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.


Thursday, May 18, 2017


Benny Rubin Jr
Some loyal supporters of Detroit jazz came out Wednesday evening to Bert’s in the Eastern Market to hear a rising star. His name is Benny Rubin Jr. He’s an alto saxophonist, and a senior at the Detroit School of the Arts. For two sets he played with a wealth of depth and maturity well beyond his years. Of late, Rubin Jr has been making a name for himself. Many heavies on Detroit’s jazz scene have spread the word on what a serious musician Rubin Jr is. You can hear history in his playing, and as he grows in the coming years, Rubin Jr will surely be compared to great alto saxophonists like Jesse Davis and Frank Strozier. Wednesday was the first time Rubin Jr’s quartet – guitarist Jacob Schwandt, drummer Brandon Williams, and bassist Jonathon Muir-Cotton -- played the weekly jazz series at Bert’s run by veteran jazz concert promoter Bill Foster and photographer and jazz aficionado Karen Fox. The series books a mix of known jazz musicians such as saxophonist JD Allen and up-and-comers like Rubin Jr and drummer Tariq Gardner.  The cover is ten bucks for two sets. Rubin Jr was professional at every level. The first set started promptly at 7:00 pm as advertised, and the band was  well rehearsed. During the sets, the band stretched out on well-loved standards such as “Bolivia,” “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise,” “Take the A Train.” and some of Rubin Jr.’s originals. Rubin held the crowd’s attention throughout both sets. I would be remiss if I ignored a disappointing moment of an otherwise wonderful evening of music. Detroit’s own James Carter showed up, and Rubin Jr gracefully and respectfully asked the acclaimed saxophonist to set in for the final tune of the closing set. Carter refused. Obviously, Carter is a musician Rubin Jr idolizes. What could be more hurtful than being shunned for no good reason by someone you admire? If Carter’s refusal hurt Rubin Jr, it didn’t show one bit because he kept on swinging.

Sunday, May 14, 2017


Branford Marsalis and Kurt Elling
Surely, for many at the sold out Branford Marsalis Quartet’s concert featuring jazz vocalist Kurt Elling it was the first time witnessing an encore morph into a jam session. That’s what happened Friday evening at the fifth concert of the Paradise Jazz Series at Detroit’s Orchestra Hall. The band put on inarguably the best show of this season. Hell, I’d argue the best in the past five years. And the encore was damn near as good as the concert. Marsalis and his band pianist Joey Calderazzo, drummer Justin Faulkner and bassist Eric Revis and Elling performed music from the acclaimed 2016 album “Upward Spiral.” The two-hour swing fest opened with “Teo” from the quartet’s date “Four MFs Playing Tunes,” after which Marsalis introduced Elling. Elling was of excellent voice. It didn’t take long for Elling to go from zero to sixty. Although Elling was the draw, Calderazzo’s and Faulkner’s performance were the most memorable.  Faulkner played as if the ghosts of the late jazz drummers Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, and Art Blakey were having a jam session in Faulkner’s body. During his tenure with the quartet, he has become the standout in the band. Calderazzo was right there with him, and it was magical watching the two trade. Honestly, when I learned of Elling joining the quartet for the “Upward Spiral” project, I had reservations if a jazz vocalist with such a distinctly beautiful voice would be a disruptive force with the best band in jazz. Elling, however, fits comfortably. After the band showed out on selections such as “There A Boat Dat’s Leavin’ Soon For New York,” “Blue Gardenias,” “From One Island To Another,” “Mama Said,” and “Blue Velvet,” the band exited the stage to a well-earned ovation. When the audience settled down, Marsalis and Elling returned to the stage and performed a duet. If that wasn’t enough, Revis came out after them and performed a bass solo that would’ve made Charles Mingus envious. There’s more. The band then played a hot version of “St James Infirmary” This is where the encore morphed into a jam session with trumpeter Terence Blanchard,  and saxophonist Diego Rivera joining in. At this point, people were dancing in the aisles.

Saturday, April 8, 2017


James Carter
The jazz saxophonist James Carter returned to his hometown, Detroit, Friday evening with his longstanding organ trio drummer Alexander White and organist Gerard Gibbs to perform music from his current project Django Unchained at the Paradise Jazz Series. Carter has been touring the globe in support of the project, which has morphed into a sort of a tribute to the iconic Gypsy jazz great Django Reinhardt. Carter has an obvious affinity for Reinhardt’s work, having explored some of his well-known compositions on the wonderful album “Chasin' the Gypsy.” This time out, Carter has modernized some of Reinhardt’s obscure compositions. Before Carter started the two-hour concert last night, he read off the setlist, which included Reinhardt's “Hedgehog Waltz,” “Castle of Dreams,” “Melodie Au Crepuscule,” and  “Heavy Artillery. Carter also worked in a solo birthday salute to the great jazz vocalist Billie Holliday. Carter performed a soul-numbing rendition of Holliday’s “God Bless the Child” mixed with “Happy Birthday,” which was one of many highlights throughout the concert. The near capacity crowd buckled down for a night of high tier swing that only a saxophonist of Carter’s daring is capable of delivering. Carter was elated to be performing for his hometown, offering one hellacious solo after the other, and closing tunes with his trademark cadenzas. If Sonny Rollins ever relinquish the crown as the reigning king of jazz improvisation, Carter should be the first in line to receive that distinction. Carter’s sidemen were of good form as well. Gibbs has been Carter’s right-hand man coming up on two decades now was the crowd favorite, playing the absolute shit of his Hammond B3. Gibbs is one of the top jazz organists around, and he has a gift for working a crowd. Gibbs loves to clown around. For example, last night there was a moment during a solo where Gibbs played the organ with his chin, and on “Impromptu” he did sort of a tap dance on the paddles of the organ that drove the audience nuts. White has been with the trio for a few years now. He’s the first of the current field of millennial jazz musicians from Detroit to play in a world-class jazz band. By all accounts, White loves the job.  White replaced Carter’s longtime drummer Leonard King.  White is a confident and a tasteful drummer. Tasteful like drummers Joe Chambers and the late Detroit Bert Myrick. The zoom lens was put on White late into the second set on “Impromptu.” It was his first lengthy solo of the night. When he finished, it was clear, at least to me, White is the new engine that powers the trio.

Monday, April 3, 2017


Here's some praise about my new book "Behind the Swing" from noted authors and jazz experts Herb Boyd and James Gallert:
There was a time in the fifties and sixties when practically every jazz ensemble of note included one musician from Detroit, or at least one who refined his or her development in the city.  What Charles Latimer demonstrates to a remarkable degree in Behind the Swing--more than a decade of his articles from the Metro Times--is that there were countless other equally proficient composers, teachers and performers worthy of wider recognition. Latimer’s book is an insight aperture of jazz in Detroit, and he embellishes that musical wellspring with lively discussions with a number of notable visitors, such as Wayne Shorter, Ravi Coltrane, and T.S. Monk.  In many ways, Behind the Swing is on the beat and ahead of its time.
--Herb Boyd, author of Black Detroit—A People’s History of Self-Determination (Amistad, 2017)
"Latimer's fine compilation pulls together both tradition jazz and Avant-Garde jazz musicians.  His easy way with words and natural curiosity about the music he loves affords him a good starting point for interviews.  I learned many new, interesting facts about the musicians, many of whom have been overlooked by "mainstream" scribes.  I definitely recommended Behind the Swing for serious jazz supporters!" 
--James Gallert, jazz historian and co-author of Before Motown (University of Michigan Regional 2001)
"Behind the Swing" is available at,, and