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Velvet Jam

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Horn men gather round Fred Anderson's place every Sunday to listen or to jam to the house band that plays from five to nine. From outside it doesn't look like a temple. It's just a narrow storefront squeezed between buildings north of Cermak Road on Indiana Avenue. The Velvet Lounge--a spot in the universe that glows with the fire of free jazz.

Anderson speaks true gospel through his black sax. A legendary tenor player and free-jazz pioneer, he sets the standards high: this is the real deal--improvisational post-Bird, post-Coltrane blowing sessions--take it out as far as you can and bring it back.

Billy Brimfield blasts off with a few trumpet bars, boosting Art Taylor's alto aloft. He floats us for a while; then Paul Fenner plays tenor strong and straight. On piano Jim Baker frantically states the tune and keeps the time. You'd never suspect he knows so many tunes.

Each player has his say. Youngsters are welcome and sometimes pushed beyond what they think they're able to do. Masters like bassist Harrison Bankhead drop by and blow everyone away. The dreadful trumpeter reappears. He honks and squeaks out of tune, out of time. Drummer Ajaramu hollers for him to get off the stage to no avail--finally, everybody, even Anderson, insists he leave.

"Too much to drink?" someone asks.

"You wouldn't believe it to see him now," says Taylor, "but he really could play."

Ajaramu won't have it: "You don't come here to practice, you come here to play."

The audience doesn't come for entertainment or diversion. There's sparse conversation, minimal drinking, no dancing. The music's not a backdrop. It's the reason people are here.

This Saturday and Sunday, following the official Chicago Jazz Festival in Grant Park, Fred Anderson will host postfest jams starting around 11. The Velvet Lounge is at 2128 1/2 S. Indiana; call 791-9050 for more info. "The Velvet Touch," an exhibit of artwork inspired by Anderson's place, is at the Southport Gallery, 3755 N. Southport, through October 20.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photos/Marc PoKempner.

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