Welcome

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...

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.

peace,

James
 

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!

James

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!

James

Spending Some Time With Cannonball Adderley Records  

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."
 

Friday January 22, 2015 "A Full Week of Jazz!" 

I am getting ready for a super busy week of jazz gigs. It is going to be an intense work schedule, but it's what I live for!!!
Here are my thoughts about the different musics, artists, and venues:

Bobby Murray's Tribute to Etta James is a collective of serious blues musicians.  Etta's music is so greasy, soulful and sassy. She didn't side-step anything, but got straight to the point.  If all you know of her work is "At Last," you might be surprised to learn how diverse her tastes were.  There is jazz, soul, rock and gut busting blues in there.  The one common thread is that her music was 100% human emotion.  The three singers that will be featured (Joe Jolley, Lenny Watkins, Tosha Owens) all capture that spirit.  Ms. Tosha Owens singing "I'd Rather Go Blind" is a life-changing event! She sings with authority, personality, desperation, power and grace.  And don't forget the leader, Bobby Murray.  Many of us know well his mastery of the blues language, but what makes him so special to me is his spirit.  He is ALWAYS in a good mood!  Smiling, loving life and playing his butt off. To top it off I am in the horn section with some of my best friends, THE WOODWARD HORNS (Jimmy Smith, Bobhy Streng and Matt Martinez).

On Monday I play with the Paul Keller Orchestra in Ann Arbor at Zal Gaz Grotto.  The PKO has been playing every Monday night for over 20 years! The band's birthday is coming up soon and is a testament to Paul's dedication to music. I love playing each week with PKO because it keeps my skills honed.  I get a chance to sight-read a bunch of charts (work on my instant conception!), keep my clarinet, flute, alto and tenor saxes crisp, work on ensemble playing, sharpen my listening skills and stay connected to many great friends in this crazy business.

The Black Lotus Brewery in Clawson is developing into an oasis for professional musicians. They have a new music room adjacent to the brewery with a wonderful stage and PA. I will be there on Sunday with The Scott Gwinnell Jazz Orchestra.  I have been with Scott from the beginning when we were playing at the Circa Lounge. Scott has his own unique voice through his compositions and arrangements that shine is this stellar group. I will also be there Wednesday with my own group The Hughes/Smith Quintet playing the music of Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers. We will have Keith Kaminski with us...I am looking forward to that because I absolutely love sharing the stage with other Saxophonists and Keith is the man!

Thursday I will be with my quintet again, but this time at O'Malley's in Livonia.  This club was just remodeled with an emphasis on live music. They too have a great stage with an amazing sound system built in.  They have a very supportive built-in crowd that loves live music and we are honored to playing our original music there.  We have a special guest with us that night, new-comer jazz vocalist, Liz Smith.

Friday the Hughes/Smith Quintet hits again at Motor City Wine. I can't say enough about the cats in the band. Joining us is Pete Siers on drums.  Pete is a world of musical knowledge and brings his expertise to everything he does.  Last time Pete played with us, he elevated the bandstand until we were all floating! Mix in Takashi's groove on bass and Phil Kelly on piano, be-bop master and an amazing accompanist who always knows just what to play, it's going to be an awesome night!

Well, time for me to go...I have some practicing to do!

Monday January 4, 2015 "Two Incredible Rhythm Sections" 

This week I have the honor of playing with some of the best rhythm sections in Detroit.  

Wednesday I will be with Scott Gwinnell (piano), Jeff Pedraz (bass) and Steve Nistor (drums).  We will be at Black Lotus playing the music of Dexter Gordon.  Dexter has had such a profound influence on me as a musician.  He truly sings through his horn. When he plays a phrase it sounds like it's the most important thing he has ever played.  His ideas are so clear and concrete and he always plays with a big robust tone. He is sometimes romantic, sometimes playful and always swinging!

Saturday I will be at Cliff Bells with the Latin Jazz group Agaunco that features the rhythm section of Rick Roe (piano), Pat Prouty (bass), Pepe Espinosa (timbales) and Alberto Nacif (conga).  Alberto is the band leader and is celebrating his second recording INVISIBLE.  It's all original music and is so melodic, tight and captivating.  I love playing with these guys, it's going to be fantastic!

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