James Carter's loyalty oath
The jazz star on his new discs and his hometown sidemen
Published: November 30, 2011
Carter: I think this is the first time that you'll actually see us being billed as a group as opposed to James Carter. We all picked tunes and OK'd them. On my other albums, I came and said these are the tunes, this is how we're going to do them. We all picked stuff out on this one; it was more of a team involvement. We all brought individual things to the table.
MT: Has the jazz world changed much over the years you've been around?
Carter: Definitely, as far as packaging goes, being online and actually using online as one of the main routes to get jazz music out. I think it's a good thing, but you miss the connection with the people. Could you imagine someone saying, "Yeah I heard the Trane at the Vanguard live stream" and get that same effect out of hearing Trane live? My mom talked about the first time she saw Billy Eckstine at the Paradise Theater in Detroit and how his sound hit her body. You can't get the same effect listening to an artist streamed live.
The upside is, as a musician you're potentially getting a lot more people. Hopefully that will act as a catalyst to get them to the real thing and want to see musicians in real time. Jazz is still real-time music, it's real-time art, it's art of the moment.
The latest thing is how jam sessions are basically replacing group stints at jazz clubs. And that's good as far as what the promoters and club owners do, because they're getting off cheaper. Their patrons get to hear a whole lot of cats playing.
The bad part about that is the house band or the band that should've been playing their own repertoire [instead of jam session staples]. They don't get a chance to grow. And that's becoming the standard at most venues nowadays.
MT: Why did you make the Caribbean Rhapsody album with the Warsaw Symphony Orchestra instead of the DSO?
Carter: There were some logistic problems. It was the Warsaw Symphony that stepped up to the plate.
MT: Of the two new albums, which is your favorite?
Carter: They're both different children, and I've always said that about the albums. I've also said it about horns. They're different people and they do certain things for you. The concerto continues to grow for me; there's been mad growth on that piece.
MT: One of things I love about Caribbean Rhapsody is Roberto Sierra's compositions leave plenty of space for you to improvise and play your trademark cadenzas.
Carter: I remember showing the compositions to three different saxophone professors, and they said, "Who's going to be able to play all this?" Yeah, the piece has grown big-time, and Roberto has put so much harmonic and melodic information in there that I can keep feeding off of it for years.
MT: Michael Cuscuna produced Caribbean Rhapsody and At the Crossroads. How is it working with a legend?
Carter: Well, with him, he's part of one of the soundtracks of our lives: the stuff he used to do for Blue Note and Mosaic. Inside the studio, he opens up more possibilities.
MT: What are some of your future aspirations?
Carter: I have aspirations to keeping myself open to all possibilities.
James Carter makes his annual holiday gigs with the Hot Club of Detroit Dec. 16-17 at Cliff Bell's, 2030 Park Ave., Detroit; 313-961-2543.
> Email Charles L. Latimer