Last Monday evening, I stopped by the famous Baker’s Keyboard Lounge to catch avant-garde saxophonist Skeeter Shelton's set. I was curious to know if the saxophonist free-jazz style would fly at Baker’s, a jazz club that only features traditional acoustic jazz.
Shelton performed a duo with drummer Art Smith. The horn and drum configuration is Shelton’s forte’. I’ve seen the saxophonist performed wonderfully months ago at the Bohemian National Home. But I hated Shelton’s performance Monday at Baker’s.
Shelton behaved unprofessionally and ungratefully. Over the years, John Colbert, the co-owner of Baker’s, has taken a lot of heat for not hiring avant-garde musicians. In September, Colbert loosened things up a bit by hiring guitarist A. Spencer Barefield, a prominent figure around Detroit’s avant-garde scene, to lead the popular Wednesday night jam session. So far, the guitarist has not strayed too away from Baker’s acoustic jazz format. Shelton on the other hand literally went berserk during his second set.
Before then, Shelton performed several bebop staples, and a competent version of John Coltrane’s "Giant Step, proving he can control his wild side when he wants to. Upon completion of Coltrane composition, Shelton went absolutely nuts. It appeared to me the saxophonist deliberately tried to piss off Colbert and the audience by screaming and yelling on his tenor sax like a madman.
I’ve seen Shelton freak-out before at the National Bohemian Home, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. There avant-garde jazz musicians can get let loose without people wondering about their sanity.
To prove my point that Shelton was being unnecessarily antagonistic, he told the audience: "I play what I want to play not what you all what to hear." I found that odd because the guy has been begging for a gig at Baker’s for years. Finally, given the opportunity to work there he showed his gratitude by behaving like a maverick.
A drunkard lounging in the rear of the club offered up what I considered the appropriate retort to the saxophonist ungrateful statement: “That’s okay Skeeter play what you want because most of us (the audience) are drunk anyway”.