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Bending Towards the Light: A Jazz Nativity




"This is a very spiritual story, and jazz is a very spiritual music," says the narrator in Bending Towards the Light. Whether or not that explains it, jazz and Christmas have found each other compatible for most of the music's existence. (Louis Armstrong recorded "The Santa Claus Blues" in 1925, and if you haven't heard Fats Waller's "Ringin' Dem Jingle Bells," well then, Clarence, you'll never get those wings.) This program, which debuted 12 years ago in New York and made it onto disc this year, sets a higher goal than usual with its mix of hard-blowing jazz, modern and ancient hymns, unobtrusive narration, and theatrical costumery. It works well, but much of that success depends on the quality of the guest-starring musicians--as well as the novelty of seeing, for example, the spectacular (and sartorially conscientious) trumpeter Jon Faddis decked out in pantaloons and cape in his role as one of the three kings. This Chicago premiere promises its share of wonders. Joining Faddis are tap-dance legend Jimmy Slyde and veteran trombonist Al Grey (famous for his work with Count Basie) as fellow magi, plus saxophonist Jon Gordon (winner of last month's Thelonious Monk Competition) and the vocal quartet New York Voices, who sound better in this context than on their own slick and rather soulless albums. All of the above also appear on the in-concert CD Bending Towards the Light (Milan Records). Local players Eric Schneider and Jeremy Kahn will also take part, and as the guardian angels, the perfectly balanced veteran vocal duo of Jackie Cain and Roy Kral gets the chance to return home to Chicago for the first time in many years. On the CD, Charles Kuralt narrates; here, Studs Terkel presides over the first show and Oscar Brown Jr. hosts the second. History's most famous wise guys trekked all the way from the Orient to Bethlehem; it's about time this production made it from New York to Chicago. Sunday, 3 and 7 PM, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000.


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