Saturday, September 29, 2007


Friday night, I interviewed saxophonist Sonny Rollins for the Metroitimes, a weekly newspaper in Detroit, MI. It was my second telephone interview with him. I interviewed him in 2005 weeks before his performance at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, MI. Friday night, we talked like inseparable chums at a neighborhood pub mostly about his heroes, his love for playing in a trio format, and his practicing habits.

Rollins remembered our '05 interview, which made me feel special because I know I'm among a vast pool of jazz journalists who asked him to revisit key moments of his life.

Rollins used some profanity only to emphasize a points he wanted to convey.

He cherished knowing saxophonist Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins. To Rollins, they were elegant jazz musicians, and he wanted to be like them.

His comments about practicing stuck to my ribs. As a youngster, he practiced religiously. He say practicing remains a spiritual process. Young musicians need to understand practicing got him to places such as Carnegie Hall.

The above photograph of Rollins hugging his tenor sax caught my attention. Before the second interview, I thumbed through the companion booklet from the box set Sonny Rollins The freelance Years(The Complete Riverside & Contemporary Recordings).

In the photo, Rollins looks meditative as if praying with his horn. The photo captured a certain spiritual quality that I think is telling.

By the way, my interview with Rollins will be published in the Metrotimes Wednesday Oct. 12th.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


I've heard some memorable tenor saxophone battles. "Eddie "Lock Jaw" Davis and Johnny Griffin slugged it out on "Looking at Monk!" and "Live at Mintons". Dexter Gordon and Booker Ervin went toe to toe on "Setting The Pace"

Courtesy of YouTube, I got to witness tenor bout between saxophonist Joshua Redman and James Carter. They're engaged in a battle of will and skill.

If bookies were taking bets, I would've dropped a bundle on James Carter for obvious reasons. Carter is a Detroiter. Secondly, I've never seen a saxophonist of any generation let it all hang out like Carter does during his live performance.

The guy can throw some mean power shots. If you need proof just listen to "JC On The Set" and "James Carter Live at Baker's Keyboard Lounge. If you aren't convinced Carter is pound for pound the one of the best saxophonist of his generation, there's something seriously wrong with your ears.

Redman doesn't have a glass chin. He can deliver some wicked punches. Whereas Carter is a brawler, Redman is all finesse. Just listen to his albums "Wish" and "Moodswing".

This was a blood and guts tenor bout. Carter came out aiming for the head. Redman countered note for note, working the changes to "Straight No Chaser" like a speed bag. The battle was too close to call. I want to see a rematch. Until then checkout this video footage.


Playwright Bill Harris
Last Saturday, playwright Bill Harris and I hung out in Ann Arbor. We spent the afternoon shopping for jazz albums. We had lunch at an Indian restaurant where I asked the playwrights about his interest in jazz music, and how it has influenced his writing. Harris has written several plays that have jazz themes. The most acclaimed is “Coda”. His latest work is “Cool Blues” about the life of bebop icon Charlie Parker
--Charles L. Latimer

I Dig Jazz: In all the years that I’ve known you, as many concerts that we’ve attended together, and all the records that you’ve loaned me I never asked you how you got interested in jazz music.

Bill Harris: When it really hit for me I was 13 or 14. Dave Garroway had a radio show from Chicago, and pianist Marian McPharland had an record called at the Hickory House” This was when they had EP’s before there were albums. This program was on at night. I heard McPharland play Friday night, and Saturday morning I went to Sears in Highland Park to look for the record. It was on three EP’s which back then constituted an album.

IDJ: What was it about McPharland that struck you?

BH: I don’t know if it was what she said about jazz or how she played on the album. Whatever it was somehow it stuck with me.

IDJ: Were there other jazz albums that piqued your interest?

BH: Around that time my mother lived in a two family flat. She was down stairs, and it was these girls that lived upstairs. I was interested in the girls that lived upstairs. There mother had these Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie album ‘Massey Hall’. That album really caught my attention as much as the girls did. Somehow I ended up with that jazz album. If you have to began somewhere with jazz that album is the place to start.

IDJ: The cats that you hung around were they into jazz too? Or was it just your thing exclusively?

BH: I had a friend that was my age. All his brothers were older than him. They were really hip. I lived across the street from them. They were into jazz. They knew Dorothy Ashby. They knew the whole generation of Detroit jazz musicians. People would be over to their house. I was there with them, but I was digging what his brothers were doing. They were a generation older, and they were into everything that was hip. I got into Yusef Lateef because they had all his albums.

IDJ: Back then, was jazz popular?

BH: It was the time of house parties. It was the Doo-Wop era. That was the music that they played at those parties. I started carrying an album that held EP’s. I carried Yusef's EPs and ‘Senor Blues’ by Horace Silver. That was my thing because you could dance to it. It was 12 minutes long and you could partner up and dance to it.

IDJ: How did your peers react when you showed up with those jazz records?

BH: The crowd was generally hip. So you could get away with doing something like that.

IDJ: By that time were you a full-fledged jazz junkie?

BH: By the time I got to college jazz was essentially the popular music, and there were places where you could go to listen to the music like the Minor Key. It wasn’t an alcohol place and everybody played there. One week Monk would be there. The next week the Jazz Messengers would be there, and the next week John Coltrane performed. I remember this concert at the Broadway Capitol that was downtown. It was on of those all-star shows. Dinah Washington headlined. Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers played. I don’t know if it was my first time seeing them. I just know after hearing them I was blown away. My interest in jazz increased. I saw at this concert how sharp they were. I started to dress like the Messengers. They had these double-breasted blazers, gray slacks, and these boots. They were all-young and were making the music. I was able to see all these people, and it was affordable. I think it cost a dollar to get in to see them.

IDJ: When you got drafted into the army did you keep up with the music?

BH: When I went into the army I was cut off from what was happening.

IDJ: You were only there two years, right?

BH: It easy for you to say only two years when you weren’t in the motherfucker.

IDJ: Are you saying that for two years you didn’t have access to the music?

BH: In terms of live music. The only live music that I saw was in Europe. I was in Munich. I saw Mel Waldron, which was a really hip experience. I was just walking around and saw these signs on the telephone poles that Mal Waldron was going to be playing somewhere. It was this really hip out of the movies kind of thing. I met people that had known Eric Dolphy when he was in Europe. So we talked about that. It was a great afternoon.

IDJ: Did you start writing plays in the army.

BH: I wrote my first play on the way home on the airplane.

IDJ: How has jazz music influenced your writing?

BH: Through rhythm is the one thing. When I went to New York actors would always say that I wrote with a Detroit rhythm. I think essentially what they were saying that I wrote with a bebop rhythm. I always try to be aware of the rhythm of language how people speak, and I use that as the basis for how my characters.

IDJ: What do you think about where jazz music is now?

BH: For me the energy has gone out the music. You have cats that are proficient at recreating. But there is a fine line between recreation and creation

IDJ: Are there any up and coming cats that you have listened to recently who will impact the music like Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, and Ornette Coleman did?

BH: Not unless Jesus and God comeback hand in hand. That kind of innovation ain’t going to happen anymore.

IDG: Why do you feel that way? Aren't up and coming cats being exposed to the same kind of training that Bird, Coltrane, and Coleman got?

BH: I think there is lesser of a musical community. Back in the day, in the Detroit jazz community, there was an extended family. Any jazz musician could walk up to a young jazz cat ask him if he knew the changes to ‘How High the Moon’ and if he didn’t know he would get popped upside the head, or someone would pull him aside and show him. So he wouldn’t embarrass himself the next time that he left the house.

IDJ: How did that kind of community outreach get lost?

BH: It got lost through the generations. Plus, older cats just got tired. They have to make the rent. The economics changed. There are not a lot of clubs where young cats can go to hang out with the older cats. And the respect for elders is not there. I think we now live in a time where young cats think older cats can’t teach them anything.

IDJ: Your tasted in jazz music is eclectic. You are not stuck in one era of the music. How were you able to avoid that?

BH: I’m not sure that I understand would you are asking.

IDJ: Well Ralph Ellison, for example, couldn’t get beyond the jazz music of his generation. He was very indifferent and critical of how the music progressed over the years. He said some disparaging things about Miles Davis and the other jazz musicians of Miles’ generation. It was as if Ellison believed those cats didn’t measure up.

BH: I see. I’ve gotten through all that. What I buy now is post-bop stuff. I hung in there with Coltrane until he went way out. That's when he lost me. It was too far out there for me so I left it along. I did listen to Archie Shepp, and Don Cherry. That was kind of the natural evolution because once I found the Detroit Writers Workshop that’s was the kind of music those people were into. They had this in house band with Charles Moore, and Kenny Cox. I would do a reading, and after that cats would set up and play music. In terms of the music and the evolution I’m now into really looking at cats such as Fred Anderson and Ken Vandermark, dudes out of Chicago that are still making interesting music.

IDJ: Did you ever find any of the jazz fusion music interesting?

BH: No! Not in the least. It was too diluted. I still don’t like synthesizers. That sound isn’t interesting to me at all.

IDJ: How would your life be if jazz wasn’t a part of it?

BH: It probably wouldn’t be. I mean it is such a close relationship that it would be like trying to separate babies that are co-joined at the heart.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


A lot of people are involved with jazz music who are not jazz musicians that I find interesting. The musicians make the music, and what I call jazz folks purchase it, attend jazz concerts, write jazz blogs, create fan based websites for their favorite jazz artists. I see these folks at various jazz concerts, festivals, and occasionally at record stores. I have befriended some of them, and have come to rely on them to keep me abreast of what is happening on the jazz front.

There's this guy that I've seen at every jazz concert I've attended over the last decade. I kid you not. He's a slim Asian guy. He wears eyeglasses. His hair is long, and he normally sports faded jeans and a khaki colored jacket. I've seen him at smooth jazz gigs, avant-garde shows, and straight ahead be bop oriented concerts. Sitting there by himself bobbing his head back and forth soaking up every note of music.

For years now, I have wondered what his story is. For example, where he works? Who introduced him to the music? How he finds the time to attend every major jazz concert in Michigan? And how different his life would be if jazz music wasn't a part of it?

There are more jazz lovers out there. I want to hear their stories.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


David Murray
Scare Ground
Justin Time

David Murray has to hold the record for the most albums ever released by a jazz artist. The saxophonist has 223 albums in his discography, which doesn’t include the albums he made with the World Saxophone Quartet, or his work as a sideman. Given the mileage the guys has racked up you’d think he’s dangerously close to running out of gas.

"Scared Ground" is Murray’s new addition to his massive discography, and perhaps his leanest album to date. It’s only seven tracks deep. And there’re no indications that creatively Murray is running near empty.

Stellar cuts such "Transitions, "Pierce City and Believe In Love" show that Murray has mellowed out considerably. That’s not to suggest he can’t still cook when he wants to.

Murray cooks on "Family Reunion" while doing a bunch of circus tricks on his horn, hitting notes from every conceivable angle. "The Prophet of Doom," a blue written by novelist and poet Ishmael Reed and sung with a lot of confidence and sass by vocalist Cassandra Wilson is the best of the seven tunes.

I’ve never been a big fan of the vocalist. She mumbles too much, making it seem as if she bashful or lack confidence. I've always had a difficulty hearing the lyrics she sang. That's not an issue on this albums. She enunciates clearly, and saunters through the songs like an experienced blues singer.

There are several outstanding solos by pianist Lafayette Gilchrist. The pianist style is akin to the late Don Pullen. (Gilchrist will be major force when he finds his own voice.)

Murray has served up a handful of duds out of 223 recordings I’m sure, but Scared Ground isn’t one of them. Murray is nowhere near burning out. He has simply learned how to pace himself.

Friday, September 14, 2007


Wednesday nights at Baker’s keyboard Lounge for the past ten years have been a special affair. The late pianist Teddy Harris led a jam session at the legendary jazz club that became sort of an unaccredited musical finishing school for up and coming jazz musicians, as well as a venue where seasoned vets could keep their chop strong. Along with a bunch of great music, Harris was able to maintain order, which from what I have witnessed sitting in the audience at numerous jam sessions, is uncommon.

In the wrong hands the sessions are nothing more than an outlet for undisciplined show boaters. I don't have enough fingers or toes to count the number of times that I saw Harris stop in the middle of a tune to chastise a musician who jumped on the bandstand to take an unsolicited and less than well conceived solo. Harris required those who participated in the session know the composition at hand from top to bottom before getting on the bandstand.

Harris stopped running the sessions when he got ill. Others tried to fill his shoes. Harris set the bar high. The sessions where never the same after he stopped leading them. Pianist Tad Weed took over, and from what I've heard, the guy did a competent job, but not to Harris' standards.

Now the reins have been given to guitarist A. Spencer Barefield, one of the driving proponents of Detroit avant-garde jazz and a respected jazz man. It was Barefield that put on that wonderful jazz program in the 90’s with his organization the Creative Arts Ensemble. The concerts were featured at the Detroit Institute of the Arts.

This Wednesday night was the guitarist's first night running the show. It is safe to assert the legacy Teddy Harris established is in good hands.

Barefield adhered to the straight-ahead brand of acoustic jazz that Baker’s is known for. With a trio that included bassist Don Mayberry and drummer Djallo Djakate Keita, the guitarist was firing on all four cylinders.

Barefield brushed the dust off forgotten gems by Thelonious Monk such as “Ugly Beauty” and “Raise Four”, and familiar standards by Miles’ Davis’ “So What” and “Kind of Blue”. Barefield set on a stool thumping out some beautiful chords. He established a comfortable groove that he didn't deviate from.The drummer, who normally plays with free jazz ensembles, turned down his style a few notches, which made for engaging trio drumming.

Later in the evening, the tenor saxophonist Paul Anderson joined the trio. I'd never heard of him. He just wandered in off the street. I enjoyed his soloing on “Night in Tunisia,” and “Salt Peanuts”. Anderson fit in comfortably with the band. The crowd was small, but they were totally into the music.

It is too soon to predict what kind of mark Barefield will make at the Wednesday night sessions. Filling Teddy Harris’s and Tad Weed’s shoes will not be easy. Barefield is off to an impressive start.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


I love jazz music. Just let me get that out the way first. I’ve been this way ever since my mentor, playwright Bill Harris, loaned me his copy of Eric Dolphy’s album Live at the Five Spot Volume One, and Prince Lasha’s Firebirds. I was so smitten after listening to those albums that I wanted to borrow more. Harris allowed me to do so. In return, I had to mow his lawn every Saturday. He hated doing yard work. That was about fifteen years ago, and I’ve been a jazz fiend since. I’m particularly fond of jazz musicians. The way they dress, their language, their coolness, and the beautiful array of sounds they get from their instruments.

Unfortunately, I can’t play one damn musical note, although I have to admit that occasionally I’ve fantasize about being a jazz pianist with the same facility as my favorite pianists Gene Harris, Craig Taborn, Cyrus Chestnut, and Don Pullen who have me salivating whenever I listen to their playing.

Although I’m not a jazz musician by trade, I feel blessed. For ten years, I have been writing about this music for one of the most respected weekly newspaper in Michigan the Metrotimes. In 1996, The Monitor, a weekly newspaper published my first jazz article. That year Arts Midwest honored saxophonist Donald Walden with their Jazz Master’s award. I wrote about him receiving the distinction. The Arts editor at the Metrotimes got a hold of the story. He liked it, and he asked if I wanted to cover jazz for the paper.

I accepted without hesitation. In 1994, I began freelancing for a mom & pop newspaper based in Detroit. Back then, I wasn’t interested in becoming any sort of musician journalist. I was interested only in writing human interest pieces. My first published story for the paper was about a van club that offered food and shelter to the homeless. The Walden story caught my eye because I was just getting into jazz music, and I thought his playing was something special.

The invitation to write for the Metrotimes was a godsend. I never imagined that I’d get the to interview jazz icons such as Horace Silver, Richard Davis, Sonny Rollins, Branford Marsalis, Kenny Garrett, and many others. I never really thought that I was qualified or deserved to talk with those great artists. When I first called Horace Silver I was so nervous that when the pianist answered his telephone I hung up like a teenager afraid to ask a pretty girl for a date. When I finally got my nerves together, the interview was amazing although Silver had a tough time remembering key areas of his career. Anyway, I felt as if I was listening to one of the old-timers in the neighborhood tell a bunch of stories about the good old days of jazz.

I’ve gotten a lot inspiration from some local musicians that I’ve interviewed. I admire Vincent Chandler, Gerard Gibbs, and Penny Wells because of their determination to be successful musicians.

My favorite interviews were with Ravi Coltrane who I connected with like he had been by running budding for years, and Regina Carter who was warm and eloquent. She talked to me like I was her favorite sibling.

I’ve gotten loads of pleasure from covering jazz. I feel valued when people tell me they’ve been reading my articles for years, and when musicians that I have written about tells me that what I wrote about them helped them to secure gigs. That’s the best form of payment that I could ever receive.

What makes covering jazz worthwhile is the recognition that I get from readers and jazz musicians. Plus, the editors that I’ve worked for over the years trust me enough to allow me to run wild.

My life in jazz life gets better with every great jazz album that I listen to, every up and coming musician that I write about, and every mind blowing jazz concert that I attend.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Kenny Garrett
Beyond the Wall

Alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett's latest release “Beyond the Wall” started out strong, but after the first two tunes “Calling” and the title cut, the album veers off course. “Calling” is a powerhouse blowing session between Garrett and tenor saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders. Sanders tenor work remains sturdy and edgy after decades of playing. Sanders plays on seven of the nine tracks. He takes each song on an improvisational joyride.

The other tracks on this album seem out of place. I felt as if I was listening to two separate albums. “Realization” samples a Tibetan hymn that gives the tune a mystic and eerie vibe. The next number “Tsunami Song” is downright melancholic.
On these selections Garrett was attempting to get the same effects that trumpeter Donald Byrd achieved on his album “A New Perspective”.
On “May Peace Be Upon Them” Garrett yells and screams on his horn like he’s engaged is a meaningless debate at a neighborhood barbershop. This album is on a journey with no specific destination in sight.

Monday, September 10, 2007


Ron Carter
Dear Miles,
Blue Note Records

There have been a lot of tribute albums made honoring the music of jazz trumpeter Miles Davis. Some that I enjoyed thoroughly such as saxophonist Joe Henderson’s “So Near, So Far (Musing of Miles)” and trumpeter Eddie Henderson’s “So What”. Other tribute records I didn’t care for because the session leaders thought the best way to honor Davis was to emulate his style. To me, the only person that could do Miles convincingly was Miles, period. It took Miles years to become as cool as he was.

Who better to make a tribute album for Miles than bassist Ron Carter, an alumnus of Miles’ second generation band? The album is simply titled “Dear Miles,”. Carter selected songs that were part of Davis’ report ire. There’s some great straight from the hip playing on this ten track offering, especially the playing of pianist Stephen Scott. In fact, this album could’ve been a showcase for Scott, who’s perhaps one of the most under celebrated pianist in jazz. I’ve been following him off and on for years, and fell in love with him all over again when I heard him on saxophonist Sonny Rollin’s live date “ Without A Song: The 9/11 Concert”. Scott zips through the chord changes on “Cut and Paste” and “Bags Groove”.

As for Carter, throughout “Dear Miles,” he is gentlemanly, and content with laying in the cut not making a fuss, keeping time exquisitely. “Dear Miles,” is the kind of sharp jazz albums that too many jazz musicians don’t have the patience to make anymore. Carter was smart not to try to emulate Davis way of doing things. The late trumpeter would’ve loved this album.

Sunday, September 9, 2007


She and I have been friends for over fifteen years now. We have a lot of things in common. The most valued is our love for jazz music. Over the years, we have gone to some amazing jazz concerts. We saw pianist Cyrus Chestnut in Flint, Michigan one winter. It was the first time she had experienced the pianist live although she’s been a big fan every since I loaned her his albums “Revelations,” “ The Dark Before The Dawn,” and “Earth Stories”. During the concert she impressed me by naming the compositions Chestnut played, and the order in which they appeared on the albums.

She forced me to see trumpeter Wynton Marsalis at Orchestra Hall in Detroit. I didn’t care much for his music. The trumpeter was too much of a clean-cut traditionalist for my taste. But I went to the gig anyway. Marsalis floored and converted me. He swung from the time he walked onto the stage until he exited to a thunderous ovation. As we left the concert, my friend made me retract every bad thing I’ve every uttered about Marsalis. I have been an admirer of his music every since.

Recently, we attended saxophonist James Carter performance at the Detroit Institute of the Arts. I thought this was her first time hearing the saxophonist, but she surprised me when she revealed she saw in New York. Then she said something that I thought was really hip. Carter is such a gifted saxophonist he could blow into a garden hose and make it sound good. I never told her the Carter is probably my favorite jazz musicians in the world, and that I listen to his music damn near everyday. During intermission, she told me that a co-worker loaned her two recordings by pianist Red Garland. Now Garland has taken Cyrus Chestnut place as her favorite jazz pianist.

In my late 20’s, when I first began listening to jazz, Garland was the first pianist that I fell for. His playing was unrushed and relaxed. He played each musical note and bar with the care of a parent bathing a newborn. “Soul Junction” is my favorite Red Garland Album. His solo on the title cut gives me goose bumps over my entire body every time I listen to it. I recommended this album to my friend. But I didn’t loan it to her. We stopped loaning each other music a few years ago. She still has several of my Cyrus Chestnut albums, and I refuse to return the Dinah Washington album that she let me borrow until she returns my Chestnut recordings.

She called me a few weeks ago. She had just returned home from Chicago. There she went to Jazz Mart, a record store that sales only jazz music. She purchased “Soul Junction”. The sales clerk tried to get her to purchase another Garland album that he thought was better. But she stuck with my recommendation. She listened to the album on her way back to Detroit. She is more in love with Garland now than ever. She was so enthusiastic she inspired me to blow the dust off my Garland album's and to take another listen. The music still sounds great.

As I write about my friend and our jazz friendship, I’m listening to “Soul Junction”. Garland is soloing on “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good). He’s strolling through the solo like he’s walking his dog at the Park. I’m really fortunate, to own such great music, and to be able to share it with an appreciative friend.


Pianist Kenn Cox had just finished playing an hour set with his new percussion ensemble Kenn Cox & Drum at the Mack Avenue Records Pyramid Stage at the Detroit International Jazz Festival last weekend. I was backstage talking to Cox about one of his former band-mates saxophonist Leon Henderson the brother of the late saxophonist Joe Henderson. I was telling Cox that I was having difficulty finding information about Leon for an article I want write. I told Cox writer Herb Boyd told me that Leon was dead. The stage manager interrupted our conversation. He needed to talk with Cox about some money the pianist was owned for his performance. Drummer George Davidson approached me when Cox left with the stage manager.
The drummer shook my hand. Then he said to me that he no longer played the drums loudly. At the jazz fest last year, Davidson performed with the Detroit Jazz Griots. In my review of the performance, which by the way I enjoyed. I lambasted Davidson for playing too loudly. The drummer seemed to be begging for attention. And I wrote at one point during the performance I wanted to snatch the drumstick out his hands.

Somehow Davidson got wind of the review. The only other person that confronted me about the review was jazz historian Jim Gallert who I have great respect for because of his prodigious knowledge and passion for jazz music. I’ve written for his website, and I consider him a friend. I believe, however, that Gallert told Davidson about my review although I can’t prove it.
At bassist Don Mayberry’s album release gig last winter at the Grosse Pointe Unitarian Church, I ran into Gallert and his wife Dawn. He said what I wrote about Davidson was mean, and Davidson was one of Detroit’s great drummers. I didn’t respond to Gallert’s take on what I wrote. I don’t make it a habit of arguing the merits of what I write. I never saw the point of doing so. But I must admit that I feel compelled to write about my experience with Davidson to set the record straight.

Backstage was the first the time that I’d seen Davidson since that performance. He was gracious and a gentlemen. He said that he welcomes criticism. He knows some people don’t like his playing, adding there’re people who didn’t like Elvin Jones.
Because of what I wrote, he said he'd stopped playing loudly. I found it hard to believe he adjusted his playing because I criticized him. Davidson invited me to his performance with Cox the next day. I accepted, but didn't attend because Bettye LaVette was performing at the same time at the main stage.

Davidson left me backstage feeling badly. This was the second time a jazz musician confronted me. A few years ago, saxophonist Donald Walden cussed me out because of an article I wrote about drummer Roy Brooks. I hate how the whole situation went down. Before than Walden and I were friends. I could always count on him for information on some jazz musician I was writing about.

As for Davidson, I didn’t get a chance to give a complete picture of how I really feel about his playing. I’ve heard him on many occasions. I felt he was a solid drummer, particularly when he played at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge Wednesday nights with the late pianist Teddy Harris. And there was the night Davidson’s group Hip Bop performed wonderfully one night at Bert’ Marketplace. It was just his performance at the '06 Detroit jazz fest I did not like.

Saturday, September 8, 2007


Jazz pianist Carlos McKinney is busy at work in his home studio in New Jersey remixing tracks for a new album for R&B vocalist Keyshia Coles. Later he plans to complete a track on the West Coast rapper the Game upcoming album. McKinney has more music project than he can handle nowadays. For example, In a few weeks, he's scheduled to tour India with fellow Detroiter alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett.
McKinney doesn't mind being overloaded with work. Whenever he feels like complaining, he thinks back ten years ago when he was struggling to make ends meet only making $ 50.00 per night at a dive in Harlem. That was a long time ago. He will never forget those lean times. Since then, McKinney has made a name for himself in the world of jazz and R&B.

His jazz resume' is extensive. The guys has played with the late drummer Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, and Louis Hayes. Playing behind these jazz gaints is how McKinney developed his percussive style of playing the piano. McKinney plays the instrument like it's a conga drum. He bangs the keys. His fingers bounces off the keys like they're stuffed with springs. When he finishes a solo his body is soaked with sweat like he's been through a cardiovascular workout. His aggressive style is evocative of McCoy Tyner. Maybe that is why Elvin Jones, who played with Tyner in John Coltrane's quartet, liked McKinney so much.

McKinney R&B credits are equally impressive. His has produced music for Patti Labelle, Babyface, Busta Rymes and Kelly Rowlands of Destiny Child. And he landed a production deal a few years ago with J Records that's run by music mogul Clive Davis.

McKinney grew up in a musical family. His mother was a singer. His uncles are the legendary bassist Raymond McKinney and pianist Harold McKinney. McKinney grandmother taught him to play the piano when he was only three-year-old. At age 11, McKinney got his first professional gig playing in his uncle Walter' s R&B band called, Identity. The group performed at cabarets dances. As a teenager, he was doing production with Techno music innovator Kevin Saunderson.

McKinney became interested in jazz his freshman year at Cass Technical High School. He formed a jazz band called Legacy with drummer Ali Jackson his brother trumpeter Khalil. Legacy was popular. They performed locally, toured Europe, and released an album titled "With You in Mind" .

"It got serious pretty fast. We started earning some money. In the 9th grade we were making money. We saved the money from all the weekend gigs that we did. We booked a studio. We booked a producer, and we did our own taped. We sold the tapes for ten dollars a pop. During the African-American Festival we would set up on the corner and sell the tapes out of our trunk. That' s how we made money. I make money to pay for his first of college," McKinney, 33, says.

In 1992, Legacy split. McKinney moved to New York to attend the New School for Social Research, and to ultimately become a big jazz star.

"If you can get out of Detroit knowing your music you can go anywhere I believed. When I first got to college they placed me on probation because I didn' t know enough standards. Legacy started off not really playing jazz. We were playing original tunes. We didn' t really get serious about playing jazz into about 1990. I graduated from school in 1991. So I spent a good year just learning the standard songbook. After that they reevaluated me then they put me in the band to represent the school. That was a big boost of confidence because I thought when I went to New York everybody and everything was going to be incredible," McKinney recalls.

In 1994, McKinney took a break from school to tour with trumpeter Wallace Roney. He thought the gig was going to last forever. In 1996, Roney broke up the band to go on the road with pianist Chick Corea.

"I was really pissed. I said: Man what am I going to do. I spent two years with you, and I can barely pay my bills. 'I made a commitment to be in your band. So what am I supposed to do now' "?

It was a tough transitional period. McKinney returned to Brooklyn where he searched for work. He played a gig in Harlem that only paid 50 bucks per night. The stage was set up in back of the club in the alley. That was depressing.

"That was the point where I realized two things: First of all I need other gig, and I had to get back into doing my R&B music and producing."

Returning to R&B and producing worked out. McKinney met Mtume, a music producer of the popular television urban cop drama New York Undercover.

McKinney says they clicked right away. They had the same musical background. Both had a jazz and R&B background. Mutwme hired McKinney to produce music for the show, which McKinney says led to doing production work for R&B artists.

McKinney fortune seemed to change overnight. In 1996, he got another big break. Legendary drummer Elvin Jones hired him to play with The Jazz Machine .

The first night that McKinney played with Jones McKinney wasn' t nervous, he says. He felt that he had been preparing for this moment his entire career. He had listened to the drummer s albums, he knew all his licks, and he had attended many of Jones' concerts. A bond developed between the two musicians the eight years that McKinney played with Jones. McKinney says Jone always looked out for him.

"Once we were playing with Wynton Marsalis. We' re playing the music of John Coltrane. Wynton and I never got along. He was always trying to turn me into Jelly Roll Morton. And I remember Elvin standing up for me. Wynton wanted Marcus Roberts to play the gig. And Elvin told him that Carlos is going to play this tour that I was his piano player. That was a memorable tour. I got to spend a lot of time with him," McKinney recalls.

Jones even knew that McKinney was moonlighting as Hip Hop and R&B record producer. Jones never discouraged him, but McKinney says the drummer teased him a lot.

"He would say that I was trying to be Puff Daddy. I thought it was funny that he even knew who Puff Daddy was."

McKinney was living a dream as a successful music producer, and jazz pianist. However, at times he' s felt conflicted.

"I felt like I was living a double life. I really felt uncomfortable until recently. R&B cats would look down at you if you played jazz. On the other end most jazz musicians looked down at hip hop saying that it wasn' t really music," McKinney says.

At time McKinney admits that he felt pressured to choose. Once while touring with the The Jazz Machine overseas McKinney was asked by a record company to return home to complete an album he was working on. McKinney had to learn how to navigate both worlds without one overshadowing the other.

"I felt like okay I really need to be here to make these records. It just really got busy for me on the production end. And the money was great. I made more selling one song than being on the road a whole year playing jazz".

McKinney has no plans to slow down. When he returns from overseas with Kenny Garrett, McKinney is going right back to his home studio to work on some new material for a new girl group that he's producing.


Saxophonist Faruq Z. Bey In two years, the Festival of Jazz and Improvised Music has become a major music event. The two day music fest is held at the Bohemian National House in Detroit, Mi, was founded by bassist Joel Peterson and has become a welcomed addition to the many music events that happen in the city yearly. What’s particularly appetizing about this annual music fest is it’s structured where you get to experience each band. Whereas at other festivals you are forced to pick and chose which bands you want to experience.

The second annual FJIM began Friday evening with an incendiary performance by The Raw Truth led by multi-saxophonist Skeeter Shelton. At first, the band seemed to be at war with each other with solos that were disjointed, but the band meshed when they played a composition titled “Ancient Egypt”. Sheldon blew with reckless abandon. The Raw Truth’s set established the groundwork for the high octane performances that followed.

Pianist Thollem McDonas solo piano set touched on virtually every genre of music. Dressed in a t-shirt, cargo slacks, and old work boots, McDonas didn’t have the disposition or attitude of a music virtuoso. He looked more like a skilled laborer. But he constructed a set of improvised music that had all the creativity and energy of Thelonious Monk and Igor Stravinsky playing at a neighborhood jam session.

From there the momentum increased. Saxophonist Faruq Z. Bey Quintet took the stage next. Bey the godfather of avant-garde jazz in Detroit suffers from a medical condition requiring him to tote around a portable oxygen tank to help him breathe. But when the music started Bey’s solos were lengthy and daring. He devoured the chord changes on the tune “Opposition” like they were chunks of candy, while pianist Kenny Green scaled up and down the piano like a mountain climber. The quintet’s performance segued nicely into the headlining act.

The Sun Ra Arkestra had the most animated performance, which alto saxophonist Marshall Allen conducted. Dressed in their traditional intergalactic garb, the ensemble ran through familiar gems from the arkestra’s songbook. Their energy level was high but they didn’t gel right way. Allen spent the first few numbers getting the guys in sync. Allen surprised the audience when he announced the ensemble would do a bonus set.

During the intermission, Allen must have chastised the band like a football coach does a first place team trailing a lesser opponent at half-time because the guys came out smoking. They had worked out the kinks and they sounded like the band on the classics albums “Jazz in Silhouette” and “We Travel the Spaceways/ Bad and Beautiful”. As for Allen, he has aged but his playing is still youthful and aggressive.

The Saturday show wasn’t crowded which was unfortunate because the music was even better. There was a superb performance by tenor saxophonist Salim Washington and bassist Hakim Jami that feature a fantastic drummer named Sean Dobbins. His playing is so good it makes the hairs on your neck dance. And the trio Engine played with such collective velocity you thought their instruments were going to catch fire. The trio called Wrack combined classical music with elements of funk. Sax man Skeeter Sheldon performed a duet with drummer Ali Colding which was near perfect until Sheldon started singing, which is not his strong point.

The most memorable set was the trio of saxophonist Lotte Akers, drummer Gerald Cleaver and pianist Craig Taborn. They took improvisational music to another level. Taborn played every inch and crevice of the piano. During a burst of absolute musical genius his hands moved across the piano keys faster than the blades in an industrial fan. The trio’s performance received a well deserved standing ovation.

What was truly remarkable about the 2nd annual Jazz and Improvised Music Festival was just when you thought the music couldn’t get any better another great band stole the show. Don’t be surprised if in the coming years the festival will have achieved all the prestige and cultural impact of the Vision Festival.