View Comments
Picture: Vincent Soyez

The organ trio has always been part of the diversity of jazz, although perhaps not as frequently heard as the piano trio.

That's a view that James Carter politely disagrees with, saying the organ trio's appeal will always depend on who is playing.

"The organ is just one unit of the soul of jazz, and it's one of the most heart-grabbing," says Carter, a Detroit-born saxophonist who now lives in New York. "It flourished in the 50s and 60s because of its roots in gospel and soul but it's never really gone out of style."

Carter, a musician whose jazz styles cross the boundaries from soul to blues, gypsy jazz to funk, will make his first visit to Perth next week with organist Gerard Gibbs and drummer Leonard King.

As an organ trio, the three artists have been together for 12 years, recently recording their first album of organ-based jazz, At the Crossroads.

Like most professional jazz musicians, the trio work together frequently yet pursue their sense of adventure and creativity in other jazz ensembles at various times.

For Carter, exploring the sheer diversity of jazz counts among the great joys of being a professional musician. Being part of an organ trio is just part of that diversity and creativity.

"Jazz music is cross-pollinated by all kinds of influences," he says. "Who knows what possibilities will emerge when musicians come together and bring their own backgrounds and experience."

He cites the influences of Billie Holiday, Billy Eckstine, Sidney Bechet and Oscar Pettiford on the trio's organ repertoire, with the addition of some self-penned compositions.

"It's always "loosey goosey" in style, even if we keep it within the envelope of the organ, but we guarantee a heartfelt experience," says Carter.

The 43-year-old saxophonist, who plays tenor, alto, baritone and soprano, grew up in Detroit, the city famous for its Motown soul and rock sounds. By the time the young Carter was creating his own music, however, the soul scene had migrated west to California, yet still left a healthy jazz-soul scene.

"I was the youngest of five brothers and sisters, and my brothers played in bands, so I was always around them as the pest wanting to help do things."

At age 11 he began learning the saxophone from respected Detroit jazz teacher Donald Washington, his first major influence and mentor.

"I called him Pops because he was like my musical father and he was the one who told me I had to get out of Detroit and see the world," says Carter.

Another big influence was trumpeter Lester Bowie, who invited Carter to join his organ combo in New York, the city he has called home since the age of 19. Carter's first album, JC On the Set, recorded in 1993, was a quartet setting that announced his arrival as a major innovator in jazz.

Since playing with Bowie's organ combo, Carter has made serious inroads into the idea of cross-pollination.

Apart from exploring his black heritage through soul and blues, Carter has also delved into the world of gypsy jazz made famous by Belgian guitarist Django Reinhardt and French violinist Stephane Grappelli. His 2000 album, Chasin' the Gypsy, paid homage to the work of these two celebrated European musicians.

A more recent project involved the music of fellow saxophonist Don Byas, who played with the Count Basie Orchestra after the departure of Lester Young.

Carter says he is never short of ideas or influences in creating his own sound on stage.

In what might be called his musical manifesto, he has stated: "You have to be totally comfortable wherever. I feel that music equals life, that's the way my teachers always taught me. You can't just go through life and experience it fully with a set of blinkers on. I think there's tremendous beauty in cross-pollinations of music and influences."