Harold Ousley | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Harold Ousley




Tenor saxophonist Harold Ousley has fallen through the cracks. Born in Chicago in 1929 and strongly influenced by Gene Ammons in the 40s and 50s, Ousley emerged in the 60s with a soul-jazz style and a nicely honed semblance of Ammons's fat sound. At the time a single lissome hook could constitute an entire composition, which Ousley demonstrated with flair in his 16-bar blues boogaloo "Return of the Prodigal Son"--but he didn't record the tune himself until a decade after George Benson scored with it on The George Benson Cookbook in 1966. (A subsequent vocal version by Joe Lee Wilson earned Ousley's cult a few converts too.) Ousley made a handful of albums under his own name in the 70s, but by then his south-side tenor had fallen pretty far out of fashion, first drowned out by fusion and then pushed aside by the resurgent mainstream. He didn't disappear, though: by this point a longtime New Yorker, he started producing cable-TV programs featuring jazz performances and musician interviews, and in 1997 he issued a low-profile album called That's When We Thought of Love (Tele-Jazz), which from its title presumably features his virile ballad playing. Ousley will probably have the disc on hand at this gig, only his second Chicago appearance since the 1960s--last year, when he sat in for a few numbers at the Jazz Institute of Chicago's winter fair, he set those who heard him buzzing. On record Ousley leans heavily on blues and ballads, but he cites Charlie Parker as his first model, and I bet he'll have some busy hard-bop lines on the menu as well. The Chicago rhythm section--led by pianist Jodie Christian, with Larry Gray on bass and Robert Shy on drums--should fit Ousley's sweet sax like a glove, and might well have him wondering why he ever left home. These shows are a tune-up for a long-overdue recording session with local label Delmark Records. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 and 10 PM, and next Friday, January 28, 9 and 11 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473.

Neil Tesser

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