Ron Carter likes to call Artist in Residence positions "Artist in Reticence" -- mostly, he says, because he's "never quite sure what they expect to get from me other than being there for some concerts, which I always do anyway."
The Ferndale-born bass legend's tenure with this year's Detroit Jazz Festival will be a bit different, however.
Carter, who began playing cello while in elementary school in Ferndale before his family moved to Detroit when he was 12, is pleased that he'll be coming to his home town with "a nice plan" that involves more than just hitting the stage. On Tuesday, June 14, he'll be in town for a special show with guitarist Russell Malone at the Dirty Dog in Ferndale, but during that afternoon he'll spend an hour doing "a brief mentorship" with some youth musicians chosen by the festival."
"My job is to listen to them, give them a gentle critique for how they can get better and share some of my life stories," Carter, 79, says by phone from his current home in New York City. The two-time Grammy Award winner certainly has those, with an extensive career that includes tenures playing with the Miles Davis Quintet, Pontiac's Hank Jones, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and scores of others, as well as scoring work on the films "Round Midnight," "Treme" and "Kansas City."
Carter has also taught on the faculties of the City College of New York and the Julliard School.
"I'm just going to give them some tips I've learned along the way -- how important it is to have a teacher, how important it is to study harmony and theory, stuff like that. I'm still learning things to do."
During the Labor Day Weekend weekend festival at Detroit's Hart Plaza, meanwhile, Carter will perform with his New York-based big band, a nonet featuring four cellos, a trio with Malone and a quartet. He also hopes to lure longtime friend and collaborator George Benson, who's also on the festival bill, to do some playing with him.
"It's a pretty complicated situation; I'm getting my nap now, 'cause I wont' get any sleep in September," Carters says of the festival. And, he notes, having the Artist in Residence role in his home town makes this particular engagement a bit more special.
"Y'know, I'm part of a long line of people who came from Detroit to get to New York," says Carter. "That bill of names is pretty prestigious -- Paul Chambers, Doug Watkins, Kenny Burrell, Hank Jones...We can go on for two days. So to know I'm part of this really elite lists of musicians who left Detroit at some point and went to New York and represented our music is really gratifying."
Carter's legacy isn't only in the jazz world. His playing resume outside the genre includes sessions for the likes of Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Roberta Flack, Gil Scott-Heron and more, which Carter views as welcome side trips as part of his musical journey.
"I continue to be surprised that people outside the jazz scene know that I'm around and I have some kind of credibility with them, that they're interested to see if I can translate my jazz environment, my jazz roots, to their music, which may not be based on jazz at all," says Carter, who's next recording project may be a collection of Bach cantatas. "Given how many choices they have, I'm stunned they feel I can help their project get to that level of whatever they're looking for."
But, Carter adds, he gets as much as he gives from those and any other musical situation he's in.
"Any time I've played, I've treated it as a chance to get some learning," he says. "I'm going to school for free, whether it's a trumpet player, a piano player, a drummer, however the leader is. I take it as a chance to watch how they operate, see how they treat the music.
"You can always learn something, I feel. You're never done. I know I'm not."
Ron Carter and Russell Malone
6 p.m. and 9 p.m. Tuesday June 14.
The Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe, 97 Kercheval Ave., Grosse Pointe.
Tickets are $175
Call 313-640-8414-5299 or visit detroitjazzfest.com.
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