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Jazz Festival

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CHICAGO CULTURAL CENTER

The Cultural Center (78 E. Washington; 312-744-6630) now has some of the most inventive programming anywhere in the midwest; piggybacking on the festival lineup, it will present three major artists in groupings considerably more intimate than you'll find in Grant Park. Thursday, September 2, at 4 PM in Preston Bradley Hall, pianist Danilo Perez, who belongs on any shortlist of the decade's jazz innovators, performs in duet with legendary soprano saxist Steve Lacy. Both men have made lifelong studies of Thelonious Monk; more than likely they'll blend their radically different approaches on several of the late pianist's compositions. After that, the festival proper kicks off here with a New Orleans-style parade along South Michigan Avenue to the Petrillo Music Shell, featuring the Algiers Brass Band (from New Orleans) and Mama Dig Down's Brass Junction (from Madison, Wisconsin, the New Orleans of the North).

Friday, September 3, at noon in Preston Bradley Hall, Sam Rivers will leave his large ensemble (see festival lineup) behind to play a trio set, performing on piano, saxophones, and probably flute. Rivers used this same format on his most famous recording, Streams, from 1973. These days, though, he plays with a bassist, Doug Mathews, and drummer, Anthony Cole, who themselves double on reeds and keyboard--opening the way for such intratrio formats as flute-tenor sax-bass clarinet, or bass-piano-piano. At 2 PM on Friday in the Claudia Cassidy Theater, Chicago critic and poet Art Lange will moderate a discussion on "Frontiers of Jazz," sponsored by the Jazz Journalists Association and including panelists Howard Mandel (author of the fine new Future Jazz), musician and author Richard Sudhalter (whose fascinating and controversial Lost Chords documents the contributions of white jazz musicians up through WWII), Reader critic Monica Kendrick, and this writer.

HOTHOUSE

The South Loop club (31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707) lives up to its name with a week's worth of bookings practically guaranteed to light fires. Thursday, September 2, at approximately 9:30 HotHouse starts the first of its "Jazz Fest Aftersets" with tenor saxist Vandy Harris, a grizzled AACM veteran and unreconstructed avant-garde soloist who'll celebrate the release of a CD, The Lighthouse Keeper, with a Chicago all-star quintet featuring pianist Jodie Christian and trumpeter Robert Griffin. Friday, September 3, Edward Wilkerson's accomplished and intuitive octet 8 Bold Souls returns to the scene of good times: the band played here weekly in June and July, and Wilkerson willl again present sparkling new compositions from the band's Thrill Jockey debut, due early next year.

On Saturday, September 4, in a programming coup, the elusive trombonist Roswell Rudd makes a rare Chicago visit. Rudd--a blustery, vital link in the history of both his instrument and the 60s avant-garde--will work with the versatile trio heard on his heralded two-volume set The Unheard Herbie Nichols (CIMP), guitarist-percussionist Greg Millar and drummer-vibist John Bacon Jr. (One of Rudd's spiritual descendants, trombonist Ray Anderson, plays the same night at Grant Park and plans to head over to the club; keep your fingers crossed for dueling glissandos.)

On both Friday and Saturday after midnight, HotHouse plans to raise the temperature by turning the club into an Afro-Cuban showcase. On Friday pianist and composer Lazaro M. Valdes Rodriguez leads his 13-piece band Bamboleo (see Critic's Choice elsewhere in Section 3), featuring four front-and-center vocalists, in its midwest debut; Saturday, Chicago's Orquestra 911, the city's leading salsa big band, carries on until closing time, fueled by an expected guest appearance by one of the bigger festival performers.

JAZZ RECORD MART

Back in the day, jazz stores did more than warehouse records: they also served up live performances. Jazz Record Mart (444 N. Wabash; 312-222-1467), a throwback in so many ways, still does, with semiregular weekend sets throughout the year--not to mention the store's annual festival-week Sunday jazz brunch. The Breakfast Bash, on September 5, features bagels, fresh fruit, juice, coffee, and of course jam: a slew of artists will perform this year on not one but two makeshift stages. In the front room, with the food and the CDs, AACM cofounder Jodie Christian and ragtime obsessive Reginald Robinson will trade solo-piano setlets; in the back, behind the LPs, will be an extremely early session with trumpeter Malachi Thompson, alto saxist Andy Goodrich, tenor men Ari Brown and Frank Catalano (see festival schedule), drummer Kevin O'Donnell, bassist John Whitfield, drummer Dana Hall, and vocalist Francine Griffin, all of whom have recorded for Delmark Records, JRM's house label. Doors open at the preternatural hour of 9 AM; the music starts at 10:30.

JAZZ SHOWCASE

It took Joe Segal several years to realize that if you can't fight Jazz Fest, you might as well ride its coattails. But eventually he stopped trying to compete for major headliners and turned his Jazz Showcase (59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473) into an after-hours joint, with jam sessions that allow festival stars to stretch out with locals and other out-of-towners. This year the host band is pianist Willie Pickens (see festival schedule), bassist Larry Gray, and drummer Robert Shy; at press time, confirmed sitters-in from the festival program included saxophone legends Johnny Griffin and Phil Woods, several sidemen from the Count Basie Orchestra, and bassist Rufus Reid. (Soprano saxist Steve Lacy has received his invitation, but he's still a long shot.) In addition, this year's festival has more good keyboard men than it knows what to do with, and what with Danilo Perez, Roland Hanna, and the graceful ex-Chicagoan Norman Simmons all guaranteed to show--and the possibility that Tommy Flanagan might drop by--Pickens may have an easier week than he'd expected. Because of the city's fest curfew, listeners can hear the last official notes ring out and still get to the Showcase door during the first set--but Segal kicks off the jams around 10 and the place fills up fast, so actually getting a seat may require departing the park a little early.

POPS FOR CHAMPAGNE

The best thing to happen to Pops for Champagne (2934 N. Sheffield; 773-472-1000) in recent years is Southport Records: the ambitious local label has consistently booked its better artists into the club, and label head Bradley Parker-Sparrow has offered much-needed advice on improving the sound system, helping the club become a far more listener-friendly showcase. Several Southport performers will appear at both Jazz Fest and Pops's "After the Fest" sessions--some of which actually begin hours before Grant Park empties out.

Thursday, September 2, at 8:30, trumpeter and flugelhornist Bobby Lewis leads an excellent drummerless trio, with Jim Ryan on piano and Thomas Kini on electric bass. On Friday Pops has almost eight hours of music: a 5 PM show at which vocalist Phil Kidder, a new Southport signing, will preview his forthcoming Simple Pleasures, followed by a 9 PM gig by vocalist (and label co-owner) Joanie Pallatto (see festival schedule) celebrating the release of her new Words & Music with a trio led by pianist Lou Gregory and augmented by the unfettered fretwork of guitarist George Freeman. Saturday, starting at 9, Brazilian-born guitarist and vocalist Paulinho Garcia and his quartet will pepper their sets with songs from Voce e Eu (You and I), an album of guitar, voice, and saxophone due this fall on Southport. And on Sunday at 8:30 PM, vocalist Elijah Levi and bassist Tatsu Aoki--fresh from Saturday afternoon duos in the park (see Tower Records entry, below)--expand to a quartet to wrap up the weekend.

TOWER RECORDS AT THE FEST

The business of America is to sell, and the best way to do that is to bring people into the store--even if that means bringing the store to the people. The Tower Records booth at Jazz Fest lines up music, musicians, and authors to create a bustling little oasis within the expanse of food tents and beer gardens that line Jackson. On Saturday and Sunday, September 4 and 5, from 1:30 to 4:30 PM, Southport Records vocalists will perform (Elijah Levi with bassist Tatsu Aoki on Saturday, Libby York with pianist Dennis Luxion on Sunday); meanwhile, festival patrons can chat with and collect autographs from Sam Rivers, probably Chick Corea and Marian McPartland, and possibly John Zorn after their respective main-stage sets (see festival schedule).

In addition, the authors of two new jazz books will hawk their wares at the Tower booth. One of them, Richard Sudhalter, has authored the definitive biography of Bix Beiderbecke and a forthcoming bio of songwriter Hoagy Carmichael; here, though, he'll discuss his exhaustively researched and somewhat controversial Lost Chords (see Cultural Center entry, above). Sudhalter's also a fine mainstream trumpeter: his Tower appearance, around 2 PM, follows his Saturday afternoon performance at the festival's stage on Jackson (see festival schedule). On Friday at 5 PM, Saturday at 4 PM, and Sunday at 3 PM, Howard Mandel, the Chicago-born jazz journalist and erstwhile radio producer based in New York, will sign copies of his first book--the intriguing and long-awaited Future Jazz, which sorts out jazz in the 90s and looks ahead from there.

VELVET LOUNGE

For Kidd Jordan, the pioneering New Orleans outcat altoist, it started innocently enough: a little north-country vacation during the week of Jazz Fest, a chance to visit and maybe jam a little with his contemporary Fred Anderson, the better-than-ever tenor tornado who owns the Velvet Lounge (21281/2 S. Indiana; 312-791-9050). But several years ago (five? six? no one quite recalls), it turned into an annual gig, and some fans of brilliant screaming improvisation now plan their weekend around it. This year, on Saturday and Sunday, September 4 and 5, Jordan and Anderson lead a promising quintet that features guitarist Jeff Parker, bassist Tatsu Aoki, and drummer Hamid Drake; reedist Byard Lancaster may drop by as well. Lancaster, who's played the blues with Memphis Slim and free jazz with Sunny Murray, moved to the Chicago area a few years ago, but he has rarely given locals a chance to check out his wares.

In any case, the weekend sets cap a full slate of activity at the homey south-side club, including the regular Thursday-night quintet led by saxist and pianist Ari Brown and drummer Avreeyal Ra and, on Friday, September 3, trumpeter Malachi Thompson with a variation on his Freebop Band. Figure on all shows starting sometime after 10 PM, and plan on standing if you arrive after 9:15.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Michael Jackson/Marc PoKempner/Andy Nozaka.

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