Carter was born in Detroit, Michigan and learned to play there before moving to New York City. He has been prominent as a performer and recording artist on the jazz scene since the mid-1990s, playing saxophones, flute, and bass clarinet. As a young man, he attended Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp and was a member of the group, Bird-Trane-Sco-Now. On his album, Chasin' the Gypsy (2000), he recorded with his cousin Regina Carter, a jazz violinist. Carter has won the critics' choice award for baritone saxophone three years in a row from Down Beat magazine. He has played on albums with Cyrus Chestnut, Wynton Marsalis and the Mingus Big Band.