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Jazz without limits:
James Carter Organ Trio

Blog
Jazz without limits: James Carter Organ Trio

11.10.2019

Text: Leyla Aksu
Illustration: Saydan Akşit

Master multi-saxophonist and improviser James Carter has been boundless in his musical creativity ever since emerging on the jazz scene in the mid-1980’s. A staunch believer in the openness of music, whether it be in concept, collaboration, or genre, Carter incorporates the entirety of jazz into his playing, while simultaneously pulling the genre into the future. Establishing the James Carter Organ Trio in 2001, Carter has also been infusing the traditional trio format with new and palpable excitement ever since. Now before the trio heads to Akbank Jazz Festival to perform at Zorlu PSM on October 21, we take a quick look at some of James Carter’s unexpected career highlights and his long-running group.

  • Masterful on alto, tenor, baritone, and soprano saxophone, flute, and bass clarinet, James Carter is known for his onstage charisma and charm, a breathtaking command of his instrument, and his distinct, passionate tone. A prolific collaborator throughout his career, he has recorded and played with names like Lester Bowie, Ginger Baker, Cyrus Chestnut, Wynton Marsalis, Madeleine Peyroux, and Marcus Miller, just to name a few.
  • Born in Detroit, MI in 1969 to a musical household, James Carter grew up soaking up all the music his family and hometown had to offer and picked up his first saxophone at age 11. Learning the ins and outs of his instrument from his “musical father,” local jazz man Donald Washington, Carter was playing with Wynton Marsalis by the time he was 17.
  • Another influential figure came into Carter’s life just shortly after, as trumpeter Lester Bowie, who shared the stage with Carter in Detroit, later invited the young musician to New York to perform with his new quintet. A turning point in Carter’s career, the young artist then moved to the city, making a splash on the local jazz scene.
  • Releasing his first solo record, JC On the Set, in 1993, Carter emerged with one of the most highly acclaimed jazz saxophone debuts in memory and kicked off a long-lasting relationship with Atlantic Records. When the label’s jazz arm dissolved in 2000, his final releases for them were Chasin’ the Gypsy and Layin’ the Cut. The first inspired by the collaborations of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli and the latter a sharp dose of free funk, together they embodied the goal to “have one foot in the past, in a musical sense, and another moving forward in time.
  • Just a year later in 2001, Carter met up with fellow Detroit musicians, organist Gerard Gibbs and drummer Leonard King, to form the James Carter Organ Trio. Effortlessly capturing a large and inclusive sound, the band’s most recent recording is At the Crossroads (2011), a 10th anniversary celebration of the blues and the trio’s dizzying chemistry. Still going strong, now with Alex White on drums, Carter says of their union: “There's a reason the trio is my longest running and most cohesive band… [They] are consummate musicians who have shaped the music at every level. That's why I never really thought of leaving.”
  • Carter continued to experiment throughout the decade, and always one to pay tribute, he released an ode to Billie Holiday with Gardenias for Lady Day in 2003 and an unexpected tip of the hat to indie band Pavement with Gold Sounds in 2005. Moving to EmArcy Records in 2008, there Carter released the anticipated Caribbean Rhapsody (2011), featuring Roberto Sierra’s Concerto for Saxophones and Orchestra, commissioned by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
  • Recently venturing into the world of electronics with James Carter’s Elektrik Outlet, Carter continues to explore new and unusual avenues, always defying limitations and forever tied to his home of Detroit: “I’m always going to feel that I’m a Detroit musician… A Detroit musician in the truest sense is an individual who has the best of the West Coast, the best of the East Coast and of course the blues shooting up from Chicago and as far down as Memphis... And I can’t think of any other place that would have afforded such an experience.”

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