Barrett Deems Big Band | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Barrett Deems Big Band


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At a recent performance by Barrett Deems's big band, a local musician commented to me, "Barrett's lost a little stamina; he doesn't have the same energy as a couple years ago." That's not a description you often hear about players of Deems's age--for the simple reason that very few 84-year-old men are still playing the drums at all. Deems's longevity stems principally from his well-grounded technique, which once earned him the title of "world's fastest drummer" and allowed him to see action with such jazz greats as Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, and Joe Venuti; there's also the matter of his ebullient and even belligerent enthusiasm--he's too crotchety to "slow down." (Armstrong used to call him "the Kid" not only because of the generation that separated them, one figures, but also because of Deems's focused hyperkinesis on the bandstand and off.) Deems still keeps a remarkably true, crisp beat, even if he has abandoned some of the high-octane fills and frills. But it's not just Deems who lacks some of the energy he once had; his band, after reaching a high-water mark with the Delmark album recorded three years ago, has some problems of its own. With a number of new faces on the stand over the last year, the ensemble passages reveal an aesthetic disunity even when all the notes fall in place, and the group features only a couple soloists with the necessary mix of talent, experience, and charisma. All of which may make this weekend's show--Barrett's birthday bash--the perfect setting in which to hear this band: the special nature of the event ought to produce enough adrenaline to tie up the band's loose ends and boost Deems to the top of his game. Friday, 9 PM, Deja Vu Bar Room, 2624 N. Lincoln; 773-871-0205. (Deems and company will celebrate again at a champagne brunch Sunday, 11 AM, at the Holiday Inn O'Hare, 5440 N. River Rd., Rosemont, 847-671-6350; they also play every Tuesday, 9 PM, at the Elbo Room, 2871 N. Lincoln, 773-549-5549.) NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Marc PoKempner.

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