Jonah Parzen-Johnson takes lessons from Chicago’s rich musical heritage to tell some new stories | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Jonah Parzen-Johnson takes lessons from Chicago’s rich musical heritage to tell some new stories

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In the 1960s, a new creative discipline emerged when English and European jazz fans realized that no matter how much they liked the distinctively American form of music, they lacked the cultural experiences to play it with all the nuance of their idols. As they looked to their own roots for inspiration, European Free Improvisation was born. In recent years, Brooklyn-based baritone saxophone and synthesizer player Jonah Parzen-Johnson had an epiphany similar to those European jazz musicians that came before him. When he was a teen, the former Hyde Park resident took lessons from Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) reedist and bandleader Mwata Bowden, and attended several jazz-founded educational programs. But while he found the experience enriching, he concluded that his own different cultural experiences as a white, middle-class male meant that he could not claim African-American traditions as his own. So he developed an idiosyncratic blend of Appalachian folk melody, free-jazz sonics, and primitive electronics, which so far is best heard on last year’s I Try to Remember Where I Come From (Clean Feed). Parzen-Johnson’s hooky turns and burbling rhythms are designed to draw listeners into both his own story and those of the people he’s met during several years of touring regularly around the country. He’s recently recorded an album’s worth of new material, and that’s what he will play during tonight’s concert, which is the last of a five-date tour with Chicagoan guitarist Dave Miller.   v

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