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Very Young Man With a Horn

A new generation of beboppers is creating a new Chicago jazz scene. Brad Goode is leading the charge.

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I first heard the name last year from Dave Jemilo, who was extolling the late-night Saturday jam sessions at the Green Mill, which he owns.

"Brad Goode sits in all the time," he said. "You know Brad Goode?" I shook my head no. "Greatest trumpet player in town. Twenty-two years old, can blow anybody away. He's great, just great. You gotta hear him."

The next Saturday night I waited for him to show. Dave Jemilo pointed him out when he finally made it. What I saw was a short, boyish figure, a bright shock of red hair combed back, looking all of 13 when he smiled, which was often. Mike Finnerty was holding sway onstage, squeezing out some of the most amazing sounds I'd ever heard from the sax, and Goode stepped toward the stage, carrying his horn like a weapon. He mounted it, set his lips to the horn, jiggling the buttons nervously, waiting for Finnerty to lead into him. I was expecting some outlandish break filled with 16th and 32nd notes, but it didn't come. Instead, he played a slow melodic line, rich, full, controlled, and beautiful. And that was it. When he was done he stepped off the stage and walked back to the bar.

After that, his name kept coming back to me, from friends who are jazz aficionados, over the radio as a backup for some legendary figure appearing at the Jazz Showcase, at a party in the conversation of some local jazz critic. And each time the name came up, I remembered that late night at the Green Mill and his melodious horn. Finally a Saturday night was free and Brad Goode was at Oz.

We could barely hear the music from the door. There was a wall-to-wall crowd to push through, professionals loud, boisterous, and young, backs to the music, squashed together so closely they could barely down their Coronas. Toward the front the crowd was quieter, people facing the stage listening to the jazz.

Near the stage were two posters: one for Round Midnight, the film homage to Bud Powell, the fiery bebop pianist who burned himself out with drugs and alcohol, and the other for The Morning After, the quintessential yuppie movie. They seemed to be there to define the bar, and I decided later they did. Owner Ron Schoenstadt describes Oz as "a premium neighborhood bar, catering to a diverse crowd." He's quick to add that jazz is not an incidental part of that. "I don't want Oz to be a place where jazz is just live background, but on the three nights we feature live jazz, music is what's featured." The music is not amplified, and hearing it on a busy night can be a problem.

Schoenstadt recognizes the limitations. "Because the place is so small and so loud we have restrictions." In fact he seems to have it both ways: Near the front but away from the bandstand, the music is simply background, but those who have come for the music just need to duck into a cubbyhole to the right and the sound envelops them.

And on this night the sound was sensational. The Brad Goode Quintet consists of Goode on trumpet, Lin Halliday on tenor sax, Jodie Cristian on piano, Thomas Palmer on bass, and Bob Rummage on drums. Rummage and Goode met at the University of Kentucky, where Goode went to school, and the others are old-time beboppers. "It's like I listening to history when you hear them play," Schoenstadt says. "Lin Halliday is a very special guy and Thomas Palmer on bass has played with so many of the big groups. And Jodie Cristian, my God, not only played with them but recorded with just about everybody." Still, the group is the Brad Goode Quintet, and it is his diminutive figure at center stage that holds the sound together. "Not only his ability to play, but his ability to hear the group and hear the sound. For that he's kind of special," Schoenstadt says. "He's old beyond his years."

For most of the night Goode played a flugelhorn (slightly larger than a trumpet, with a richer, less brassy sound), and the music ranged from old standards to tunes written by Goode himself. They ended the set with "Lover Man," a Billie Holiday number that's been a standard for beboppers since Charlie Parker first recorded it, but their rendition had a slightly rounder, cleaner sound to it and I began to wonder if perhaps this wasn't a different bebop, a new bebop.

The next day, I met Goode in his office at DePaul, where he teaches, and I asked him if it is. He shrugged his shoulders and said, "We're trying to make our own sound, but I don't know. We, the younger musicians, have an advantage in that we have recordings of all the great beboppers and we can use all of their material." Beboppers aren't the only ones that Goode listens to and appreciates. His tastes run from Miles Davis to Sun Ra and there are few musicians he has anything negative to say about. "You may not like it," he said, "but if the guy's doing his own thing what's wrong with that?"

The one musical dimension he does ask is originality. Of Wynton Marsalis he said, "He's playing Miles Davis. If I want to hear Miles Davis, I'll listen to his records and I do." He thought about this for a moment and added, "But that's what Marsalis wants to sound like. He's a great musician and he's doing what he wants to do, so who am I to say?" During all the time I spent with Goode this was the most negative statement I ever heard him make about a musician. He is unfailingly enthusiastic about jazz musicians no matter how different their sound may be from his.

There seem to be several Brad Goodes. One is a young man delighted with a new toy (his own talent). The second is a graduate student and teacher, a professional who's still learning. The third seems awed at becoming an important part of the jazz art. He is almost fatalistically acceptant of the kind of life in store for him. "The other day some friends of mine were sitting around getting on my case and they say, like what are you going to be doing in ten years? And I tell them there's not much I can do. I've got tunes in my head all night long and I've got to make the most of that. Whatever I'm going to be doing that's what I am. I play jazz."

Brad Goode was born in Chicago in 1963, but lived in the suburb of Dolton until his family moved to East Lansing, Michigan, when he was 13. In high school he began playing jazz in local dinner clubs. "Not really jazz," he admits, "just faking it." At a summer band camp he met Vince DiMartino, a teacher at the University of Kentucky, and was impressed enough to follow him to Lexington with the help of a marching band scholarship. That's where he met his drummer, Bob Rummage, and began playing regular gigs as a jazz trumpeter. He formed a group called Sun of Rif (after his dog--Rif, son of Bif), which he describes as a combination of Jimi Hendrix, Ornette Coleman, and the Sex Pistols--"A new-wave, heavy-metal jazz band." Before he left the university Goode began to hear acclaim for his jazz trumpet. In the summers of '84 and '85 he received National Endowment for the Arts fellowships to play at the Aspen Music Festival. He had an opportunity there to play with such jazz stalwarts as Jimmy Heath, Eddie Daniels, and George Shearing.

After college, he came back to Chicago two years ago to enter graduate school at DePaul University. A teaching assistant, he conducts a jazz band and teaches jazz improvisation to individual students. He's just completed his master's thesis on Louis Armstrong, and he's found time for the gigs that keep his career going as a performing jazz musician.

The jazz that Goode plays, bebop, is not what the music world revolves around, but then it never was. Bebop has always been on the edge, a defiant child that doesn't fit easily into simple definitions. It's a musical development that can be traced to a specific place and time--Minton's Playhouse in Harlem in the early 40s. Henry Minton made his place a hangout for jazz musicians by offering them free food, drinks, and a chance to sit in with the house band and play a type of music uncommon in other joints.

The music being created at Minton's was a reaction to the limits on jazz in the swing era, when a large public was interested primarily in dance music. The beboppers did away with the steady two-, three-, or four-beat and adherence to a close melody line, freeing the drummer to improvise. Often the beboppers played a familiar tune without bothering with the melody at all, referring only to the chord changes (and even these they mixed and matched).

This allowed an enormous amount of musical freedom, but it also required virtuosos. Bebop never received the wide acceptance of swing, and almost before it was finally recognized variations spun off to form such schools as "coolbop," "third stream," "progressive," and "funk." But bebop as a musical form never was superseded by new music in the way it had superseded swing. Perhaps that is because bebop, unlike swing, never exhausted its possibilities.

The last several years have seen a resurgence of bebop. Round Midnight introduced Dexter Gordon to millions of new fans. Copenhagen's North Sea Jazz Festival has almost made a fetish out of unearthing old beboppers.

The Minton's Playhouse of today's Chicago is the Get Me High Lounge, a hole-in-the-wall beer joint whose demise has been rumored almost from the time it opened its doors four years ago. Going to the Get Me High is like taking a trip back 60 years to a time when jazz was the insolent noise of madhouse nights. On weekends the place is stacked with people.

The small room that constitutes the entire lounge is no more than 20 feet across and 50 feet deep. The walls are raw brick and covered with posters that range from playbills to ads for health foods to old movie posters. Behind the bar are two neon saxophones, one red and one blue, and when the band is playing that's the only light not over the stage. Cases of beer and draught barrels line the front of the stage and form a wall before the piano. The rest rooms are at the back of the stage, and to get through to them while the music is playing you have to move musicians aside in the middle of their numbers. The ceiling consists of a blackboardlike covering, and the messages in chalk scribbled there range from "Ramona was here" to gonzo philosophy--"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."

For so small a bar the stage is unusually large, set up a few feet and brightly lit, with an acoustic piano near the back and enough room to fit a swing band. It's not unusual to see seven or eight musicians jamming together at one time. Musicians come on and leave the stage as the mood strikes them, and the sound is almost always hot, with the talent of the players ranging from the artistry of a Brad Goode or Mike Finnerty to the raw sounds of DePaul students trying out a few licks with the big boys. The music pervades the small area, but the crowd is more often than not boisterous and loud, ignoring the music altogether or yelling encouragement over the sound. Breaks are seldom applauded, no matter how good, and often a song ends with no noticeable change in the noise level outside of a few drunken claps and possibly another musician asking if he can sit in. It's a jazz musician's place, and they play what they want to play here, not for the money but for the freedom to do what they want to do, say what they want to say. If the crowd is with them all the better, but that isn't what it's all about.

Butch Dakuras, the irascible owner of the Get Me High, has served as club manager, drinking buddy, late-night counselor, and ball bondsman for many of the new beboppers in Chicago. He is not hesitant about pointing out that most of the new names in jazz on the north side of Chicago first started at the Get Me High. Some of the originals, four years ago, were Ed Petersen, Hank Hirsch and Mike Finnerty. Brad Goode is among the more recent young players who first found at the Get Me High a place to play their music their way. That's where the musicians mixed who are forming a new sound that Dakuras calls "bratbop"-- it's music he sees as having the same relationship to bebop that punk rock has to rock. "You take a tune, knock off its head and tail, and gang-bang it. That's Get Me High bratbop," says Dakuras.

The Get Me High demonstrated that local jazzmen can still draw crowds, but its small size has made breaking even almost impossible despite Dakuras's bulldoglike determination to make a go of it. He's currently looking for a larger place. "I've got the ideas, the energy, and the connections. All I need is a little capital and it'd be fucking great."

While the Get Me High continues to struggle, new night spots have picked up on this revitalization of Chicago jazz. The Vu, the Green Mill, and Oz have all enlisted the new bratboppers and feature live jazz every week. On Dakuras's list of those players who are at the core of this new wave are Hirsch, Petersen, Finnerty, Merle Boley, Jay Payette, Carroll Crouch, Frank Portolese, Bob Barry, and Brad Goode. "If they didn't come through the Get Me High," Dakuras claims, "they haven't found the road yet."

These new beboppers are playing their own variations and riffs; and they are composing their own tunes as well. One need only listen to Mike Finnerty performing his own "Microdot" or Goode doing his "New Blues" to realize just how exciting this new bebop--bratbop--is. Both pieces demand an extraordinary facility and are top-line show-off pieces--in-your-face music at its best.

"Bob Rummage and I are going down to the south side to sit in with Von Freeman at the Apartment," Brad Goode told me. "If you'd be interested, you're welcome to come along."

Would I! The hottest white jazz trumpeter since Red Rodney blowing with one of the greatest black saxophone players ever to walk the streets of Chicago! We set it up to meet Wednesday night at the Moosehead Bar & Grill, after his gig on Wednesday night with Eddie Johnson. And as I walked there I went over the stories I'd heard of musicians who thought they were hotshots heckled off the stage at the New Apartment Lounge. Those people heard Von Freeman every week, a musician who had walked the walk through the heavy days of the 60s and 70s--when bebop was either the music that had ruined jazz or the music that died with Charlie Parker. He'd been in the trenches, paid his dues, and the New Apartment was his show. I thought about how bebop had always been a black man's music. Goode may be hot on the north side, but that didn't mean shit at 75th and Cottage Grove.

Eddie Johnson and the Moosehead 5 are finishing a set when I walk in. Eddie Johnson's on sax, John Young on piano, Ed de Haas sitting in on bass, Rusty Jones on drums, and Brad Goode on trumpet. There's a good-sized audience, paying close attention to the music. The talk is quiet, and the music rises clearly above the sound. Near the stage, Bob Rummage carefully watches Rusty Jones. Goode, wearing a suit and tie, is offstage staring at the leader, and then he steps up and joins in, bringing the tune to a finish.

I sit down and order a beer as they start another number. The Moosehead is a museum of knickknacks that vary from stuffed animals to political posters to model airplanes and dummies of Groucho and Charlie McCarthy. Dominating everything is an enormous picture of the late honorable Richard J. Daley. Eddie Johnson is wearing a Harold Washington button. Despite the bar's name, the large picture behind the bandstand shows two elk. The namesake moose head is mounted on the wall behind the bar; it stares blankly at the stage as if an attentive fan itself.

The music is precise, all the pieces working well together. Two black men are sitting at separate tables next to the stage, and when Goode starts his break the older man says, "Play your horn, play your horn, oh, oh, yeah, yeah, play your horn." Eddie Johnson steps in and takes the last break, moving up and down the scale, crisp, clean, and sharp, and when he finishes the two black men lean out over the aisle between them and slap hands.

When the set is over Goode and Rummage join me. The Moosehead ends its music at nine but the New Apartment Lounge doesn't really start until after ten, so we have time to kill. Goode tells me about his dog Rif and the University of Kentucky marching band; he stands up to demonstrate the stiff way they had to move to keep in step. "Teaches you to be precise," he says. I ask about the life of a musician. They both seem fatalistic. At one point Bob Rummage says, "It's music or money."

"But if you can make it, like Ira Sullivan, that's not a bad life, is it?" I ask.

"He got by," Goode says, "But he never made any big money. Played a lot of gigs and then retired to Florida, but he was never rich. If you want to play jazz you have to do jobbing dates [a wedding, a bar mitzvah, etc], or you can always teach." He gets up to settle his bill, and when he returns we're off.

The New Apartment Lounge is so small we miss it the first time by and have to retrace our drive down 75th. We park, lock the car, and head for the bar. Something seems wrong about all of this and finally it hits me. "Aren't you going to take your horn?" I ask. Goode looks at me in amazement and then bursts into laughter. "I guess that would be a good idea," he says.

The bar is so packed we get only a few feet past the door before we're leaning against the wall. At the front of the bar, Von Freeman is racing through a series of 16th notes, his body held casually, hardly moving. But the notes are slashed out brilliantly. Next to him on one of the speakers, smoke from an unattended cigarette trails up toward the small tracking light overhead. The walls are carpeted and the ceiling is covered with mirrors from which hundreds of balloons hang, most of them deflated. The bar sweeps the full length of the room, every stool taken and every square foot between it and the opposite wall jammed with people, many holding music cases, all eyes focused on the middle-aged man in a jogging suit who's playing a history of jazz in a single song.

Freeman pulls the sax from his mouth. Applause follows him offstage and a young trombonist steps up and begins to blow. Goode sets his case on the floor, flips it open, and pulls out his flugelhorn. A woman in dreadlocks sits on a stool directly in front of the stage conducting wildly. No one else seems to notice her. Freeman looks over at Goode and says, "Brad, you want to play some?" Without replying, Goode fingers the buttons on his horn and steps toward the stage. He waits while the young trombonist finishes his break. Freeman steps into the light and says, "Tracy on trombone." He looks over at Goode, who starts playing immediately.

His break is made of quick, short runs that slide into longer phrases, precise and melodic. Still blowing, he looks out the tops of his eyes at Freeman, who steps forward and says, "Brad Goode on trumpet." The applause is more polite than enthusiastic.

Goode steps off the far side of the stage and leans against a doorway. He's talking to several black musicians who are waiting there. Freeman stands by the front door watching as several players take their breaks. Some are better than others, but they're all accomplished musicians. A voice yells out, "Brother Von, these Young Turks all waiting in the wings." Freeman listens a moment longer and puts the sax to his lips. Stepping up onstage, he begins to play, quicker notes than before and in longer runs, but with no more movement in his body, as if it all comes so easy, as if it's just a matter of thinking the music. And it comes out that way, perfect, smooth, always unexpected, and no one's talking and he keeps blowing just to let us know who owns this place and why. When he finishes the listeners are shaking their heads and clapping their hands and some are yelling.

As the noise settles he turns to talk to his backup men and then announces to the crowd, "Gonna play two chords. Could last a couple hours." There's laughter and applause. He looks around the crowd and finally says, "Brad, you start it out." Goode nods and steps to the stage. The music picks up and he eases into "What's New."

His sound this time is mellow, cool, precise, with occasional quick runs thrown in, the full warm sound of the flugelhorn being shown off for what it's worth, played to its strengths. His first break hadn't impressed the crowd. They weren't going to be that easy. Goode holds center stage longer this time, and halfway through I begin to hear the "all right"s and the "Blow that thing"s. Goode is oblivious to it all, lifting his mouth from the horn every so often to twist his neck--and then back to it. I look around the room. The young blacks stare at the small figure almost angrily, the older ones nod to the beat; everyone's attention is fixed on the redhead with the horn. There's a palpable change in the attitude toward him, a recognition that here is someone to be listened to, not talked over. When he ends the applause is louder and more sustained, but not by much, as if to say, "Yeah, we know it was good, but we expected that."

Freeman steps to the stage and says, "Brad, that was scintillating. I feel better about the whole thing already." He looks past the stage lights and says, "Brother Green, make the scene." Another trumpeter steps away from the wall and onto the stage.

Goode joins us against the wall (my role has become sitting on his music case and protecting the coats) and talks to Rummage. When Green finishes his solo he joins Goode, saying, "Fucked it up." He pulls off his mouthpiece and blows through it, as if that's the offending party. He finally shoves it back on his trumpet.

"Heard your name all on the radio," Green says, "and I'm gonna say I once knew him when." Goode mumbles something. Green shakes his head and says, "Naw, naw, you're gonna make it. I can hear it. I can hear it."

By midnight the bar is no longer full, but it's still a good house for a Tuesday. When he's not playing, Freeman stands by the door making farewells to the departing and welcoming those who still arrive. A group of musicians leaves, cases under their arms, each in turn telling Freeman it was "rhythmic." He smiles and nods, as if to say, "Wasn't it, though!" When he finally steps back on the stage he spots a woman's coat on the floor and bends to pick it up. He lays it over a speaker and says to the woman in dreadlocks who's been conducting all night, "Darling, because you're a star just hand me your coat when you come in and I'll hang it up for you."

Before the next number, Bob Rummage slips in behind the drums. They start out a Lester Young tune, Freeman taking the first solo and Goode following. This time he picks up the pace, linking together series of quick notes. The audience is with him now, no more doubters, and I see people in the other room step around the corner to see who's playing. When he's done Freeman comes to the mike. "Brad Goode, comes to us from DePaul where he's--what are you there?--why he's at least a dean, so Dean Brad Goode on the trumpet." If jazz can have a prez, a count, and a duke, why not a dean?

New people arrive and Freeman greets them warmly. A short black man steps through the door and shares a joke with Freeman. They both turn and stand together listening to the music. The newcomer sees Goode standing against the wall with his horn and says, "You play that thing, little lady?"

"I try," Goode says.

"I used to play the trumpet," he says and holds up his hands, revealing the fact that all ten fingers are missing.

It's quiet for a moment and then Goode says, "Guess you'll have to take up the bugle." The short black man begins to smile and then bursts into laughter, holding out his palm for Goode to slap.

Rummage comes off the stand and Goode puts his horn back in the case. A female vocalist is singing "People" and a muscle-bound sax player is echoing the lines back to her. It's still early by jazz time, but Goode has to teach in the morning and we make our good-byes to Freeman. When we step out of the bar a black teenager is hurrying by. He stops and stares at Goode and the instrument case. "You musicians?" he asks. Goode nods his head. "What you play, heavy metal?" When we burst into laughter he gives us an odd look and hurries away.

On the drive back to the north side I think about the night and the sound of Goode's flugelhorn. All the musicians that sat in this night were excellent, but the sound of Goode's trumpet still haunts me, remains as the others don't. Is it a new bebop? Bratbop, as Butch Dakuras calls it? Dave Jemilo says these young, new musicians sound original only because all jazz musicians who are good develop their own sound. He feels it's not so much a new bop as it is a continuation of the old bop that never died and that's just finding new definition in new players. Whatever it is, it's exciting.

It was the end of a long night. The music was over, and as if that were the only reason for being awake at all, Goode looked tired and maybe a bit fed up with questions. He stared straight ahead, through the windshield, and said reflectively, "The trumpet's a strange instrument. It's not like you just blow and music comes out. Sometimes nothing comes."

I waited for him to go on, but he didn't. Finally I said, "What do you do then?"

He looked over at me, I think in amazement that I would even ask. "Not much you can do," he finally said. He was quieter after that. I kept talking but his answers were short, and he seemed interested only in finding where to let me off.

I thanked him for the ride and the music. He said, "Sure." I watched him drive away. It had been a great night of music and I couldn't figure out why I suddenly felt so sad. Maybe it was only that the music was over and I didn't want it to stop.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Mike Tappin.

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