Work samples

  • Derrick Michaels Quartet (Excerpt 1)
    Derrick Michaels-tenor saxophone Dave Ballou-trumpet Savino Palumbo-piano Tony Martucci-drums Freely improvised music is a pinnacle of the human creative spirit, as long as the musicians involved are devoted to dissolution into the magic of the moment.
  • Connelly/Michaels/Swanson/Martucci (March 2022)
    Here's a 3-min excerpt from Sunday March 13th with Erin Connelly, Zach Swanson, and Tony Martucci. This intimate freely improvised music flowed effortlessly -- sometimes simmering, other times boiling over -- all part of the magic. Here we flirt with tonality and swing while challenging the divisive notion that free jazz must always flout tenderness and beauty.
  • "Devotion" from Solo Saxophone Vol. 1 Live at An Die Musik
    One of nine unaccompanied solo saxophone pieces from my debut solo recording.

About Derrick

Baltimore City

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… more

Trio Xolo

"In Flower, In Song" is the debut album from Trio Xolo, an improvising group composed of Mexican-American bassist Zachary Swanson, Baltimore-based saxophonist Derrick Michaels, and Lithuanian percussionist Dalius Naujo. With a telepathic ear toward musical interplay, Trio Xolo performs free-flowing stream of consciousness improvisations. The result is true, in the moment composition. The trio moves together dynamically as their voices simultaneously overlap and converge into one. In Flower, In Song was recorded live in one room and unveils a warm, organic sound: Swanson's distinctive use of gut strings produce a dark, woody tone, Michaels draws robust color from a vintage saxophone, and Naujo expresses a nuanced control of energy and dynamics. Through explorations of melody, atmosphere, and texture, they can either embrace or dispel the traditional hierarchy of the trio format. At its core, Trio Xolo creates music that seeks to capture the essence of the moment through deep listening.

  • Album Cover In Flower in Song 577 Records
    Album Cover In Flower in Song 577 Records
  • Trio Xolo photographed by Efrain Ribeiro
    Trio Xolo photographed by Efrain Ribeiro
  • Trio Xolo Live at Nublu NYC
  • Obsidian Eucalyptus
  • A Mobius Strip
  • In Ruins
  • Texcoco

Derrick Michaels Quartet

Freely improvised music is a pinnacle of the human creative spirit, as long as the musicians involved are devoted to dissolution into the magic of the moment.

Derrick Michaels-tenor saxophone
Dave Ballou-trumpet
Savino Palumbo-piano
Tony Martucci-drums

  • Derrick Michaels Quartet (Excerpt 1)
    Derrick Michaels-tenor saxophone Dave Ballou-trumpet Savino Palumbo-piano Tony Martucci-drums Freely improvised music is a pinnacle of the human creative spirit, as long as the musicians involved are devoted to dissolution into the magic of the moment.
  • Derrick Michaels Quartet
    Extended clip featuring: Derrick Michaels-tenor saxophone Dave Ballou-trumpet Savino Palumbo-piano Tony Martucci-drums

Solo Saxophone

“This recording is my declaration of boundless love for the resonance and visceral beauty of the saxophone. The music documented here was performed live on October 26th, 2021, and is presented without edits or corrections of any kind.

These pieces were all improvised from scratch, exploiting a natural process of creative flow wherein the music seemed to play itself while I maintained my requisite suppleness of body and emptiness of mind. Employing a kaleidoscopic range of timbres, textures, melodies, and gestures, I expressed joy and gratitude for the intimate connections I had been developing with my nearly 100-year-old instruments.

In this state of flow, a natural balance unfolded, reconciling darkness and lightness, joy and melancholy, cacophony and silence. In tandem with the audience, I listened and reacted as the music appeared to dance and tussle between episodes of contemplative melodic probing and mercurial emotional turbulence. We always landed safe and sound — a phenomenon as reliable as the sunrise, which has never ceased to thrill and amaze me as both a performer and a listener.

In the mixing process, I favored the intimacy of my personal relationship with the sound as heard on stage, from behind the saxophone. My goal was to bring the listener on stage with me to hear each note and phrase as I heard it in the moment of conception. Beyond hearing the sounds, I wanted you to feel the horn vibrating in your body.

A vitality permeated this recording session which I owed to the presence of a live audience. This essential human exchange played an integral role in the genesis of the music, and I am deeply grateful to the friends and colleagues who brought their keen ears and open minds to the occasion. Thank you for amplifying the human element in this recording.

The listener will also notice ambient sounds on the recording that introduce the busy city streets of Baltimore into the sonic tapestry. I encourage you to welcome these sounds into the music. They contributed their own unmistakable energy to the arc of each piece, and added a sense of dimension that broadened the scope of this recording in a manner I could never have anticipated.

Thank you for listening, and I hope this music brings you peace and happiness, as it does for me.”

-Derrick Michaels (August 2022)


“The greatest challenge for any musician is to play solo. There's no one else to support you, or hide behind. You can't take a break, or coast. You hear who an artist is, what they have to offer, and their will, when they play solo. Lester Bowie used to say you can hear every second of every minute of every hour a musician has practiced when they play a ballad. The same holds true playing by yourself. That's why very few attempt it, and even fewer thrive in that context.

Please listen to my friend Derrick Michaels' new record. You’ll enjoy the journey.”
-Drummer Steve Olson

“Great record! Highly recommended!!!! I’ve been enjoying this recording for weeks now.”
- Drummer Tony Martucci

“It’s a thoroughly beautiful record. Intimate, warm, adventurous.”
- Saxophonist Nathan Hanson

“The sound is glorious Derrick. And the soprano track is superb.”
-Saxophonist Julien Wilson

“I LOVE your new solo release, it's gorgeous.”
-Saxophonist Catherine Sikora

  • Arcana
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  • "Devotion" from Solo Saxophone Vol. 1 Live at An Die Musik
    One of nine unaccompanied solo saxophone pieces from my debut solo recording.

The Great Unfolding

This quartet of venerable improvisers create spontaneous music that is at once intimate, synergistic, and expansive. Their extemporaneous compositions integrate lush chamber music meditations with blistering free jazz explosions. These forays into the unknown ebb and flow, push and pull, soar and plunge -- thriving within a cohesive, lush ensemble sound. 

Such a wide range of spontaneous musical expression tends to flow effortlessly within any group of musicians who deeply trust one another as human beings. The bonds between each member of this ensemble have been cultivated over many years and many performances, in a myriad of musical settings. We've all played together in so many various bands through the years that our own music seems to play ITSELF in this group, and has ever since the very first gig.

Effortless flow. True joy. Unfiltered humanity.

That is the meaning of the name "The Great Unfolding". This music plays itself through us, while we simply watch it happen! We are thus able to attain maximal musical results by exerting minimum effort. The process for us is to merely stay out of the way while the music happens. This a great discipline in and of itself.


Derrick Michaels-tenor saxophone John Dierker-bass clarinet/tenor saxophone
Chris Pumphrey-piano
Mike Kuhl-drums
  • unfolding.jpg
    "The Great Unfolding" final pre-pandemic performance, March 11th 2020 (photographed by Efrain Ribeiro)
  • The Great Unfolding (Live at An Die Musik) March 11th 2020
    Derrick Michaels-tenor saxophone John Dierker-bass clarinet/tenor saxophone Chris Pumphrey-piano Mike Kuhl-drums This video recording took place on March 11th 2020, at An Die Musik in Baltimore. It was my very last performance before the coronavirus pandemic struck on the East Coast. The energy from this performance was so deeply cathartic that I can still feel this music resonating within my mind and my heart today, over ten months later. It's such a complete musical statement which expressed itself through the four of us without any effort. It's as if the final moments of our collective pre-pandemic life were expressing themselves through this music -- representing the final echoes of the "Before Times" that preceded the "Great Pause". All of us knew, before we walked on stage, that this would be the last time any of us would perform for quite a long time. Our pep talk before taking the stage was : "...We had better make this one count!"
  • The Great Unfolding @ An Die Musik
    Live at An Die Musik, August 2021 This performance was our reunion, 17 months after our performance in March 2020 that coincided with the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • greatunfolding2021.jpg
    Efrain Ribeiro Photography
  • The Great Unfolding @ Bertha's
    The Great Unfolding @ Bertha's
    The Great Unfolding's first performance at Bertha's in 2018

Free Improvisations

A smattering of recorded freely improvised performances in which no compositional choices are predetermined. This music is composed spontaneously, unfolding in the here and now. The results are often as surprising and spellbinding for the musicians as they are for the audience in attendance.

This approach to music-making is not a "genre" of music, but rather a process of creating music in the moment of conception. The instantaneous translation of a physical impulse into a sound, and the subconscious variation and development of themes, fragments, motifs, forms, textures, and various sonic ephemera that arise. To make music in this way demands the musician to be wholeheartedly committed to the practice of the musical fundamentals, but it also demands that the musician remain completely open to whatever is happening on stage, serving the moment in an honest expression of what IS -- totally responsive and receptive. This is true whether a musician is performing a solo set or with a full ensemble. 

Musicians who devote themselves to this practice learn deep lessons about the virtues of egalitarian creativity, leaving as much space open in one moment as they might fill with notes and textures in another, thus allowing the music to balance itself across the ensemble.

  • Marrow Quartet excerpt - 3/18/21
    An improvised excerpt with Erin Connelly-trumpet, Alex Weber-bass, Dominic Smith-drums
  • Derrick Michaels Quartet "The Eagle Flies"
    This quartet recording (featuring myself on tenor saxophone alongside Savino Palumbo-piano, Zach Swanson-bass, and Dominic Smith-drums) showcases an ensemble-oriented approach to improvisation. The soft and vulnerable approach to saxophone tone is showcased front and center, within an elastic ensemble of sensitive improvisers. The listener is given ample space to witness a slowly unfolding musical story, which opens itself delicately, like a flower in the morning sunlight.
  • Michaels, Ballou, Formanek, Kuhl @ An Die Musik June 2019
    Derrick Michaels-tenor saxophone Dave Ballou-trumpet Michael Formanek-bass Mike Kuhl-drums
    Celestial Expansions and Terrestrial Contractions with this powerful quartet @ Zissimo's in Hampden February 2019 with Derrick Michaels-tenor saxophone, John Dierker-reeds, Jon Lipscomb-guitar, Mike Kuhl-drums
  • The Band That Shall Remain Nameless
    A unique improvising chamber ensemble, predating my obsession with this particular drummer-less approach. Michael Formanek-bass, Derrick Michaels-tenor saxophone, Jarrett Gilgore-alto saxophone, John Dierker-tenor saxophone.
  • Zach Swanson/Derrick Michaels/Tom Swafford/Dalius Naujokaitis-Naujo @ the bushwick series 11/5/18
    Free improvisation at Bushwick Public House in Brooklyn, NY 2018 with Derrick Michaels-tenor saxophone, Zach Swanson-bass, Tom Swafford-violin, Dalius Naujo-drums. These are three of the most intense and expressive musicians I've met in my lifetime. This was our first time playing together as a quartet.

"Posture of Possibility" Concert Series (Creating Space for Creative Contribution)

A monthy concert series presented at An Die Musik in Baltimore, MD - beginning January 2020

“Derrick Michaels is an outstanding musician, with a beautiful concept of sharing this music with so many people to bring us together, and to make us appreciate what we all have within.” - Robert Shahid, host “Masterclass” WEAA

This series offers an innovative "next step" program for young adult musicians, effectively helping these burgeoning creative individuals to embody their leadership potential by cultivating a space in which their contributions may flourish. The necessary elements of successful presentation are demonstrated and the programming process is supervised along the way. 

The vision is to embrace and fortify the creative community while affirming and nurturing the exceptionally personal nature of the creative process for the individual. 

Each concert features one vital Baltimore-based composer/improviser under age 30. Following a brief solo performance, the featured musician is showcased within two contrasting groups -- each performing cutting-edge, spontaneously composed music, free from idiomatic restrictions.

These concerts are self-promoted through a holistic program of graphic fliers, promotional videos, targeted email outreach, and word of mouth. Video recordings of each concert are edited and archived in order to document the vital work being done in this pivotal concert series. I organize, oversee, emcee, promote, perform, and create flyers and videos for each one of these concerts, which are presented in partnership with An Die Musik.

Mission Statement:

Posture of Possibility is a wholehearted endeavor to unite dedicated young creative musicians with an equally dedicated audience in the open and accepting atmosphere of An Die Musik. I have selected 12 young musical leaders under the age of 30 to lead adventurous performances in Baltimore’s premier listening room — putting full trust in improvisation as a potent unifying force across musical boundaries. The intention is to deliver music of substance, embracing the community while affirming and nurturing the exceptionally personal nature of the creative process for the improvising musician. For many of these musicians, this is their first time presenting a concert in this manner, and my work is to cultivate a space in which each of their creative contributions may flourish.

This series was inspired by the impetus for an article I wrote for the Baltimore Jazz Alliance Newsletter under the same name in 2018.


“Focusing our discussion about music on the present moment redirects attention to the creative process, circumventing the tired debates about “tradition” vs. “innovation” — “conservatism” vs. “progressivism.” I am going on record here and now to say that tradition and innovation are both utterly meaningless if the music lacks vitality, depth, emotion, dimension, and PRESENCE. The quality of our attention and delivery in the moment enlivens all music with a timeless quality that transcends genre. Let’s communicate something meaningful!

Free improvisation is therefore not a style of music, but a posture of possibility — a sonic invocation, exalting the present moment through the communal experience of creative flow. This music is about purity of sound, flow, trust, spirit, and the celebration of our humanity — HERE AND NOW. Surrendering into such a creative trust fall requires deep attention and the willingness to take risks, from performer and listener, alike.”

2020 Schedule:

JANUARY 19th | Liam Hurlbut saxophone  

FEBRUARY 16th | Asher Herzog drums  

MARCH 8th | Erin Connelly trumpet  

**As of March 14th, the COVID-19 pandemic has put the remainder of this series on pause for an indefinite period of time. We plan to reschedule these remaining nine artists for live, in-person dates whenever it is deemed safe to present live music again by public health officials.**

The following are the postponed dates associated with the Posture of Possibility series:

APRIL 19th | Tim Houston - guitar  

MAY 3rd | David Diongue - saxophone 

 JUNE 14th | Andrew Young - drums 

JULY 26th | John Jeffries - guitar 

AUGUST 16th | Jake Fidler - trumpet 

  SEPTEMBER 20th | Zach Mckinney - saxophone

 OCTOBER 18th | Rachel Winder - saxophone 

NOVEMBER 15th | Walsh Kunkel - guitar  

 DECEMBER 13th | Derek Wiegmann - bass

  • Derrick Michaels Presents "Posture of Possibility" feat. Liam Hurlbut (January 2020)
    Derrick Michaels Presents: "Posture of Possibility” Featuring Liam Hurlbut January 19th 2020 An Die Musik Baltimore, MD Derrick Michaels-tenor saxophone Liam Hurlbut-tenor saxophone John Dierker-clarinets Zack Branch-cello Derek Wiegmann-bass This music is freely improvised.
  • Derrick Michaels Presents "Posture of Possibility" feat. Asher Herzog (February 2020)
    Derrick Michaels Presents: “Posture of Possibility” Featuring Asher Herzog February 16th 2020 An Die Musik Baltimore, MD Derrick Michaels-tenor saxophone Savino Palumbo-piano Asher Herzog-drums This music is freely improvised.
  • Derrick Michaels Presents "Posture of Possibility" featuring Erin Connelly (March 2020)
    Derrick Michaels Presents: “Posture of Possibility” Featuring Erin Connelly March 8th 2020 An Die Musik Baltimore, MD Derrick Michaels-tenor saxophone Erin Connelly-trumpet Alex Weber-bass Dominic Smith-drums This music is freely improvised.
  • Featuring David Diongue
    Featuring David Diongue
    Posture of Possibility Featuring David Diongue
  • Featuring Andrew Young
    Featuring Andrew Young
    Posture of Possibility featuring Andrew Young
  • Featuring Rachel Winder
    Featuring Rachel Winder
    Posture of Possibility featuring Rachel Winder
  • Posture of Possibility feat. Erin Connelly
    Posture of Possibility feat. Erin Connelly
    Erin Connelly-trumpet Derrick Michaels-tenor saxophone Alex Weber-bass Dominic Smith-drums (Efrain Ribeiro Photography)
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    "Posture of Possibility" feat. Asher Herzog-drums, Derrick Michaels-saxophone, Savino Palumbo-piano, Efrain Ribeiro Photography
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    Posture of Possibility Lineup

"Derrick Michaels Presents" Concert Series (2019)

Monthly concert series featuring spontaneously composed music in Baltimore's premier listening room for jazz and classical music, An Die Musik. 

In 2019, I made a commitment that transformed my music irrevocably: I chose to dedicate the year’s work to programming concert events, refusing to lead a band on ANY gig where the music was incidental to a social function. 

The vision was to elevate and intensify the community-oriented presentation of purely improvised music, bringing this often "underground" music into focus as the main attraction in an intimate acoustic listening space. 

What resulted were 20 concerts I produced, 12 of which constituted this engaging monthly concert series at An Die Musik in Baltimore. This series was my public declaration of a new direction in my music and my engagement with the community. Each performance taught me more about the inner workings of the music, the inner workings of the saxophone, the delicate yet powerful connection between players on stage, and the even more delicate yet equally vital connection with the audience...

There were major takeaways that will inform the music I make for years to come. I was able to make music with peers and heroes, and learn from the music as it unfolded in real time.

Half of these performances featured instrumentation that strayed from the jazz tradition altogether. This instigated a major shift in my musical voice, allowing me to develop a wider expressive palette that evokes both the jazz and classical traditions of the saxophone’s sound characteristics, all in an effort to express the full character of my musical potential within any musical context.

Mission Statement:
"The wholehearted expression of music has the potential to uplift the spirit and heal our hearts. These 12 concerts are representative of a creative continuum which is designed to challenge convention & elude classification. I’ve stationed my tenor saxophone at the axis of a distinctive array of ensembles, putting full trust in improvisation as a potent unifying force across musical boundaries. The mission is to deliver music of substance - embracing the community, while affirming the exceptionally personal nature of creative process for the improvising musician."



My intention is to elevate the vibration of human consciousness with my music, one concert at a time.

It brings me joy to nurture the bond between performer, audience, and atmosphere, fostering an energy that supports our music in healing the heart and uplifting the spirit.

We create along the razor’s edge, where creator and observer are functionally one and the same, thus uniting the musicians and the audience in collective service of the moment.


Featured Musicians

Ellery Eskelin tenor saxophone, Susan Alcorn pedal steel guitar, John Dierker reeds, Michael Formanek bass, Dave Ballou trumpet, Tom Swafford violin, Zach Swanson bass, Derek Wiegmann bass, Savino Palumbo piano, Alex Weber bass, Dominic Smith drums, Dalius Naujo drums, Theljon Allen trumpet, Eric Kennedy drums, Sarah Hughes winds, Zack Branch cello,  Mike Kuhl drums, Jaron Lamar Davis drums, Chris Pumphrey piano/saxophone, Erin Connelly trumpet, Nicole Connelly trombone, Andrew Hadro baritone saxophone, Jacqueline Pollauf harp, Brent Madsen trumpet, Jamal Moore reeds, Jeff Reed bass, Laura Banner cello

  • Derrick Michaels Presents: January 2019 An Die Musik (set 1)
  • Michaels, Ballou, Formanek, Kuhl @ An Die Musik June 2019
    Derrick Michaels-tenor saxophone Dave Ballou-trumpet Michael Formanek-bass Mike Kuhl-drums
  • Derrick Michaels Presents: "Daring Greatly" 10-16-2019
    Derrick Michaels-tenor saxophone Jacqueline Pollauf-harp Brent Madsen-trumpet Zachary Swanson-bass “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” - Brene Brown On Oct 16th 2019, I assembled a unique improvising "chamber" group featuring three friends of mine who are masters of their instruments. I named the ensemble "Daring Greatly" in honor of the groundbreaking book by Brene Brown. This was a part of a 12-month concert series I was running, and I wanted to bring together a group that would give me no place to hide and might force me to grapple with tendencies in my playing that were feeling problematic. The performance did not disappoint in this area.
  • Derrick Michaels Presents: Family Bonding
    DERRICK MICHAELS-TENOR SAXOPHONE ERIN CONNELLY-TRUMPET ANDREW HADRO-BARITONE SAXOPHONE NICOLE CONNELLY-TROMBONE Two twins and their saxophone playing boyfriends walk into a concert hall... This is not your average family gathering. This concert was the first time the four of us all played together. The musical strategy here was to improvise our way through some collective interpretations of my own prescriptive titles for pieces: "Chorale", "Minimal Isms", "Duets",etc. The written music was simply a title written on a piece of paper with no musical notation whatsoever. Enjoy! September 18th @ An Die Musik in Baltimore Maryland. Presented as one of 12 concerts in a monthly series dedicated to improvised music.
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    Blood Moon Quintet: (L-R) Susan Alcorn, Derrick Michaels, Theljon Allen, Ellery Eskelin, Eric Kennedy (Efrain Ribeiro Photography)
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    Sui Generis: (L-R) Derrick Michaels, Jeff Reed, Eric Kennedy, Jamal Moore (Efrain Ribeiro Photography)
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    Pale Blue Dot: (L-R) Derrick Michaels, Laura Banner, Derek Wiegmann, John Dierker (Efrain Ribeiro Photography)
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    (L-R) Dave Ballou, Derrick Michaels, Michael Formanek (Efrain Ribeiro Photography)
  • familybonding.jpg
    Family Bonding: (L-R) Erin Connelly, Derrick Michaels, Andrew Hadro, Nicole Connelly (Efrain Ribeiro Photography)
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    Daring Greatly (L-R) Jacqueline Pollauf, Derrick Michaels, Zach Swanson, Brent Madsen (Efrain Ribeiro Photography)

"Born From Silence"

"Every sound is born out of silence, dies back into silence, and during its life span is surrounded by silence." - Eckhart Tolle

In 2018, I embarked on a new and important chapter of my sonic journey, placing my tenor saxophone amid a variety of lush chamber ensembles, wrapping my own sound within a thick duvet of woody tones that can only emenate from reeds and strings. The role of the tenor saxophone in commercial contexts is almost exclusively that of "soloist", with a tone that is strident, cutting, and always front-and-center. Within my acoustic chamber ensembles, my goal is to eschew this strident and cutting soloist role, developing a new approach to sound and texture that allow me to blend into the fabric of the sounds on stage, expanding the role of the improvising tenor saxophonist beyond that of the "jazz soloist".

"Born From Silence" is my first and longest-enduring of these ensembles. Our first musical encounter happened on an early morning in February 2018, recording a handful of improvisations in Griswold Hall at Peabody Conservatory with recording engineer Anthony Staiti. The selections I have included here are from that first recording session. Every performance that followed that first encounter has revealed a steady evolution in the intimate chemistry and collective vocabulary of this ensemble. A new recording will be released in 2021.

Derrick Michaels: Saxophone
John Dierker: Bass Clarinet
Zack Branch: Cello
Derek Wiegmann: Bass
  • Born From Silence
    Born From Silence
    Born From Silence (L-R) Derek Wiegmann, Derrick Michaels, John Dierker, Zack Branch (Efrain Ribeiro Photography)
  • Born From Silence @ Music Tellers Series
    Born From Silence @ "Music Tellers" Series
    Born From Silence: (L-R) Derrick Michaels, Derek Wiegmann, John Dierker, Zack Branch
  • Born From Silence @ The Undercroft
    Born From Silence @ The Undercroft
    Born From Silence: (L-R) Derek Wiegmann, Derrick michaels, Zack Branch, John Dierker (Efrain Ribeiro Photography)
  • Here Goes Nothin'
    An animated improvisational musical discussion between Derrick Michaels-tenor saxophone, Zack Branch-cello, John Dierker-bass clarinet, Derek Wiegmann-bass
  • Just The Two of Ya's
    Duo improvisation featuring Derrick Michaels-tenor saxophone, Zack Branch-cello
  • Polar Vortex
    Glacial Chamber Improvisation featuring Derrick Michaels-tenor saxophone, Zack Branch-cello, John Dierker-bass clarinet, Derek Wiegmann-bass. Recorded at Griswold Hall, Peabody Conservatory.