Jazz saxophonist Dexter Tolson, standing, and his band, from left, bassist Roland Beard, drummer Bobby Henderson and pianist Tony Carter, will play a concert featuring a variety of musical styles, including straight-ahead jazz, smooth jazz, rhythm and blues, funk and gospel, on Aug. 9 in Conyers. (Special Photo)
A concert featuring Dexter Tolson and friends comes complete with an implied guarantee and a piece of sartorial advice.
“We play a little bit of everything — we play it all, so everybody in the audience will hear something they like,” Tolson said. “And be sure to wear comfortable shoes because you’ll be tapping your toes all night.”
Tolson, who plays alto, tenor and soprano saxophones, and his band — pianist Tony Carter, drummer Bobby Henderson and bassist Roland Beard — will perform at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 9 in the black box Theatre on Center Street in Olde Town Conyers as part of the Conyers-Rockdale Council for the Arts’ summer series. The concert will serve as Tolson’s Rockdale County debut.
As advertised, the quartet does play in a wide range of styles, including what Tolson called straight-ahead jazz, smooth jazz, rhythm and blues, funk and gospel. The band draws from the standards canon with pieces written by icons like Miles Davis and Grover Washington Jr., and has a host of original tunes as well.
“I listen to just about everything — from Coltrane and Charlie Haden to David Sanborn and Jonathan Butler to Ambrosia and REO Speedwagon,” said Tolson, a Baltimore native who has lived in the Atlanta area for nearly 15 years, in explaining his influences.
Although he grew up learning the piano, guitar, drums and flute, Tolson said he “landed on the saxophone” while stationed in Germany during his 20-year Army career.
“I was listening to a lot of Grover Washington and David Sanborn,” he said. “I listened to a lot of stuff and thought I could do it, too. So I bought a sax and a book and started teaching myself.”
Stints in Savannah led him to Ben Tucker (who died last summer in an automobile accident), whose performance collaborators include Mel Torme and Herbie Mann, and he studied the jazz legend closely to learn more about the art.
And one day, after only a year of learning, Tolson — whose band has a regular engagement at Calabar and Grill in Stone Mountain but plays throughout the Atlanta area — was invited to the bandstand. And he found his spot.
“Somebody asked me to play and I was wondering if they were asking the right guy,” Tolson quipped. “I sat in with his band and got hired. That’s how I got my start. Then I went overseas to Korea and played with two jazz bands there, then I went to Texas and joined a blues band down there.”
After his retirement from the Army and his move to Hampton, Tolson and Eldwin Boyd put the band together. Beard and Henderson have played with Tolson since 2005 and Carter joined the band five years ago.
“It’s good when you can play with the same guys as much as possible,” he said. “We play together all the time and we also play with other guys throughout the city. But we’re together all the time.”
Last year, Tolson released an album entitled “Peace of Mind,” and he’s recently issued two new songs to iTunes, one of which, “Children at Heart,” describes the band and could be the name of his next album.
“All we do is laugh and joke,” he said. “That’s just the way we are — children at heart.”
Most of Tolson’s recordings have been solo work with programmed accompaniment or tunes with pianist Williams Green, and he said he hopes to get his band in the studio soon.
“We’ve talked about doing a collaborative project but scheduling is crazy,” he said. “We all live and work in different parts of Atlanta, so it’s a challenge. But we really want to do it.”
For ticket information, visit www.conyersarts.org or call 770-922-3143.
Chris Starrs is a freelance writer based in Athens. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.