Where Are They Now? – The Tough Young Tenors

1991 was a relatively heady time for the jazz business. In addition to all of the reissues of classics on the still ascendant CD technology, record labels were rushing to sign promising young musicians, in their search for another Wynton.

Among them were five tenor saxophonists, brought together for a one-off album by Antilles Records. None of them were well-known at the time, but they were unquestionably gifted. Their names were Walter Blanding, Jr., James Carter, Herb Harris, Tim Warfield, Jr. and Todd Williams. They were called “The Tough Young Tenors”. The title of the album: Alone Together.

Backed by an all-star rhythm section of Marcus Roberts on piano, Reginald Veal on bass and Ben Riley on drums; these brash youngsters showed that they had the goods. In solos, duos and finally in a five sax free-for-all on Sonny Stitt’s classic “The Eternal Triangle”, this album proved to be more than a blowing session – it was one of the best jazz albums of the year. At the time we knew that these cats were all destined for jazz stardom.

It did not turn out that way.

Though they were all on equal footing fame-wise at the time of the recording, they have met with varying degrees of success in the ensuing 20 years. Here, in alphabetical order, is a look at the fortunes of “The Tough Young Tenors”:

Walter Blanding, Jr.

Though he has only one album to his credit (2000’s The Olive Tree), Blanding has been quite active. He has been a member of Wynton Marsalis’ septet and his other recording credits include Marcus Printup and Eric Reed. He’s currently a member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. The great Jimmy Heath said about Blanding in the May 2011 issue of JazzTimes, “I call him ‘Walter Spicy’, ’cause there’s nothing bland about him”.

James Carter

(http://jamescarterlive.com/)

Carter is without question, the most commercially successful of the Tough Young Tenors and one of the most well-known jazz musicians of his generation. New York Magazine called him “Jazz’s first rock star” (though I still believe that title belongs to Miles Davis). His debut album JC on the Set took the jazz scene by storm in the year after Alone Together. Carter was just getting started. His 14 albums under his own name between 1992 and 2011, have fearlessly covered the jazz spectrum, from standards, to funk, to avant-garde. He has also made guest appearances with many of jazz’s legends, from Hancock to Golson to Wynton. Already this year, James Carter has released a new album, Caribbean Rhapsody and appeared on his first disc as the newest member of the venerable World Saxophone Quartet, Yes We Can.

What was predicted for all members of the group, Carter has achieved.

Herb Harris

(http://www.herbharrismusicco.com/index.html)

Like many most of the members of the group, Harris logged some time with Wynton, highlighted by his appearance on the Tune in Tomorrow soundtrack. He also appeared on Marcus Roberts’ dynamite Deep in the Shed.  However, he has undeservedly languished in obscurity for most of the last 20 years.  He has released two competent, if unspectacular albums as a leader: NY Daze & Knight, from 2001 and the contemporary flavored Some Many Second Chances in 2009. 

Tim Warfield, Jr.

(http://www.messiah.edu/departments/music/tim_warfield/)

Mr. Warfield has been the most prolific of the TYTs, next to Carter. In addition to releasing six critically acclaimed albums on Criss Cross Records, (his latest is A Sentimental Journey) he has worked with a veritable who’s who of jazz, including Stefon Harris, Christian McBride, Nicholas Payton, Shirley Scott, Jimmy Smith and Terell Stafford. He is currently an artist in residence at Messiah College in Grantham, PA. He also recently accepted an adjunct professor position on Temple University’s music department faculty.

Todd Williams

(http://twilliamsmusic.com/)

Todd Williams spent over a decade with Wynton Marsalis following TYT. He appeared on some of Wynton’s classics, such as the Soul Gestures in Southern Blue series and In This House on This MorningWilliams was also a long time member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.  The quintessential sideman, Williams has yet to release a jazz album as a leader.  Always a man of great faith, Todd decided a few years ago to leave Wynton and the LCJO to concentrate on his duties as minister of music at NYC’s Times Square Church.  At the church, he has produced an album of gospel music and spirituals, called Beautiful Things from AboveWithin the last 18 months, Todd has been quietly making appearances again on the jazz scene, leading a group in the Hudson Valley area and making a notable appearance with pianist Eli Yamin, at a White House gala.

So we find that 20 years later, these tenors are still on the scene and still pretty “tough”. If you haven’t checked any of them out in a while, now is a good time to get reacquainted.

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3 Responses to “Where Are They Now? – The Tough Young Tenors”

  1. Very interesting article ! thanks Curt !!

  2. Todd has a wonderful silk like tone to his sound. The sound is so smooth yet rich and emotional. What I heard was his love of the music. I think he play for hours and hours to a room park filled with folks that enjoy him and his sound as much as he enjoys giving himself to the music.

    I enjoyed Todd last evening at Coquito”s in Warwick, NY more than my last trip to Jazz at Lincoln Center.

  3. […] Finally, to find out what became of the five principals (as of September, 2011), here is a short blog post on Curt’s Jazz Café. […]

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