Saturday, June 18, 2011


Salim Washington (photo by Ricardo Thomas)
Before saxophonist Salim Washington began his set Friday night at the Detroit Institute of Arts, he gave 15-year-old tenor sax player Steve Grady some pointers. Grady was at the concert with his parents and his sax teacher JuJu Johnson. Three tunes into the set, Washington put Grady on the spot, inviting him to sit-in. 

Grady wasn’t scared. Grady’s tone and phrasing revealed he's spent quality time listening to Hank Mobley’s albums. Grady could play rhythm changes. After Grady soloed, the crowd erupted. Washington told them when he was a teenager his idol saxophonist Pharoah Sanders put him on the spot on many occasions.

Washington played two stunning sets. The first set Washington called familiar free-jazz tunes such as Frank Lacy’s Aquarius Rising and Andrew Hill’s Symmetry. Washington hired Detroiter's pianist Pam Wise, drummer Djallo Djekete, and bassist Marion Hayden. 

Friday was the first time Hayden had played publicly with Washington, but you couldn’t tell. They clicked immediately. Hayden is best backing saxophonists. Hayden did some of her best work with the late Donald Walden. Hayden has never demanded much solo time. All night, Washington encouraged Hayden to stretch out.

Hayden was featured on You Can Fly, a song Washington wrote for his sister. Hayden’s intro was dazzling. On Is That Jazz, Djekete was powerful. Djekete is a blue-collar jazz drummer. He always shows up prepared and he keeps the beat masterfully. The second set Washington called mostly his originals.

The set began with Elder Washington, a nod to Washington’s father. Washington explained he wanted to express the hurt a father experiences mourning his daughter’s death. Surprisingly, Elder Washington wasn’t mournful. There’re several tempo changes, and a Jaki Byard-like solo by Pam Wise.

Washington’s playing resembled Pharoah Sander's style. Washington is a true free-jazz sax player, and his blowing wasn't too way out to understand. Washington closed the concert with Sun Ra’s Inner Stellar Low Ways, Grady joined in again. Washington tried to trip up Grady, but he didn’t take the bait. The concert was uplifting like a church sermon. Washington used his sax to preach.
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