Two years ago, saxophonist De' Sean Jones was a promising prospect in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s Civic Jazz Orchestra program. When you listened to the young man blow, you knew that with the proper training, he'd be a helluva jazz talent a la hometown heroes James Carter, Kenny Garrett and Donald Walden. Today, Jones is 19, in his freshman year at Michigan State University, and is leading his own jazz quartet,which he premiered to a packed house on a recent Friday night at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge. And unfortunately, Jones' performance was a textbook example of a young jazz musician starting a band before he’s ready, or has played for some years with season jazz musicians and in established jazz bands. Jones is just doesn't have the experience (yet) to front his own band, and his quartet was unprofessional on every conceivable level.
They were dressed shabbily in jeans and un-tucked dress shirts, like they were headed to a fraternity party. The second set started forty-five minutes late because the piano player was handwriting the parts to the original material Jones promised to feature during the set, a promise he didn't keep. He allowed two high school students to play most of the set. In grand jam session fashion, they didn’t play the songs from start to finish. They jumped on stage only to solo. Then a young vocalist Kenny Watson scatted his way through several tunes which left me wondering if the kid knew the lyrics.
Jones called one original, a mid-tempo jumper titled “Casio,” but the rest of the set was messy, fragmented free-for-all.
Jones did play several exceptional solos. On “All the Things You Are, he stripped the classic of its dignity, then transformed it into a moanin’ and groanin’ blues. This proves that Jones still shows a lot of promise; he simply needs to spend a few years with a seasoned band, so he can experience firsthand how the professionals play it.
It's commonplace now for young jazz players to jump on the bandstand too soon - there simply aren't enough seasoned vets around anymore to fill up the spots, and in fairness to a young cat like Jones, that makes it much harder for him to develop the proper seasoning.
We'll see what happens, though. Jones' next Baker's gig is Feb. 10.
Charles L. Latimer