Derrick's profile

Baltimore-native Derrick Michaels is a tenor saxophonist and improviser with a bold and imaginative presence in the creative music community.

He has been described by Jazz Weekly as a “thick-toned tenorist”, and by Downbeat magazine as wielding a “ large sound and free flowing style”. The Baltimore Jazz Alliance says: “Derrick Michaels' saxophone playing comes right out of his soul; the instrument sounds like a human voice.”

Michaels has been collaborating across a variety of eclectic music scenes for decades. With deep roots in both the lyrical and exploratory branches of the creative tenor saxophone tradition, his wide expressive palette unapologetically favors creative spontaneity over idiomatic purity — never losing touch with his soulful, melodic sincerity.

In October 2022, he released “Solo Saxophone Vol. 1 Live at An Die Musik”, a self-described “declaration of boundless love for the resonance and visceral beauty of the saxophone”. 2022 also saw the release of Trio Xolo’s “In Flower in Song” on 577 Records, which All About Jazz described as “falling right into the sweet spot for some deep, organic listening”. Trio Xolo includes Brookly bassist Zachary Swanson and Lithuanian drummer Dalius Naujokaitis.

His 2020 series “Posture of Possibility” was a showcase of young improvisers whose creative contributions could very well carry the torch of this music into the next generation — juxtaposing two sets of music with variable instrumentation in order to highlight the creative flexibility inherent in this most fluid of art forms.

Michaels’ 2019 concert series “Derrick Michaels Presents” positioned his own tenor saxophone playing amid 28 brilliant improvisers from Baltimore and New York City, delivering 12 engaging improvised concerts full of depth, nuance, sensitivity, and imagination. These ensembles ranged in instrumentation from classic jazz quartets to lush chamber ensembles, demonstrating the unifying power of improvisation.

While his creative output is widely variable by design, Michaels currently leads two primary Baltimore-based ensembles: “The Great Unfolding” (Derrick Michaels-tenor saxophone, John Dierker-reeds, Chris Pumphrey-piano, Mike Kuhl-drums) and “Born From Silence” (Derrick Michaels-tenor saxophone, John Dierker-bass clarinet, Zack Branch-cello, Derek Wiegmann-bass). Each group exploits a rich concurrence of spontaneous creative input from each member of the ensemble.

As a co-leader, Michaels is a member of Odd Man Out (with Dave Ballou, Michael Formanek, and Mike Kuhl), Trio Xolo (577 Records), Michaels-Weber-Kuhl, and Talking Points.

As a side-person, his saxophone playing has been a part of the Out of Your Head Collective, Phil Cunneff New Trio, Chris Pumphrey Sextet and “Music For Quiet Spaces”, Ben Frock’s “Love Unit Orchestra”, Theljon Allen’s Universal Language, Colin Renick’s “Kinetic Renick”, Station North Jazz Orchestra, Charm City Brass Band, Jazz Lunch, Baltimore Boom Bap Society, and more.

Over the years, many important musical relationships have developed with the likes of Ellery Eskelin, Susan Alcorn, Michael Formanek, Dave Ballou, John Dierker, Tony Martucci, Eric Kennedy, Zach Swanson, Mike Kuhl, Savino Palumbo, Jon Seligman, Theljon Allen, Alex Weber, Jeff Reed, Phil Cunneff, Ben Frock, Chris Pumphrey, and a growing list of respected names within the broader community.

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