Sunday, December 17, 2017


Abundances Glenn Tucker Poly Fold
Currently, there are many young jazz musicians in Detroit making a name for themselves. Detroit has a rich jazz tradition, and the young players are doing an admirable job of keeping that tradition going. My personal favorite is pianist Glenn Tucker, a graduate of the University of Michigan. To date, Tucker has three terrific albums available, the newest being “Abundances”. The album is comprised of nine originals and one oldie but goodie, and the album shows Tucker has grown considerably as a session leader and a composer. You can hear a lot of history in his playing, and he swings harder than a hypnotist timepiece. Tucker is in sound company with bassist Marion Hayden and drummer George Davidson.

Compassion Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano Resonance Records
Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano are two of the greatest saxophonist working these days. For “Compassion,” a wonderful sort of love letter if you will to the iconic saxophonist John Coltrane, Liebman and Lovano pooled their chops. “Compassion” is one of the finest Coltrane tribute album ever recorded. Liebman and Lovano appeared to be possessed by Coltrane’s spirit throughout this session, blowing new life into some of Coltrane’s signature tunes such as “Equinox,” “Reverend King,” and “Central Park West/Dear Lord.

Sean Jones Live From Jazz at the Bistro Sean Jones Mack Avenue Records
This recording is trumpeter Sean Jones’ first live date, and it shows Jones and his longstanding band drummer Obed Calvarie, saxophonist Brian Hogans, pianist Orrin Evans, and bassist Luques Curtis in excellent form. For my money, this is the tightest unit in jazz currently. If you demand proof check out “Art’s Variable,”  “The Ungentrified Blues,” and “BJ’s Tune”. If you aren’t convinced after listening to those cuts, something might be wrong with your ears.

Dreams and Daggers Cecile McLorin Salvant Mack Avenue Record
Wonder if jazz vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant has set some sort of jazz record. She’s put out three albums in her still young career and each has been nominated for a Grammy. The latest is “Dreams and Daggers,” a perfectly wrought live two-disc recording with Salvant alternating between two award-winning jazz pianists her longstanding musical director Aaron Diehl and Sullivan Fortner. This is a flawless outing with Salvant’s voice covering you like a warm blanket on each track.

Radio Flyer JD Allen Savant Records
Tenor saxophonist JD Allen has been on a roll populating the planet with a new release yearly for the past decade. Allen new offspring is a fine album of original compositions “Radio Flyer”. Allen like to stick with what works running with bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston. Here Allen added guitarist Liberty Ellman. In the past, when Allen has included a new player to the mix, the player seemed out of place. On “Radio Flyer, “however, Ellman fits comfortably. It appears throughout this excellent date Allen made the album as a showcase for Ellman’s chops.

Bringin' it Christian McBride Big Band Mack Avenue Records
At some point soon, a conversation should be had if jazz bassist Christian McBride owns the best jazz big band around. Some industry insiders think so because “Bringin’ It “has garnered the big band its second Grammy nod. That aside, “Bringin’ It” is a wonderful album with the band getting buck ass wild on numbers such as “Thermo,” “Full House,” “Mr. Bojangles,” and “Used ‘Ta Could”.

That Feelin’ Mike Ledonne the Groover Quartet with Vincent Herring Savant Records
It’s almost impossible to make less than an extraordinary album with a band that includes saxophonist Eric Alexander, drummer Joe Farnsworth, guitarist Peter Bernstein, and with the incomparable organist Mike Ledonne in the driver’s seat. This is one of those grooving high jazz albums that will give your spirit goosebumps.

In the Moment Johnny O’Neal Smoke Session Records
Jazz pianist Johnny O’Neal is a star on New York’s jazz scene, and at this stage of his hall of fame career, O’Neal is making some of his best music. “In the Moment” is his new masterwork and it proves track after track his chops are still in mint condition. The album has a whopping 16 tracks with O’Neal singing and swinging like hell, and there’s some fine trumpet work by the great Roy Hargrove.
To Love and Be Loved Harold Mabern Smoke Session Records

At 81 jazz pianist, Harold Mabern still plays the piano as if he has four hands. “To Love and Be Loved” is the kind of no-holds-barred jazz album Mabern has been making for decades. Each number on the album is infused with Mabern’s youthful exuberance. And some of his sidemen bassist Nat Reeves, trumpeter Freddie Hendrix, and saxophonist Eric Alexander behave as if they’re happy as fuck to be swinging with the old guy.

Cerulean Canvas Sherman Irby & Momentum Black Warrior Records
Saxophonist Sherman Irby is best known as the lead alto chair for the famed Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Sherman moonlights as a session leader, and Irby has eight stellar jazz albums on the market. Irby’s newest “Cerulean Canvas” may rank among his finest, showing Irby is in the same league as alto greats such as Johnny Hodges and Cannonball Adderley. There’s some wonderful playing by pianist Eric Reed and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. The cuts on “Cerulean Canvas” most likely to stick to your ribs are “Blues for Poppa Reed,” John Bishop Blues,” and “Smile Please”.

Monday, November 20, 2017


Baritone saxophonist Alex Harding

The baritone saxophonist Alex Harding has finally returned to his native Detroit after many years on the road working with marquee jazz acts such as of Julius Hemphill, the Mingus Big Band, and Roy Hargrove, and becoming a constant force on New York’s jazz scene where his reputation as a top commodity was cemented years ago. To celebrate Harding's homecoming, an organization called Celebrate Detroit, run by jazz supporter Rev. Daniel Aldridge, threw a two-hour tribute for Harding at the St. Matthew’s & St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church Sunday afternoon that was fit for royalty. The tribute was hosted by the popular jazz radio personality Maxine Michaels, and Harding performed with three of his groups, opening the program with a terrific duo with drummer Leonard King, who played brilliantly on each number he soloed on. Next Harding played with a quartet trombonist Vincent Chandler, bassist Rocco Popielarski, and King again on drums. The quartet cooked on a mix of originals and standards such as Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence” and Horace Silver’s “Peace”.  On those cuts, Harding’s and Chandler’s virtuosity as soloists were on full display. Harding has a gorgeous tone on the baritone, and he has a knack for making the horn sound, at any given moment, like a tenor sax. At key moments of the concert, Harding appeared to have channeled the ghosts of baritone sax Gods Pepper Adams and Harry Carney, clearly two of Harding’s chief influences. Harding and Chandler on the frontline proved to be the perfect match.  Chandler is unquestionably among the top tier trombonist in jazz, proving that when the zoom lens was put on him. In the second set, Harding performed with his Organ Nation trio drummer Djallo Dakate and the always soulful organist Jim Alfredson. Alfredson had his organ howling and the church walls sweating. Harding closed the program by calling back on stage all the musicians, and letting them run buck wild on the Meters’ classic “Cissy Strut”. The musicians showed out on that number. It was questionable if the musicians had forgotten they were in a church. Harding ended with a touching original “Spirit Take My Hand” that he composed for his deceased grandmother and father. The two-hour concert was flawless with each musician playing as if it was their last performance on earth. It’s encouraging when an organization such as Celebrate Detroit recognize accomplished Detroit jazz musicians while they’re still alive and swinging.

Saturday, November 18, 2017


TLCBO's director Scotty Barnhart
The iconic big band leader Count Basie started his orchestra 82 years ago. The orchestra quickly became known for presenting high-grade swing and blues. The orchestra is still touring with trumpeter Scotty Barnhart at the helm, and the orchestra is currently packed with solid jazz musicians such as pianist Bobby Floyd, trumpeter Kris Johnson, and longtime member’s trumpeter Michael Williams and saxophonist Doug Miller. Friday evening The Legendary Count Basie Orchestra, as it’s presently known, played the Paradise Jazz Series at Detroit’s Orchestra Hall, the first time in a decade. Before the concert started, Barnhart told the near-capacity audience November 17th, 72 years ago the Basie orchestra played a week-long engagement at Orchestra Hall. To sort of commemorate that time in Detroit’s jazz history, the LCBO performed some songs featured during that engagement. The LCBO remains true to the formula that made it legendary, which is swinging until the audience feet are sore and their souls are throbbing. The concert had plenty of mic dropping moments. Topping the list was the orchestra’s reimagined version of Stevie Wonder’s classic “My Cherie Amour,” and deep into the first set guest vocalist Brianna Thomas joining the orchestra for two numbers. Thomas' voice fits comfortably in a large ensemble setting. And her voice seems handcrafted for belting the blues. Thomas didn’t get much airtime. Thomas only sang four songs. It would’ve been heavenly to listen to her sing the entire concert. The LCBO swung below sea level all evening, performing many goodies from Basie’s repertoire such as Frank Foster’s “Who Me,” ”Brand X,” “Back to the Apple,” and “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be”.  The featured soloists were wonderful, particularly saxophonist Doug Miller, and Doug Lawrence. Barnhart contributed some choice solos, too. Not only is Barnhart an exceptional leader he’s also one helluva trumpeter.

Saturday, October 21, 2017


Pianist Joey Alexander

As his story goes, pianist Joey Alexander started teaching himself to play jazz at age six. At age 10, Alexander caught the attention of trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, and Marsalis hired him for a few concerts as a guest soloist with the prestigious Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Alexander is 14 now. He’s cut three jazz albums “My Favorite Things,” ”Countdown,” and the recently released “Joey. Monk. Live!”. Alexander has been featured on 60 Minutes and in reputable music magazines such as Rolling Stone and JazzTimes. Besides the media hype, Alexander has earned three Grammy nods, and he's currently busy touring the globe.
Alexander’s opening set Friday event at the 2017-2018 Paradise Jazz Series at Detroit’s Orchestra Hall was more proof the praise lavished on him  in his very short career has been well-deserved.  Alexander is what mystics the world over regard as an old soul possessing a young person’s body. I’ve attended the Paradise Jazz Series for 20 years now and never have I experienced a crowd roar like they roared after Alexander’s solos.
The concert was a double-bill with drummer/vocalist Jamison Ross opening for Alexander. Ross, best known as an A-list sideman for such jazz notables as Johnathan Batiste, Carmen Lundy, and Christian McBride, stretched out on a number of his originals and got the crowd oiled up for Alexander’s hour-plus rundown of familiar standards and some of his original compositions. Alexander opened with Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence,” immediately demonstrating an elder’s command of the piano and a deep improvisational wit.
Next Alexander and his bandmates, drummer Ulysses Owens Jr., and bassist Dan Chmielinski cooked on a tricked-out version of “My Favorite Things.” The depth of Alexander’s chops and imagination were fully exposed on his originals “Peace,” and “Fourteen”. And when Alexander soloed on “Countdown,” he played some of the solo standing on his tiptoes.
Alexander divvied up the spotlight with Owns and Chmielinski. Both have more frequent flier miles as professional jazz musicians than Alexander. They served up one marvelous solo after the next, but at times Owns seemed to be dangerously close to overpowering Alexander.  
Alexander has some areas of his game begging for improvement. He doesn’t seem comfortable talking to an audience, but surely that will change as he matures as a bandleader.
It’ll be interesting to see where Alexander will end up musically as an adult. The audience left his concert Friday evening knowing they’d witnessed a legit jazz musician although he isn't old enough yet to have a driver’s permit.

Monday, September 18, 2017


Proud to announce my first book "Behind the Swing: A Glimpse into the Lives of Some of the World's Finest Jazz Musicians" is selling well and has garnered some glowing reviews. The book which is brimming with profiles of many of today's leading jazz musicians and the very best of Detroit's homegrown jazz musicians is now available at independent booksellers:

THE BOOK BEAT 26010 Greenfield Rd, Oak Park, Michigan 48237
1-248-968-1190 (A limited number of autographed copies are available)

SOURCE BOOKSELLERS 4240 Cass Ave. #105 Detroit, Michigan 48201

PAGES BOOKSHOP 19560 Grand River Ave. Detroit, Michigan 48223

ERIC'S I'VE BEEN FRAMED 16527 Livernois  Ave, Detroit Michigan 48221

THE DETROIT SHOPPE 2800 W. Big Beaver Rd, Troy Michigan 48084







Sunday, June 11, 2017


Wesley "Skip" Norris

Dear Skip,

Please forgive me for contacting you out of the blue. Since your death, in January, I have been meaning to check in on you to see how things are going for you in heaven. I figured, however, I’d better wait until you settled in. Surely, God has been keeping you busy, making jazz more popular up there. I bet God has you over for dinner a few times a week, and you have a ball, regaling Him with the stories of all the famous jazz musicians you knew. Skip, the music on Detroit’s jazz scene is still happening, and there’s a gaggle of young talent such as alto saxophonist Benny Rubin Jr., and drummer Tariq Gardner moving the music forward. I’m confident you would have loved the youngsters on the scene today. Anyway, I’m writing you to tell you about the wonderful star-studded tribute concert in your honor Friday evening at Detroit’s Northwest Activity Center organized by your friends Andrew Rothman, Ronald Lockett, Gail Boyd, and Jacques Mullins. Skip, I tell you man that they went all out. They brought in many of your favorite jazz musicians such as pianists Eric Reed and Joey Calderazzo, husband and wife Jean and Marcus Baylor, vocalists Nanny Assis, Tammy McCann, vibist Joe Locke, saxophonists JD Allen, Victor Goines, and Branford Marsalis. If that wasn’t enough the house band for the evening was drummer Bill Higgins, bassist Ralphe Armstrong, and pianist Gary Schunk. Linda Yohn was the Mistress of Ceremony. I’m not exaggerating, Skip, when I say all the musicians played their butts off. The concert open with Eric Reed. You know, Reed is capable of raising hell on the piano, but he was reserved this time out. Reed performed two selections solo. Each rendered so thoughtfully and beautifully Reed’s playing would’ve given the devil goose bumps. After Reed’s set, vocalist Nanny Assis stretched out on two Brazilian numbers. Vocalist Tammy McCann hit the stage next. Right away she let the near capacity audience know that bigger than your love for jazz was your faith in God. Then McCann opened with a gospel number sung so wonderfully that God himself would have blushed had he been in attendance. McCann followed that song with the blues staple “Every Day I Have the Blues.” JD Allen almost blew the paint off the ceiling during his set. The Baylor Project followed Allen. Then Joe Locke set the kitchen on fire with a solo performance undoubtedly one of his finest ever. Victor Goines hit right after Locke. Goines performed an original titled the “The Beautiful One.” Goines had the stage so hot during this number  I feared his clarinet would melt in his hands. Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo closed the evening with Marsalis’s original “Eternal.” I’d put up a month’s salary there wasn’t a dry eye in the audience when Marsalis and Calderazzo finished. One of my favorite moments was when Mistress of Ceremony Linda Yohn informed the audience all the money from the concert would go towards your daughter’s college education, adding the jazz community would help take care of your daughter. After Marsalis and Calderazzo had played, all the musicians returned to the stage and performed the most fitting number of the evening “There Would Never Be Another You.” Skip, I’ve attended many concerts over the years. This concert – a heartfelt love letter to you -- I won’t soon forget. Every musician played as if it was the very last jazz concert on earth.  Jacques Mullins and I hugged after the concert, and he said the concert epitomized everything you were, showcasing every brand of jazz that you held dear.

Skip, you were truly loved, man.


Thursday, May 18, 2017


Benny Rubin Jr
Some loyal supporters of Detroit jazz came out Wednesday evening to Bert’s in the Eastern Market to hear a rising star. His name is Benny Rubin Jr. He’s an alto saxophonist, and a senior at the Detroit School of the Arts. For two sets he played with a wealth of depth and maturity well beyond his years. Of late, Rubin Jr has been making a name for himself. Many heavies on Detroit’s jazz scene have spread the word on what a serious musician Rubin Jr is. You can hear history in his playing, and as he grows in the coming years, Rubin Jr will surely be compared to great alto saxophonists like Jesse Davis and Frank Strozier. Wednesday was the first time Rubin Jr’s quartet – guitarist Jacob Schwandt, drummer Brandon Williams, and bassist Jonathon Muir-Cotton -- played the weekly jazz series at Bert’s run by veteran jazz concert promoter Bill Foster and photographer and jazz aficionado Karen Fox. The series books a mix of known jazz musicians such as saxophonist JD Allen and up-and-comers like Rubin Jr and drummer Tariq Gardner.  The cover is ten bucks for two sets. Rubin Jr was professional at every level. The first set started promptly at 7:00 pm as advertised, and the band was  well rehearsed. During the sets, the band stretched out on well-loved standards such as “Bolivia,” “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise,” “Take the A Train.” and some of Rubin Jr.’s originals. Rubin held the crowd’s attention throughout both sets. I would be remiss if I ignored a disappointing moment of an otherwise wonderful evening of music. Detroit’s own James Carter showed up, and Rubin Jr gracefully and respectfully asked the acclaimed saxophonist to set in for the final tune of the closing set. Carter refused. Obviously, Carter is a musician Rubin Jr idolizes. What could be more hurtful than being shunned for no good reason by someone you admire? If Carter’s refusal hurt Rubin Jr, it didn’t show one bit because he kept on swinging.

Sunday, May 14, 2017


Branford Marsalis and Kurt Elling
Surely, for many at the sold out Branford Marsalis Quartet’s concert featuring jazz vocalist Kurt Elling it was the first time witnessing an encore morph into a jam session. That’s what happened Friday evening at the fifth concert of the Paradise Jazz Series at Detroit’s Orchestra Hall. The band put on inarguably the best show of this season. Hell, I’d argue the best in the past five years. And the encore was damn near as good as the concert. Marsalis and his band pianist Joey Calderazzo, drummer Justin Faulkner and bassist Eric Revis and Elling performed music from the acclaimed 2016 album “Upward Spiral.” The two-hour swing fest opened with “Teo” from the quartet’s date “Four MFs Playing Tunes,” after which Marsalis introduced Elling. Elling was of excellent voice. It didn’t take long for Elling to go from zero to sixty. Although Elling was the draw, Calderazzo’s and Faulkner’s performance were the most memorable.  Faulkner played as if the ghosts of the late jazz drummers Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, and Art Blakey were having a jam session in Faulkner’s body. During his tenure with the quartet, he has become the standout in the band. Calderazzo was right there with him, and it was magical watching the two trade. Honestly, when I learned of Elling joining the quartet for the “Upward Spiral” project, I had reservations if a jazz vocalist with such a distinctly beautiful voice would be a disruptive force with the best band in jazz. Elling, however, fits comfortably. After the band showed out on selections such as “There A Boat Dat’s Leavin’ Soon For New York,” “Blue Gardenias,” “From One Island To Another,” “Mama Said,” and “Blue Velvet,” the band exited the stage to a well-earned ovation. When the audience settled down, Marsalis and Elling returned to the stage and performed a duet. If that wasn’t enough, Revis came out after them and performed a bass solo that would’ve made Charles Mingus envious. There’s more. The band then played a hot version of “St James Infirmary” This is where the encore morphed into a jam session with trumpeter Terence Blanchard,  and saxophonist Diego Rivera joining in. At this point, people were dancing in the aisles.

Saturday, April 8, 2017


James Carter
The jazz saxophonist James Carter returned to his hometown, Detroit, Friday evening with his longstanding organ trio drummer Alexander White and organist Gerard Gibbs to perform music from his current project Django Unchained at the Paradise Jazz Series. Carter has been touring the globe in support of the project, which has morphed into a sort of a tribute to the iconic Gypsy jazz great Django Reinhardt. Carter has an obvious affinity for Reinhardt’s work, having explored some of his well-known compositions on the wonderful album “Chasin' the Gypsy.” This time out, Carter has modernized some of Reinhardt’s obscure compositions. Before Carter started the two-hour concert last night, he read off the setlist, which included Reinhardt's “Hedgehog Waltz,” “Castle of Dreams,” “Melodie Au Crepuscule,” and  “Heavy Artillery. Carter also worked in a solo birthday salute to the great jazz vocalist Billie Holliday. Carter performed a soul-numbing rendition of Holliday’s “God Bless the Child” mixed with “Happy Birthday,” which was one of many highlights throughout the concert. The near capacity crowd buckled down for a night of high tier swing that only a saxophonist of Carter’s daring is capable of delivering. Carter was elated to be performing for his hometown, offering one hellacious solo after the other, and closing tunes with his trademark cadenzas. If Sonny Rollins ever relinquish the crown as the reigning king of jazz improvisation, Carter should be the first in line to receive that distinction. Carter’s sidemen were of good form as well. Gibbs has been Carter’s right-hand man coming up on two decades now was the crowd favorite, playing the absolute shit of his Hammond B3. Gibbs is one of the top jazz organists around, and he has a gift for working a crowd. Gibbs loves to clown around. For example, last night there was a moment during a solo where Gibbs played the organ with his chin, and on “Impromptu” he did sort of a tap dance on the paddles of the organ that drove the audience nuts. White has been with the trio for a few years now. He’s the first of the current field of millennial jazz musicians from Detroit to play in a world-class jazz band. By all accounts, White loves the job.  White replaced Carter’s longtime drummer Leonard King.  White is a confident and a tasteful drummer. Tasteful like drummers Joe Chambers and the late Detroit Bert Myrick. The zoom lens was put on White late into the second set on “Impromptu.” It was his first lengthy solo of the night. When he finished, it was clear, at least to me, White is the new engine that powers the trio.

Monday, April 3, 2017


Here's some praise about my new book "Behind the Swing" from noted authors and jazz experts Herb Boyd and James Gallert:
There was a time in the fifties and sixties when practically every jazz ensemble of note included one musician from Detroit, or at least one who refined his or her development in the city.  What Charles Latimer demonstrates to a remarkable degree in Behind the Swing--more than a decade of his articles from the Metro Times--is that there were countless other equally proficient composers, teachers and performers worthy of wider recognition. Latimer’s book is an insight aperture of jazz in Detroit, and he embellishes that musical wellspring with lively discussions with a number of notable visitors, such as Wayne Shorter, Ravi Coltrane, and T.S. Monk.  In many ways, Behind the Swing is on the beat and ahead of its time.
--Herb Boyd, author of Black Detroit—A People’s History of Self-Determination (Amistad, 2017)
"Latimer's fine compilation pulls together both tradition jazz and Avant-Garde jazz musicians.  His easy way with words and natural curiosity about the music he loves affords him a good starting point for interviews.  I learned many new, interesting facts about the musicians, many of whom have been overlooked by "mainstream" scribes.  I definitely recommended Behind the Swing for serious jazz supporters!" 
--James Gallert, jazz historian and co-author of Before Motown (University of Michigan Regional 2001)
"Behind the Swing" is available at,, and

Sunday, March 5, 2017


Saturday evening at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, MI the Jazz at Lincoln Center put on its twentieth-anniversary performance. Each year the JLC Orchestra makes it a plus to offer a 90 minute presentation that’s decidedly different than the previous year. Two years back, for example, the JLC Orchestra performed works from John Coltrane, Dave Brubeck, and Charles Mingus. Then the following year the orchestra deviated from its swing era and post-bop comfort zone, performing music from pop giants such as Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, and a host of other pop greats. This time out, the orchestra celebrated 100 years of jazz music by presenting all original works from members of the orchestra. Each composition was influenced by a seminal era in jazz. The orchestra’s captain trumpeter Wynton Marsalis kicked down the barn door with an original titled “The Abyssinian Mass.”  For those in attendance that might have forgotten what an extraordinary jazz trumpeter Marsalis is, his solo I’m certain jogged their memories. Marsalis blew with such force those close enough to the stage could see spit dripping from the bell of his trumpet. Heck, it appeared as if Marsalis’ trumpet was sweating because of the workout he was putting it through. At the conclusion of the composition surely the audience was convinced beyond a reasonable doubt this was going to be a special night of music. Marsalis next called out the orchestra’s bassist Carlos Henriquez. The bassist led the orchestra up and down a soul-stirring original titled “Brooklyn Pyramid.” Before the orchestra sailed on Marsalis offered some heartfelt words for the University Music Society’s President Ken Fischer. Fischer will be retiring in June. Marsalis also offered kind remarks for jazz radio personality and WEMU’s music director Linda Yohn. She’s also retiring this year after 30 years of service to Michigan’s jazz community. After those acknowledgements, the JLC Orchestra got back to business. There was wonderful music from trumpeter Marcus Printup, saxophonist Ted Nash, and a terse drum solo titled “The Drums Also Waltzes” by Detroiter Ali Jackson that would have made the late jazz drummer Max Roach blush. The showstopper for me was Victor Goines original “Untamed Elegance.” Goines dedicated the number to the recently departed jazz promoter Detroiter Wesley “Skip” Norris. Goines played this number so beautifully the devil would have broken down. The JLC Orchestra performed many wonderful originals, but I still believe the orchestra is at its best playing music from Duke Ellington and the Count Basie songbooks and other swing era mavericks. It’s a welcomed change, however, when the JLC Orchestra deviates from its comfort zone.

Sunday, February 19, 2017


Aaron Diehl and Cecile McLorin Salvant
The jazz pianist Aaron Diehl posed a scenario Sunday afternoon during his two-hour set at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, MI. What would’ve occurred had Jelly Roll Morton and George Gershwin crossed paths. The musicians never met, and although each was accomplished and prolific, their musical styles were different as night and day. Diehl believes if the legends had met there would’ve been a mutual respect of each other’s virtuosity. That is the impression Diehl left during his flawless presentation titled “Jelly and George,” which featured the Grammy-winning chanteuse Cecile McLorin Salvant and pianist Adam Birnbaum assuming the role of George Gershwin. The concert was a mixing of Morton’s and Gershwin’s compositions. The interesting thing was Diehl opted to play obscure materials from Morton and Gershwin. Diehl was gracious enough to warn the audience that if they expected to hear Morton’s and Gershwin’s popular material the audience was going to be disappointed. The concert opened with Diel and Birnbaum trading on Gershwin’s “Prelude One” and “Jelly Roll’s Blues.” Diehl’s quartet clarinetist Evan Christopher, trombonist Corey Wilcox, trumpeter Riley Mulherkar, bassist Paul Sikivie and drummer Lawrence Leathers joined in on “Mississippi Mildred.” Listening to Diel and Birnbaum reinterpreting Morton’s and Gershwin’s obscure material was worth the price of admission, but what took the two-hour set over the top was Cecile McLorin Salvant. In a short time, Salvant has built a solid reputation as a foremost interpreter of the great American Songbook. Salvant isn’t big on stagecraft, but who gives a rat’s ass because her voice is so unbelievably beautiful it gives your soul goose bumps. Guaranteed people will awake tomorrow still thinking about Salvant’s rendering of “Wining Boy” and “Ask me Again.”  Diehl’s lone moment in the sun came during his brilliant soloing on “Finger Breakers.” Diehl’s band was tight as banjo strings on “The Sidewalk Blues.” “Jelly and George” was prefect from top to bottom. Diehl and company present a lot of music, so an encore seemed overkill. The audience was so thoroughly worked up doubtfully they would’ve allowed the musicians to leave Ann Arbor had they refused an encore. As a gesture of appreciation for all the love the audience showed Diehl, he performed three additional tunes.

Saturday, February 18, 2017


Joe Lovano
Tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano launched the third concert of the Paradise Jazz Series, and drummer Brian Blade’s The Fellowship Band closed it. The two leaders shared a double bill Friday evening at Orchestra Hall in mid-town Detroit where the PJS is held. Both leaders are from divergent points of the jazz spectrum. Lovano is a post-bop heavy, and Blade is, somewhat of an experimentalist. Of the two, Lovano has logged the most frequent flier miles, having a colored career spanning four-plus decades, and also being one of the major faces of the famed Blue Note Records for 30 plus years. Lovano has made over 20 albums. As he’s proven throughout his career, and which was on full display Friday evening, he’s a saxophonist who plays every single note with a sense of purpose and beauty. There’s nothing pretentious about his playing. During his too-short set with his current working band, the Classic Jazz Quartet – pianist Lawrence Fields, bassist Peter Slavov, and drummer Lamy Istrefi—Lovano treated the near-capacity audience to some of his original material, opening the set with “Fort Worth”. The quartet burned rubber on that number from the start to the conclusion. Then moved into a slower tempo gem titled “Our Daily Bread”.  There was some fist pumping soloing from Fields and Slavov. It was Lovano who captivated playing sweetly cadenzas at the end  of several tumes. The quart had the stage sufficiently preheated for Blade.

Blade, one of the greatest living jazz drummers, and a key member of the Wayne Shorter Quartet is no stranger to the PJS. He’s performed the series many times with Shorter, and Blade performed the opening 2016-2017 series as a member of the Chick Corea Trio. However, Friday evening was Blade’s first time at the series as a bandleader. It was a gamble booking Blade’s The Fellowship Band, which has a decidedly different approach to swinging. The core PJS demographic favors bop and post-bop. That’s what that core audience have been fed since the PJS launched. Blade is a magician, however, and the entire set he had the audience drooling. Blade performed with only one commercial break to introduce his bandmates saxophonists Myron Walden and Melvin Butler, pianist Jon Cowherd, and bassist Chris Thomas. The band played a kind of modernist swing no jazz critic has categorized yet. Blade called tunes from The Fellowship’s discography. The tunes had a recognizable formula, starting at a slow molasses thick tempo, and then midway through the band started hauling ass. Blade chops power The Fellowship much like his chops power Shorter’s quartet. Blade is inarguably one of a kind. And the success of his all too short set Friday evening was a gamble proved worth taking. Pairing Lovano with Blade was a fitting contrast that worked.

Monday, February 6, 2017


Wesley "Skip" Norris
When word spread January 26th via social mediaS that jazz titan, concert promoter Wesley “Skip” Norris was in a fatal car accident a collective sadness hit Detroit’s jazz community, and surely in other cities where jazz is a big part of the city’s cultural fabric. Although Skip epitomized what writer Ralph Ellison dubbed many decades ago a Renaissance man, a man of intellectual hunger, depth, and character Skip’s most recognizable and celebrated trait was his advocacy of jazz. In all the years as a jazz journalist and jazz blogger, I never met an individual more passionate and knowledgeable about jazz than Skip was. Over the years, I would see or hear Skip at many of the jazz concerts around Detroit and Ann Arbor. On many occasions, I wondered about that dapper man in the audience egging on the musicians, shouting out their names at the conclusion of an inspired solo. I became formal jazz friends with Skip after interviewing him about a new concert series he was putting on at the Northwest Activity Center called Jazz at the Center, which in its brief run had world-class jazz acts such as trumpeter Roy Hargrove, drummer/bandleader Ralph Peterson, and the all-star jazz ensemble the Cookers. From that time forward, I made sure I caught every concert Skip had a hand in producing, including the JD Allen, Joe Locke, and Joey Calderazzo hits at the Detroit Groove Society concert series. And whenever, I ran into Skip at a show in town I was always a recipient of one of his bear hugs. I was sincerely awed by Skip’s encyclopedic knowledge of jazz, and more so that he was personal friends with just about every jazz musician of note throughout the country. And he seemed to have a warehouse of stories. At Hartford Memorial Baptist Church Monday Skip’s family, friends, and many from Detroit’s jazz community participated in a home going service befitting a man who lived a truly exemplary and blessed life. Those who got a chance to share their experiences and recollections of Skip characterized him foremost as a man of unyielding faith. Everybody who wanted to speak about Skip wasn't afforded the opportunity. Had they we’d still be in the church listening. It was easy to take from the speakers that Skip was genuinely beloved. Ronald Robinson Lockett, one of Skip's dearest friends, jokingly said that God took Skip from us because God needed someone with Skip’s know how to promote jazz concerts in heaven. There was jazz music during the service at the appropriate moments from bassist Robert Hurst, saxophonist Victor Goines, and drummer/trumpeter Ralph Peterson. During the remarks section of the service, another of Skip’s closest friends Jacques Mullins noted during the service the greatest testament to a man is to see how many people come out for his home going. Hartford Memorial was filled with people who as another speaker pointed out loved them some Skip Norris.