Monday, September 29, 2008


Photo by W. Kim Heron Dear Harold McKinney,

I have some exciting news to share with you, Teddy Harris, Roy Brooks, and Donald Walden, the Detroit jazz masters who passed way, and have joined you in that special corner of heaven God reserved for Detroit jazz musicians. Man, I can only imagine the nightly jam sessions you guys have. By the way, how is Dr. Harris doing? Has the pianist assembled a big band akin to his New Breed Be Bop Orchestra? That orchestra was a boot camp and finishing school for budding jazz musicians who wanted to learn how to swing.

Is Roy Brooks taking his medication daily, and are his chops strong again? I bet in the drummer’s spare time he teaches the angels up there how to swing. What about saxophonist Donald Walden. How is he adjusting? At the 29th Detroit International Jazz Festival bassist Marion Hayden-you remember Hayden the first lady of Detroit jazz, and the cofounder of the quintet Straight Ahead—organized a tribute concert for Walden. Damn near every student or alumni of Walden’s bands The Detroit Jazz Orchestra, Jazz Works, and Free Radicals participated.

Harold how have you been? I really miss those Thursday evening jazz workshops you conducted at the SergeNti?? Ballroom on Woodard Ave. (Bill Foster, the concert promoter who held jazz concerts there, moved out of the building a year or so after you passed. Currently the place is a mom and pop Hip Hop clothing store). A lot of inspiring jazz pianist and vocalists benefited from your knowledge. Harold, I wished that you and Harris had trained successors to take over your workshop, and Harris’ Orchestra. But I guess you guys couldn’t do it all. Or maybe no one stepped up because they never thought you and Harris would ever pass away someday.

I don’t know if you guys receive updates regularly about the Detroit’s jazz scene. Over the past few years, the jazz scene has experienced what I call a youth movement. Youngsters such as vocalist Jesse Palter, saxophonist De’Sean Jones and drummer Thaddeus Dixon have formed bands without serving an apprenticeship in groups such as the New Breed Be Bop Society Orchestra, and Walden’s Detroit Jazz Orchestra. The youngsters are successful.

Also, there’re new jazz venues popping up every where such as Dirty Dog, and Jazz at the Max inside of Orchestra Hall, and a jazz café’ in the basement of The Music Hall. The latter showcases mostly national jazz acts whereas the Dirty Dog employs mostly locals. Harold I’m talking your ears off, and have yet to share the good news.

A few Saturdays ago, I went to Bert’s Market Place to her Larry Smith. The alto saxophonist recovered from the two strokes he had in 2003. Drummer George Davison was in Smith’s rhythm section. After the first set, Davison told me he’s finishing up a new album—his first as a leader—with original compositions he wrote for you, Harris, Brooks, and Walden.

Davison founded financing. The album will be released next year. So that’s the news I wanted to share. This kind of homage to you guys is overdue. Maybe next someone will start a petition to have you guys birthdays national holidays. It could be called Detroit’s Masters Day. That’s just a thought.

Charles L. Latimer

Sunday, September 28, 2008


Saturday evening I attended the Wayne Shorter concert at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, MI. The concert opened the University Music Society 2008-2009 jazz concert series. Yesterday, I decided to skip the concert because I dislike Shorter's post-Mile Davis work, but I had a change of heart. It was a chance to hear the man who made a string of classic jazz albums decades ago for Blue Note Records such as JuJu and Speak No Evil just to name a few.

I hoped Shorter would play a few of those hard bop tunes he wrote as a sideman for the Jazz Messengers, and the Mile Davis quintet, but the saxophonist wasn’t in a nostalgic mood. He played material I was unfamiliar with. Imani Winds, a chamber music quartet, performed first. I'm not hip to chamber music.

That disqualifies me from critiquing Imani Winds’ performance. I will say, however, the audience enjoyed the quartet’s brief set. Shortly after Imani Winds exited the stage, Shorter lumbered out followed by pianist Danilo Perez, drummer Brain Blade and bassist John Patitucci. Shorter never introduced his sidemen or the music they played. His aloofness bothered me. I felt as if I’d crashed an invitation only party.

Shorter’s quartet performed roughly an hour without coming up for air. One composition overlapped the next. The music was undecipherable. I had to be the only person in the auditorium who disliked Shorter’s performance because when the quartet finally came up for air, the capacity crowd cheered. Then they begged for an encore, and Shorter obliged.

Monday, September 22, 2008


For years, Kenny, I’ve maintained that in order to appreciate what an exceptional musician you are, you have to be experienced live. To me, your albums have always been hit or miss. You’ve never put out a memorable album (That’s just my opinion. I’ve sure your fans will think I’m mean and nuts for saying that). On the other hand, your live performances that I’ve attended have been unforgettable.

So, Kenny I was excited when Mack Avenue Records sent me an advanced copy of your album Sketches of MD Live at the Iridium featuring Pharoah Sanders. The first time I listened to it a liked the album immediately.

On the opener The Ring, which ran over 14 minutes, you and Sanders tossed the notes and chords back and forth like a dad playing catch with his son. Sanders blew with the strength of a power-lifter, and pianist Benito Gonzalez did everything humanly possible to the piano save for disassembling it, and resembling it string by string. Kenny, you’ve always had an affinity for demonstrative piano players.

On the next number Intro to Africa, Sanders and Gonzalez were still fired up. On Sketches of MD, Sanders had the guys playing at his level.

Kenny, I know I said I dug the album right away, but after listening to it some more over the weekend I realized I rushed to judgment. After The Ring and Intro to Africa, the album veered off course, and never founded its way back home.

The futuristic Wayne’s Thang which I’m assuming to you wrote for saxophonist Wayne Shorter, is too eerie and weird for my taste. I’m not sure what you wanted to convey. And that gizmo you attached to your horn annoyed me.

The closer, Happy People, is a tune you normally end your shows with. On this release, it’s out of place. Frankly, you should’ve left Happy People off the album. It came across as if you begging to audience participate when they just wanted to leave. I give Sketches of MD thumbs down.

Monday, September 15, 2008


Ear Food. What a catchy title, Roy. If I have my facts right, pianist Cedar Walton wrote a tune titled Ear Food. I’ll double check that, and get back to you. I’m certain your spin on Ear Food will make the cut on many jazz critics and journalist's best jazz albums of 2008 list. It will definitely be on my list.

I purchased Ear Food right after I heard you perform recently at the 29th Detroit International Jazz Festival. I listened to Strasbourg/St. Denis over and over. For weeks now, the melody pops up in my hears unannounced, and I'll start humming the tune. I’m serious about that, Roy. I’m totally addicted. By the way, where did you find Clayton? He’s a sensitive player and accompanist.

On Mr. Clean and Bring it On Home to Me, Clayton reminded me of pianist Joe Sample during his heyday with the Jazz Crusaders. (If Clayton reads this blog I hope he takes the comparison I made as a compliment).

Ear Food wasn’t the kind of album stuck in one gear. You mixed things up. You played an up tempo tunes. Next you, segued into ballads, giving listeners a chance to catch their breath. Brown and Joy Is Sorrow Unmasked were as a warm blanket.

Eight years ago, I attended your gig at the Serengeti Ballroom on Woodward Ave, in Detroit, Mi. The place was packed. You gave the people more than their money's worth. The same is true with Ear Food. Oh, by the way, I just remembered why I showed up late. I was at the Mack Avenue Records Pyramid Stage listening to drummer Gerald Cleaver’s quintet.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


At Bert’s Marketplace, a jazz club in Detroit's Eastern Market district, Saturday night alto saxophonist Larry Smith was visibly shaken by the odd behavior of his longtime running buddy bassist Rodney Hicks. Saturday was Smith's second gig in five years. In 2003, a mild stroke sidelined him. His fans wondered if he’d recover. Smith did, and last weekend Smith returned to active duty.

The alto saxophonist was missed dearly. Fortunately, Smith left us with two fine albums Larry Smith & Company Live at the Slovak Philharmonic, and Estate'. I played those albums whenever I need an extra strength dose of Smith's alto medicine. I'm sure those albums kept me as well as other Larry Smith loyalists company until he got healthy. Five years is a long time to be away, but Saturday Smith sounded as if he spent that time practicing instead of rehabbing.

Known to his peers as be bop icon Charlie Parker’s heir apparent Smith's horn swore, cried, and swung. Smith climbed up and down the chord changes to the classics such as Seven Steps to Heaven, and he whisked through Estate’, a tone that's been a part of Smith's repertoire for decades. Sadly, Hicks messed up big time, which upset Smith.
For years, Hicks has been Smith’s bassist of choice. Hicks can walk the bass for miles. I watched the guy handle the huge instrument like it was a feather. But last night he could barely function. Last night it was unseasonably humid. When Hick showed up for work dressed in a black leather suit, a black turtleneck sweater, and his unkempt dreadlocks stuffed under a baseball cap made from African Kente cloth, Smith should’ve known mentally Hicks wasn’t right. Detroit is filled to capacity with great bass players. Hicks always stood out. It hurt to watch Hick embarrass himself.

Planted on a chair the entire first set, Hicks nodded off like a junkie. In fact, I wondered if Hicks had a rough day, and should’ve called in sick. After the first set, I asked drummer George Davidson, who was also mad at Hicks, if the bassist was took so medicine that made him woozy. Davidson flat out said Hicks was stoned. I never seen a Detroit jazz musician so stoned he couldn’t function.

I felt bad for Smith. After he closed the set, he unhooked his sax from its neck strap, lit a cigarette, and downed a Heineken. Davidson went outside to calm down. Hicks stayed on the bandstand. He wrestled with his instrument. When he finally managed to pack it, he told Smith goodbye. Then Hicks nearly toppled on the bandstand. Smith never chastised Hicks, but it’ll probably be the last time they perform together.

Monday, September 8, 2008


In early 2000, the organ trio organissimo became part of a mini-renaissance of bands that emerged on the Detroit, Mi jazz scene with catchy names such as Bop Cultural, and Urban Transport. The bands wrote and performed mostly original compositions, and were democratic as well. Each member had equal status. The bands developed a loyal following, but save for organissimo the other band were constantly changed personnel, and eventually split up, but organissimo thrived. They seemed to possess a special formula the other bands lacked.

I heard organissimo two years ago at the famous Baker’s Keyboard Lounge. The trio cast a spell on me I’ve been unable to break. For those who’ve never experienced the trio, here’ how you can tell when they’re about to cook like a family barbecue: Guitarist Joe Gloss shuts his eyes. Drummer Randy Marsh turns his cap backward, and Alfredson slips of his shoes.

Months after that gig at Baker’s, I interviewed Alfredson for an article the Metrotimes--a weekly newspaper in Detroit I’ve written for eleven years--published. I talked with Alfredson at his home in Lansing, Mi. The organist is soft spoken, and has the demeanor of an academic. If you encountered he say in a shopping mall you’d never surmise he’s one of the most soulful organ players working on this planet.

Alfredson and his wife gutted the kitchen, and was remolding it .The organist and I talked at his dinning room table. While I questioned him, his daughter, nicknamed Sweetie Pie, set in his lap, and when she became restless, she crawled under the table and tugged on her dad’s pant leg. Alfredson talked about his influences, (bands such as Weather Report and Genesis) why he dropped out of Michigan State University to play music full-time, and how he met Marsh and Gloss.

After the interview, Alfredson showed me his home recording studio in the basement. CD's lined the wall. He played several tracks from the Root Doctor’s album, a Rhythm and Blues band Alfredson plays in. He gave Gloss and Marsh’s telephone numbers, and days later I interviewed them.

I recently exchanged emails with Alfredson. He explained the concept of the trio’s new album, Groovadelphia, and he spent me an advanced cop. Like the organissimo previous offerings This is the Place and Waiting for the Boogaloo Sister, I like Groovadelphia immediately, and set up an email interview with. Alfredson. He discussed why trio stayed together, and why Groovadelphia is his favorite organissimo album.

organissimo have been together for eight years, and you guys sound more polished than ever. What is the secret to the trio's success?

We work hard. And we have a genuine love of playing music with each other. We have our spats now and again, but at the end of the day we really enjoy playing together and writing together. I also believe that we are just different enough from each other, as far as our tastes, that we compliment each other musically very well.
How is Groovadelphia different than organissimo's pervious recordings?
It is the first album with just the trio and no special guests. It was also recorded in a very "old school" way, with everyone playing in the same room together. We couldn't go back and fix mistakes, we just had to play and if we messed up, we'd start again. It is also very collaborative. Almost all the tunes are written by the three of us together.

What does Groovadelphia mean, and who came up with the title?

Groovadelphia is a tribute to Philadelphia, the jazz organ capitol of the world. We consider Philly our home away from home on the East Coast and we love the city, the people, and playing there. I think Randy came up with the name. We originally were thinking of doing a "suite", but it hasn't materialized yet. We might extend the idea over several records, kind of like the "Clap Yo Hands", "Stomp Yo Feets" motif across the first two albums.
What are some of the obstacles you guys encountered making Groovadelphia?

My schedule with Root Doctor has been extremely busy and our biggest obstacle was simply finding time to play and write. We also knew that we couldn't afford to spend as much money making this record as we did the first two, so we decided early on to let me try and track it myself. I have been interested in recording for as long as I've been playing music and really the two have always gone hand in hand for me but it was an enormous technical obstacle for me to track the entire record myself.
How did the trio overcome the obstacles?
We made good use of our downtime. We tried to have at least two rehearsals per month even if we had no gigs on the horizon. That way we'd stay tight and also have time to write together. And I had a lot of help on the technical side of things from my friend and Root Doctor band mate Greg Nagy and also from Glenn Brown, who engineered our first two CDs. And my wife is also extremely understanding! I had to kick her and my daughter out of the house while we tracked or else their footsteps would be heard from the 100 year old creaky floors above. My wife was even 9 months pregnant at the time! So she deserves a lot of accolades.

Six of the nine selections on Groovadelphia you co-wrote with Marsh and Gloss .Will you explain how you guys collaborate, and how important it is that each member shares the workload?

The writing process on my end usually begins with coming up with a fragment or sometimes an entire chord sequence and melody and then getting together with Joe and either fleshing out a melody if one doesn't exist or refining what's already there. Joe usually takes the ideas home and refines them and brings them back to me and we further refine them together. We then present the tunes at a rehearsal and Randy suggests rhythmic and arrangement ideas. Has there ever been a period when you guys contemplated splitting up?
No. We're having too much fun! What keeps organissimo focused and motivated?
We like writing music together, we like playing together, and we all have lofty goals for the group. We're confident that we have the right stuff to be on the world stage. We just need the right people to agree.

Were you guys able to spend more time polishing Groovadelphia because it was recorded in your home studio?

Yes and it was a real treat. We were able to take each song and really break it down to the essence of the tune and build it back up. We could record it, take it home for a day or two and listen, and then gain perspective on how to make it better. That's just not possible in a professional studio unless you have a lot of money.We also don't really have any egos and we share ideas between each other very openly. If a part isn't working, we'll say so and no offense is taken. We try to do everything in service of the music.
How do you rate yourself among other noted jazz organists?

That's a loaded question! I break jazz organists (and musicians in general) into two distinct camps: There are the stylists and there are the speakers. The stylists are those people that can play just like the past masters, but don't really have a personal voice. The speakers are those people that you know the instant you hear them because their sound on the instrument is unique to them. I hope that I am the latter.If I could compare myself to anyone, I hope it would be someone like Dr. Lonnie Smith. He isn't technically flashy, but he grooves incessantly and he tells a story with his music.
Is Groovadelphia your favorite organissimo album?

Yes, it is. I feel like I improve as a musician every day and I am not only proud of how I played on that record, but also the production and recording aspect of it. I am also proud of my band mates because I think they really stepped up and overcame the technical and personal challenges to make this record. Joe sounds better than ever on Groovadelphia and Randy is constantly listening and reacting. It's very special and rare to find musicians like Joe and Randy to play with and I think we all recognize that. That's probably the biggest reason why we're still together. Why mess with a good thing?It's also my favorite because I think it makes a strong statement as a whole. So many jazz records are just a collection of tunes where they state the head and then you get solo after solo after solo, they restate the head, and off to the next tune. There's no flow between the songs. My inspiration for this record was my love of bands like Weather Report and early Genesis and artists like Peter Gabriel, where you listen to their records and each song flows into the next and the record is a self-contained thing that beckons to be listened to from beginning to end.

How long did it take to make this album?

Pre-production took over a year. I literally recorded every rehearsal I could and experimented with mic placements, different mics, different mic preamps, acoustic treatments, drum heads, Leslies, etc for over a year. When it came time to actually track the record, it took about 6 days, two of which were rehearsal days.

Was there any drama among the trio while recording Groovadelphia?
Not really. We had some discussions on certain parts, but nothing out of the ordinary. No flared tempers or name-calling or anything newsworthy. We get along really well.