Mike Reed honors the modern golden age of Chicago jazz | Music Feature | Chicago Reader

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Mike Reed honors the modern golden age of Chicago jazz

The bandleader and drummer assembles an ensemble of composer-performers from The City Was Yellow, a “real book” documenting 30 years of the city’s jazz scene.


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  • Photo by Ken Weiss
  • Mike Reed

Perhaps best known as the founding director of the Pitchfork Music Festival, Mike Reed is also programming chair of the Chicago Jazz Festival—and the drummer, composer, and bandleader is no stranger to its stages either. In projects such as People, Places & Things, which explores forgotten postbop from mid-50s Chicago, he has examined the city's musical past through the lens of contemporary developments and techniques.

Mike Reed’s The City Was Yellow
Thu 8/29, 6:30-7:25 PM, Jay Pritzker Pavilion

More recently Reed has been addressing the milieu he encountered in the 1980s, when he was first checking out the jazz scene and learning how to play the music. Recognizing that his peers and the musicians who mentored them had written dozens of great tunes that weren't collected anywhere, he set about assembling a "real book"—a volume of sheet music that serves as a performance resource for musicians and as a guide to let them know who and what they ought to check out. The City Was Yellow, which takes its name from the color of the sodium-vapor street lamps that used to illuminate Chicago at night, covers music made here between 1980 and 2010, and includes 53 compositions and brief biographies of the artists who wrote them. (Full disclosure: I contributed four bios to the project.) Now, on the occasion of the Jazz Institute of Chicago's 50th anniversary, Reed has partnered with the institute to publish the book. Proceeds from sales will go to the JIC's educational programs.

  • Jeff Parker's "Four in the Evening" appears on the Chicago Underground Quartet's 2001 self-titled album, among other places.

At last year's Hyde Park Jazz Festival, Reed led a band of younger players through selections from The City Was Yellow. That concert demonstrated that tunes such as "Four in the Evening" (by guitarist Jeff Parker) and "Nairobi Transit" (by reedist Geof Bradfield) didn't necessarily need their composers on the bandstand to sound great. For this program, Reed has convened a band of musicians whose compositions are featured in the book: in addition to Reed, Bradfield, and Parker, the lineup consists of tenor saxophonist Ari Brown, flutist Nicole Mitchell, cornetist and piccolo trumpeter Rob Mazurek, trombonist Steve Berry, and bassist Matt Ulery. Though this group was assembled especially for this event, some of its members have been playing together since the 1990s—we're likely to hear not just collegial mutual respect but also the sparks that fly when musicians who know and trust one another get together.  v

  • Geof Bradfield's "Nairobi Transit" from the 2010 album African Flowers

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