Jazz is not an immensely popular music style in Memphis, so opportunities to hear authentic jazz in our city are few and far between, but some local jazz musicians are branching out and starting their own events. Recently, jazz saxophonist Kelvin Walters and drummer James Sexton have started holding jam sessions on Sunday evenings from 5-8 PM on the first three Sundays of each month at the Midtown Crossing Grill in the burgeoning Crosstown neighborhood one block over from the venerable Hi-Tone Cafe. The building where the grill is located has been all kinds of things, once having been home to Bobby Q’s barbecue restaurant and later Foxcee’s Sports Bar. As a jazz venue, it has the necessary intimacy, and despite its small stage area, it functions fairly well. Walters is at a young age already a decent saxophonist, and James Sexton is one of the city’s best drummers, and the jam session format gives young musicians from Memphis an opportunity to hone their skills in a performance setting in front of an actual crowd. As for the food offerings, the Midtown Crossing Grill has artisan pizzas, and they are pretty decent and reasonably priced. The jam session is not held on the fourth Sunday so as to not conflict with the monthly Sax on Sundays event at Neil’s out in East Memphis, which is another opportunity to hear jazz in Memphis. Take advantage of these events and enjoy.
Memphis guitarist Garry Goin is a fairly well-known figure in the local music scene, who often appears at Memphis Grizzlies games at Fed Ex Forum, or at the annual Stax to the Max Soulsville Festival at the Stax Museum in South Memphis. Memphis saxophonist Pat Register is also very well known around town, and when he and Goin came together, the result was a band called Dual Drive, whose debut album The Memphis Project was recently released on Memphis-based blues label Icehouse Records. The album celebrates the Memphis music legacy, with new smooth-jazz-leaning arrangements of classic Memphis soul songs like “Take Me To The River” and “Dock of the Bay”, and on Tuesday July 1st, Garry and Pat were at Spin Street Music in Memphis to play a few of the songs from the album and to sign copies of it for enthusiastic fans. The crowd that gathered included a lot of Memphis musicians and music industry people, from Johnny and Jeff Phillips of Select-O-Hits, to Jack Cooper from the University of Memphis, and drummer James Sexton, who played on the recording.
Jazz-A-Fire is the jazz group of the Memphis Black Arts Alliance, featuring Nokie Taylor on trumpet, Steven Lee on piano, Kent Suggs on bass and James Sexton on drums, among others. They played for an enthusiastic crowd yesterday at the Memphis Music and Heritage Festival, September 3, 2011
The Sanctuary Jazz Orchestra was part of the tribute to James Williams that was being held at the Bartlett Performing Arts Center, so we all met up there around 7 PM.
Not only were we playing there, but also the fine Memphis pianists Mulgrew Miller and Donald Brown, the trumpeter Bill Mobley, and the saxophonist Billy Pierce. Renardo Ward was to have been the drummer for much of the gig, but he was sick, and was replaced by James Sexton, who did a great job on probably short notice. Even though it was a mainstream jazz event, it was a sell-out, and the room was full to capacity!