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Mike Lee

Wednesday, November 8, at Nighttown.

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Mike Lee
  • Mike Lee

The story is a familiar one -- local kid takes up the tenor saxophone, moves to New York, and toughens his chops with a big band. He eventually moves on to a bigger orchestra, takes sideman gigs with players deep inside the mainstream and others living on the fringe, and finally records as a leader. This may read like a Joe Lovano bio, but the tenor in question here is Mike Lee -- a jazzman who, like Lovano, grew up in Cleveland, still has family here, and loves coming back to perform. Not a burly texture player like Lovano, Lee plays with a light, nearly vibratoless tone. Lee's sound and his songs -- which range from the relaxed and lyrical to the almost politely angular -- get plenty of center-stage time on his forthcoming album, My Backyard. Outside of Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust" and Charlie Parker's "Relaxin' at Camarillo," Lee fills Backyard with originals inspired by his own life, including the bluesy "Message From Home," a track about being on tour and missing his son, and "Sidewalk Seven," a song about growing up in Cleveland. Lee also invites his wife, violinist Rebecca Harris-Lee, to play on a few tunes, which not only gives Lee's front line a refreshingly different sound, but also makes the recording a family affair in practice as well as inspiration. Look for Lee's folks in the audience when he swings into Cleveland -- he'll be fronting a local rhythm section and playing his new Backyard tunes.

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