well-deserved.  Alexander is what mystics the world over regard as an old soul possessing a young person’s body. I’ve attended the Paradise Jazz Series for 20 years now and never have I experienced a crowd roar like they roared after Alexander’s solos.
The concert was a double-bill with drummer/vocalist Jamison Ross opening for Alexander. Ross, best known as an A-list sideman for such jazz notables as Johnathan Batiste, Carmen Lundy, and Christian McBride, stretched out on a number of his originals and got the crowd oiled up for Alexander’s hour-plus rundown of familiar standards and some of his original compositions. Alexander opened with Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence,” immediately demonstrating an elder’s command of the piano and a deep improvisational wit.
Next Alexander and his bandmates, drummer Ulysses Owens Jr., and bassist Dan Chmielinski cooked on a tricked-out version of “My Favorite Things.” The depth of Alexander’s chops and imagination were fully exposed on his originals “Peace,” and “Fourteen”. And when Alexander soloed on “Countdown,” he played some of the solo standing on his tiptoes.
Alexander divvied up the spotlight with Owns and Chmielinski. Both have more frequent flier miles as professional jazz musicians than Alexander. They served up one marvelous solo after the next, but at times Owns seemed to be dangerously close to overpowering Alexander.  
Alexander has some areas of his game begging for improvement. He doesn’t seem comfortable talking to an audience, but surely that will change as he matures as a bandleader.
It’ll be interesting to see where Alexander will end up musically as an adult. The audience left his concert Friday evening knowing they’d witnessed a legit jazz musician although he isn't old enough yet to have a driver’s permit.

Monday, September 18, 2017


Proud to announce my first book "Behind the Swing: A Glimpse into the Lives of Some of the World's Finest Jazz Musicians" is selling well and has garnered some glowing reviews. The book which is brimming with profiles of many of today's leading jazz musicians and the very best of Detroit's homegrown jazz musicians is now available at independent booksellers:

THE BOOK BEAT 26010 Greenfield Rd, Oak Park, Michigan 48237
1-248-968-1190 (A limited number of autographed copies are available)

SOURCE BOOKSELLERS 4240 Cass Ave. #105 Detroit, Michigan 48201

PAGES BOOKSHOP 19560 Grand River Ave. Detroit, Michigan 48223

ERIC'S I'VE BEEN FRAMED 16527 Livernois  Ave, Detroit Michigan 48221

THE DETROIT SHOPPE 2800 W. Big Beaver Rd, Troy Michigan 48084







Sunday, June 11, 2017


Wesley "Skip" Norris

Dear Skip,

Please forgive me for contacting you out of the blue. Since your death, in January, I have been meaning to check in on you to see how things are going for you in heaven. I figured, however, I’d better wait until you settled in. Surely, God has been keeping you busy, making jazz more popular up there. I bet God has you over for dinner a few times a week, and you have a ball, regaling Him with the stories of all the famous jazz musicians you knew. Skip, the music on Detroit’s jazz scene is still happening, and there’s a gaggle of young talent such as alto saxophonist Benny Rubin Jr., and drummer Tariq Gardner moving the music forward. I’m confident you would have loved the youngsters on the scene today. Anyway, I’m writing you to tell you about the wonderful star-studded tribute concert in your honor Friday evening at Detroit’s Northwest Activity Center organized by your friends Andrew Rothman, Ronald Lockett, Gail Boyd, and Jacques Mullins. Skip, I tell you man that they went all out. They brought in many of your favorite jazz musicians such as pianists Eric Reed and Joey Calderazzo, husband and wife Jean and Marcus Baylor, vocalists Nanny Assis, Tammy McCann, vibist Joe Locke, saxophonists JD Allen, Victor Goines, and Branford Marsalis. If that wasn’t enough the house band for the evening was drummer Bill Higgins, bassist Ralphe Armstrong, and pianist Gary Schunk. Linda Yohn was the Mistress of Ceremony. I’m not exaggerating, Skip, when I say all the musicians played their butts off. The concert open with Eric Reed. You know, Reed is capable of raising hell on the piano, but he was reserved this time out. Reed performed two selections solo. Each rendered so thoughtfully and beautifully Reed’s playing would’ve given the devil goose bumps. After Reed’s set, vocalist Nanny Assis stretched out on two Brazilian numbers. Vocalist Tammy McCann hit the stage next. Right away she let the near capacity audience know that bigger than your love for jazz was your faith in God. Then McCann opened with a gospel number sung so wonderfully that God himself would have blushed had he been in attendance. McCann followed that song with the blues staple “Every Day I Have the Blues.” JD Allen almost blew the paint off the ceiling during his set. The Baylor Project followed Allen. Then Joe Locke set the kitchen on fire with a solo performance undoubtedly one of his finest ever. Victor Goines hit right after Locke. Goines performed an original titled the “The Beautiful One.” Goines had the stage so hot during this number  I feared his clarinet would melt in his hands. Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo closed the evening with Marsalis’s original “Eternal.” I’d put up a month’s salary there wasn’t a dry eye in the audience when Marsalis and Calderazzo finished. One of my favorite moments was when Mistress of Ceremony Linda Yohn informed the audience all the money from the concert would go towards your daughter’s college education, adding the jazz community would help take care of your daughter. After Marsalis and Calderazzo had played, all the musicians returned to the stage and performed the most fitting number of the evening “There Would Never Be Another You.” Skip, I’ve attended many concerts over the years. This concert – a heartfelt love letter to you -- I won’t soon forget. Every musician played as if it was the very last jazz concert on earth.  Jacques Mullins and I hugged after the concert, and he said the concert epitomized everything you were, showcasing every brand of jazz that you held dear.

Skip, you were truly loved, man.