Sunday, April 14, 2013


Charles McPherson (Photo by Dr. Jazz)

The alto saxophonist Charles McPherson is one of the remaining authentic beboppers. Saturday evening he was in his hometown, Detroit participating in the bi-annual Art X Detroit festival sponsored by the Kresge Foundation. McPherson’s participation was billed as a "Evening with Charles McPherson," and it was held at the Detroit Institute of the Arts. 

Detroit Free Press jazz critic Mark Stryker organized it. There's a 45 minute one on one interview with McPherson conducted by Stryker, then a live set. McPherson was backed by bassist Rodney Whitaker, drummer Sean Dobbins and pianist Michael Weiss all Detroiters save for Weiss. 

(Weiss has performed enough in Detroit throughout his career and he knows enough about Detroit’s vast jazz history to be considered an honorary Detroiter. )

During the interview, McPherson talked mostly about how vibrant Detroit's jazz scene was during his youth, his hanging out at the storied Blue Bird Inn, studying with pianist Barry Harris, and how bebop pioneer Charlie Parker changed McPherson's outlook on music. 

Stryker kept the conversation about McPherson's memories of Detroit, which was fine, but surely some  attendees were curious about some of his other exploits and memories, for example, his stint with the Charles Mingus Jazz Workshop. 

After a 20 minute break, the band opened with McPherson’s “Marionette,” and “Lonely Little Child”. McPherson was a teen when initially exposed to Charlie Parker's music. That was 50 plus years ago. He still hasn’t broken the spell Parker cast. That’s not a terrible thing. McPherson has had an illustrious career, and he’s one of the best interpreters of Parker’s style. 

That was clear as reading glasses when McPherson soloed on “Lover,” on “But Beautiful” and on “Anthropology”. There was a  suppleness to his blowing. On “Spring is Here,” he ground each note to a fine powder. It was McPherson’s evening, but drummer Sean Dobbins stood out. 

During one of Dobbins' solos, he wailed away so his drum kit nearly exploded. Dobbins is a serious and a respected jazz drummer, but he can be a ham at times. That was obvious last evening, but the audience enjoyed every bit of it. 

The showstopper came toward the end when McPherson called a blues. It got the audience worked up.  He blew as if Parker was on the stage whispering into his ear which notes to play.

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