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.