The Elks Lodge on Sunset is an imposing house perched on a hill overlooking the northern entrance to the city. Built as a private home over a century ago, it has since 1944 been the home of the Ann Arbor chapter of the Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World. The “black Elks” provide charitable services to the community, but they also utilize their imposing mansion for fraternal socializing with a soul food kitchen, dances, and musical performances throughout the week. One Friday regular is tenor saxophonist Tim Haldeman, who fills the downstairs rooms when he plays there with classic modern jazz in the company of a rotating assortment of bassists and drummers.
In person Haldeman seems playfully reserved, but from the moment he takes up his horn the extrovert takes over. The first thing you feel is the power of his sound; the low-ceilinged room reverberates with the rich, round presence of the tenor saxophone. The piano-less trio format immediately recalls vintage Sonny Rollins–who, Haldeman readily admits, is the master who inspires him. From Rollins he learned the value of constantly shifting the articulation of musical lines, the importance of repeating melodic elements in an ever-changing manner, and the significance of a strong rhythmic drive. His broad sound often has a lovely singsong quality at the top, which recalls a less well known but equally noteworthy sax player: Clifford Jordan, another acknowledged Haldeman favorite. But Haldeman has developed a strong style all his own, informed by a prodigious instrumental technique, a rich sense of melodic development, and a deep knowledge of modern harmony. He also seems to have a seemingly endless knowledge of modern jazz repertoire, moving from one tune to another without hesitation. At the Elks he sticks to the better-known tunes often associated with Rollins, and one recent night he notched up the excitement in a classic two-tenor engagement with his friend, the impressive Dave Sayers.
Haldeman grew up in Ann Arbor and received his early musical training at Community High, learning jazz from Mike Grace. He then moved to Chicago, where he graduated from the Chicago College of Performing Arts and was involved with some of the more adventurous members of the local jazz scene there. His ability to play in any context while retaining an indefinable personal style has served him well. The Chicago “avant” scene is characterized by a sense of experimentation and adventure that is rooted in a respect for tradition, with particular attention to local musical history. Among the many groups that Haldeman participated in during his Chicago sojourn was Mike Reed’s People, Places and Things, which takes a contemporary look at the Windy City jazz and blues tradition, reinterpreting compositions from the 1950s and 1960s, as well as Reed originals. Now that Haldeman is back in Ann Arbor, he mostly sticks to more traditional fare; it would be good to hear his more adventurous side every now and then.
Tim Haldeman returns to the Elks Lodge with a trio on Friday, January 3, and he’s at Rush Street as a member of Legendary Wings on the other Fridays and all the Sundays in January.