Derrick's artist profile
Baltimore-native Derrick Michaels is a saxophonist | composer | bandleader and an audacious force in the creative music community. As an instrumentalist, he boasts a sonorous tone, a rich expressive palette, and a propensity for dynamic improvised performances. As a bandleader, he invites a wide array of brilliant musicians into the creative fold, engaging with an expressive continuum that spans the history of written and improvised music. With deep roots in straight-ahead jazz, along with decades of experience collaborating in indie-rock, pop, and other eclectic music scenes, his expressive gamut reflects a love for the universal expression of human nature through musical vibrations.
As a concert presenter and bandleader, Michaels often leads entirely improvised concerts, endeavoring to integrate the stalwart lyrical essence of jazz with the venturesome sonic whirlwind of 21st-century classical music.
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.
His 2020 series “Posture of Possibility” (which was temporarily interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic) is a showcase of 12 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.
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 Michaels-Ballou-Formanek-Kuhl, Trio Xolo, 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, Zach Swanson, Eric Kennedy, Mike Kuhl, 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.
As an independent creative-music teacher, Michaels favors process-oriented creative guidance for both improvisers and composers. This process nurtures the personal characteristics of each musician, revealing a sense of autonomy that will fuel their lifelong creative journeys. Rather than preserve the tried-and-true idiomatic devices that pervade institutional music education, Michaels works to emancipate the creative wellspring that flows within each student.