It's easy to lose sight of Chicago trumpeter Bobby Lewis, but not through any fault of his own--a grand master of the old school, he doesn't grab attention the way emerging stars do. You won't see any articles discussing his radical forays into new idioms or lauding his evolution into a mature player: comfortable in his command of the pre-Marsalis mainstream, he's been performing at the top of his game for more than 30 years, which only makes it easier to take for granted his foursquare swing and snappy technique. He ruled the Chicago studio scene in its 1970s heyday, sometimes squeezing in a dozen sessions a week, and ran a couple of bands at Andy's for nearly two decades, but only in the last six years or so has he done much in the way of recording under his own name. And Lewis's tone--the round, ripe, plummy sound that Harry James and Bobby Hackett bequeathed to the world of easy listening in the 50s--doesn't help his public profile much either; though he's owned it for four decades, it can still mislead listeners who can't distinguish between his smartly mapped improvising and the written-out horn solos in a Bert Kaempfert arrangement. To be fair, Lewis himself has invited comparisons between his playing and lite-FM stuff: his 1995 album for Southport Records, Here I Go Again, placed his trumpet and flugelhorn in front of cloying arrangements for strings and voices. He makes a far better impression in a relatively stripped-down setting, where his opulent tone contrasts effectively with the sparse accompaniment and his pretty solo lines get the breathing room they deserve. Thankfully he'll lead just such a group for this gig, which doubles as a recording session for Southport--a drummerless trio starring his longtime associates Jim Ryan (piano) and Thomas Kini (bass guitar). Tuesday, June 19, 8:30 PM, Pops for Champagne, 2934 N. Sheffield; 773-472-1000. Lewis also plays with a quartet on Friday and Saturday, June 15 and 16, at 9 PM at the Backroom, 1007 N. Rush; 312-751-2433.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.