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View and download here in Acrobat:  April 2014.

The Soul of Sax: James Carter By George Kanzler

Saxophonist James Carter was in Amsterdam in 2012, preparing to perform at the Bimhuis Café at a centennial celebration of Don Byas’ birth when he was contacted by a man who claimed to have a tenor that had belonged to Byas.

It was a Dolmet saxophone and the man brought it to Carter. “It had Byas’ name etched in the bell,” says Carter, “a snake poised to strike on the octave key [a customized feature of Byas’ horns] and when I checked the serial number and looked at a YouTube video of Byas in 1953, it was the same horn. So I said maybe I’ll play it and see if it has something to say because, after all, it was from the 1950s and might not. Well, it had more than something to say.”

Not only did Carter end up playing that Dolmet for the Byas tribute, seven months later he purchased it. “He could have sold it to anyone over the years he had it,” he says of the owner, but felt it was destined for him: “Horns come to people; they definitely have souls.”

If vintage saxophones have souls, then James Carter is very soulful. The 45-year-old has been acquiring saxophones and other reed instruments as long as he’s been playing them and he claims to have lost count of his vintage collection, which he keeps in both his New York home and his native Detroit—not only because he probably doesn’t have enough room in New York but also, he says, because it’s convenient to have instruments where he works since it has become so difficult to transport them by air since the added security after 9/11.

Carter initially made his mark on the jazz scene as part of the cast of The Tough Young Tenors (Antilles) album in 1991. He was notable for his big tone and high-energy style and his work with such leaders as Lester Bowie and Julius Hemphill revealed that he was conversant not only on tenor, but on the entire range of saxophones. He has recorded on saxes from sopranino and C-Melody to bass, as well as clarinet and bass clarinet. Although he’s been associated with many modern to avant garde leaders and formats over his career, Carter is also a firm believer in the jazz continuum and an appreciator of jazz history and tradition.

Carter was able to combine his love of vintage instruments and jazz history when he appeared in Robert Altman’s 1996 film Kansas City, which also spawned the spin-off feature music video/DVD Kansas City 1934. “It’s kind of trippy,” Carter says, “that the music video has had a longer shelf life than the flick itself.”

In the movie, Carter portrays Ben Webster and he plays a 1926 Conn tenor sax that was re-engineered with Selmer mechanics. “Webster and Coleman Hawkins were famous for their Selmers,” he says, “but they both originally played Conns. This one has the best of both worlds, the vintage metal and tube and the modern mechanical ergonomics.”

Appearing in the movie also accelerated Carter’s fondness for vintage style clothing. “Those clothes had less restrictions; they were comfortable,” he says. “With suspenders instead of belts at the waist and those loose Hollywood trousers; it just made sense.” He also raves about the Stacy-Adams two-toned shoes with the Goodyear rubber soles: “They fit like a glove and were so comfortable during those long shooting days.”

Collecting vintage horns has also sharpened Carter’s sense of jazz tradition. “As my early teacher Donald Washington in Detroit stressed, we’re all part of one continuum. It’s easy to see one movement, like bebop, by itself. But what remains true is if it wasn’t for predecessors in any part of the line, no new part of the line would exist. If you look at it that way, you have equal respect for all the genres and can gain what you can out of them and choose what you see fit.”

At his Birdland gig with his organ trio, Carter is choosing what he calls “Django Unchained. We’re revisiting the music from my Chasin’ the Gypsy (Atlantic) but this time taking Reinhardt’s music out of that Hot Club with strings context and into the hood. We’re dealing not only with urban grooves but with grooves from all over the world—if they can expand our approach.”

The James Carter Organ Trio presents Django Unchained at Birdland, April 22-26.


Fresh Takes by Angelo DiLoreto

Jazz composers often seek to transcend boundaries in their music by tapping into other cultures and exploring the different melodic, harmonic and rhythmic aesthetics they employ. Pianist/composer Bobby Avey has done that on his forthcoming album, Authority Melts From Me, due out in May on Whirlwind Records. Avey has delved into the rhythmic nuance of Haitian Vodou drumming. As a basis for the album, Avey immersed himself in music from two specific Vodou ensembles: one from Port-Au-Prince and the other from the village of Soukri. Avey says the music pays homage to the Haitian Slave Revolution of 1791-1804.

The group heard on the album is a force to be reckoned with: Avey on piano, saxophonist Miguel Zenón, guitarist Ben Monder, bassist Thomas Kneeland and drummer Jordan Perlson. A 2007 graduate of the SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Music, Avey was the winner of the Composition Award in the Thelonious Monk Competition in 2011. Since then, he has been working on writing the music for Authority Melts From Me, as well as his debut solo piano release, Be Not So Long To Speak, which came out in April 2013. He was born in the Poconos region of Pennsylvania and recently became a member a new group led by his mentor, Dave Liebman. They have toured extensively throughout the latter half of 2013.

Bobby Avey and his quintet will perform a CD pre-release concert at the Jazz Gallery on April 18.