Thursday, November 24, 2011


James Carter
Detroit jazz saxophone player James Carter is having a really good year. In May Decca Records released Carter’s much anticipated first classical album Caribbean Rhapsody Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra, which critics have called a masterwork. With the recent release of At the Crossroads, Carter’s organ trio celebrated its tenth anniversary. Recently, I Dig Jazz talked to Carter about the two new albums and the trio’s milestone and a few other jazz related topics.

Your organ trio is coming up on its 10th anniversary. What’s the key to keeping a band together that long?

It goes back to my musical father, Donald Washington. He always said longevity is the key, and, of course, that plays well with singular longevity and collective longevity. The longer a group stays together the more it becomes of one mind as the relationship and musicianship progresses. Case and point, look at the classic Coltrane quartet albums Night at the Village Vanguard and One Down One Up. Those recording are great as the result of the band playing together for a while as opposed to doing the recording with pickup bands. Those recordings weren’t some all-star hookup.

Jazz record companies nowadays are big on all-star projects it seems.

I fought tooth and nail with Atlantic Records back in day when they were trying to hook me up with New York-bred individuals. They’d say, “Why don't we try something different?” If I wanted a Detroit drummer, they’d say he played too much hi-hat. You want that on the record?' I’d say, “Yeah!” That's something that can be worked out when the album is mixed. As far as letting them dial in some musician that I wasn’t in tune with, wasn’t going to happen. Especially when this is a document I have to live with for the rest of my life.

Why are you so loyal to Detroit cats?

I think it's because I feel musically and socially connected to them. That definitely makes for a better and more cohesive project. As fate would have it, after the formation with my first group with Tani [Tabbal}, Jaribu [Shahid] and Craig [Taborn] ran its course, that’s when Leonard King and Gerard Gibbs came on board.

Gerard Gibbs is outstanding on At the Crossroads. All the slick tricks you can do on the horns Gerard can do on the organ.

Gerard has grown a heck of a lot. When you look at Live at Baker’ Keyboard Lounge’ recorded in 1996 up until now that's a heck of a lot of growth. And that's definitely come from us growing on stage, and also growing as men. I think he told me a long time ago that music and life don’t separate. With this group, it's not only about us on stage; we check on each other; we check on our families, see if there's anything we can do.

You guys are brothers.

Yeah, and it manifests itself in the music. I can definitely and truly say that.

Does the current generation of Detroit jazz musicians have the same type of no-nonsense mentoring from older cats that your generation had?

Mentoring and the outlets have definitely disappeared. It's funny you mention that, I'm back here in Detroit working on my mom's place. I just put in a new furnace and an alarm system. I was rummaging and going through things. 

 I came across old newspaper clippings from back in the day. I kept quite a few of them like, there was a one from the Michigan Chronicle that I had. Teddy Harris' band was down at Bomac’s, Larry Smith and Ray McKinney were playing at other clubs, this was all within a week. Teddy's band was also playing at Dummy George's. We could either play with the group if you knew them, or you were a part of that group. Like all that has mad changed within the past 10 years or so.

You are known as a killer improviser, and you have done some amazing shit on the saxophones. You are also a damn fine composer. Why don't you write more?

I actually compose whenever the muse hits or if I’m commissioned. Like if I have an album coming up and we need six banging songs on it or whatever. I mean, the closest I've done something on that end was on ‘Present Tense’. Whenever the vibe hits, and you know, I do have some stuff I’m sitting on that I need to develop more.

You have a knack for putting a spin on obscure jazz tunes. Your take on Julius Hemphill’s tune “The Hard Blues” is a prime example. When you put together an album like At the Crossroads what do you look for?

Well, with At the Crossroads, I think this is the first time that you'll actually see it being billed as a group as opposed to James Carter. We all picked our tunes and OK'd them. On my other albums, I came and said these are the tunes, this is how we're going to do them. We all picked stuff out on this one, it was more of a team involvement. We all brought individual things to the table.

Has the jazz world changed much over the years?

It's definitely changed, as far as the packaging goes, being online and actually using online as one of the main routes to get jazz music out. I think it's a good thing, but at the same time, you miss the connection with the people doing the in-store appearances. Now you have to do live blogs. I guess exposure is exposure either way it goes. If you got people that are able to just tune in the comforts of their home and have music streamed live it’s kind of similar to staying at home with Netflix, or making it a Blockbuster night or whatever. So why go to the concert? So, that's the downside.

Is there an upside?

The upside is, as a musician you're potentially getting a lot more people. Hopefully that will act as a catalyst to get them to the real thing and want to see musicians in real time. So many people I think are just disconnected. Here's the irony, that they are connected you know with cyberspace and all that stuff. It's still real-time music, it's real-time art, it's art of the moment; It's one thing to see it online, but it's another to be in a club. 

Could you imagine getting someone saying, “Yeah I heard the Trane at the Vanguard live stream” and get that same effect out of hearing Trane live. My mom talked about the first time she saw Billy Eckstine live at the Paradise Theater in Detroit and how his sound hit her body. You can’t get the same effect listening to an artist streamed live.

The latest thing is how jam sessions are basically replacing group stints at jazz club. If a group was playing and somebody sat in that's just an extra bonus. Like if I happened to be in town I’m going to sit in. Maybe the best case scenario is you'll get somebody like a house band that plays their own set, they'll take a break, then they'll come back and their next two sets they'll open it up for folks to come up and play.

And that's good as far as what the promoters and club owners do, because they're get off cheaper by paying them a certain amount. Their patrons get to hear a whole lot of cats playing. The bad part about that is, the house band or the band that should've been playing their own repertoire, they don't get a chance to grow or play that repertoire. Sometimes the core members of that group wind up going to the bar while somebody else sits in. So there's no growth, and that's becoming the standard at most venues nowadays.

On Caribbean Rhapsody, why did you make the album with the Warsaw Symphony Orchestra instead of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra?

There were some logistic problems. I think when it came time to do it, it was the Warsaw Symphony that stepped up to the plate. We were kind of up in the air because I hadn't heard really much of the Warsaw Symphony.

Of the two new albums which is your favorite?

They're both different children and I've always said that about the albums. I've also said it about horns. They're different people and they do certain things for you. The concerto continues to grow for me, there's been mad growth on that piece since you've seen it at the world premiere with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

One of things I love about Caribbean Rhapsody is Roberto Sierra compositions leave plenty of space for you to improvise and play your trademark cadenzas.

I remember showing the compositions to three different saxophone professors and they said, “Who’s going to be able to play all this?” Yeah, the piece has grown big time, and Roberto has put so much harmonic and melodic information in there that I can keep feeding off of for years.

Michael Cuscuna has produced Caribbean Rhapsody and At the Crossroads. How is it working with a living legend?

Well, with him, he's part of one of the soundtracks of our lives. The stuff he used to do for Blue Note, and Mosaic. Inside the studio, he opens up more possibilities.

What some of your future aspirations?

I have aspirations to keeping myself open to all possibilities.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


"Conversations with Christian” is the second album the jazz bass player has put out this year. The first was “The Good Feeling”, McBride’s first shot at a big band album, which focused on his star-packed band, and his arranging skills. The second album is way different.

McBride is in a one on one setting with musicians he think the world of. “Conversation with Christian” is the offspring of McBride’s satellite radio show of the same title. McBride interviewed  bigwig  musicians such as Sting, Dee Dee Bridgewater, George Duke and Dr. Billy Taylor.

This album is better than “The Good Feeling”. On that date,” McBride was happy putting the spotlight on his band members. Listeners got the chance to see McBride as an arranger. Not that McBride needed to prove himself.

No other jazz bass player on the planet understands his role more than McBride does. McBride is special and he’s been blessed with alien chops. That’s what listeners of “Conversations with Christian” get to hear firsthand.

The album displays McBride skills more than any of his other albums. My favorite track “On Conversations with Christian” is McBride’s session with Dee Dee Bridgewater. They have a lustful kind of magic. McBride and Bridgewater should consider making an album.

The only track on “Conversation with Christian” that comes up short is McBride session with trumpet player Roy Hargrove. They grew up in the same generation, and have endured the test of time, so you’d think chemistry would be a given. But the session is flat and a pimple on an otherwise smooth album.

In the one on one sessions McBride is relaxed and is having a swell time with his peers, letting the music happen naturally. There’s a lot of ad-libbing, but even that comes off as choreographed instead of hatched on the spot.

Monday, November 14, 2011


Gerald Clayton
At one point during the Gerald Clayton’s trio first set at the Detroit Groove Society’s home concert series, I feared Andrew Rothman, the series producer, would have to call in the West Bloomfield Hills fire department. Clayton’s trio drummer Quincy Davis and bass player Joe Sander nearly set the house afire on the “Bolivia”.

Sander called the number and it was a sample of the level of swing the trio would offer the second set. Clayton kept the first set to a simmer, getting the crowd good and ready for the second where his trio played hits from his first album “Two Shades” and his most recent outing the “Bond: the Paris Sessions”.

Clayton is a killer jazz piano player. Three years ago, Clayton gave two hot sets at the Detroit Groove Society, and the concert series regulars have been anxiously waiting for Clayton return.

Sunday’s concert was wonderful, and a fitting end to a four night run for Clayton’s trio. Wednesday through Saturday they played the Dirty Dog Jazz Café. There was no sign the concerts took a toll on the trio.

For nearly three hours Sunday, the trio was crisp and creative. Clayton showed his skills, and his enjoyment of playing songs with many tempo changes. Clayton loves playing in Detroit, and we love having him here whether it’s at a jazz club or at a house concert.

Clayton always does his best. Rumor is Mack Avenue Records wants to sign Clayton. That would be a big score for the Detroit based record company. Clayton will be on the team with Christian McBride, Sean Jones, Gerald Wilson, and Gary Burton. Not bad company.

During the break Diane Rothman told Clayton why she and Andrew started putting on concerts. They were big timed jazz concert goers.

The Rothman’s became dismayed. They would pay good money but not be able to enjoy a concert because of people yapping away while the musicians played.

So they decided to host concerts in their home. They did a dry run by holding a concert for Andrew’s 40th birthday. It was a big hit. George Cables and Geri Allen are two of the big time musicians who played in the Rothman’s home.

Andrew has an eye for the top jazz talent and a complete love for jazz. When the Detroit Jazz Festival’s board was shopping for a new director, the board should have considered Andrew. Of course, he would have turned them down flat, but he would have been a good fit.

The home jazz concerts are gifts for jazz fans because at each gig they have a ringside seat, and they can mix and mingle with the musicians during the break. The concerts are reasonably priced and the Rothmans have plenty to eat and drink.

Unfortunately, the Rothman’s only held two concerts this year. Maybe next season the supporters of the series will insist the Rothman’s put on more shows and, of course, bring Clayton’s trio back.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


Donald Harrison
Donald, it was the wildest jazz concert I’ve attended at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor Michigan. What an over the top spectacle you and the Rebirth Brass Band put on Friday night.  New Orleans cats know how to through a party, but last night you all got carried away.

It was my least favorite concert in all the years I’ve covered the University Musical Societies jazz concert series. The Rebirth Brass Band seemed like a pieced together band of New Orleans street musicians with entry level skills.

They were super loud, and the music they played lacked grit. Even the four special guests Cyril Neville, Dr. Michael White, James and Glen Andrews could not save the evening. 

James Andrews made a complete ass of himself dancing around the stage like a drunken fool. Then again he's known as the Louis Armstrong of the ghetto. 

And Glen Andrews parading through the audience blowing his trombone was over the top. Donald, even the first solo you played was dull, and came off like you were practicing. The only part of the concert I liked was Dr. Michael White's take of "St. James Infirmary".

Overall, the concert felt like a neighborhood block party. The only things missing were the Mardi Gras beads and some women exposing their boobs. 

And I didn’t understand why the front man of the Rebirth Brass Band invited people to join the band on the stage.

I wouldn’t be surprise if I was the only person there who absolutely hated the concert. It was my worse concert experience ever.

Friday, November 11, 2011


Saxophonist Chris Collins
Dear Chris,

There are rumors flying around about how you landed the job as the artistic director of the Detroit Jazz Festival, and how you orchestrated Terri Pontremoli's ouster. I'm sure you've heard them. One rumor circulating is as a DJF board member you had your eye on Terri’s job for some time. You convinced your fellow board members you could do a better job. Chris, I’m not part of the DJF's inner circle so I will never know for sure what went down and why Terri was ousted.

I'm a Terri Pontremoli fan. Not because she treated me with respect and valued my insight as a jazz journalist. I liked Terri because she had vision and she brought a certain level of excitement to the jazz festival. She saved it from the bone yard, and she elevated it to international acclaim. The reality is you’re now the captain of the ship.

You’re lucky. You’re taking over after all the hard work has been done. Terri deserves credit for saving the jazz fest. You’re stepping in when the fest has international standing. Sadly, In a few years, Terri will be forgotten about and there will not be a monument to celebrate the wonderful job she did.

Unfortunately, she will be a distant memory, and you will get all the glory. That’s not right. At this point, it doesn’t matter if any of the rumors are valid. Yoi have some big shoe to fill. I don’t envy you one bit. But I’m a fair man, and hope you have a successful run. 

I hope you will book topnotch international jazz musicians. Surely, you will be partial to the local jazz musicians who’ve been complaining about being shunned when Terri ran the show. Man I hope you don’t bogged down the jazz fest with local acts.

I can’t speak for other DJF goers and supporters, but I don’t want to sit at a for four day jazz fest listening to local jazz acts I can hear nightly at Bert’s, Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, Cliff Bell’s and the Jazz Café. Chris, time will tell if the DJF board made the right move, or if you sold them a bill of goods.

I wish Terri the best. Surely, she will land on her feet. And she will be snapped up by a fledgling jazz festival and do for it what she did for the DJF.

I wish you the best. I hope you have the vision, drive, and commitment to grow the DJF. I’m going to be watching you like a hawk. If you succeed, which I have my fingers cross you will do, I’m going to praise you as I did Terri. And if you stink up the place, I’m going to be on your case big time.

Chris, you deserve a fair shot. Terri got one and I’m sure there were people who questioned her abilities. Terri proved them wrong. Now you have to prove yourself.

Best wishes,

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Terri Pontremoli
Terri, I’ve been calling around trying to find out why the bigwigs at the Detroit Jazz Festival decided to let you go. So far, all I’ve come across are rumors. There’s one circulating the bigwigs are going to replace you with the man who runs Detroit’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

I can picture it now A-list jazz musicians such as Regina Carter, Wayne Shorter, and Jason Moran arriving to the DJF opening night on a parade float dressed like pilgrims. Maybe the jazz fest bigwigs want to turn the number three jazz festival in the world—a distinction the DJF reached last year—into a spectacle.

Terri, under your watch the DJF was major. You brought in Regina Carter, Christian McBride, John Clayton, Mulgrew Miller and Jeff “Tain” Watts as artist in residence, making them an integral part of the jazz fest education programing. You made the festival world-class with outstanding programming year after year.

How many jazz fest directors could’ve pulled off booking Jason Moran, Vijay Iyer, Dave Holland and the Sun Ra Arkestra on the same bill? Not many I bet.

Terri, another rumor I heard was you got canned because you got too big for your britches, and you were behaving as if the festival was your pet project.

Terri, I bet the real reason you were let go was you rubbed one of those bigwigs the wrong way. They had to teach you a lesson. That being the D JF can thrive without you. The jazz fest bigwigs will find out soon enough. 

The fest won’t be the same with you gone. I bet there’re others Detroit jazz fest fans who share my view.

You took hold of the DJF when it was on life-support. And you pumped new life into it. Once it got back on its feet the festival soared to international respectability. You should have received a key to the city. Instead, you got a pink slip. Shame on bigwigs for making that foolish decision.

I hate to see you go. You were world-class. I witnessed your predecessors in action. They did a fairly decent job of running the festival.  But, in my book, You were the best director the DJF ever had.

Before I sat down to write this, I received an electronic press release, announcing Wayne State University's professor of Jazz Studies Chris Collins as your replacement. 

Time will tell if Collins is the right person for the job. The jazz fest bigwigs are confident he will grow the festival. Maybe he will. In all fairness, he deserved the shot to prove he has the goods.

I don’t know if Collins has the vision to take the jazz fest to the next level. I hope he won’t be the bigwig's puppet in their quest to turn the DJF into a watered-down version of Arts, Beats &Eats where the emphasis will be on attendance. For now, I’ll assume Collins is a good man who has some big shoes to fill.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Dwight Adams
Dwight Adams is one of the top jazz trumpet players breathing. It’s a crying shame Adams is not on a major jazz label like his peers Sean Jones, Terell Stafford, Jeremy Pelt, Nicholas Payton and Marcus Printup. Being unsigned doesn’t bother Adams at all. Adams told me so between sets at the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe Saturday night.

We set at the bar. I asked if he was working on his first album yet. Adams said, “Some cats have a lot to say musically, and they have a desire to be in the spotlight. I think that’s okay, but I’m not that kind of guy”.

I shot back, “You need to document that you’re a major figure on the Detroit jazz scene”.

“I’m documented on a lot of albums,” Adams countered.

That’s true. Adams has played on albums by James Carter, Donald Walden, Rodney Whitaker, Buddy Budson, Sean “Thunder” Wallace, Stevie Wonder and a host of others. 

For now, Adams is perfectly happy with recording as a sideman. Adams is a fine bandleader. When he’s not touring with Stevie Wonder, he leads a righteous quartet that includes bass player Ralphe Armstrong, drummer Alex White, and piano player Rick Roe.

Saturday night, that quartet muscled through jazz staples “Seven Steps to Heaven,” “In Your Own Sweet Way,” “One Finger Snap,” “Freedom Jazz Dance,” and “Ask Me Now”.

Adams never the attention hog put the spotlight on White and Roe. White is a promising young drummer. He was comfortable sharing the bandstand with Detroit jazz royalty. His solos were thought out.

I heard White for the first time a few months ago at Cliff Bell’s. White was louder than a drunken sports fan. Last night, White proved he’s capable of modifying his playing to suit any musical setting.

Adams is a no-nonsense boss. He won’t tolerate showboating under his watch. He picked up that hard-nose trait during his apprenticeship with the great piano player and jazz educator Teddy Harris.

Roe and Adams have been running together for ages it seems. Lately, Roe has been inactive. His wife is ill. Roe dropped everything to take care of her. Roe only plays occasionally, but his chops are still up.

Roe had the house piano swinging like a puppet on Herbie Hancock’s “One Finger Snap”. Then Roe lulled the standing room only crowd like a mother does a newborn on Thelonious Monk’s ballad “Ask Me Now”.

Adams gave the crowd a gift, inviting drummer Karriem Riggins to sit-in for two songs. Riggins set the drums ablaze, and White jokingly refused to resume playing afterward. Adams had some choice solos. On slow tempo number he glided through the tunes like a world champion figure skater.

Adams runs a disciplined band. Even Ralphe Armstrong who’s prone to clowning around was on his best behavior. Maybe one day soon, Adams will give his fans a gift by putting out his first album.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


Jazz pianist Hal Galper
Hal, I didn’t know what to expect from your show at the Virgil Carr Center Friday night, which opened the first annual Paradise Valley Fall Jazz Festival. My friend, jazz critic Mark Stryker of the Detroit Free Press gushed about your unorthodox style in his weekly column. Another friend who publishes the weekly jazz e-newsletter the Usual Suspects raved about you also, and encouraged his subscribers to attend your show and bring some extra cash to buy your CD’s.

Yesterday evening was the first time I heard your music. Thursday, I did a google search, and I watched some videos of you explaining your style of jazz. I learn you’ve performed with some big name jazz musicians Chet Baker, Phil Woods, and Stan Getz to name three. And you’re heavily into Rubato, which as I understand is stretching the beat and modifying the rhythmic structure of a composition.

On one video, you demonstrated how you reshape standards. That’s what impressed me about your concert last night. Your trio drummer John Bishop and bass player Jeff Johnson played well-known standards “Embraceable You,” Alice in Wonderland,” “Four” and “ I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry”.

I’ve heard those standards a million times, but never like your trio worked them. On each song, you put the melody in the passenger seat, and let the harmony drive the tunes. It was intriguing how you stretched and stretched a song as far it could go before it snapped. 

It was great when you allowed the crowd to ask questions about the music, which proved you genuinely wanted them to understand and be consumed with your music.

The turnout was small. I counted 30 people. That was cool because it gave the concert a more intimate feel. Bishop and Johnson were on fire. I chatted with Johnson after the first set. I asked Johnson how it felts playing with a leader as unorthodox as you.

Johnson likened it to water skiing behind a powerful boat. Any musician brave enough to play with you must possess monster chops because your music demands they ad-lib over song forms and play counter-lines. The concert had many high points. 

My favorite was your duet with Johnson on “I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry”. It was originally written as a sad ballad, but you and Johnson made it zesty.

Hal, your concert christened the Paradise Valley Jazz Series, which is put on my the Jazz Network and Serengeti Production. Mulgrew Miller, Marion Hayden, Karriem Riggins, Mike Jellick,  and Barry Harris are also playing the fest. You set the bar high for them.

Friday, November 4, 2011


Stanley Clarke
I caught your show Thursday night at Orchestra Hall in downtown Detroit. Stanley. I enjoyed last night’s show more than your show in 2010 at the Sound Board inside the Motor City Casino. That show was more rock than jazz, which irked the shit out of me. Sure the audience was totally into all the showboating you and piano player Hiromi fed them for two hours. The show was unnecessarily over the top.

The crowd at the Paradise Jazz Series is hipper, and they have sophisticated ears. Horsing around on the bandstand would never fly with them, no way. Your current band drummer Ronald Bruner Jr., piano player Ruslan Sirota, and violin player Zach Brock have to be the grooviest jazz band on the scene.

Until last night, Omar Sosa’s show at the Jazz Café was my top jazz show of 2011, and Ahmad Jamal’s recent show at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, MI was a close second. Your set bumped Sosa from my top spot. Your band started out swinging with the Return to Forever favorite “No Mystery” and continued swinging and swinging.

The band approached the tune like a relay race with Bruner running the last leg. Bruner was the crowd favorite. Funk driven drummers aren’t my favorite, but Bruner was excitable and animated. I bet he dropped 10 pound soloing on “Song to John”.

Brock was my favorite. He’s going to have to take his violin to a masseur for a rub down because of the workout he put it through soloing on “No Mystery,” “Black Narcissus,” and “Paradigm Shift”.
Stanley, I could’ve split after the first tune. It was that satisfying. It ran 28 minutes. I clocked it. It was a mini-concert in itself. 

Had I split I would’ve missed your duet with Bruner on Duke Ellington’s “Take the Coltrane”. The duet was the most memorable part of the concert. Your interpretation of Duke’s tune would’ve made him blush and would’ve given Coltrane goose bumps.

Stanley, it was smart giving the crowd an intermission. Had you not, 70 percent of them would’ve missed work tomorrow because of exhaustion. They were jamming that hard all night long. Two things annoyed me. Neither annoyance had anything to do with the band’s performance.

Before the show began, the volunteer usher who escorted me to my seat barked at me because I opened the $2.00 pack of Twizzlers candy I bought at the bar in the atrium. The usher barked that food wasn’t allowed in the auditorium. 

I asked the usher to back off because Twizzlers aren’t a part of the four basic food group. They are junk food, and I didn’t see any signs posted forbidding junk food. The usher stormed off just as the lady in front of me spilled the latte she snuck into the auditorium from Starbucks.

The other annoyance was the jerked seated to my left talking on his cell-phone during your brilliant solo on “Black Narcissus”. Had the jerk arrived on time, he would’ve heard the announcement to turn off all cell-phones and other electronic devices.

I started to give him a piece of my mind. But I decided not to, reasoning a jerk who wore dirty work boots to Orchestra Hall must have a few screws loose and maybe prone to violence. The usher never berated the jerk, or the people recording the concert with their smart-phones. What does all this have to do with your excellent show? Not a darn thing. I’m blowing off steam.

Stanley, you have an exciting band. Your bass playing is more exuberant than ever. You didn’t walk the bass, you ran with it the entire night. The show was the best opening night of the Paradise Jazz Series since Ramsey Lewis’s set in 2008. You know how to throw a concert.