“Music and life do not separate” says saxophone virtuoso James Carter, “my elders have taught me that music is a culture and a way of life.”
Detroit native Carter shared his childhood home with five musically inclined siblings in “a house filled with all manner of sounds, from The Beatles to Funk and Hendrix.”
The Jazz influence came from Carter’s mother who “brought the voices of greats like Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald into my life” It was his mother who in 1980 took young Carter to see the Count Basie Orchestra at the Detroit Music Hall, where the big-band sound made a lasting impression, but it was a World Saxophone Quartet concert two years later that would set music as a path for life. “To watch four saxophonists individually and collectively, literally shred the stage” recalls Carter, “it sparked a furnace inside of me that won’t quit to this day.”
At the tender age of seventeen the young prodigy shared a stage with the great Wynton Marsalis and at 23, released his landmark debut album JC On the Set, hailed by many as the arrival of a new Jazz master. Over the decades that followed, Carter has cemented his reputation as one of this generation’s most charismatic and versatile soloists, boasting collaborations with Lester Bowie, Julius Hemphill, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Kathleen Battle, Frank Lowe & the Saxemble, the world Saxophone Quartet and Wynton Marsalis among other Jazz greats.
2019 sees Carter release his eighteenth original recording, marking the Jazz master’s debut as a band leader for Blue Note records. Captured live at the 2018 Newport Jazz festival, the celebrated James Carter Organ Trio: Live From Newport Jazz, pays homage to the legendary Django Reinhardt and is a return of sorts to the 2000 Chasin’ the Gypsy album where Carter first paid tribute to the swing-guitar icon for whom he carries great affection.
Honing his craft to a jaw-dropping technical level, Carter is the master of a family of saxophones, flute and clarinet. His is a powerhouse virtuosity likened by composer Roberto Sierra to the great Paganini. It was in fact this astounding instrumental flexibility, coupled with an eclectic body of recordings that inspired the Spanish maestro to write the celebrated Concerto for Saxophones and Orchestra for the 31-year-old. Written expressly for Carter and mixing Jazz, Latin and classical elements, the work showcases the multi instrumentalist’s outstanding technical virtuosity whilst allowing him “the freedom to improvise”
The four-movement piece sees Carter take center stage throughout, executing swift instrument transitions between Tenor and Soprano and employing a full gamut of musical expression, from furiously-fast Coltrane like tempo to a quiet ballad.
The concerto premiered in 2002 with Neeme Järvi conducting the Detroit Symphony to three sold out performances, followed by four additional sold-out shows a year later.
Carter went on to perform the concerto to captivated audiences worldwide earning critical praise and meriting standing ovations. Notable performances include the 2016 Leipzig MDR, Berlin Rundfunk the same year with Kristjan Järvi conducting, and 2019 when he collaborated with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Thomas Wilkins conducting.
The concerto’s unfading charm carries Carter into 2020 and the Tanglewood Music Festival where he will perform Sierra’s piece with the iconic Boston Symphony, conducted by Ken David-Masur.