Don’t get me wrong: I think it’s great that the Sun-Times, which usually fails to acknowledge that jazz even exists in Chicago, finally got around to running a piece that tries to shed some light on the bustling scene that hovers around the Umbrella Music group. (The piece dubs these open-minded players Wild Onions, “since they're the free-jazz weeds in Chicago's mainstream-jazz garden.” Never mind that these so-called weeds are often the ones earning the most international attention.) But I think the story’s misinformation does more harm than good.
Author John Litweiler, a former Reader contributor and once one of the key Chicago jazz critics following both the progressive music developed by the AACM and the kooky northsider Hal Russell, clearly hasn’t followed what’s really been happening in Chicago for at least a decade. The chronology laid out in his piece has no relationship to reality, but instead comes in a confusing jumble of events that, according to the piece, all seem to have occurred within a couple of years. The truth, naturally, is more complex. I won’t waste bandwidth enumerating every error, but since the story is ostensibly about the Umbrella Music group it’s particularly egregious when Litweiler writes, "Since so many players appeared regularly at Elastic, The Hideout and the Brain, last year the producers formed the Umbrella Music cooperative, to coordinate events.” The fact is the Hideout didn’t begin to present regular jazz shows until Umbrella had formed. These musicians deserve better.