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25th Annual Chicago Jazz Festival

Official Schedule

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The Chicago Jazz Festival turns 25 this year, and to celebrate it's spending an evening at Symphony Center. For the first time, you'll have to buy a ticket to get into the opening-night event--a concert starring Branford Marsalis's quartet followed by an homage to Art Blakey featuring Marsalis and other Blakey alums. Though it's nice to see the programmers experiment a bit, and plenty of people over the years have advocated moving some fest performances indoors, this is hardly what anyone had in mind: Symphony Center's acoustics have always made jazz sound muddy, and the gain in intimacy is minimal. Meanwhile, there's one fewer night of free music in Grant Park, though the addition of afternoon sets on Friday makes up some of the difference.

The programming formula is much the same as in years past, a mix of straight-ahead heavies (Dave Holland, McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones), crowd-pleasing singers (Freddy Cole, Karrin Allyson), a few special events (the Blakey tribute, a main-stage jam session), and a slew of local artists. At long last Ken Vandermark, the dominant free-jazz musician and scene catalyst over the past ten years or so, has a gig on the main stage, and fittingly he's bringing a bunch of young players who represent the next wave of underground activity in the city; it's also nice to see drummer Ted Sirota's fine band Rebel Souls getting the nod. The afternoon program Sunday celebrates the 50th anniversary of Delmark Records with four acts from the venerable Chicago label's roster.

With the opening of Millennium Park next year, the complexion of the festival is likely to change; while the city hasn't yet announced specific plans, this may turn out to be the last Jazz Fest in the current format. This year, with the exception of Thursday's Bill Russo tribute and opening-night concert, the festival still takes place on three stages in Grant Park. Marquee performers play each night from Friday, August 29, through Sunday, August 31, at the Petrillo Music Shell at Columbus and Jackson. In the afternoons, smaller-scale sets take place at the Jazz on Jackson stage, on Jackson near Lake Shore Drive, and kid-oriented concerts and demonstrations go on at the Jazz & Heritage Family Stage, south of Jackson, near the Rose Garden. * = recommended.

See the online version of this guide at for updates to the festival schedule. PM



5 PM

* An Image of Man: A Tribute to Bill Russo

One of the most important figures in Chicago jazz, arranger and composer Bill Russo, died this year. A remarkable teacher and bandleader, Russo molded the Chicago Jazz Ensemble into a potent vehicle for his big-band music, though he was involved in more challenging forms of jazz as well. In the notes to the 1958 Lee Konitz LP on Verve containing Russo's "An Image of Man," which featured alto saxophonist Konitz with a guitarist and a string quartet, Russo wrote: "General discussion and criticism of this album will, I suspect, center about the jazz-classical dichotomy. This will be a mistake, for the music in this album should be viewed without the artificial aids of the fake social sciences: arbitrary but dogmatic Historical Comparison, Ethno-Sociology, National Culturalism, and pigeon-hole Categorization." Unfortunately, though the language may have changed over the years since, the notions he had so little patience for haven't really; the insistence on a distinction between jazz and classical music is integral to the current ideology of Jazz at Lincoln Center. This celebration of Russo as vanguardist will be led by the Argentine-born clarinetist and saxophonist Guillermo Gregorio, one of Chicago's most defiantly inventive musicians and one whose own work explodes the jazz-classical distinction. He'll play alto on "An Image," and he and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm will play stripped-down duo arrangements of some of Russo's big-band charts. An original composition by Gregorio, dedicated to Russo, will also be debuted. JC



Branford Marsalis Quartet

The Message Lives: A Tribute to Art Blakey featuring the Jazz Messenger Alumni All-Stars

Of course there can be no faulting any member of the second group on this illustrious bill: they're all stars--that's why they're called all-stars. But in jazz that's not necessarily a recipe for great music, as countless supergroups over the course of the last 50 years--at least since the days of Jazz at the Philharmonic--have proven. A mix-up like this one tends to devolve into a jam session: bare-bones arrangements, strings of solos on standard changes, plenty of individual heroics but little interesting group interaction. And that's not at all what dedicatee Art Blakey was about. For more than three decades he maintained a succession of working bands, all called the Jazz Messengers, as a testament to the power of playing together regularly, and the strongest of those groups turned out many of the key figures in hard bop, including those here tonight: trombonist Curtis Fuller and pianist Cedar Walton (both 60s Messengers alums), alto saxophonist Bobby Watson (a 70s Messenger), and saxophonist Branford Marsalis, trumpeter Terence Blanchard, and bassist Peter Washington (members in the 80s). Naturally, there's no former Messenger available to play drums, since that was Blakey's job; the fine trapsman Winard Harper is the brother of an alumnus, if that helps. Marsalis, who's been playing astonishingly well of late, also leads his quartet in the other half of this opening-night concert-hall gambit. His 2002 outing, Footsteps of Our Fathers (on Marsalis Music, the label he started after leaving Columbia), captures him at his current high level, though the idea of revisiting well-known suites by John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins isn't especially interesting or original. Tickets are $12-$60; call 312-294-3000. At press time the show had almost sold out. JC




* Ted Sirota's Rebel Souls

It's a shame Rebel Souls don't have a more prominent slot than this; they certainly deserve it. Sirota is one of the most highly regarded youngish drummers in Chicago, a crisp and lively player with a keen sense of dynamics; he's just back from a 15-date tour of Europe with his trio. Like his sometime comrade Jeff Parker, he's an active link between the straight-ahead camp (he's at the Green Mill every week as a member of the Sabertooth Organ Quartet) and the vanguard. With this group--guitarist Parker, tenor saxophonist Geof Bradfield, trombonist Jeb Bishop, and bassist Josh Abrams--Sirota embraces the postbop virtues of swing feel, architectural complexity, and free interplay while covering a spectrum of interests, at times recalling the adventurous 60s Blue Note records of Andrew Hill, Sam Rivers, and Grachan Moncur III. JC

1:05 PM

Dee Alexander

Vocalist Dee Alexander earns her keep doing R & B sessions (with R. Kelly, among others), television jingles, musical theater (she's a regular at the ETA Creative Arts Foundation), and smooth-jazz dates, but today she'll focus on her main interest: straight-up jazz singing. She has a warm, flexible voice and the control you'd expect from a session singer; less expected, maybe, is the variety of avant-garde vocal effects at her command. Alexander often performs in trumpeter Malachi Thompson's Freebop Band, and on his album Rising Daystar (Delmark, 1999) she ranges from buoyant lyricism to wildly evocative abstraction. She's supported by pianist Miguel de la Cerna, bassist Harrison Bankhead, and drummer Leon Joyce Jr. PM

2:10 PM

* Kalaparush & the Light

Tenor saxophonist Kalaparush Maurice McIntyre played with most of the city's greatest avant-gardists back in the 60s and 70s, including Muhal Richard Abrams and Anthony Braxton, in addition to making a handful of superb records as a leader. But he moved to New York in the mid-70s, where for many years he recorded only sporadically and did most of his gigging in the subway. He's become more active over the last decade, but local performances are still rare. For this one he'll appear with his newest group, the Light, a trio with drummer Ravish Momin and tuba player Jesse Dulman. As heard on South Eastern (CIMP), the format gives McIntyre's appealingly sour, full-bodied tenor plenty of space to work in: he'll pile up jagged notes in excited flurries or stretch out in long, limber, melodic but harmonically free postbop lines. The rhythm section rarely just settles in behind him: Momin ebbs and flows and then erupts in frenetic cymbal splashes, and Dulman alternates between bass lines and wonderfully unhinged low-end blubbering. PM

3:30 PM

Burgess Gardner Big Band

Trumpeter Burgess Gardner moved to Chicago from Mississippi in 1959 and was soon playing in two of the city's most storied house bands, the King Kolax Orchestra at the Tivoli Theater and Red Saunders's outfit at the Regal. He's spent much of the subsequent decades teaching music in Chicago public schools and at colleges around the country. But Gardner also continued to work in bands led by Ray Charles, Count Basie, Frank Foster, and Louie Bellson, among others, and these days he fronts his own jazz orchestra. The 18-piece group features some of Chicago's ablest mainstream players, including trumpeter Odies Williams, trombonist Sam Walton, and young-gun alto saxophonist Taku Akiyama. PM


12:30 PM

Swing Talk with Alan Gresik & the Swing Shift Orchestra

The swing revival of the late 90s has died down, but for pianist and bandleader Alan Gresik the music never went away in the first place. His band has held down a regular Thursday-night gig at the Green Mill for more than five years, playing the music of Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Bob Crosby, Tommy Dorsey, and other stars of the 30s and 40s with meticulous fidelity. It's obviously nostalgic stuff, but there's no shtick involved--this is the music Gresik loves, and there aren't too many local acts that can play it live just like they did back in the day. Kimberly Gordon, a frequent guest vocalist with the band, will be on hand today too. PM

1:45 PM

People's Jazz Theater Company: Aesop and the Fabulous Fable Sisters

This theater piece--incorporating African storytelling, Asian puppetry, poetry, and music--revamps the fables, adding a strong dose of bebop and hip-hop. The cast features numerous musicians, including the fine trumpeter Corey Wilkes as Aesop. PM

3 PM

The Art of Jazz Drumming with Winard Harper

This slot was to have featured a percussion performance by Famoudou Don Moye of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Instead Winard Harper--probably best known for his work with his brother Philip as the Harper Brothers in the late 80s and early 90s--will give a solo lecture-demonstration. Harper also plays opening night with the Jazz Messenger Alumni All-Stars (see Thursday's listing for Symphony Center). JC


5 PM

* Bradley Williams Trio with Sheila Jordan

If you've never heard Sheila Jordan's 1962 debut, Portrait of Sheila Jordan (Blue Note), do yourself a big favor: get a copy and listen to her uniquely haunting version of "Baltimore Oriole." Virtually nobody can do what Jordan does with melodic nuance. In front of a band or alone with bassist Harvey Swartz (one of her favorite settings), she's one of the most adventurous song stylists around, a persuasive improviser who was inspired originally by the bebop movement but has continued to challenge herself. (Her work with George Russell and Roswell Rudd, for instance, certainly doesn't adhere to bebop orthodoxy.) This is a nice chance for stalwart pianist and bandleader Bradley Williams to take a turn on the big stage; he'll back Jordan and present his own trio, which features Dan DeLorenzo on bass and Mike Schlick on drums. A very tasteful player with a wry sense of humor, Williams should be the perfect foil for Jordan's gentle intensity. JC

6 PM

* Roscoe Mitchell Big Band

A founding member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, saxophonist and composer Roscoe Mitchell is one of Chicago's most important innovators. Though he's been based in Wisconsin for decades, Mitchell still plays in town regularly, and he's the official artist in residence of this year's fest. Throughout his career he's experimented endlessly with different instrumental configurations (as on the percussion-dominated "The Maze") and sonic approaches, often placing emphasis on pure sound rather than melody or harmony. The big band is one format no one's heard him try anytime recently, but it's for damn sure that with Mitchell at the helm this won't sound like any of the other large ensembles playing the fest. He'll be premiering three new pieces, and as his recent albums have been rigorous distillations of a vast range of concepts taken from throughout his career, don't be surprised to hear anything from texture-rich long tones to funky riffing. At the core of this band are the members of Mitchell's superb septet (which performs Saturday), joined by a raft of local players, most of whom Mitchell has worked with during his visits here. The full lineup includes pianist Craig Taborn, reedists Mwata Bowden, Anders Svanoe, Rubin Cooper, and Ari Brown, bassists Jaribu Shahid and Harrison Bankhead, trumpeters Corey Wilkes, Pharez Whitted, and Maurice Brown, trombonists Steve Berry and Ray Thomas, drummers Tani Tabbal and Gerald Cleaver, and percussionist Vincent Davis. (As part of Mitchell's role as artist in residence, he'll lead this group in an open rehearsal at HotHouse Thursday afternoon at 1. Admission is free; see listings for more information.) PM

7:10 PM

Jammin' at the Petrillo: Chicago Style

The notion of holding a jam session on the big stage in Grant Park seems goofy to me--better to let that happen off-site at the after-hours joints--but if you like that sort of thing this one should be fun. Dedicated to the great Chicago radio personality Daddy-O Daylie, who died this year, this set assembles seven players from three generations. Jazz educator and alto saxophonist Bunky Green is a perennial fest favorite; he'll be joined by his old pal Ira Sullivan, a multi-instrumentalist who defies all rules of embouchure by playing trumpet and reeds and flute. The rhythm section teams the superb drummer Dana Hall with versatile and nutty bassist Harrison Bankhead, who's apt to sneak the odd Cream or Hendrix quote into his solos. Venerable pianist and vibesman Stu Katz will comp through the inevitable round of standards behind highly reputed New York-based tenor saxophonist Ron Blake (well-known through his work with Roy Hargrove) and trumpeter Maurice Brown, a former Chicago jam-session sensation who may well steal the show. JC

:30 PM

Dave Holland Big Band

With his fascinating and impressive musical resume--duets with guitarist Derek Bailey, key years with Miles Davis, 20-plus years leading his own five-piece--Dave Holland is hailed as one of the great bassists of contemporary jazz. With each new record by his beloved quintet, his cachet has grown exponentially greater, and, to these ears, his music has grown that much less engaging. Holland recently rearranged some of the quintet's tunes for a large ensemble, resulting in last year's acclaimed What Goes Around (ECM); but while it features an exceptionally smooth-running band and top-shelf soloists, the music itself really isn't exceptional--in fact, I'm sad to report, it's greatly overrated. Nevertheless, this main-attraction event will provide an opportunity to scope out some of the heavy talent in this 13-piece unit, including trombonists Robin Eubanks and Josh Roseman, tenor saxophonist Chris Potter, and baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan. JC




Chicago Latin Jazz All-Stars

This group gave its first performance earlier this year at the Jazz Institute of Chicago's Jazz Fair, and they were such a hit that they're back for another spin. Led by bassist Richard Pillot, who's worked with Tito Puente and Celia Cruz, these local players are at ease with both modern jazz and Afro-Caribbean forms. The roster includes trumpeters Mike McManus and Tito Carrillo, reedist Willie Garcia, pianist Benjamin Alvarez, drummer Luis Rosario, and percussionists Joe Rendon, Esuardo Merced, and Alejo Poveda. PM

1:15 PM

* Taku Akiyama Quintet

Having played in various big bands and in bassist Tatsu Aoki's ambitious projects, agile young saxophonist Taku Akiyama pursues his own adventurous postbop interests with this quintet, which features talked-about new guitarist Alejandro Urzagaste, tenor saxophonist Tim Haldeman, open-eared bassist Josh Abrams, and another phenom, Noritaka Tanaka, on drums. JC

2:30 PM

* Laurence Hobgood

As singer Kurt Elling's longtime musical director, pianist Laurence Hobgood hasn't had enough of the spotlight for the originality and depth of his talent to be appreciated. He gets to stretch out a bit in the trio Union with drummer Paul Wertico and bassist Brian Torff, but in this rare solo performance his magic should be on full display. On his superb solo album Left to My Own Devices (Naim, 2000) Hobgood delivers daring, personal readings of a diverse set of pop and jazz standards (as well as less obvious vehicles--an Appalachian folk tune, Hank Williams's "Lovesick Blues"). His version of Ellington's "Do Nothing 'Til You Hear From Me" is built on lovely, elegant harmonies and trimmed with melodic filigree, while his take on Monk's "Panonica" makes great use of silence and thoughtful rhythmic shifts--speeding up one passage, slowing down another. PM

3:20 PM

* Roscoe Mitchell Septet

Roscoe Mitchell (see Friday's listing for Petrillo Music Shell) works especially well with midsize groups like the seven-piece he'll lead here. The recent Song for My Sister (Pi)--recorded with the Note Factory, a slightly larger but similarly configured ensemble--shows the sweeping range of his interests, from off-kilter grooves to sparse percussion soundscapes. With a double rhythm section (two bassists, two drummers), promising young Chicago trumpeter Corey Wilkes, and ubiquitous pianist Craig Taborn, this group has the flexibility and the power to go wherever Mitchell wants to take it. At the fest three years ago the Note Factory played a blistering, bare-knuckles set that got a better audience reaction than feeble-hearted members of the programming committee might have expected; I look forward to seeing what Mitchell brings this time. JC


12:30 PM

Art of the Solo with Bunky Green

If you ever happen across one of alto saxophonist Bunky Green's Argo LPs from his Chicago years, grab it--they're full of tasty, tart little surprises. A key figure in jazz academia and onetime president of the International Association of Jazz Educators, Green was also a favorite on the Chicago soul-jazz scene in the 60s, and his idiosyncratic soloing style was an influence on various adventurous players, including Steve Coleman. This seminar should demonstrate Green's prowess as a teacher as well as a player. JC

1:45 PM

Muntu Dance Theater of Chicago

Since 1972 this local company has been a living archive for the cultures of ancient Africa. In its carefully researched dance-and-percussion performances Muntu explores the rhythms that are the earliest sources of jazz. PM

3 PM

A Tribute to Ameen Muhammad

AACM trumpeter Ameen Muhammad, who passed away this year, was a crowd-pleaser, as both a longtime member of the New Horizons Ensemble and a leader of projects like Chicago 3-D; his onstage persona, a combination of swaggering humor and fearsome technique, was clearly modeled on that of Lester Bowie but grew into something of his own. He spent a lot of time teaching music and telling stories to young kids--a few years ago he appeared on this stage performing his children's piece "When the Griot Sings"--so in this homage Mama Edie Armstrong will sing and tell stories drawn from the traditions of Africa and the Caribbean. PM


5 PM

Jane Bunnett & the Spirits of Havana

Ever since Dizzy Gillespie joined forces with percussionist Chano Pozo back in the late 40s it's been clear to jazz players that Cuban music has a lot to offer them. Syncopated clave rhythms and the cyclical structures of the son form make ideal starting points for jazz improvisation, and for years Cuban musicians--starting with Irakere, the legendary group led by pianist Chucho Valdes--have thrived on this extraordinary compatibility as well. Canadian saxophonist and flutist Jane Bunnett caught the bug back in the early 80s, and for more than a decade her collaborations with Cuban musicians have been the most important part of her work. I've always found Bunnett's soprano saxophone tone thin and watery and her solos a bit flat, but surrounded by their explosive rhythms she gets by. She's visited the island more than 50 times, and her newest album, Cuban Odyssey (Blue Note), was recorded with a stellar Cuban cast including guitarist Papi Oviedo, percussionist Tata Guines, and pianist Guillermo Rubalcaba (father of Gonzalo). Bunnett explores the all-percussion rumba grooves played by the great Los Munequitos de Matanzas, improvises over old-school son (a la the Buena Vista Social Club), and accompanies the haunting choral music of Grupo Vocal Descendann de Camaguey. Here she's joined by her trumpeter husband, Larry Cramer, and four fine Cuban players: pianist David Virelles, bassist Charles Flores, and percussionists/vocalists Francisco Mela and Jesus Diaz. PM

6 PM

* Ken Vandermark & the Crisis Ensemble

Few players have done more to invigorate jazz in Chicago over the last decade than reedist Ken Vandermark, so it's hard to believe that this performance will be his first on the Jazz Fest main stage. He's best known for his Vandermark 5 (which sounds reenergized on its recent Atavistic album, Airports for Light), but he's involved in countless projects with players from all over the U.S. and Europe; here he premieres his latest, the Crisis Ensemble. The 11-man lineup includes some of the newest up-and-comers in the city's improvised-music scene, like alto saxophonist Aram Shelton and bassist Brian Dibblee, as well as one of its most seasoned veterans, former Sun Ra drummer Robert Barry. The group is named after the 1969 Ornette Coleman album Crisis, but Vandermark says the choice is more a reference to that record's cover art--showing the Bill of Rights in flames, an image at least as resonant now as it was then--than to its contents. The set will comprise three new long-form works exploring "jazz, European improvised music, funk, and music from Africa and Eastern Europe." Bassists Jason Ajemian and Kent Kessler, drummer Tim Daisy, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, trumpeter Josh Berman, saxophonist Dave Rempis, and trombonist Jeb Bishop make up the rest of the roster. (Barry will sit this show out due to health problems; Frank Rosaly will take his place.) PM

7:10 PM

Freddy Cole

Though Freddy Cole's voice is a little raspier, a little more modern in its phrasing, still it gives him away: yes, he's Nat King Cole's brother. Steering clear of Nat's turf (the hip trio work of the early years, the romantic schmaltz from later on), Freddy's done well for a while now with a straightforward, mildly contemporary sound. But if his latest album, In the Name of Love (Telarc), is an attempt to distance himself further from the legend in the family, he's trying way too hard. A dreadful light-funk production style (synthesizer flourishes, programmed drums) works against Cole's strengths, which are his smooth (if familiar) vocals and fluid piano playing. Luckily he's fronting a more traditional band--guitarist Gerry Byrd, bassist Herman Burney, and drummer Curtis Boyd--for tonight's performance. PM

:20 PM

* Elvin Jones Jazz Machine

One of two alums of John Coltrane's classic quartet on this year's festival--McCoy Tyner's the other--drummer Elvin Jones brings in his Jazz Machine, with its bright young front line of tenor saxophonist Mark Shim and trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis. While playing with Trane, Jones helped retool the basic idea of jazz rhythm: his compulsive use of triplets and his gigantic, sometimes bombastic sound often veered close to the free time of Sunny Murray and Milford Graves, but Jones was testing the elasticity of pulsed time without opening things up completely. At a memorable fest some years back, he rocked the Petrillo band shell as fireworks filled the sky behind the crowd; it was a spectacle for ears and eyes, nearly warlike and totally thrilling. Jones's recipe is nothing new--straight-ahead hard bop with an atomic kick--but he's a magnet for strong sidemen, and his bands are never underrehearsed. JC




Lurrie Bell Blues Band

It's a very nice idea to have some straight-up blues at the Jazz Fest, and guitarist Lurrie Bell makes an excellent ambassador. His dad, harpist Carey Bell, and many more-distant relatives have played roles in the history of Chicago blues, and he's a fine bandleader and singer with a peck of great Delmark records under his belt. Bell's group today features Matthew Skoller, himself an outstanding leader, on harmonica. JC

1:15 PM

Jodie Christian Trio with Ira Sullivan and Brad Goode

On his most recent album, Reminiscing (Delmark, 2001), veteran Chicago pianist Jodie Christian plays some favorites from his musical past. What becomes clear from the diversity of the selections (and from the liner notes, in which he recalls how he first heard each song) is how open-eared he's always been--a key to his popularity as a sideman, working with Von Freeman, Stan Getz, Chet Baker, Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, and many others. He didn't start recording as a leader until the 90s, but Christian has always had what it takes. While he's best known for his straight-ahead playing, he was a part of the AACM at its inception, and he's been a regular collaborator of Art Ensemble of Chicago reedist Roscoe Mitchell. For this gig he'll be joined by two of his former Chicago cohorts, reedist-trumpeter-flutist Ira Sullivan and trumpeter Brad Goode, and while the focus will surely be on hard bop don't be surprised if he tosses in the occasional dissonant cluster. Bassist Dennis Carroll and drummer Tony Walton complete the trio proper. PM

2:30 PM

* Reginald Robinson

Ragtime was one of the most important tributaries of jazz, but these days it's mostly the province of historians and curiosity seekers. That's what makes self-taught pianist Reginald Robinson such a compelling anomaly. When he was 13 he became obsessed with the ragtime sound after hearing it in school and nagged his mother until she got him a cheap keyboard. Now 30, Robinson's studied the history of the music with an academic's zeal--his last album, Euphonic Sounds (Delmark, 1998), includes a lost Scott Joplin fragment he discovered on sheet music seen in the background of a photo of the composer--but his main interest is composing new material. For most aficionados ragtime's remove from the present is part of the draw, but as Robinson told me in 1998, "I live in Chicago, and when I write a rag I can hear gunshots outside." And when he plays one, so can you. PM

3:20 PM

* Ari Brown Quartet

A few of Chicago's most famously unsung heroes, like Fred Anderson and Von Freeman, have lately been getting a bit of long overdue recognition. Saxophonist Ari Brown (the fourth and final Delmark artist on this afternoon's schedule) deserves some too. He's an AACM vet whose self-effacing demeanor belies his musical power; he plays with great assurance and openness in a wide range of contexts, whether combing changes for an interesting harmonic niche or blazing away in a free-jazz setting. Brown's egoless, adaptive nature makes him an ideal collaborator, and he's lent his voice to projects with artists ranging from Lester Bowie to Elvin Jones. Having seen him very recently leading his quartet I can attest that this should be a treat, with his brother Kirk on piano and the explosive Avreeayl Ra on drums. JC


12:30 PM

Jazz Links: Passing on the Tradition

Pianist Ken Chaney, bassist Philip Castleberry, and percussionist Ruben Alvarez are active in the local jazz scene, but they're also committed to their work as educators. In this performance they'll lead a group of six promising high school students. PM

1:45 PM

In the Hands of Our Children: Japanese Traditional Drumming

In his Miyumi Project Japanese bassist Tatsu Aoki has fortified freedom-seeking jazz with Asian percussion, including the thunderous sound of Japan's taiko drums. Here a crew of young taiko drummers are joined by Aoki, saxophonists Mwata Bowden and Toru Hironaka (both members of Miyumi Project), and bassist Satoru Iga. PM

3 PM

Velvet Lounge Jam

Since the 80s the Sunday jam session at Fred Anderson's Velvet Lounge has been an integral part of the Chicago jazz scene and a launching pad for some of the city's most exciting young players, including David Boykin, Nicole Mitchell, and Isaiah Spencer. For this daylight-hours simulation, saxophonists Dennis Winslett (the session's regular host) and Greg Ward (who also got his start at the Velvet) will blow with the rhythm section of guitarist Ed Gerber, bassist Josh Ramos, and drummer Marcus Evans. PM


5 PM

Franz Jackson

Ninety-year-old saxophonist and vocalist Franz Jackson is Chicago's own living embodiment of jazz history. The south-sider (born in Rock Island) started out on the clarinet, smitten with the revolutionary sound of New Orleans jazz, but he evolved with the music, picking up the tenor saxophone during the city's early jazz heyday. In 1937 he took over Ben Webster's chair in the Fletcher Henderson band; he also worked in trumpeter Roy Eldridge's group and in the last big band led by pianist Fats Waller. He began fronting his own small groups in the 40s, and over the following years he toured extensively abroad, often with the USO. Returning to Chicago in the mid-50s, Jackson rededicated himself to the New Orleans sound, and ever since he's been the city's leading exponent of traditional jazz, injecting the music with a passion, buoyancy, and verve that's usually lacking in revivalists. He's a genuine master of the inspired group interplay that's central to early jazz, drawing the other front-liners out into joyful coils of multilinear improvisation. Somewhere in there he also became a charming singer a la Louis Armstrong. Here he'll lead his working band: trumpeter George Bean, pianist Joe Johnson, bassist Dan DeLorenzo, and drummer Bob Cousins. PM

6 PM

Karrin Allyson

Since releasing her first album in 1992 Karrin Allyson has gradually broadened the scope of her jazz singing, which now ranges from sensitive balladry to high-wire scatting. Though she's favored the standard repertoire, she'll push a boundary or two, venturing into bossa nova or pop material--she takes on Joni Mitchell's "Blue Motel Room" on her most recent CD, In Blue (Concord). Her intonation is precise, her restraint admirable; she's an adept improviser, but most often she exercises her freedom in subtle shifts of phrasing or slight drifts from the melody. Allyson is the model of a solid mainstream vocalist. She's well supported by her longtime working group: pianist Paul Smith, bassist Bob Bowman, guitarist Danny Embrey, and drummer Todd Strait. PM

7:10 PM

* Chano Dominguez Sextet

Guitarist Paco de Lucia was able to add some jazz elements to flamenco, but I've never heard anything like the jazz-flamenco synthesis of Spanish pianist Chano Dominguez. The piano is not an instrument associated with flamenco--Dominguez's playing on his new album, Hecho a mano (Sunnyside), is a remarkable nonliteral translation of a guitar-based music. Occasionally a too-glib run betrays Dominguez's background as a fusion player; for the most part he's dazzling. His bandmates--a few guest guitarists (including the great Tomatito) and clapping, stomping singers and dancers--add traditional touches. In his Chicago debut he's joined by the rhythm section of drummer Guillermo McGuill and bassist Pablo Martin, along with singer Blas "Kejio" Cordoba, cajon player Israel "el Pirana" Suarez, and the dancer Tomas "Tomasito" Moreno. PM

:20 PM

McCoy Tyner Big Band

The fest finale this year stars pianist McCoy Tyner leading his big band. Tyner first hit the scene with the Art Farmer-Benny Golson Jazztet, but in 1960 he jumped ship and joined forces with saxophonist John Coltrane. Establishing a style based on huge open left-hand chords (often hammering on a modal vamp) and scampering treble runs, Tyner helped define the sound of the era; his work with the classic Coltrane quartet has made him possibly the most copied pianist in jazz, for worse more often than better. Shortly after Trane's death in 1967 Tyner led his first session at the helm of a large group, recording the much-lauded Tender Moments (Blue Note), and he's periodically returned to the format, achieving a large, not always subtle sound that relies to a great extent on the strength of his players. Here he'll have some terrific ones, with a powerhouse trombone section of Frank Lacy and Steve Turre, a tough sax section featuring Billy Harper, Joe Ford, and John Stubblefield, and the wonderful Charnett Moffett on bass. JC

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Brad Miller, Nathan Mandell, Michael Jackson, Jim Newberry, Mykel Kane, James Fraher, Marc PoKempner, Jim Goss.

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