Belated birthday greetings to saxophonist James Carter, who celebrated No. 43 on Tuesday, one year closer to being an elder he once was conversin’ with.
Carter is not to be confused with the 39th U.S. President of the same name (who once hosted a group of jazz musicians at the White House and sang Salt Peanuts with Dizzy Gillespie), but he began playing in the last year of his namesake’s presidency, according to his website jamescarterlive.com. Though Carter the saxophonist was recording little more than a decade later, his career has consistently paid tribute to two things: his jazz predecessors and his hometown of Detroit.
“His playing is neither youthful homage nor cynical commercialism,” wrote Don Palmer on the liner notes to 1994′s Jurassic Classics. “There are hints of Gene Ammons, Illinois Jacquet, Sonny Rollins, David Murray, Don Byas, Chu Berry, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, not to mention anonymous players whose solos were scuffed and barbed with the harrowing and cathartic burrs, growls, guffaws and melissmas of deep blues.”
It’s the latter it seems Carter most wants to celebrate. His own list of influences and inspirations is atypical; rather than pile plaudits on artists who are already surrounded by them, Carter has made it a point to cite artists less renowned, whose music, if not obscure, isn’t as well-preserved.
“But the world needs to get hip to its antecedents,” Carter told Howard Mandel on the liner notes to 1995′s The Real Quietstorm, and Carter helped his CD-buyers do just that, artist by artist, song by song, offering by offering off the album.
- “Like You Never Told Me That You Care, which John Gilmore played on Sun Ra’s Sound Sun Pleasure in the late 50′s. People focus on Ra’s extravagance, but he came up through Fletcher Henderson, same as everybody else.”
- “Don Byas, in terms of antecedents, was playing the Cherokee changes at two and three times tempo prior to Charlie Parker’s Koto . . . Now it’s 20 years since Byas’ death, and I think his obscurity is sad.
- “The Stevedore’s Serenade is a clarinet piece for Barney Bigard from an Ellington compilation.”
- “I took Born To Be Blue from Gene Ammons; he put a thing on it in the organ combo context.”
- “And Jackie McLean recorded Ballad For A Doll on Jackie’s Bag . . .”
Real Quietstorm was one of Carter’s earliest releases, preceded by Jurassic Classics (a collection of standards) and soon followed by Conversin’ With The Elders (cover above). On the latter, Carter saluted and played with five of his favorite artists — trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison, saxophonist/clarinetist Buddy Tate, the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s Lester Bowie, the World Saxophone Quartet’s Hamiet Bluiett and Detroit saxophonist Larry Smith — and referenced his favorite recordings of all. In little more than half a decade, three of the elders had died.
Carter didn’t stop there, though. The 2003 release Gardenias for Lady Day was in memory of Billie Holiday, the 2000 release Chasin’ the Gypsy was dedicated, while not specifically to Django Reinhardt, according to Carter, but to the Paris music of the 1930s associated with Reinhardt and bandmate Stephane Grappelli. ”Although Carter insisted that the record wasn’t an outright tribute,” wrote Nate Chinen for jazztimes.com, “its title, repertoire and instrumentation pointed resolutely in the direction of Django Reinhardt, gypsy guitarist and spiritual leader of the fabled Hot Club of France. Atlantic, which didn’t share Carter’s reservations, emblazoned copies of the album with a sticker playing up the Reinhardt angle.”
On Carter’s 2004 live album Live At Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, he performed with saxophonists David Murray, another of Carter’s favorites from the WSQ, and Johnny Griffin, who was 73 when the album was recorded in 2001 and died at 80 in 2008.
“I’m not inspired by individual players,” Carter told Palmer on the liner notes to Jurassic Classics. “A lot of players get hung up on someone like Trane. They look at the superficial elements, the finished product, and get the tune down. I feel I need to get to the spirituality of the piece and how he got to the finished product.”
A link below to a cut from the 2008 album Present Tense. According to jazz.com the cut Pour Que Ma Vie Demeure (For That My Life Remains, if our translation is close), is a Reinhardt piece Reinhardt never recorded and “pays unabashed homage to the nonpareil Sidney Bechet.”
Sources: jamescarterlive.com, allaboutjazz.com, jazztimes.com, jazz.com