James Carter Organ Trio, Frank Morgan
January 1, 1970This week's column was about the brilliant young reed player James Carter and his organ trio with two Detroit homeboys largely unknown to the jazz world outside that city. Judging by the trio's performance last night, that could be changing soon. Carter & Co. put on a fine, fun set.
The Calendar pick is alto sax great Frank Morgan, who is playing in Marblehead tonight.
The column from last Friday that was supposed to have run sometime this week still hasn't. I'm told it will next week, but I still don't know when.
Next week's newsletter could be coming out a little early or late. I'll be in Newport for the jazz festival there, and sending the newsletter Saturday morning could be tricky. I'll give the logistics some thought later in the week and figure something out.
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For saxophonist, organ trio has been key
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | August 5, 2005
To reed wizard James Carter, playing with his organ trio feels a lot like going home.
Carter, 36, has recorded in a wide variety of contexts over the past decade or so, from ballads ("The Real Quietstorm") and standards ("Jurassic Classics") to fusion ("Layin' in the Cut") and recent tributes to Django Reinhardt ("Chasin' the Gypsy") and Billie Holiday ("Gardenias for Lady Day"). He's established himself as one of the most exciting and versatile instrumentalists in jazz, a master of saxophones of all sizes and bass clarinet to boot.
But it wasn't until his two recent live CDs, "Live at Baker's Keyboard Lounge" and "Out of Nowhere," that Carter got around to assembling his organ trio with the pair of fellow Detroit natives who'll be accompanying him this weekend at the Regattabar: organist Gerard Gibbs and drummer Leonard King.
"Organ trio has always been somewhere on the stove," explains Carter from a hotel room in Yokohama, Japan, where last week he was a featured guest of the Sugar Hill Jazz Quartet. "I was 10 when I first heard an organ in one of these storefront churches that my cousin used to attend with her mother."
Carter's first high-profile gig playing with an organ came several years later, when Lester Bowie tapped him in 1988 for the New York Organ Ensemble, in which Amina Claudine Myers handled the namesake instrument. Carter put organ on his own "In Carterian Fashion" album 10 years later, with Cyrus Chestnut, Henry Butler, and Craig Taborn taking turns at the Hammond B3.
His own full-fledged organ group, though, didn't come along until 2001, when Carter traveled home to Detroit to record at Baker's Keyboard Lounge. Carter's guests at the venerable jazz club included fellow sax stars David Murray and Johnny Griffin, but hooking up with Gibbs and King had a longer-lasting effect. Now Carter says that Gibbs is the only organist he would consider employing.
"With Gerard Gibbs and Leonard King and myself coming together as the core of the 'Live at Baker's' project," Carter says, "that just firmly cemented that this was a group that on any given occasion, if it ever called for organ, this was who I would deal with. I mean, many people have come up, 'Oh, yeah, man, I play organ.' Or, 'What's Gerard doin'? If you need somebody, here's my card.' I never deviated from the original organ."
Gibbs, 37, has been playing in groups since giving up his job as an architectural engineer for the city of Detroit not quite two years ago and becoming a full-time musician. But playing with Carter and King is special, he says.
"Playing with James has been one of the most educational experiences that I've ever been involved in," Gibbs says. "His vast knowledge of the jazz idiom is just awesome."
King, the trio's elder statesman at 56, has an encyclopedic knowledge of music, his bandmates say. It was gleaned largely through work as a disc jockey and by virtue of his father having been a major supplier of music for Detroit jukeboxes in the 1950s.
"He always surprises me when I get something I'm thinking is new to me," Carter says of his drummer, "and I'm like, 'Man, I just got ahold of Little Miss Cornshucks.'
"'Oh, yeah, Mildred Cummings. Yeah, man, I know her,'" Carter says, playing King's role. "'She did such and such, and she used to have on the little skirt and the basket onstage . . .'
"I'm like, 'Dang.' Sure enough, when I read the notes, the liner notes would mention just what he would say."
The trio's repertoire doesn't stretch quite as far as that bygone queen of countrified R&B, but it comes pretty close. Duke Ellington, Willie Dixon, Sarah McLawler, Charles Stepney, James "Blood" Ulmer, and R. Kelly are a sampling of composers covered.
It's hardly your classic jazz-organ material, but whatever genre the trio is exploring, Carter prefers doing so with Gibbs manning a classic Hammond B3.
"I've seen cats carry the little cards or whatever they can put in a MIDI board," Carter says. "There's only so much that they can do. It's digital, and it has some of the parameters of what gives the organ that sound, but that meat is still missing."
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
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Calendar Jazz Picks
Marblehead Summer Jazz, Unitarian-Universalist Church, 28 Mugford St., Marblehead. 781-631-1528. 8 p.m. $27, $25 advance.
Frank Morgan used to be a hardcore protégé of the great Charlie Parker, for both good and ill. The downside of following too closely in Bird's footsteps was a heroin addiction that had Morgan in and out of prison for most of three decades. That all ended with a mid-1980s comeback, however, and since then Morgan, 71, has fulfilled his early promise, establishing himself as a pillar of the alto saxophone. There are few living musicians who play bebop as well as Morgan. At Scullers this past winter, Morgan played one of the year's best Boston jazz performances to date, backed by a trio of top-drawer veterans only slightly younger than him. In Marblehead, his backing musicians will be much younger but no less talented or admiring: Hilton Ruiz on piano, Curtis Lundy on bass, and Yoron Israel on drums. "The music he's given us has had a tremendous effect on all of life," Morgan told Gary Giddins in 1986. "Even though he was a drug addict, his music spoke of many things, and it comes out so strongly - it's a very beautiful, peaceful message in his music.
Thurs 8-4 Joey DeFrancesco Organ maestro DeFrancesco fires up the Hammond B3 at Regattabar, where saxophonist James Carter will follow him in Fri and Sat with an organ trio of his own. Regattabar, Charles Hotel, One Bennett St., Cambridge. 617-395-7757. 7:30 and 10 p.m. $20.