James Gates Releases New CD

James Gates

Saxophonist James Gates has just released a new cd called “Gates Wide Open.” Gates is a native Richmonder who has played with many jazz greats, including Walter Bishop, Jr. and Art Blakey. He currently runs the jazz program at Virginia State University but hasn’t let his performing career slide.

He’s playing a CD release party tonight (5/14) at Capitol Ale House, part of the Richmond Jazz Society’s Guest Educator Concert series.

I caught up with James Gates recently and he told some fascinating stories about his musical background. This interview was originally broadcast Monday night (5/13) on WCVE Public Radio.


Review: James "Saxsmo" Gates at the Capital Ale House (May 14) 

Nobody does what Gates does better than Gates. In front of a near-capacity crowd at the Capital Ale House (slightly delayed by the need to clear the room of a crowd still buzzing from the sold-out first set) he soars, preaches, rocks and reflects through a full-throttle 90-minute set drawn from his new CD “Gates Wide Open.”

The saxophonist establishes his mainstream jazz chops early on with a blazing version of Chick Corea’s “Spain,” but straightforward communication is more Gate’s thing than sophisticated harmonic acrobatics. As the set develops through funky workouts and lyrical interludes -- including a “I Cry Out for You” written for his late mother and played seated at stage edge, feet dangling like a little boy’s from a grown-up chair -- categorization seemed beside the point. As much James Brown as Charlie Parker, Gates pours heart and soul into his playing with such charismatic commitment that you can’t dislike his music without disliking him. And with his ready smile, boundless energy and joyful willingness to dive into the audience with his horn to embrace everyone in the creative process, disliking him is something he simply won’t let you do.

Gates’ rollicking attack is supported by a backing band doubled in almost every category: two percussionists, two pianists, two guitars, along with trumpet and bass. All were from Richmond, each gets their turn in the spotlight and each is celebrated by Gates as exemplars of local talent too often taken for granted. The same can be said of the just-a-bit-larger-than-life Gates.


When I grow up I'm going to play like this Cat! - Bill McGee

James Saxsmo Gates is one of my heros.... High Energy and intensity all the time... When I grow up I'm going to play like this CAT!... Now I hear from reliable sources that he has a new CD coming out called It's Time... and you know that's right... It's time for Gerald Albright, Walter Beasley, Kim Waters, Richard Elliot, Dave Koz, Boney James, and Kenny what's his name to get out of the way and let SAXSMO have the spolight for a while.... I hear Fred Wesley makes a guest appearence on the new CD with all the other 804 Jazz Allstars.... look out Jazz world Gates is BACK!
A superb collection. It carries the listener away. - Lorelei Brown
The combination of jazz and Latin rythms is intoxicating. I find it relaxing, sensual, and stimulating. I cannot stop listening!

James "Saxsmo" Gates is absolutely fantastic!! - Peter S. Burg

Versatile, High Energy, Lyrical, Fluid, Proficient, Virtuoso, pick a few they all fit. Listen to Gotta Move On, Friendship, Billy Bee, Perfect timing and Six Minutes. I rest my case. This brother is one of the best, it's just a matter of time... the world will know "SAXSMO"! Review - Scott O'Brien 
Get ready for some funk, some old school, a little Gospel, and some downright inspiring sax playing from a guy who was known for his high-stepping style and heart-stopping solos in the Virginia State Marching Band back in the day. I can assure you… he’s still delivering those heart-stopping solos. They’re all over IT’S TIME, James Saxsmo Gates’ third solo release. What’s with the name? Well, at VSU his classmates started calling him “Satchmo” after Louis Armstrong, because of how he practiced. Respecting the fact that there could only be one “Satchmo,” he suggested they change his nickname to “Saxsmo,” and that one’s stuck with him all these years. While there’s just not room here to run down James’ extensive resume, I’ll just mention that he’s a graduate of Berklee, has gigged with some of the best, and in addition to being a successful solo artist has been a music educator for many years. Now let’s get to the exuberant tunes on this project… the energetic: “It’s Time,” “Genesis” and “A Change Within;” the festive: “Sunset Bay;” the sweet: Luther’s hit “I’d Rather;” the inspirational: “I’ll Write a Song for You” and “I Know What God Has Done” featuring Robbie Cunningham; and the just plain fun, like “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” and “Sexophone.” Behind him is an exceptional group of musicians from the Virginia area, including the awesome Bill McGee on trumpet and Flugelhorn. James Saxsmo Gates’ IT’S TIME feels good. It reflects perfectly this man’s talent and soul. It’s definitely hot stuff!


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Photo Credit: Tyler Darden Photography