The main-stage programming at this year's Chicago Jazz Festival revolves around centennial celebrations of three legendary jazzmen: Fats Waller, Coleman Hawkins, and Count Basie. Other special events include two performances from this year's artist in residence, pianist and big-band composer Toshiko Akiyoshi, a tribute to the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, and memorial concerts dedicated to bassist Malachi Favors Maghostut and saxophonist Steve Lacy.
There's no shortage of fine music at the festival, but all the same it's hard not to notice that its programmers seem more out of touch than ever. After finally giving Ken Vandermark a spot at Petrillo last year--with his 11-piece Crisis Ensemble, its lineup packed with young members of the bustling contemporary improv scene--they've gone back to ignoring the most vibrant faction of the city's jazz community. Only the Jeb Bishop Trio and guitarist Jeff Parker represent that faction this year, which leaves the gaggle of talented musicians nurtured by venues like 3030 and the Hungry Brain out in the cold. Also absent are contemporary crossover acts that could bring in new listeners, not just to the festival but to jazz as a whole: Medeski, Martin & Wood, the Bad Plus, Craig Taborn.
Perhaps more disappointing is the way familiar names keep recurring in the lineup every few years. Dee Dee Bridgewater was here in 2001; local great Von Freeman, trombonist Ray Anderson, and pianist Butch Thompson all headlined in 2002; drummer Winard Harper played the festival last year. That's not to say these musicians aren't worth booking in the first place, but why book them again when there are so many superb performers who've never brought their own groups to Chicago, much less to the Jazz Festival? I can think of a dozen from New York alone, including Michael Blake, Oscar Noriega, and Jeremy Pelt.
Thursday night's concert is once again a ticketed event at Symphony Center, and the opportunity to hear jazz in a somewhat more intimate venue is a welcome one. Friday through Sunday the festival's headliners play at the Petrillo Music Shell at Columbus and Jackson, just as in years past--the brand-new Pritzker Pavilion, with far better sound and superior sight lines, will be sitting empty. (It can't accommodate the crowds the Petrillo can, but surely the festival can put it to some use next year.) Afternoon sets take place at the Jazz on Jackson stage, on Jackson near Lake Shore Drive, and kid-oriented shows and concert-demonstrations are held on the Jazz & Heritage Stage, south of Jackson near the Rose Garden. --Peter Margasak
* = Highly recommended
Thursday, September 2
Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center
Dee Dee Bridgewater and a Salute to the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra
In the 60s and 70s, Detroit-bred trumpeter Thad Jones--brother of Hank and Elvin--and west-coast drummer Mel Lewis led a hard-hitting big band that served as a platform for a crowd of top soloists, including Bob Brookmeyer, Pepper Adams, Frank Foster, and Billy Harper. The ensemble was enormously influential and a huge popular success--especially in Europe, where Jones finally settled in '78. This Symphony Center concert pays tribute to the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, bringing in New York trumpeter Jon Faddis--once a marquee soloist with the group himself--to lead an all-star big band fronted by fellow Jones-Lewis graduate Dee Dee Bridgewater, who sang with the orchestra from '72 to '74. Bridgewater's emotional and markedly theatrical style--she won a Tony for her role in the The Wiz--is sometimes a little much, to my ears at least, but her deep, smoky voice is much beloved, and I'll admit it can be a treat in the right context. She'll be supported here by Thad's brother Hank on piano and a solid cross section of Jones-Lewis alums, including bassist George Mraz, saxophonists Harper, Jerry Dodgion, and Ed Xiques, and trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater (Dee Dee's ex); local trumpeters Orbert Davis and Art Hoyle are also part of the scheduled lineup, and drummer John Riley will fill Lewis's big shoes. Tickets are $12 to $49. JC
Friday, September 3
Jazz on Jackson
Joe Rendon & Friends
Afro-Caribbean music and Latin jazz from veteran Chicago bandleader Joe Rendon, who's part of a four-man percussion team with Sammy "Cha Cha" Torres, Albert Arroyo, and Jaime Claudio. Rendon's other friends include singer and soprano saxophonist Jose "Papo" Santiago, pianist Ben Lewis, and bassist Nael Jaime. JC
Jerry Dodgion and John Campbell
Saxophonist Jerry Dodgion has spent more than five decades as the quintessential sideman: he spent his early years with Red Norvo and Gerald Wilson in the Bay Area, and after moving to New York in 1961 he served in the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, worked with Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie, and joined Wynton Marsalis's Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, to name just a few of his credits. This year he finally made his first album as a leader: on The Joy of Sax (LSM) he's surrounded by four fellow reedists, including the great Frank Wess, and his own gently swinging bop is still clearly informed by the airy, velvety sax sound of west-coast jazz. Today he'll be supported by redoubtable local pianist John Campbell. PM
This local group pays homage to the pianoless quartets that Gerry Mulligan (nicknamed "Jeru") led in the 50s. Formed last year after bassist Joe Policastro, a Cincinnati native, moved to Chicago from Berlin, the band's rounded out by trumpeter Art Davis and baritone saxophonist Juli Wood, both longtime fixtures on the local scene, and drummer Ed Breazeale. PM
* Toshiko Akiyoshi with Peter Washington and Eddie Marshall
Two years ago the Jazz Festival named its first artist in residence--a terrific idea that ought to stay part of the fest. The first two honorees were both AACM members--trombonist George Lewis and reedist Roscoe Mitchell--and this year the organizers have let the pendulum swing back toward straight-ahead jazz, bringing in the great Japanese pianist and bandleader Toshiko Akiyoshi, who'll be performing (and working with students) all week long. For her first official festival gig, she'll be out front on the small Jazz on Jackson stage, leading a trio with elegant New York bassist Peter Washington--well-known to Jazz Showcase regulars--and drummer Eddie Marshall, with whom she's worked since 1958, a few years after she immigrated to the States. Akiyoshi was renowned even before she left Japan, not just for her thoughtful and challenging big-band arrangements but for her skill as a small-group pianist--she's been making the occasional intimate recording since 1953, when she cut Toshiko's Piano for Norman Granz's Norgran label. Akiyoshi and the Chicago Jazz Orchestra will close the festival on Sunday with a sampling of her large-group compositions; here the 74-year-old shows off her fine, tasteful improvising. JC
Jazz & Heritage Stage
Saint Patrick High School Honors Jazz Band
At Saint Patrick, a Catholic boys' school on the west side, jazz education is a high priority: the institution maintains no fewer than three ensembles. This big band, directed by Kevin Carroll, plays around town regularly; this year it also traveled to New Orleans. PM
In the Spirit
Singer Glenda Zahra-Baker and storyteller Emily Hooper-Lansana have worked as performers and educators with organizations like the ETA Creative Arts Foundation, Muntu Dance Theatre, and the Old Town School of Folk Music; as the duo In the Spirit they weave "stories, songs, rhythms, role-plays, chants and poetry into interactive lessons on Black History." PM
* The Art of the Solo with Hamiet Bluiett, Ray Anderson, Harrison Bankhead, and Avreeayl Ra
Jazz improvisation isn't just an art, it's a science, and baritone saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett and trombonist Ray Anderson (a Chicago native) are eminently qualified to offer instruction on both these aspects. Bluiett is a charter member of the World Saxophone Quartet and has done as much as anyone alive to expand the harmonic palette and improvisational range of his instrument; Anderson has consistently managed, both in his work with Anthony Braxton and in his own groups, to color mainstream jazz trombone with strutting second-line New Orleans rhythms and the sophisticated multiphonics of the avant-garde. The rhythm section here consists of fat-toned bassist Harrison Bankhead, best known from 8 Bold Souls, and funky drummer Avreeayl Ra, a vet of the New Horizons Ensemble. PM
Henry Johnson's Organ Express
There's good news and bad news here for fans of groovy soul-jazz organ music. Bad news first: guitarist Henry Johnson doesn't have the most reliable taste, and in his own playing often sinks into cliche. But the good news is that he's had the sense to hire Hammond B-3 specialist Chris Foreman and his drummer of choice, Greg Rockingham--Foreman is one of Chicago's best-kept secrets, long overdue for national exposure, and he and Rockingham are an outrageously dynamic rhythm team, with Foreman's foot covering the juicy bass lines. Rounding out the lineup is veteran vocalist Irene Reid. JC
Winard Harper Sextet
At last year's fest, Winard Harper was faced with the daunting task of drumming in the opening-night tribute to Art Blakey, perhaps the greatest hard-bop skinsman of all time. Harper may never reach the heights Blakey did, but his career path at least suggests he's headed in the right direction. After working behind singer Betty Carter for four years, he and his brother Phillip (a trumpeter and Blakey alum) formed the Harper Brothers, which became one of the most visible acts among the "young lions" of the early 90s. The sextet he currently leads plays hard swing according to the orthodoxy established by Blakey's Jazz Messengers: tightly executed themes, soul-injected arrangements, plenty of straight-up soloing. Harper has packed the lineup with fiery young players, perhaps hoping his band will turn into a training academy for topflight musicians the way Blakey's groups did, launching the careers of Freddie Hubbard, Wynton Marsalis, and Donald Harrison, among others; the present version consists of trumpeter Patrick Rickman, saxophonist Brian Horton, pianist Jeb Patton, bassist Ameen Saleem, and percussionist Kevin Jones. It's too early to guess if any of them will break out as solo artists, but the sextet's recent Come Into the Light (Savant) is a corker. PM
* The Latin Side of Miles
Miles Davis was one of the greatest synthesists in the history of jazz--practically everything that went into his ears came out in his music, Latin rhythms included. But the trumpeter's rigorous creative process made it nearly impossible to find the seams where he'd worked different idioms into his tunes. Trombonist Conrad Herwig and trumpeter Brian Lynch, the leaders of this terrific project, don't pretend to be able to isolate the Latin molecules in Miles's complicated formula; instead they transpose some of his best-known compositions into an explicitly Latin setting. (They gave Coltrane the same treatment on a 1996 recording.) Herwig and Lynch's crafty arrangements on Another Kind of Blue (Half Note) enhance the unforgettable melodies from the original album and give the soloists even more to work with. Both men are hard-bop vets--Lynch has worked with Art Blakey and Phil Woods--and longtime members of bands led by legendary Latin-jazz pianist Eddie Palmieri. Here the pianist is Edsel Gomez; rounding out the rhythm section are drummer Robbie Ameen, bassist Ruben Rodriguez, and conguero Pedro Martinez. PM
* Celebrating Count Basie's 100th Birthday with the New Kansas City 7
Count Basie was in fact born August 21, 1904, but the Chicago Jazz Festival isn't about to let a matter of two weeks prevent it from throwing a party. Assembling tonight to fete Basie are many of his high-profile associates, including trumpeter Clark Terry and clarinetist Buddy DeFranco from his punchy early-50s seven-piece--one of a series of smaller groups Basie formed after the waning of the big-band era (and the accompanying financial setbacks) forced him to disband his orchestra. These more maneuverable outfits not only allowed him to explore some avenues the big band hadn't, they were better suited to the worldwide touring that made him a household name. Tenor saxophonist Frank Foster, a Basie favorite, kept the flame lit after the Big Chief's death in 1984 by leading the Basie Orchestra; his health will probably prevent him from performing here, but he'll act as honorary emcee for this tribute band as it plays a selection of favorite Basie charts. The swing-era stars are out in force: Terry and DeFranco will be joined by saxophonist Frank Wess, bassist Buddy Catlett, and drummer Harold Jones (all Basie alums from the 50s and 60s) as well as trombonist Benny Powell and pianist George Caldwell, who sat in the Count's seat with the Basie Orchestra in the 90s. JC
Saturday, September 4
Jazz on Jackson
* Jeb Bishop Trio
Trombonist Jeb Bishop is one of the most important and creative voices on Chicago's jazz and improvised-music scenes. He left North Carolina to settle here in 1993, and over the past decade, as Chicago's adventurous new-jazz community has regained its international standing, he's steadily developed his own ideas, both in bands led by Ken Vandermark--most notably the globetrotting Vandermark 5--and in collaboration with a panorama of European and American improvisers. After years as a sideman, in the late 90s Bishop stepped up with his own trio, which issued a terrific eponymous debut on Okka Disk in '99. A collaboration with two fellow Vandermark 5 vets, longtime bassist Kent Kessler and former drummer Tim Mulvenna, the group makes music that's spacious and relaxed, with plenty of room for interplay and exploration despite its intensely focused structural elements. Mulvenna is a precise, crisp drummer who also loves to groove, as he's proven recently as the newest engine for rock-dub outfit the Eternals; Kessler has been the bedrock of Chicago's new-jazz scene since his stint in Hal Russell's NRG Ensemble in the late 80s and early 90s, with a tough, no-bullshit sound and a daring arco approach. The trio's 2001 sophomore release, Afternoons (also on Okka Disk), added guitarist Jeff Parker on some tracks, but he won't join the group here. JC
* Erwin Helfer: Homage to Art Hodes and Pete Johnson
No other Chicagoan commands the full breadth of prewar piano--everything from barrelhouse stompers to swing ballads--with the authority and verve that Erwin Helfer does. With his elegance and gusto--not to mention his faithful feel for historical idioms--he's the perfect choice to honor two of the city's all-time greatest pianists. Art Hodes was a lively advocate of the early Chicago jazz style played by the Austin High Gang in the 1920s, as several recordings available from the local Delmark label prove, but his work with the likes of Ellington sideman Barney Bigard demonstrates that he also kept up with developments in swing; no matter what he played, his love for the blues gave it a solid emotional core. Pete Johnson, one of the most accomplished and important boogie-woogie pianists not just in Chicago but in the world, cut dozens of classic tunes, both under his own name and with the great blues shouter Big Joe Turner. PM
Brother to saxophonist Ari (and a regular member of his fine quartet), local pianist Kirk Brown plays in trumpeter Malachi Thompson's Africa Brass project and over the years has worked with greats like Elvin Jones and Gary Bartz. This solo set is a rare opportunity to hear him front and center: equally at home with both mainstream and avant-garde approaches, he has a hard-swinging style, an urbane melodic sensibility, and an aggressive bluesiness that recalls the authoritative drive of McCoy Tyner. PM
Ryan Cohan Sextet
Chicago pianist Ryan Cohan keeps busy as a sideman (with the Orbert Davis Quintet, among other groups) and works as an arranger and composer (notably on three of Ramsey Lewis's recent albums). But based on the most recent release from his own band, Here and Now (Sirocco, 2001), you'd think he was devoting all his energy to it. His tunes reflect a deep understanding of the modal jazz of Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, and his deft, pithy three-horn arrangements are expansive and colorful. The current lineup is rounded out by trumpeter Tito Carrillo, reedists Geof Bradfield and Greg Fishman, longtime Ahmad Jamal bassist James Cammack, and drummer Dana Hall. PM
This octet's music is rooted in straight-ahead, hard-driving jazz, but the rhythm section (bandleader and percussionist Greg Penn, pianist Chris Mahieu, bassist Kurt Schwietz, and drummer Charles Heath) inflects it with Afro-Cuban and Brazilian accents. Reedist Chris Neal, trombonist Bill McFarland, and trumpeter Corey Wilkes--a regular guest musician with the Art Ensemble of Chicago--provide incisive improvisation, and single-named front woman Marvinetta sings in English and Spanish. PM
Jazz & Heritage Stage
Jammin' with the Kids
Chicago pianist Ken Chaney, in his regular trio with bassist Frank Russell and drummer Charles Heath, joins New Orleans saxophonist Edward "Kidd" Jordan in a jam session with high school students from the Jazz Institute's Jazz Links program. Jordan has been a stealth member of the Jazz Festival community for years, appearing at Fred Anderson's annual afterfest gig but not at the fest itself; he's an explosive free-jazz player who loves to scream, and who does so with considerably more conviction than many of his colleagues. When he's in a mellower space, his radiant sound recalls John Coltrane's--but it has an urgency that sets him apart from the mass of mere Trane copycats. JC
Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center
This local dance school, run by choreographer Homer Bryant, aims to provide lessons to all comers, regardless of their ability to pay. Though its backbone is ballet, the center also works with jazz, hip-hop, and Latin forms. PM
Charles Walton interviews Frank Foster
Tenor saxophonist Frank Foster arranged for, composed for, and played with the Count Basie Orchestra for a dozen extremely productive years, beginning in the early 50s. He's the author of the adored Basie standard "Shiny Stockings," and by the time he left the group in 1964 he'd become one of its go-to soloists, lending his fierce, bop-inflected tone to the swinging big band. But Foster's career has had many other chapters. He participated in some legendary sessions with Thelonious Monk in '54 and recorded as a leader for Blue Note in the 50s and 60s; after leaving Basie he went freelance, finding work with drummer Elvin Jones and forming a big band of his own, the Loud Minority. He'll be interviewed by Chicago historian and drummer Charles Walton, whose independent research is adding depth and detail to the historical picture of jazz in Chicago. JC
* Ten Part Invention
This Australian tentet, making its U.S. debut here, was formed in 1986 by drummer John Pochee, who played the fest in '97 with reedist Bernie McGann--himself a founding member of the group. McGann recently left the fold, but that still leaves eight members who've been with Pochee since the beginning. On the band's 1994 recording Tall Stories (Rufus) its sound is wonderfully lush, thanks to a silky reed section four players strong; the group is nimble and flexible but approximates the power and contrapuntal richness of a big band. On Unidentified Spaces (Rufus), released in 2001, the band sounds much hungrier, trading in some of the velvet tones for locomotive rhythms, and the soloists--baritone saxophonist Bob Bertles, trumpeters Warwick Alder and Miroslav Bukovsky, trombonist James Greening--combine pulse-quickening ferocity with engrossing technique. The band's music swings hard, but its original material also makes room for African, Cuban, and Brazilian flavors--even a Moravian folk melody. Reedist Sandy Evans, who writes the lion's share of that original material and leads several of her own projects, is the featured soloist. PM
* A 100th birthday tribute to Coleman Hawkins with the Bennie Wallace Nonet
Tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, born in November 1904, is commemorated here by fellow tenor Bennie Wallace, who'll perform a program of material associated with Hawk--no doubt including "Body and Soul"--at the helm of a nine-piece ensemble. Like Hawkins, Wallace opts for a big sound and projects it with force; he's most often likened to Sonny Rollins, whose own debt to Hawkins is clear. Wallace also has free-jazz leanings and a lexicon distinctly influenced by 1950s R & B honkers and screamers--a panstylistic orientation appropriate to Hawk, who was more adventurous than he's sometimes given credit for. Wallace's band includes the great Herlin Riley on drums and former Chicagoan Ray Anderson on trombone; the arrangements are by guitarist Anthony Wilson, a gifted manager of color, density, and ornament. Sensitive Boston pianist James Williams was also slated to play in the group, but he died suddenly in late July. His replacement is former Jazz Messenger Donald Brown. JC
Jammin' at the Petrillo
For better or worse this faux jam session, modeled after Norman Granz's grand Jazz at the Philharmonic blowouts, has become a fixture at the fest. Though the players involved here are veterans who can improvise over standards with authority and wit, the whole enterprise still strikes me as lazy programming: proper jam sessions are spontaneous, not planned out months in advance, and they're best experienced in intimate clubs, where the sparks flying onstage can actually reach the audience. This year the blowers include trumpeter Jon Faddis, a Dizzy Gillespie protege with dazzling technique and a stratospheric upper register who recently ended an 11-year stint as the leader of the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band; saxophonist and flutist James Moody, a longtime Gillespie cohort who's perhaps best known for his hit version of "I'm in the Mood for Love"; and local trumpeter Art Hoyle, an underrecognized master of hard bop who was on board for Sun Ra's earliest interplanetary excursions. But even given that lineup, local tenor saxophonist Von Freeman is all but guaranteed to steal the show; his weekly jam sessions at the New Apartment Lounge are Chicago's most reliable testing ground for emerging talent, and he can cut heads with the very best. On his new album, The Great Divide (Premonition), he's at the top of his game, finessing ballads with his tart tone and ripping through swingers like a wrecking ball. PM
Orbert Davis's Chicago Jazz Philharmonic
Davis is a flexible and accomplished mainstream trumpeter with a clarion tone and dazzling command of hard bop, and with this ambitious project, an experiment that fuses jazz and classical forms, he's standing on the shoulders of some real giants--John Lewis, Ornette Coleman, and Duke Ellington are among those who've already given "third stream" music a whirl. Davis's 40-member Chicago Jazz Philharmonic will peform an aria from Puccini's Tosca and a medley of tunes from Ella Fitzgerald's classic songbook recordings (sung here by Dee Alexander--see Critic's Choice), but the heart of the program is a Davis composition, Four Tone Poems for Jazz Quintet and Orchestra. The difficulty of combining the swinging rhythms essential to jazz with the elaborate multiphonic harmonies of orchestral music often dooms such projects to gloppy overkill--but Davis has regularly worked with a ten-piece string section in the past, so he ought to be able to make this click. PM
Sunday, September 5
Jazz on Jackson
Joan Hickey Quartet
Pianist and composer Joan Hickey is one of the city's most reliable mainstream musicians--the kind it's easy to take for granted when the local talent pool is so deep. On Soulmates (Chicago Lakeside Jazz, 1998) her solos are distinguished by melodic clarity and swirling, prismatic harmonies; here she plays with saxophonist John Wojciechowski, bassist Dennis Carroll, and drummer Dana Hall. PM
In the 40s and 50s Django Reinhardt's legendary Hot Club of France made the first substantial European contributions to jazz, and even today there's no shortage of contemporary guitarists dedicated to his Gypsy jazz sound, with its fiery, rigorous solos and sophisticated harmonic palette. The best-known Djangophiles are Bireli Lagrene and Jimmy Rosenberg, but Chicago has its own ringer in guitarist Alfonso Ponticelli, whose Swing Gitan also features rhythm guitarists John Eichleay and Carter O'Brien, bassist Louie Marini, drummer Dan Leali, and violinist Steve Gibons (in the Stephane Grappelli role). PM
Ten Part Invention, which plays Petrillo on Saturday, will break into subsets under the name Sydney Circles (a reference to a traffic roundabout in the band's hometown in Australia). They haven't announced who'll be in which subset, but this promises to be a varied and engaging show no matter what--any small group of players used to working together in a big band can take on a fascinating life of its own in isolation. People to keep an eye on include Ten Part Invention bandleader John Pochee, a resourceful and open-minded drummer who wowed plenty of listeners (this writer included) in Bernie McGann's trio at the '97 fest; savvy alto saxophonist Andrew Robson, a relative newcomer whose small-group outings betray the influence of Ornette Coleman's early harmolodic approach; and flexible trombonist James Greening, whose own group, the World According to James, takes after Don Cherry's multi-culti bands. The tenor playing of Sandy Evans is also well worth listening out for, and elder statesman Bob Bertles plays a hefty baritone. JC
Janice Borla Group
A dazzling technician, Borla works full-time as an educator at North Central College and as the director of the Janice Borla Vocal Jazz Camp. Rather than deliver the usual polite readings of standards, she emphasizes improvisation in open-ended, harmonically challenging settings, scatting and singing wordlessly with the precision and daring of a saxophonist; her 2003 outing Agents of Change (Blujazz) was chosen as WBEZ's jazz album of the year. She'll go head-to-head with the soloists in her group, which consists of trumpeter Art Davis, guitarist John McLean, pianist Dan Haerle, bassist Larry Kohut, and drummer Jack Mouse. PM
Jazz & Heritage Stage
* Percussion Discussion with Hamid Drake
Over the past ten years the rest of the world seems to have discovered what Chicagoans have known since the early 80s: that Hamid Drake is one of the most original, galvanizing, and flexible drummers in jazz. He first made his mark with mentor Fred Anderson, the tenor great who runs the Velvet Lounge, and later gigged steadily with local reggae bands as well as jazz's original multi-culti genius, Don Cherry. His subsequent work with Ken Vandermark has introduced him to a younger audience, and his steady partnership with New York bassist William Parker--together they're one of the most powerful rhythm sections in free jazz--has elevated his reputation to its current height. On his recent duet recording with Anderson, Back Together Again (Thrill Jockey), he drops percussive bombs, juggles patterns, and adds coloristic accents to stoke the fires of his partner, all the while laying down an imperturbable pulse. Equally accomplished on trap kit and frame drums and to a slightly lesser degree on tabla, he's a perfect choice for this clinic: as jazz continues to take root in far-flung parts of the world, absorbing new styles and traditions, Drake's love for all global rhythms has made him one of the model percussionists of the new century. PM
Susan May with the Bobby Schiff Trio
This 13-year-old vocalist had already logged plenty of hours in local opera and theater productions before she began to fancy herself a jazz singer. Many critics have marveled at May's expressiveness and control of pitch, but admitting that a teenager can sing like a grown-up isn't the same as saying she has any taste--plenty of perfectly competent adults make records just as cringeworthy as May's brand-new debut, The Rose (Southport). Low points include a suffocatingly lachrymose rendition of the title tune and an embarrassing "rock" take on the Peter Gunn theme, and throughout the album she swings like she's wearing deep-sea diving boots. May will be joined by the trio that supports her on most of the album: pianist Bobby Schiff, bassist Jim Cox, and drummer Leon Joyce. PM
Jazz History with the Jimmy Ellis Quartet
Alto saxophonist Jimmy Ellis isn't a conspicuous figure on Chicago's jazz landscape, but he's been making the scene since the late 40s, when he was still a student of legendary educator Captain Walter Dyett at DuSable High. Like many of Dyett's finest, he played in an early incarnation of Sun Ra's inventive, genre-jumping Arkestra, which in itself probably gave him a panoramic understanding of jazz history. Ellis has worked with a long list of greats in the course of his career, and he's currently playing Mondays at HotHouse with Yoko Noge's blues band. His veteran quartet may have a word or two to contribute to the afternoon's history lesson as well: it includes pianist Earma Thompson, bassist Jimmy Willis, and fabulous drummer William "Bugs" Cochran, a fellow alum of the early Arkestra. JC
* Bass Is the Place: Remembering Malachi Favors Maghostut
In January Chicago lost one of its most creative musicians, bassist Malachi Favors Maghostut, a founding member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. In every aspect of his persona--from his theatrical, Afrocentric costumes to his deeply soulful, open-minded playing, which was the critical glue in the AEC's peripatetic music--Favors embodied the forward-looking ethos of the AACM with elegance, precision, and optimism. This brief tribute to his legacy features four of the city's most prominent bassists, whose styles each reflect different facets of Favors's genius: Tatsu Aoki, Harrison Bankhead, Yosef Ben Israel, and John Whitfield. Avreeayl Ra plays drums. PM
* Fred Anderson & Friends
Most Chicago jazz fans can identify tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson with their eyes closed: listen to the endless variety of shapes he sketches out in his springy, free-ranging solos, and sooner or later you'll hear his trademark lick, a dark-toned spiral that careens dramatically into his horn's low register. Over the past decade Anderson has released a barrage of smoldering recordings, earning a significant international audience for the first time, but he's been an inspiration and father figure to the Chicago free-jazz community for far longer: his bands have served as finishing schools for the likes of trombonist George Lewis, reedist Douglas Ewart, and drummer Hamid Drake. For this set he'll be joined by some of his most trusted accomplices: New Orleans tenor man Edward "Kidd" Jordan, who visits the Velvet Lounge every festival weekend for Anderson's jam session; guitarist Jeff Parker of Tortoise, whose spiky, harmonically daring chordal patterns prod Anderson's solos to even greater heights; bassist Harrison Bankhead, a longtime member of 8 Bold Souls; and Drake, his closest collaborator, who knows the nooks and crannies of his style better than anyone. Filling out the roster is baritone saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett, more of a kindred spirit to Anderson than an accomplice; a Saint Louis native, he maintains deep connections in the midwest and has worked regularly with Kahil El'Zabar. His burnished tone and explosive high-register squeals should complement Anderson's unflashy, intensely focused approach. PM
Butch Thompson's Tribute to Fats Waller at 100
This set by popular pianist Butch Thompson, former bandleader for National Public Radio's Prairie Home Companion, will look back fondly at the great Thomas "Fats" Waller, born May 21, 1904. Though he's played tributes to the likes of Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, and Scott Joplin, Thompson has his work cut out for him here: Waller was both a deeply serious musician and an exaggerated, sometimes comic showman, and the task will be to balance these aspects, rather than reach too frequently for low-hanging fruit like "Honeysuckle Rose" and "Ain't Misbehavin'." It also remains to be seen what Thompson will make of Waller's reworking of stride piano and subtly ingenious compositions like "Smashing Thirds" and "Numb Fumblin'." Waller's enormous legacy certainly provides plenty for Thompson and his band to work with; let's hope they do it justice. JC
* In Memory of Steve Lacy: the Monksieland Band
It's been a year of hard losses in the jazz community, and the death of Steve Lacy was one of the most painful. Chiefly responsible for the resurrection of the soprano saxophone in jazz--and arguably its most devoted and accomplished exponent--Lacy was also an enormously productive composer and bandleader and an all-around inspirational figure. At the time of his death in June at age 69, Lacy had just moved back to the U.S. after three decades in Paris and was teaching at New England Conservatory in Boston. He'd already been sick with cancer for a short time when he formed the Monksieland Band with trombonist Roswell Rudd; the two of them had led a Thelonious Monk repertory band in the 60s, long before playing Monk's music was fashionable, and Lacy had worked with Monk's own ensemble a few years earlier, during an important period in his own development. Lacy was still alive when the festival booked the Monksieland Band (the name is a playful nod to the fact that Rudd and Lacy both came up playing Monk's music alongside traditional Dixieland jazz), and after he died the organizers decided to keep the group on board as a memorial. The all-star lineup should give Lacy a fabulous bon voyage into the great beyond: rounding out the front line, alongside Rudd, are sensational trumpeter Dave Douglas, well-known from his own projects and as a member of John Zorn's Masada, and equally luminous clarinetist Don Byron. Rudd's trombone work is a joy--gruff, ebullient, and totally trombonely, it avoids some of the slickness of bebop 'bone, instead revelling in the burpy, fuzzy, swaggering sounds familiar from early jazz. The pianoless rhythm section features bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel and drummer John Betsch, both members of Lacy's long-term trio. This will surely be a bittersweet performance--and very possibly the high point of the festival. JC
* Toshiko Akiyoshi with the Chicago Jazz Orchestra
Last fall Toshiko Akiyoshi disbanded her distinctive jazz orchestra--which she'd founded in the early 70s, about 15 years after arriving in the States from Japan--so she could focus on her piano playing. She'd assembled the group with the aid of her second husband, winds maestro Lew Tabackin, and her wonderful arrangements turned its deep reed section into a mini orchestra in its own right, with an unusual emphasis on flute (Tabackin's principal instrument) that gave her an effective tool to evoke the sounds of Japanese traditional music. She also experimented with traditional Japanese percussion, but never at the expense of the sophisticated swing she'd learned studying the work of masters like Duke Ellington and Gil Evans--and like them she tailored her compositions to the players in her band. On Friday afternoon she showcases her improvising in a trio set, but at this gig she'll give festgoers a taste of the sound she's best known for when she conducts the Chicago Jazz Orchestra in a selection of her arrangements. Helmed by longtime music director Jeff Lindberg, this topflight big band includes trumpeters Danny Barber, Doug Scharf, Art Davis, and Art Hoyle, trombonists Scott Bentall, Tim Coffman, Tracy Kirk, and Mike Young, pianist Dan Trudell, bassist Dennis Carroll, and drummer Dana Hall. The CJO's five reedists--Chris Lega, Mike Smith, Brian Sjoerdinga, Bill Overton, and Jerry DiMuzio--will have their hands full trying to bring Akiyoshi's vibrant charts to life. PM
Thinking Outside the Park
The music doesn't begin and end at the fest.
By Neil Tesser
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 2
As he has for the past several years, multi-instrumentalist Ira Sullivan--a virtual one-man house band, thanks to his virtuosity on trumpet, flugelhorn, three saxes, and flute--returns to his longtime hometown to anchor the traditional afterfest jam sessions at the JAZZ SHOWCASE, which begin tonight and continue through Sunday. This year he leads a rollicking local rhythm section comprising pianist Willie Pickens, bassist Larry Gray, and drummer Robert Shy. Not much has changed about Sullivan since he left town in the 60s: he still has the same freakish ability to mold his musical personality to the instrument at hand--hale and hearty on tenor, bright and mercurial on alto, reflective on soprano, blustery on trumpet--and the same preternatural instinct that tells him when to change direction, even in midtune. For this session Frank Wess, keystone of the iconic sax section in Count Basie's marvelous bands of the 50s, has promised to sit in (he plays Friday at Petrillo as part of the fest's Basie tribute). $20. Approximately 9:30 PM, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473.
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 3
Pianist and composer Ryan Cohan, whose sextet plays the fest on Saturday, leads a quartet at the GREEN MILL. $10. 9 PM, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552.
Afterfest sets start at HOTHOUSE tonight with "The Latin Side of Miles," starring trombonist Conrad Herwig and trumpeter Brian Lynch (the ensemble plays at Petrillo earlier in the evening). Chicago band Conjunto opens. $15. 9:30 PM, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707.
Likely sitters-in tonight at the JAZZ SHOWCASE jam session include members of Winard Harper's sextet. $20. Approximately 9:30 PM, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473.
The blues club ROSA'S LOUNGE makes a nod to the Jazz Festival with a set featuring vocalist Dee Alexander (see Critic's Choice), who also sings Sat-urday at Petrillo with Orbert Davis's Chicago Jazz Philharmonic. $15. 9:30 PM, 3420 W. Armitage; 773-342-0452.
David Boykin belongs to an expansive tradition of hard-blowing Chicago saxophonists that stretches from beboppers Gene Ammons and Johnny Griffin to hard boppers Eddie Harris and Clifford Jordan through postbop freedom fighters like Fred Anderson, Roscoe Mitchell, and Ken Vandermark. You might say he's established himself "quietly," in that he's hardly a household name, but in fact he has a big, blowsy tone and a swaggering style, both best heard on his album The Nextspiritmental Musics of Saxophonist David Boykin (released by his own Dreamtime label). Boykin has set himself an outsize task for the weekend: tonight and Saturday he leads a crowd of more than 25 musicians and dancers that he calls the Macrocosmic Sound Orchestra--all of whom he says will be onstage at once--during the first-ever HEREAFTER FEST, a late-late show at THE SPAREROOM in Humboldt Park. (Any similarity to Sun Ra's Arkestra--incarnations of which he dubbed Myth Science, Astro-Infinity, and Omniverse--is entirely noncoincidental.) The players include many of the best and the brightest from the Chicago avant-garde's new generation, among them saxist Greg Ward, flutist Nicole Mitchell, cornetist Josh Berman, trombonists Jeb Bishop and Tony Hererra, bassists Josh Abrams and Karl E.H. Seigfried, and violinist Savoir Faire. The group also promises something called "four-dimensional film projection." Free, all ages. Midnight, 2416 W. North; spareroomchicago.org.
Ernest Dawkins & the New Horizons Ensemble kick off the festival weekend at the VELVET LOUNGE, the South Loop club run by saxophonist Fred Anderson. Sets begin after 9:30 PM. $10. 21281/2 S. Indiana; 312-791-9050.
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 4
At HOTHOUSE tonight it's trumpeter Olu Dara, whose journey from progressive jazz into roots music has captivated some listeners and confused others. In the 90s the famously inclusive Rough Guide to Jazz chose to ignore him completely, despite a resume that included work with Art Blakey, Julius Hemphill, and Sam Rivers. In 1998 he finally made a record under his own name, In the World: From Natchez to New York (Atlantic)--on which he played trumpet, cornet, and acoustic guitar, sang his own compositions, and traversed styles as varied as calypso, hip-hop, blues, and southern folk (there was even a bit of straight-ahead jazz). But though that disc won near universal acclaim, Dara has recorded only one follow-up; he's probably made more fans with his work on albums by his son, the rapper Nas. Neighborhoods was released in 2001, and since then the 63-year-old has again retreated into the wings, making this show relatively rare and all the more recommended; leave Grant Park early to get there if you have to. $20. Approximately 9:30 PM, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707.
Likely jammers at the JAZZ SHOWCASE tonight include saxists Bennie Wallace and James Moody and guitarist Anthony Wilson (of Diana Krall's band). $20. Approximately 9:30 PM, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473.
KATERINA'S hosts a CD-release party for The Light: A Tone Poem (Southport), a multimedia piece by pianist, composer, poet, and producer Bradley Parker-Sparrow that features narration by veteran TV announcer Ron Rolland and guitar and harmonica from Eric Noden. Guests for this show include Rolland, percussionist Geraldo de Oliveira, bassist John Magnan, and vocalist Joanie Pallatto. $10. 9:30 PM, 1920 W. Irving Park; 773-348-7592.
Malachi Thompson's Freebop Band, joined by guest vocalist Maggie Brown and blues harpist Billy Branch, plays an afterfest set at ROSA'S LOUNGE. $15. 10 PM, 3420 W. Armitage; 773-342-0452.
David Boykin's HEREAFTER FEST (see Friday's capsule) continues at midnight at THE SPAREROOM. Free, all ages. 2416 W. North; spareroomchicago.org.
The VELVET LOUNGE offers a no-holds-barred preview of Sunday's free-jazz jam in the park, with saxists Fred Anderson, Hamiet Bluiett, and Kidd Jordan (see Sunday's Velvet Lounge capsule), guitarist Jeff Parker, and bassist Harrison Bankhead, among others. Sets begin after 9:30 PM. $10. 21281/2 S. Indiana; 312-791-9050.
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 5
The Australian band Ten Part Invention (in Grant Park on Saturday night) performs an encore set at HOTHOUSE. $10. 6 PM, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707.
Also at HOTHOUSE, Chicago trumpeter Malachi Thompson's Africa Brass plays an afterfest set starring saxist Dennis Winslett and vocalist Dee Alexander (see Critic's Choice). $15. 9:30 PM, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707.
During the Jazz Festival, Sunday brunch is the most important meal of the weekend--just like mother always said. This morning Delmark Records hosts the annual JAZZ RECORD MART JAZZ BRUNCH, presented by Bob Koester, owner of Delmark and proprietor of the shop. Koester offers a free spread--including coffee, juice, fruit, sweet rolls, and bagels--and free music from Delmark stalwarts. This year's participants include saxists Fred Anderson and Ari Brown, bassist Josh Abrams, Ernest Dawkins's New Hori-zons Ensemble, and Ted Sirota's Rebel Souls (starring Jeb Bishop on trombone and Jeff Parker on guitar); author Nadine Cohodas will also be on hand to autograph copies of Queen, her long-anticipated biography of Dinah Washington. The brunch starts at 10 AM and runs only till noon (those sweet rolls don't grow on trees, you know), making it a fine eye-opener for another nine hours of music in the park. 444 N. Wabash; 312-222-1467.
Pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi and trumpeter Dave Douglas are among the potential sitters-in for the JAZZ SHOWCASE's final night of afterfest music. $20. Approximately 9:30 PM, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473.
If it's Labor Day weekend, Kidd Jordan must be in Chicago: since the early 90s, this New Orleans saxist (and father figure to two generations of Crescent City avant-gardists) has come to town every year to lock horns with Fred Anderson, his Chicago contemporary and counterpart, at Anderson's VELVET LOUNGE. Jordan plays with a free-jazzer's abandon and the stark syntax of postbop modernism but tempers his sound with the slip-sliding warmth endemic to New Orleans music of almost every stripe. This year Jordan's finally making a stop at the Jazz Festival proper, joining Anderson for his Petrillo set earlier today, and the whole gang from that gig--including Hamid Drake, Harrison Bankhead, Jeff Parker, and Hamiet Bluiett--is relocating to the Velvet for an afterfest blowout. If past years are any guide, you can count on unannounced stars to join in too. Sets begin after 9:30 PM. $10. 21281/2 S. Indiana; 312-791-9050.
At 11 PM the tall ship Windy departs from Navy Pier for a two-hour musical nightcap on the water. MARSHALL VENTE'S JAZZ CRUISE has a Brazilian theme again this year, more or less, with music from delightful bossa nova duo Two for Brazil (guitarist-vocalist Paulinho Garcia and tenor saxist Greg Fishman), harmonica virtuoso Howard Levy, and Vente's own sextet Tropicale with guest vocalist Greta Pope. Vente hosts two cruises every summer, and while I've never made the trip (too many episodes of Gilligan's Island, I suspect), I've heard nothing but good things. Tickets are $50, and reservations are required; call 312-595-5472. Navy Pier is at 600 E. Grand.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Michael Jackson.