Welcome to my website!  This is the home of Detroit Saxophonist James Hughes.

I recently released my third recording with co-leader Jimmy Smith titled MOTION

"The quintet’s collection of all original tunes sculpts a playful interaction, composing dialogues that affect the listener positively. The melodic collaborations range from daydreamy to homespun jam sessions, always keeping the listener engaged and in-tune to the music." (Susan Franchesny, Blogcritics.com, 2018)

"Classic sounding Detroit jazz is alive and well with new blood pumping through it.  Beboppers that weren’t old enough to be there the first time around but have miles on their road nonetheless keep the sound and spirit alive in fine form.  Tasty stuff that hits all the right notes, this crew at it only since 2012 has got it all on the ball---with no dust on it."(Chris Spector, Midwest Record, Vol 41 No 97 January 26, 2018)

Make sure to check out my performance calendar and sign up for the mailing list!
AND please enjoy my blogs below...

The HSQ's Third Album MOTION is Here! 

The Hughes/Smith Quintet is very happy to announce that our third SELF-RELEASED album is finally here! We called it "MOTION" because that's where we are at, in a state of constant motion. We built it from the ground up, got it running and are enjoying the ride.

It features the same stellar rhythm section of Phil Kelly (piano & fender rhodes), Takashi Iio (bass), and Nate Winn (drums). Their playing individually and collectively is spectacular, and I am so grateful for their contributions and dedication to this project. We enlisted Mark Byerly to record us again and he knocked it out of the park again! Mark has such a great ear and affinity for our sound, it was very comforting working with him again. This time around we took the mixed tracks to the amazing and storied Mastering Engineer Don Grossing. Don has mastered scads of Grammy Award nominees and winners through his career including Branford Marsalis, Miles Davis and The Rolling Stones. It is such an honor having his finishing touch on our record!

The album is 10 tracks of all originals and mixes several influences like funk, R&B and the avant garde with our foundation: Detroit Be Bop. We have put our hearts and should into this one and am sure you will enjoy listening to it! 

Check us out at Cliff Bells FEBRUARY 2, 9pm for our CD Relaese Party and pick up your hard copy..we'll sign a copy for you :)

Wednesdays in January 

Each and every Wednesday, Jimmy Smith and I put together a set of music featuring a different composer and have a different guest rhythm section in to play with us.We open things up for a jam session after the first set so come on out and enjoy the music and bring your axe and sit in with these stellar musicians!  

Every Wednesday at Black Lotus Brewery 9:30pm-12:30am  

no cover, free parking, full dinner menu  

1 E 14 Mile Rd, Clawson MI  

Jan 3 


James Hughes - sax  Jimmy Smith - trumpet    Matt Martinez - trombone

Kris Kurzawa - guitar  Dale Grisa - piano  Tim Shallebarger - bass  Jason Gittinger - drums  


Jan 10


James Hughes - sax  Jimmy Smith - trumpet    

Duncan McMillan - piano  Sam Harris - bass  Pete Siers - drums  


Jan 17



Jan 24


  Jimmy Smith - trumpet  Bob Mervak - piano


Jan 31


James Hughes - sax  Jimmy Smith - trumpet

Phil Kelly - piano   Takashi Iio - bass   Nate Winn - drums

Pick up our new recording MOTION!!! We will sign it for you :)

Each Wednesday in December 

Each and every Wednesday, Jimmy Smith and I put together a set of music featuring a different composer and have a different guest rhythm section in to play with us.We open things up for a jam session after the first set so come on out and enjoy the music and bring your axe and sit in with these stellar musicians! 

Every Wednesday at Black Lotus Brewery 9:30pm-12:30am 

no cover, free parking, full dinner menu 

1 E 14 Mile Rd, Clawson MI 

Dec 6 


James Hughes - sax  Jimmy Smith - trumpet    Dominic Bierenga - sax

Zen Zadravec - piano  Rocco Popielarski - bass  David Zwolinski - drums 


Dec 13


James Hughes - sax  Jimmy Smith - trumpet   

Zen Zadraveck - piano  Jeff Pedraz - bass  Pete Siers - drums 


Dec 20

WAYNE SHORTER'S album "The Soothsayer"

James Hughes - sax  Jimmy Smith - trumpet  Keith Kaminski - sax  

Phil Kelly - piano  John Barron - bass  Pete Siers - drums


Dec 27

JOHN COLTRANE'S album "Blue Train"

James Hughes - sax  Jimmy Smith - trumpet  Rob Killips - trombone 

Phil Kelly - piano  Takashi Iio - bass  John Hill - drums

Black Lotus Jam in August 

Each and every Wednesday, Jimmy Smith and I put together a set of music featuring a different composer and have a different guest rhythm section in to play with us.We open things up for a jam session after the first set so come on out and enjoy the music and bring your axe and sit in with these stellar musicians!

Every Wednesday at Black Lotus Brewery 9:30pm-12:30am

no cover, free parking, full dinner menu

1 E 14 Mile Rd, Clawson MI

Aug 2


James Hughes - sax  Jimmy Smith - trumpet  

Jacob Schwandt - guitar  Rocco Popielarski - bass  Tom Starr - drums

Aug 9


James Hughes - sax  Jimmy Smith - trumpet  

Corey Kendrick - piano  Jeff Pedraz - bass  Jeff Shoup - drums

Aug 16


James Hughes - sax  Jimmy Smith - trumpet  Terry Kimura - trombone  

Duncan Mcmillan - piano  Ben Rolston - bass

Aug 23

Hosted by Scott Gwinnell

Aug 30


James Hughes - sax  Jimmy Smith - trumpet   Phil Whitfield - keyboards  

Kris Kurzawa - guitar   Takashi Iio - bass  Jesse Kramer - drums

Wednesdays in May at The Black Lotus Brewery 

Trumpeter Jimmy Smith and I host an evening each and every Wednesday where we feature a different rhythm section and jazz composer for the first set.  After that, we open things up for a jazz jam session and encourage all members of the jazz community to participate, from beginners to seasoned professionals, swinging in the spirit of collaboration and community.

Every Wednesday from 9:30pm-12:30am at The Black Lotus Brewery



ft. Jimmy Smith, James Hughes, Corey Kendrick, Stephen Boegehold 




ft. Jimmy Smith, James Hughes, Peyton Miller, Phil Whitfield, Sam Chase Harris, Jesse Kramer 



Music of BRAD FELT 

ft. Steve Wood, Terry Kimura, Duncan McMillan & George Davidson




ft. Jimmy Smith, James Hughes, Leonard King, Matt LoRusso & Rocco Popielarski 




ft. Jimmy Smith, James Hughes, Scott Gwinnell, Jeff Pedraz, & Pete Siers  


pay what you want cover - free parking - jam session after first set 

1 E. 14 Mile Rd, Clawson, MI

Every Wednesday in April at Black Lotus 

Here is a list of the things we are presenting at Black Lotus Brewery this month. I hope to see you there one of these Wednesdays! There is ample free parking in back, pay what you want cover charge, full menu, and award winning crazy-good brews on tap. It's also a very friendly, casual environment :)

Every Wednesday from 9:30pm-12:30am
James Hughes & Jimmy Smith host THE LOTUS JAM


Music of THAD JONES 

ft. Jimmy Smith, James Hughes, Scott Gwinnell, Rocco Popielarski, & Bill Higgins 



ft. Jimmy Smith, James Hughes, Kris Kurzawa, Dale Grisa, Damon Warmack, & Jesse Kramer 



ft. Jimmy Smith, James Hughes, Michael Malis, Joe Fee, & Stephen Boegehold 


A night with the DALE GRISA QUINTET 

ft. Kris Kurzawa, Bobby Streng, Takashi Iio, & Quentin Joseph 

pay what you want cover - free parking - jam session after first set 

1 E. 14 Mile Rd, Clawson, MI

Learn to Read Music! 

This is for all my non-musician friends!  I am eternally grateful for your friendship and support in my musical endeavors.  I am not sure if anyone is that interested in this or not, but I thought I would put it out there with the thought that someone might benefit.  

I know it sometimes seems like music is magic, and it is in a way, but it's more linguistic than mystic.  
I want to help you read music! So here we go!

We name the notes A, B, C, D, E, F, and G.
After G comes A and it cycles through like that forever. ABCDEFGABCDE...

Noteheads are positioned on lines and spaces, 5 lines and 4 spaces to be exact.

We will deal with treble clef first, that is what most instruments read from (Trumpet, Sax, Guitar, Clarinet, Flute, Violin) and it looks kinda like a cross between $ and &.  

The notes that appear on the Spaces, from the bottom up, are F-A-C-E.  Obviously, it spells the word 'face.'

The notes that appear on the lines, from the bottom up, are E-G-B-D-F..."Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge' is a way to remember the order.

Notice that the first line is E, the first space is F, second line is G, second space is A, next line B, next line C, etc.  See the pattern?  When you go line-space-line-space, it spells the "musical' alphabet, on and on and on it goes.

The rules for the bass clef (Trombone, Bass, Cello, Tuba) are very similar to that of the treble, just off set by one line/space.  
The spaces are A-C-E-G.  "All Cars Eat Gas."   The lines are G-B-D-F-A, or "Great Big Dogs Fight Animals."  

You might also notice that when going from line to line it spells out every other letter of the musical alphabet.  A-C-E-G-B-D-F-A....that's how it works from bottom up...if you want to read them top down, it's backwards...F-D-B-G-E-C-A-F...

If you are so inclined, there is a great app that uses flash cards to help you, it keeps score and advances you through levels.  It is called "Notes! Learn To Read Music" and is only $1.99.  Check it out, it will get you reading notes in days.  It even can help you learn where the notes on the piano are...bonus!

I hope you are inspired to learn the written language of music and thank you for your support of live music!



Black Lotus Jams 2016 Retrospective 

Trumpeter Jimmy Smith and I have been hosting the Black Lotus Jam every Wednesday since October of 2015.  We only missed one week due to inclement weather!


Each week we highlight the music of a particular jazz composer or recording with a varying rhythm section.  Here is a list of the composers/albums we have presented:

Larry Young "Unity"
Hank Mobley "Soul Station"
Lee Morgan
Weather Report
Brecker Brothers
Freddie Hubbard
Scott Gwinnell
Wes Montgomery
Billie Holiday
Barry Harris
Fred Wesley
Herbie Hancock
Dexter Gordon
V.S.O.P. Quintet
Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers
The Adderley Brothers
Kenny Dorham
The Jazz Crusaders
Horace Silver's "Cape Verdean Blues"
Wayne Shorter's "Speak No Evil"
Miles Davis' "Milestones"
Chet Baker
Pat Metheny
Cedar Walton
Andrew Hill
Freddie Hubbard/Woody Shaw
Cannoball Adderley
Blue Mitchel's "The Thing To Do"
Lee Morgan's "Cornbread"
Eddie Russ
Thad Jones
The Hughes/Smith Quintet
Lou Donaldson's "Mr. Shing-a-Ling"
Tom Harrell
Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew"
JJ. Johnson
Mulgrew Miller
Billy Drummond's "Dubai"
Jimmy Heath
James Williams
Kenny Burrell

And here is a list of the phenomenal musicians who have performed with us:

Phil Kelly
Scott Gwinnell
Phil Whitfield
Glenn Tucker
Dan Karlsberg
Mike Malis
Daniel Meinecke
Duncan McMillan
Corey Kendrick
Galen Bundy
Dale Grisa
Bob Mervak
Taylor Pierson
Kris Kurzawa
John Gallo
Matt LoRusso
Larry Barris
Takashi Iio
Jeff Pedraz
Jordan Schug
Miles Brown
Eric Nachtrab
Damon Warmack
Chuck Bartels
James Simonson
Dan Kolton
Kurt Krahnke
Louis Leager
Sam Harris
Rocco Popielarski
Craig Kowalski
Jack McDonald
Nate Winn
Bill Higgins
Pete Siers
Jesse Kramer
Stephen Boegehold
Jason Gittinger
Ron Otis
Leonard King
George Davidson
David Zwolinski
Steve Nistor
Adam James
John Hill
Rick Beamon
Jeff Shoup
Rob Avsharian
Terry Kimura
Rob Killips
Matt Martinez
Chris Smith
Keith Kaminiski
Marcus Elliot
Mark Byerly
Nicole New
Liz Smith

And then there all the many cats that have come to sit in!

I am sure I am missing something or someone because there is a lot to remember! But I am so thankful for the opportunity to learn this music with this incredibly talented pool of Detroit musicians!  Detroit is a gem of a music city, and specifically a JAZZ city...and it is only that way because of the folks that come out and LISTEN and the clubs that support it!  Let's all do our part to keep this going!!!

peace, love & harmony,


Learn From the Best: DEXTER GORDON 

Transcribing is still the best way to learn how to improvise.  Often times, I transcribe bits and pieces and never write anything down. My main goal is to quickly acquire small melodic phrases to use in my soloing, or to figure out just what that artist was playing for the sake of curiosity.  On occasion though, I will take the time to write out a solo in order to analyze it.  I'll just look and listen to it without trying to play it.  That is what I did with this one.  Here is a list of devices Dexter Gordon uses in the first three choruses of his solo on "Stanley The Steamer" from his 1969 recording Tower Of Power.  Notice how clear he plays ideas!

1. Melodic Sequence
2. Descending Arpeggio
3. Blues Scale
4. Triadic Material
5. Digital Pattern 123

His solo begins at the 0:32 mark:

Happy practicing! Happy listening!


Teaching Jazz In The Forest 

So I have been deep in the Manistee National Forest teaching Jazz to high school students the past couple of weeks. If you are not from Michigan, look at your hand with your thumb to the right...it's located beneath your pinky :)

Classes ran from 8am-5pm with a decent break in there for lunch (and a nap!).  We played recordings for them, rehearsed their ensembles, taught improv techniques, scales, arpeggios, jazz vocabulary, transcribing, taught instrument techniques like tone production and finger dexterity, and had many small but great conversations with each other.  I think if these kids become the leaders of tomorrow, we will be in good shape!  These students are so thoughtful, considerate, intelligent, respectful and concerned.  Now if they would only memorize their scales!!! JK!

I also enjoyed hanging with the Jazz Faculty, an incredible collection of players/educators.  These cats have a lot to say on their instruments and are deep, funny and caring individuals.  It's difficult to be away from home that long, but these friends make it possible.  We put together a faculty recital and collaborated with the Art Dept. which was centered around the theme of "fire."  We performed a continuous set of music, all original arrangements and two original compositions while four artists improvisation-ally painted to our music.  It was a thrill to perform this way!  What I like most about this "happening" is that you have the ability to ponder the artwork that captured the abstract form of music that dissipates as soon as its created.

We did record the music from that night and will be aired on Blue Lake Public Radio July 16 2016.  It will be available on demand after that from the radio website.

So my take-away from the past two weeks...be the best-version of yourself and share it with others! That's it!



Sonny Red 

Sonny Red is an often forgotten soul in the pantheon of hard bop, but a real favorite of mine.  His "Detroit sound," that buoyancy in his tone and beautiful melodic lines with a real feel for the blues..gets me every time! You can take any 2 beats out of this solo and they would stand on their own.  Nothing earth shattering here, a few scale patterns, arpeggios and Bird licks, but how Sonny put it together...pure joy!


Doctor Professor 

Dr. Prof Leonard King is a storied jazz drummer, vocalist, composer and teacher from Detroit.  He has performed with the James Carter Organ Trio, Roy Brooks' Aboriginal Drum Choir, The Soul Messengers, a host of Motown recording artists, and is the leader of the Dr. Prof. Leonard King Orchestra as well his own original small group Oopapada.  Many folks have wondered about his nickname "Doctor Professor."  All you need to do is chat with him on a set break to find out why; he knows more about American music history and Detroit history than almost any man alive.

He is most passionate for his original music and I am fortunate enough to get to play it with him on a regular basis.  His group Oopapada was created as an organ trio featuring Chris Codish (organ) and Bob Tye (guitar).  Many years later, he has re-created the group as a quartet, replacing guitar with two horns...that's where I come in!  Rounding the group out is Jimmy Smith on trumpet.  We rehearse weekly in Leonard's basement where one can catch a glimpse of his library...hundreds of books on music, history, banking, and a plethora of other niche topics.  His music encapsulates his knowledge and discovery of human truths, sometimes enigmatically, but always grooving! I know much of our time 'rehearsing' is talking and sharing ideas, and usually him defining words in his titles...Leonard is very creative when it comes to the English language, he likes to invent new words and repurpose old ones to describe situations and personality traits.  Check out some of these song titles: Crept Dema Wrongma, Vapor Lock Bop, Post '80s Methusela Blues, and Imperative Unit Rising.  

Leonard recently gave an interview for Mike McGonigal at Metrotimes, here it is:


The Dr. Prof. Leonard King Orchestra recently released an album, "This Time and Again Forward." Be sure to check it out! 


Every Day Something New 

I have quite a week lined up! Each day is something new and different and although it presents a challenge, I am really looking forward to each gig. I totally love my life in music!!!

Wednesday at Black Lotus we will be playing there music of Lee Morgan.  Lee almost single-handed defined the Blue Note sound of the 1960s, fusing be bop with latin rhythm & blues, the boogaloo and gospel music. This will be a blast! Joining me is Jimmy Smith (trumpet), Scott Gwinnell (piano), Jeff Pedraz (bass) and Bill Higgins (drums).

Thursday at O'Malley's we have a slamming group put together to play some Brecker Brothers and Jazz Crusaders things.  It will be Jimmy Smith (trumpet), Dale Grisa (keys), John Gallo (guitar), Takashi Iio (bass) and Steve Nistor (drums).  Hearing John Gallo play the solo on Song For Barry will be worth your entire evening.

Friday back at the Black Lotus I will be playing with Leonard King's OOPAPADA.  Dr. Prof. King write all the music and lyrics for this group and showcases his wry wit and insight into politics, society truisms and his perspective on life.  I love playing with Leonard every chance I get, not only for his knowledge of music and things, but his creative and original voice on the drums.

Saturday I will be with Ben Sharkey and the Woodward Horns.  We will be playing some of Ben's originals as well as a cart-full of classic standards.  I have been working on arranging a tune as have the other cats and am really looking forward to hearing them come to life with this swinging band.

OK, that's enough blowing for me, I have to go practice.



All About Jazz Review of "Ever Up & Onward" 

Wow! I am really grateful for the attention that my latest recording has received.  Jimmy Smith and I put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this project and it feels good knowing that people are checking it out and getting something positive from it.  We have so much love for the jazz musicians of Detroit, both past and present, and it is our sincere hope that we do them justice!

Here is Mark Sullivan's full review:

Detroit was once a vital jazz center, contributing some of the major hard bop artists of the 1960s: Hank, Thad, and Elvin Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Barry Harris, Paul Chambers, Kenny Burrell, and Ron Carter, just to name a few. The James Hughes & Jimmy Smith Quintet honors that tradition by playing mostly original hard bop with real flair. In addition to being strong soloists, saxophonist James Hughes and trumpeter Jimmy Smith contribute all of the compositions and arrangements.  

Smith says that the opener "Audio Culture" was inspired by trumpeter Woody Shaw. It's also reminiscent of Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage" in its insistent modal vamp, and introduces the band in a bright, upbeat fashion, with pianist Phil Kelly turning in an ebullient solo. Smith's "East Detroit" has a similar modal sound, driven by an ostinato figure doubled by bass and piano, inspired by the group's drummer Nate Winn . Hughes contributes "Dots," another upbeat song he describes as "like a sugar rush." "Zebras, Penguins and Bunny Rabbits" (the favorite animals of Hughes' three nieces) has a catchy tune that could make a good TV show theme.  

The first cover tune in the set is also the closest thing to a ballad, a creative arrangement of the traditional "There Is A Balm In Gilead," which features a fine solo by bassist Takashi Iio. The album closes with two standards. "I'll Remember April" is a jam session favorite, given a fresh latin arrangement to keep things from being too predictable. "I'll Close My Eyes" is played straight, a swinging, romantic ending to the program. This is consistently up music—in the sense of being mostly up-tempo, as well as energetic and optimistic. Ever Up & Onward is an especially apt title. A distinctly modern take on hard bop, Detroit style.  

Track Listing: Audio Culture; Dots; Luca's Interlude; East Detroit; There Is A Balm In Gilead; Drum Intro; Viridian; Zebras, Penguins and Bunny Rabbits; Keepin' It Real; Transgender Fenderbender; I'll Remember April; I'll Close My Eyes. 

Personnel: James Hughes: saxophone; Jimmy Smith: trumpet; Phil Kelly: piano; Takashi Iio: bass; Nate Winn: drums. 

Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Self Produced | Style: Modern Jazz

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Thanks folks!


AXS Reviews "Ever Up & Onward" 

I was totally blown away by the review The HSQ got by online music website AXS.  Music critic Carol Banks Weber not only gave our album a favorable review, she really dug into our compositions and understood where Jimmy and I are coming from, musically and personally. I am not shy about severe criticism either, brutal honesty is very helpful in a musician's pursuit, but this was pretty heart-warming.  It's nice to know that our music can resonate with folks, that is after all what we have dedicated our artistic lives to!  

Here is the review in it's entirety:

Oftentimes, the reviews and liner notes of other people tend to interfere with a listener’s singular enjoyment of a record on its own. The listener needs to hear for himself without an outside force telling him what to feel and how to think. In the case of the Hughes-Smith Quintet’s latest jazz album from Detroit, a backstage glimpse of what’s going on with the 12 tunes is an absolute requirement to completely enjoying the modern sounds up close. 

In the liner notes for the James Hughes-Jimmy Smith Quintet’s sophomore album, Ever Up & Onward, the song descriptions glimpse the fun the musicians had putting the songs together, as well as the poignant moments that inspired some of them. For the fun, upbeat, bluesy throwback “Dots,” Hughes described writing it tantamount to capturing the feeling of a “sugar rush, bursts of color and playful energy. I think we all need that from time to time. When I wrote this, it reminded me of the sound and feeling of laughter when musicians get together.” 

When the listener has a chance to compare what Hughes described and what is played, the accuracy is uncanny, and a testament to what this Quintet can do. 

The Hughes-Smith Quintet is saxophonist James Hughes and trumpeter Jimmy Smith, with a trio of fine musicians holding up the rhythm section. The Detroit jazz sound of the 1950s-‘60s becomes a whole other experience in the post-millennium in the care of Hughes, Smith, pianist Phil Kelly, drummer Nate Winn, and bassist Takashi Iio. 

Ever Up & Onward, released on March 15, 2016 independently, is the Quintet’s second album and a modern, hard bop take on the jazz unique to Detroit. Detroit jazz is a little edgy, very soulful, with plenty of room to groove between both, and all under the cover of a smooth, skillful, sophisticated set of straight-ahead enthusiasts who really comprehend the mood and the chops involved. 

The chops and the feel involved in pulling off eight original tracks — written by Hughes or Smith, three favorite standards, and a phenomenal drum intro from Winn set this Quintet apart. 

All Music’s Thom Jurek dug the Detroit vibe from the onset. “The Motown sensibility at the heart of ‘East Detroit’ — established by drummer Nate Winn’s eternal groove and bassist Takashi Iio’s solid walk — is given wings by Smith’s song-like trumpet solo,” Jurek wrote, referencing just one of several outstanding cuts. “…Since the release of From Here on Out in 2013, JSJHQ have earned more bandstand experience, reflecting a growing confidence in their compositions. As a result, Ever Up & Onward more than lives up to its title.” 

With a band as tight as this one, the temptation is to do nothing but show off. But the Quintet is confident enough in its chops to go with the flow of each song, whether it swings hard or soft. Nothing is too soft as to be boring. You can tell these musicians understand straight-ahead jazz at the core; there must always be strong, pivotal movement, and with this album, there most certainly is. 

Actually, with a straight-ahead band as tight and talented as this one, the outstanding pieces tend not necessarily to be the flash cards but the subdued, underrated gems, like the cover of the African-American spiritual, “There Is A Balm In Gilead.” 

These guys infuse so much class into the already soulful 1800s ballad, just a little of this, just a little of that, a piano sprinkled like fairy dust in between the lush horn lullaby turned up several notches, a hush of a barely simmering fire in the drums and bass. There’s plenty of room to mess it up, or muddy it up with unnecessary drama — unless you’re Hughes, who, like many jazz musicians, grew up in the church. 

He arranged this piece as something special, dear to his heart. Again, those enlightening liner notes. “I grew up in the church, always sang in the choirs and played piano for them, even did a 10-year stint as choir director. This has long been one of my favorite spirituals. It deals with our experiences, pains and hardships, to which we often shake our head and ask, ‘Is there no remedy?’” 

In Hughes’ arrangement and the Quintet’s playback, there is. They play this spiritual with heart and hope, a warm tone to the measures, and an underlying grace in the lift of the keys, the flow-over of the bottom notes… They play this spiritual with the grace that’s perhaps missing in a lot of real fire and brimstone churches with pastors who tend to emphasize hell over heaven. 

Smith is especially outstanding in his trumpet solo, which flickers over the lamplight of the rhythm section rolling steady under Winn’s command. 

For jazz bands, it’s easy to play up chops in the never-ending battle for one-upmanship. Far too often, jazz musicians forget feeling in their haste to prove they belong in the technically advanced club. Not these musicians. They come prepared to serve both.

Nate Winn (d), Takashi Iio (b), Jimmy Smith (tpt), James Hughes (sax), Phil kelly (p), Jeff Pedraz (prod.)

Speak No Evil 

This past week has been spent by listening to and practicing the music from Wayne Shorter's quintessential album SPEAK NO EVIL.  Thom Jurek of AllMusic describes it as "the avant-garde meets the hard-bop of the 1950s head on and everybody wins."  The compositions are so deep you could write a text book on them and the playing is equally phenomenal.  Freddie Hubbard, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Elvin Jones.  What a line up!  You can hear a little free jazz, avant-garde, bebop and modal playing in everyone's solos.  Recorded on Christmas Eve in 1964, it truly marks that time in history when all these genres of jazz had developed enough to be mixed together.  

This Wednesday I will be joined with Detroit drummer Bill Higgins who said something that got me thinking.  He noted that Wayne had recorded the albums Night Dreamer, JuJu and Speak No Evil, had transitioned from being Art Blakey's musical director and started with Miles Davis...all within nine months!  I did a little more digging and found out that in that year (1964) in addition to his own three albums, he recorded Search For The New Land (L. Morgan), Indestructible (A. Blakey), The Big Beat (A. Blakey), Pices (A. Blakey), Some Other Stuff (G. Moncur III), The Individualism Of Gil Evans (G. Evans), and Miles In Berlin (M. Davis). 10 fabulous recordings in a year!

What were the other cats up to that year?  Herbie and Ron just joined Miles Davis' new quintet, Herbie Ron and Freddie recorded Empyrean Isles.  Elvin Jones was really busy that year: Judgement (A. Hill), Today and Tomorrow (M. Tyner), In 'n Out (J. Henderson), Night Dreamer (W. Shorter), The Individualism of Gil Evans (G. Evans), Crescent (J. Coltrane), Matador (G. Green), Tony Bennet Jazz (T. Bennet), Bob Brookmeyer and Friends (B. Brookmeyer), Solid (G. Green), Proof Positive (J.J. Johnson), JuJu (W. Shorter), Talkin' About (G. Green), Into Something' (L. Young), Inner Urge (J. Henderson), McCoy Tyner Plays Ellington (M. Tyner), A Love Supreme (J. Coltrane), Guitar Forms (K. Burrell) and finally, whew...Speak No Evil (W. Shorter)!  WOW! What a year for Elvin! Sure makes me feel lazy.

In Wayne's own words about the song selection for Speak No Evil, he says “I was thinking of misty landscapes with wild flowers and strange, dimly-seen shapes — the kind of places where folklore and legends are born.”  

It has been quite an education diving into this recording again after many years.  There is so much to learn from in the compositions, not to mention the improvising styles both individual and collective. Dance Cadaverous has at first glance strange harmonic movement, but what I discovered was a common thread that ties each chord change together.  He hides a shifting B minor triad through them all, sometimes altering one note but always returning to that B minor sound. It really makes the harmony sound veiled. I also really dig the patience Wayne has with using melodic motifs and sequences evidenced in Witch Hunt and Infant Eyes.  In similar fashion, Witch Hunt's melody stays the same while the chord shift underneath...pretty hip!  

All the technical stuff aside, I just want to get to those mystical landscapes.  Hopefully we can do this monumental recording justice.



Heavy Metal Bebop 

This week at Black lotus we put a spotlight on the music of The Brecker Brothers.  Needless to say, I've been preoccupied with this task the past few weeks! It's been a lot to prepare for starting with putting the tunes down on 'paper.'  You won't find much of their stuff in any of the fake books, and the ones that are in there are not too accurate or helpful.  We had to build this set from the bottom up.  And of course once getting the charts written, we had to spend time individually practicing them. We got together once to rehearse them and man is it sounding good!!! I can't wait to perform them!

A few things I have picked up by listening a bunch and shedding their stuff: They make everything sound so easy and relaxed when in actuality, it's pretty intricate.  The technical demands are quite high and is pushing us all to our limits.  It's a lot of fun reaching further and I am sure that the cats in the band have all grown musically because of it.

Randy Brecker did most of the writing for the group...I didn't realize that until digging deeper into their repertoire. And man can he write s tune!  Beauty, sophistication and grit.  And of course he's just a beast on the trumpet taking crazy good solos and playing essentially lead trumpet parts with ease. Such a great musician!

I also have been checking out multiple performances of single tunes at different times during their career.  They constantly change up the forms and solo spaces where every performance is truly different than the next.  The smallest nuance is incorporated and flawlessly executed...what a tight band!

Well thats all for now folks! I am thoroughly inspired by these two titans of music and I hope you are too! And I hope we do their tunes justice!!!!

Barry Harris 

This week at our Black Lotus Jam, we present a set of music featuring the compositions of pianist Barry Harris.  Mr. Harris is one of jazz's most prolific educators having mentored thousands of students and hosting weekly workshops for decades.  He has always been a Detroit icon, revered by the Detroit jazz community because when so many Detroit musicians were headed to New York, Mr. Harris stayed here to cultivate the scene.  Even after finally transitioning to New York, Detroiters still consider him their own.

His playing style is well documented - the tremendous influence Bud Powell and Charlie Parker had on him.  His tunes are less recognized however, and that is what we will be looking at this week.  His compositions are rooted in the bebop tradition, full of ii-V-I progressions that often snake through by half or whole steps, and lots of melodic sequences.  But there is a churning rhythmic sense behind all of them that reveal his "Detroit-ness." Each melodic statement is almost always answered with a rhythmic statement and each melody has a lilt to it, even the straight-eighth tunes.  All of his tunes, and there are a lot of them, are terrific solo vehicles, too.  Logical and easy chord changes, but still very original and singular, make them a blast to play over.

On a personal note, I got to play the Detroit Jazz Festival with Mr. Harris two years ago with the festival's jazz orchestra.  In rehearsal, he was so casual, genuine and warm. He didn't say much, but he was very present in the moment.  At one point in the rehearsal, he stopped and looked around the band and honed in on me. I could see his wheels turning, and then he opened his eyes wide and asked, "would like to solo on this one?"  Of course I jumped at the opportunity! I think he was looking for the youngest guy in the band. Always the teacher, mentor, helper.
I have had such a good time listening, transcribing and practicing these tunes the past few weeks! Here is our set list for Wednesday: Barengo, Like This, High Step, Luminescence, Even Steven, and of course, Nascimento.  We love you Barry Harris!


Apps for Practicing 

Nothing is better than time spent with your instrument practicing the things that need working out.  Technical facility is something that always needs developing, refining and refreshing...no matter the age, stage or phase of life we are in.  Here are some of the apps I use on a regular basis and recommend to my students:

1. ProMetronome.  We all have a metronome, but this one can be with you at all times and doesn't need batteries...besides it's free!

2. n-TrackTuner.  An accurate tuner that gets the job done, also free!

3. iRealPro.  It's an app that plays the chord changes to over 1,000 tunes with bass, piano and drum sounds.  Great for working on improvising and memorizing tunes as well as "cheat sheets" for gigs.  It can change keys, tempi and number of repeats.  It can even transpose after each chorus if you want to take Cherokee through 12 keys or whatever.  It costs a little $, but is totally worth every penny!

4.  UnReal Book.  I use this to upload all my PDFs of charts I have written.  Searching for charts is quick and you can even make set lists.  I have over 500 in mine...so nice not to have to carry a huge binder full of charts spilling out everywhere.

In addition to these apps, I use the Stopwatch function on my iPhone constantly to monitor my practice time as well as the Notes app to journal my practicing.  I also use the Voice Memos function to record snippets of an exercise or tune for later review and reflection.

Well, I hope this helps and inspires you to hit the woodshed!


Spending Some Time With Cannonball Adderley Records  Podcast

Last week at our weekly jazz gig at Black Lotus Brewery, we featured the music of the Adderley Bros.  So I was shedding Cannonball solos all week, something I did a whole lot of when I was much younger.  Cannonball was one of the earliest and most significant influences on my approach to jazz.  But, it's been a while since I was digging deep into his bag and revisiting him was so insightful and productive.  I picked up a few gems through transcribing his solo on "Jeanine" off the Paris 1960 record.

It is well documented, but his articulation is so inventive!  He does the odd groupings of slurred to tongued, like a 3 + 2 + 2, etc. which when combined with the shape of his lines is so fresh and popping.  He also will ease up on the syncopation by tonging every eighth note for a measure...works real well for a release of rhythmic tension.  

Besides his unique articulation schemes, I was really getting into his "inside" vocabulary.  A couple things in particular I heard him doing a bunch; one was his be-bop navigation through dominant II7 - V7 turnarounds; second was hip little minor licks taken up a minor third.  I know both of these ideas are quite common, but the way Cannonball plays them pops out to my ear.  How often does that happen to us as students and as teachers of music?  We can hear the same message over and over again, but for some reason it doesn't resonate until one person come along and says the same thing a little differently and KAZAAM the lightbulb comes on!

I try to record some parts of my practicing each day, here is a snippet of me implementing some of Cannonball's ideas on the tune "It Could Happen To You."

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