There’s plenty worth hearing this week as the Chicago Jazz Festival enters its 20th year, but it’s clear that the programmers at the Jazz Institute of Chicago could only stretch the city’s budget, which has remained nearly flat for the past few years, so far: as fine as Randy Weston’s closing-night performance of his “African Sunrise” promises to be, it’ll still be less impressive than the piece’s debut in Grant Park 14 years ago, and this year’s only new commission, by Ed Wilkerson’s Shadow Vignettes, wouldn’t have been possible without an NEA grant. Maybe it’s just the ringing in my ears from last week’s Air & Water Show talking, but it seems to me if the city were really concerned with supporting culture we’d hear more great music and less noise pollution.
Petrillo Music Shell
6:00 PM zERIC SCHNEIDER-EDDIE JOHNSON QUINTET
Overall, opening night of the 20th annual Chicago Jazz Festival promises to be forgettable, but veteran Chi-town tenor man Eddie Johnson should provide a bright memory or two. Johnson applies his full, warm tone to postswing standards with the economic elegance and cool melodic grace of legends like Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins. The seventysomething Johnson’s group includes like-minded saxist Eric Schneider, pianist John Young, bassist Larry Kohut, and drummer Charlie Braugham.
7:00 PM McCOY TYNER
McCoy Tyner will forever and always be best known as the pianist in John Coltrane’s classic quartet–particularly if he keeps making records like last year’s What the World Needs Now (Impulse!), a putrid, gloppy orchestral treatment of tunes by Burt Bacharach. With Trane, Tyner delivered a crucial cool burn, a steady foil that raised the stakes with each new chorus, but in the decades since then his playing has grown more and more floridly introspective. Soliloquy, a 1992 solo date for Blue Note, proved he could still deliver in the proper setting. He’s solo here as well.
Nancy Wilson enjoyed her greatest success as a sophisticated pop singer in the 60s and 70s, but jazz fans still revere her for her 1961 collaboration with alto-sax legend Cannonball Adderly. In the last few decades she’s crept back into jazz, but her recordings have been mostly
sentimental mush, overorchestrated and saccharine. This booking is to be a tribute to that classic Adderly album; she’ll perform with local altoist Mike Smith, a vet of Frank Sinatra’s band who’s always done his darnedest to sound like Cannonball. Cannonball’s trumpet-playing brother, Nat, was scheduled to perform, too, but canceled due to illness. Though Wilson’s still got a lovely, crowd-pleasing voice, this might be the most banal and irrelevant performance of this year’s festival.
Petrillo Music Shell
6:00 PM AWAKENING
Its last gig was 25 years ago, but this short-lived Chicago soul-jazz group has reunited amid renewed interest in two albums it cut for the Black Jazz label in the early 70s. Superb saxist Ari Brown and pianist Ken Chaney remain busy on the local scene, and most of the rest of the group–trumpeter Frank Gordon, bassist Reggie Willis, drummer Arlington Davis Jr., and trombonist Steve Galloway–are still active in other locales.
7:00 PM zIRAKERE
It certainly didn’t invent Latin jazz, but few groups have done as much to popularize the music as Havana’s Irakere, formed in the early 70s. Mixing propulsive Afro-Cuban rhythms, aggressive high-flying solos, and the electricity and enlarged sonic palette of jazz fusion, the group has modernized the accomplishments of Dizzy Gillespie, Chano Pozo, and Machito and introduced the rich possibilities of Cuban music to a new generation. Although the most famous members, saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera and trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, split long ago to pursue solo careers, Irakere is still helmed by brilliant pianist Jesus “Chucho” Valdes.
Branford Marsalis’s reputation is based on many things other than his music: his famous family, his stint as Tonight Show bandleader, his pop dalliances with Sting, his tepid hip-hop experiment Buckshot LeFonque, and most recently his appointment as creative consultant to Columbia Records’ jazz department, where his first signing was free-jazz titan David S. Ware. But Marsalis is in fact a fine, if occasionally unfocused, saxophonist. On The Dark Keys (Columbia), a 1996 trio date with bassist Reginald Veal and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts, he summons the spirits of John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins without mimicking either, favoring long, spindly, and sometimes spiky lines and embroidering simple motifs with impressive ingenuity. He’ll be joined here by longtime accomplices Watts and pianist Kenny Kirkland, plus bassist Eric Reeves.
Jazz On Jackson
noon KARL MONTZKA QUARTET
Led by organist Karl Montzka, this local group claims to avoid the typical greasy B-3 combo sound in favor of more adventurous, fusion-tinged terrain “by performing original compositions and unique arrangements.” The rest of the group includes guitarist John McLean, bass trumpeter Ryan Shultz, and Karl’s brother, drummer Eric Montzka.
1:10 PM ANDY GOODRICH QUINTET
Although he’s performed regularly over the years, alto saxophonist Andy Goodrich has spent most of his career as an educator; among his former students are luminaries Booker Little, Harold Mabern, Frank Strozier, and Charles Lloyd. Last year he finally got around to recording his debut album, Motherless Child (Delmark), a fine heaping of buoyant, soulful postbop. Goodrich will be flanked by trumpeter Tony Mojica, pianist Jodie Christian, bassist Larry Gray, and drummer Robert Shy.
2:15 PM TRIBUTE TO ALBERT AMMONS WITH PAUL ASARO & JON WEBER
Every year the fest pays tribute to a deceased Chicago piano great. This year’s worthy subject is boogie-woogie progenitor Albert Ammons, who also happened to sire the great saxophonist Gene Ammons; the executors are ragtime and stride specialist Paul Asaro and the encyclopedic Jon Weber.
3:30 PM zFRANK LACY & CHARLES DAVIS WITH the WILLIE PICKENS TRIO
This loose jam session all but guarantees fireworks. Trombonist Frank Lacy does it all: he can deliver a blues with unalloyed feeling, play hard bop with lithe grace, sculpt avant-garde smears and low moans with the best of ’em, and entertain a crowd through all of the above with his tasteful theatrics. Chicago native Charles Davis plays all the saxophones, but his specialty is baritone, the ax he’s wielded with everyone from spaceman Sun Ra to big-band traditionalist Illinois Jacquet–like Lacy, he’s obviously at ease in any setting. Pianist Willie Pickens is a local institution; his most recent output is actually a Southport CD reissue of his 1987 album It’s About Time, on which he treats standards like “Lush Life” and “Stella by Starlight” with blood-pumping energy and rich melodic filigree. The group is rounded out by the able rhythm section of bassist Larry Gray and drummer Robert Shy.
Petrillo Music Shell
5:00 PM zANDY BEY WITH GERALDINE DE HAAS
Back in the 50s and early 60s singer and pianist Andy Bey hit big with his vocal group Andy & the Bey Sisters–Geraldine and Salome. He continued to work after the group broke up, primarily with other leaders like Eddie Harris, Max Roach, and Frank Foster, but was rarely seen or heard in the 70s and 80s. In 1996 his fine piano-and-voice album, Ballad, Blues & Bey (Evidence), not only put him back in the limelight but also established him as one of the most important and creative male vocalists around. And the forthcoming Shades of Bey suggests that he was just getting started: with the backing of a full group, Bey uses his rich, tensile baritone like a horn, without getting overly cute or bombastic. He’ll be joined here by bassist Pat O’Leary, drummer Greg Bandy, and vocalist Geraldine de Haas–nee Bey, of course–who’s best known these days as the founder and president of south-side jazz boosters Jazz Unites.
6:00 PM zLEE KONITZ & MARTIAL SOLAL
Mild-mannered Chicago native Lee Konitz never really reaches for the stars–so he’s rarely accorded proper credit for the experimentation that’s colored his entire career. The saxist was part of the harmonically daring big bands of Claude Thornhill and Stan Kenton, and he and fellow horn man Warne Marsh were crucial to pianist Lennie Tristano’s most important work; he played on Miles Davis’s landmark Birth of the Cool album and went free with Elvin Jones on the recently reissued Motion (Verve). His subsequent music has relentlessly mixed inventive melodies, harmonic freedom, and subtly elastic rhythms in thrilling ways. French pianist Martial Solal doesn’t have such an impressive resume, but he works brilliantly with Konitz. On the recent Star Eyes, Hamburg 1983 (Hatology) the duo reinvents a host of standards and a few Konitz touchstones (“It’s You” and “Subconscious-Lee”) with authority and imagination; expect more of the same tonight.
7:00 PM zSHADOW VIGNETTES WITH FRED ANDERSON & VON FREEMAN
Any performance by Shadow Vignettes, the stellar 27-member big band led by protean reedist Ed Wilkerson of 8 Bold Souls, is a major event–the full version of the band has performed only three times in Chicago since 1984. An armada of AACM regulars, including trumpeters Robert Griffin and Ameen Muhammad, trombonists Steve Berry and Isaiah “Ike” Jackson, saxophonists Mwata Bowden, Ernest Dawkins, Ari Brown, and Vandy Harris, bassists Harrison Bankhead and Yosef Ben Israel, percussionists Reggie Nicholson and Dushon Mosley, cellist Naomi Millender, and vocalist Rita Warford, rips through Wilkerson’s lush, heavily contrapuntal, and deliciously varied charts, often tossing in hip theatrical surprises; at times it recalls the Cotton Club days of Duke Ellington and at others it might echo one of Anthony Braxton’s big-band experiments. The Jazz Fest commissioned Wilkerson to write a new piece especially for tonight’s performance; it will feature living Chicago saxophone legends Fred Anderson and Von Freeman.
Of the many young-lion trumpeters to emerge in the last decade, with the possible exception of Nicholas Payton none has broken away from the pack like Roy Hargrove. He’s always had the chops, but last year on the terrific Habana (Verve), a lusty Latin jazz outing cut with some of Cuba’s best musicians, he located his imagination as well. This is the first time in years that he’s hit town with a standard group, playing his breathless hard bop, and he’s got a swell lineup in tow: versatile trombonist Frank Lacy, soulful alto saxophonist Sherman Irby, veteran pianist Larry Willis, and the young rhythm section of bassist Gerald Cannon and drummer Willie Jones III.
Jazz On Jackson
noon TERRY CALLIER & BEYOND
Back in the 60s Chicagoan Terry Callier bred a unique hybrid of folk, soul, and jazz. Though it brought him moderate, inconsistent success over the next 15 years or so, by the early 80s he had turned to computer programming to support his family. But less than a decade after he disappeared, his reputation reached mythic proportions on England’s acid-jazz scene, and he came out of retirement. His new album, TimePeace (Verve), makes plain that he’s not interested in being a nostalgia act, but it’s classic Callier, filled with regal, curvy melodies, restrained instrumentation, and deeply soulful, cliche-free singing. His band Beyond, which overlaps with the lineup on the record, comprises bassist Eric Hochberg, guitarist Dave Onderdonk, drummer Penn McGee, and saxist Rich Fudoli.
1:10 PM JOSE VALDES LATIN JAZZTET
One of the hardest-working Latin jazz combos in Chicago, this nonet with fiery trumpeter Tito Carillo mixes Afro-jazz gems with jazz standards.
2:15 PM NRG ENSEMBLE
This is the first appearance by the NRG Ensemble since the departure of reedist Ken Vandermark. But as his shoes will be filled by Chuck Burdelik–a feisty saxophonist who worked in the group when it was still led by founder Hal Russell–there’s no reason to believe this set won’t deliver its usual mix of anarchy, precision, humor, and firepower. Whether this is a new beginning or a contract-fulfilling swan song, though, is anyone’s guess.
3:30 PM JOHN CAMPBELL TRIO WITH ED PETERSEN
In the past pianist John Campbell, bassist Kelly Sill, and drummer Joel Spencer have been driven to great heights by Chicago expatriate saxist Ed Petersen; I have no doubt they will be once again in this flashback to state-of-the-art mainstream Chicago bop circa the late 80s.
Petrillo Music Shell
5:00 PM GRAZYNA AUGUSCIK
This Polish-born vocalist has slowly become one of Chicago’s most reliable attractions, singing with an almost austere directness. As heard on her recent duet album, Pastels (GMA), with keyboardist Bogdan Holownia, she has a remarkable talent for reimagining standards: you’ll recognize “Caravan” and “Love for Sale,” but it might take a minute. She’s joined by organist Dan Trudell, guitarist John McLean, bassist Eric Hochberg, drummer Eric Montzka, and percussionist Ruben Alvarez.
6:00 PM zTRIBUTE TO SUN RA IN CHICAGO
There’s been no shortage of tributes to Sun Ra since his death in 1993, but this one stands out because it celebrates a phase of his career that’s rarely explored. Most fans love his later, trippy space music, but before heading east to New York and Philadelphia (not to mention Saturn) Sun Ra lived and worked in Chicago, where he wrote reams of superb music that fit more neatly within the jazz tradition than his later stuff. Many of his compositions from the period (1953-’61) were filled with weird twists and turns, and his harmonic sense was already cockeyed, but the Sun Ra Arkestra as we know it had not yet left the planet. This group draws on musicians who played with in Chicago: trumpeter Art Hoyle, trombonist Julian Priester, saxophonists Charles Davis and James Scales, bassist Richard Evans, and percussionists Robert Barry and Jim Herndon. Pianist Jodie Christian and baritone saxist Mwata Bowden will flesh out the group, and Ra’s longtime alto man Marshall Allen will appear as a special guest.
7:05 PM LOU DONALDSON QUARTET
Most of the recordings alto saxist Lou Donaldson made for Blue Note in the late 60s and early 70s (recently reissued by the same label) showcase his mastery of funky jazz, but these days he’s content to ride a nice warm groove. Backed by drummer Kenny Washington, guitarist Peter Bernstein, and organist Dr. Lonnie Smith, Donaldson captains a seamlessly bluesy ship, and even if people aren’t dancing in the aisles anymore they’re bound to be tapping their toes.
The great pianist plays his episodic “African Sunrise,” a piece commissioned by and debuted at the Chicago Jazz Festival in 1984 (but not recorded until 1991, on the brilliant The Spirits of Our Ancestors). In its premiere the work was performed by Weston with Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet, Art Blakey on drums, tenor saxist Johnny Griffin, and the Machito Orchestra. But time passes and so does the torch: this year the piece will be rendered by fiery Brazilian-born trumpeter Claudio Roditi, regular Weston tenor man Billy Harper, heavy postbop drummer Lewis Nash, and the Chico O’Farrill Orchestra–one of the most popular Afro-Cuban bands of the 50s.
For years the post- and even preconcert events around the Chicago Jazz Festival have taken on a life of their own, creating in effect a second, further-flung festival to complement the official doings in Grant Park. This year these ancillary programs shoulder a little added weight, because to celebrate the festival’s 20th edition City Hall has chosen to abbreviate it. All city music festivals now must end by 9:30, which lops one slot off each night’s schedule, making the ’98 festival nearly 20 percent smaller than last year’s. This means that just around the time things usually heat up, the park will be closing down. The good news? More time for the wealth of other items on this weekend’s jazz agenda.
CHICAGO CULTURAL CENTER
Last year the Cultural Center (78 E. Washington; 312-744-6630) stepped into the fest-week limelight by becoming a club-tour venue, hosting a concert by a major pianist, and launching the parade that opened the festival down Michigan Avenue. This year the weeklong schedule calls for a stop on the club tour and no fewer than three internationally known pianists. The first of these is Cuban powerhouse Chucho Valdes, cofounder of the long-running Irakere (see festival listing). He’ll play a solo set at 4 PM, after which the Algiers Brass Band from New Orleans will lead the second-liners down Boul Mich to Grant Park for the festival’s opening salvos. Friday at noon the keyboard receives another workout when Brad Mehldau (see Critic’s Choice) brings his trio to the Cultural Center in his only appearance of the festival weekend; the Afrocentric jazz giant Randy Weston (see festival listing) follows with a rare solo set two hours later.
The festival’s early closing time will benefit no one more than Joe Segal and the folks who cram his Jazz Showcase (59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473) for the jam sessions that have become a fest-week given. Segal’s after-fest sets almost always take place under the aegis of a returning jazz legend and frequently attract the world-renowned artists booked for the band shell. This year the requisite legend is marble-toned altoist Bunky Green, who came to maturity here in the 50s and 60s and expanded his style in the 80s to accommodate the inventions of Anthony Braxton; he’ll perform with his former mates Stu Katz on piano and Wilbur Campbell on drums, plus younger veteran Larry Gray on bass. Confirmed sitters-in from the festival proper include trumpeters Claudio Roditi and Frank Gordon, trombonists Frank Lacy and Julian Priester (himself a legendary Chicagoan of the 50s), and Sherman Irby, the alto man in Roy Hargrove’s band (which will remain in town after its festival performance to play the Showcase, September 8 through 13). Unconfirmed, but still in the running: saxists Lee Konitz and Billy Harper and pianist Chucho Valdes and the rest of Irakere. (I’d also be surprised if McCoy Tyner didn’t at least drop by to say hello.) Segal will kick off the jams around 10; the club crowds quickly on weekends, so be prepared to leave the park before the festival’s last set if you want a seat. Otherwise, plan to fold yourself into a standing-room spot with something approaching sight lines or, once those are gone, to listen from the lobby.
The peripatetic incubator of progressive performance opened its current and hopefully permanent location (31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707) in May, and in true iconoclast fashion offers an unexpected nightcap to the festival’s opener on Thursday: “Flashframes,” billed as “an evening of jazz on film and film on jazz.” The program runs from 10 PM to midnight, starting with Charleston, a 1927 Jean Renoir short about an African scientist who lands in the heart of the “light continent” (Europe) and discovers an exotic native demonstrating her tribal dance (a French girl doing the Charleston); young Chicago pianist and ragtime composer Reginald Robinson supplies the live score. Next are The Spitball Story, directed by Jean Bach (A Great Day in Harlem), which examines in detail the notorious incident that spurred Dizzy Gillespie to pull a blade on Cab Calloway; and Trumpetistically, Clora Bryant, a short profile of the female trumpeter. The famous Space Is the Place, John Coney’s psychedelic quasi-documentary, sci-fi concert-film encounter with Sun Ra, is the main feature.
HotHouse also boasts a full slate of after-fest sessions, starting with Irakere on Friday after their main-stage appearance in Grant Park. Saturday the New York-based pop band Afro Blue plays, along with Chicago’s hard-hitting New Horizons Ensemble (led by saxist Ernest Dawkins). Sunday Roscoe Mitchell journeys down from the Wisconsin wilds to lead a superb AACM trio with Malachi Favors on bass and Vincent Davis on drums. And if you’re somehow not sated by the time Labor Day rolls around, Monday brings the Jazz Unlimited Orchestra to the club, playing a classic jazz repertoire (Basie, Ellington, Thad Jones) in new arrangements by trombonist Steve Galloway.
Only a year and a half old to begin with, Rituals (537 S. Dearborn; 312-922-3834) has undergone a significant change since fest time last year: the internationally known Chicago percussionist and producer Kahil El’Zabar has taken a financial interest in the club, which has ensured that a steady stream of top-drawer out-of-town artists augments the sturdy local lineup. (He’s also upgraded the art on the walls of this intimate, L-shaped neighborhood hangout; unfortunately, the baby grand piano promised earlier in the summer has yet to replace the adequate but unremarkable electric keyboard permanently mounted stage right.)
Thursday the after-fest double bill here stars the Reggie Nicholson Concept, in which the Chicago drummer knits together the diverse styles of such players as mainstream trumpeter Orbert Davis and free-screeching saxist Vandy Harris. Friday, Nicholson anchors the quartet led by #1 Bold Soul Ed Wilkerson (see festival listing); expect blistering trumpet lines from Rod Mcgaha and the magisterial bass of Harrison Bankhead. They split the bill with Ari Brown’s quartet, with his brother Kirk at the keyboard. Saturday it’s the Out-tet, led by saxman David Boykin, while Sunday brings the Awakening, a Chicago sextet resuscitated after a quarter century of slumber (see festival listing).
In the 30s, when swing made jazz and dancing virtually synonymous, most of the greatest improvisers spent at least some of their time supplying the sound track for the antics of jitterbugs, mambo mavens, and fox-trotters. The city’s summerlong SummerDance recalls those days with the bands it books during Jazz Fest, which preside over a 40-by-60 wooden dance floor that backs up to Michigan Avenue at Washington. The shows run from 7:30 to 9:30 PM each day except Sunday (3 to 5 PM), and thus directly compete with the Grant Park concerts. But those who can’t ignore Terpsichore will eagerly make the sacrifice.
Thursday the Chicago Samba School brings the street and dance-hall rhythms of Brazil to downtown. Friday Chicago Jump Company plays, and Big City Swing–the band’s onstage dance troupe–sways to the beat of new swing. Saturday the Alternatives Big Band, led by baritone saxist and WXRT DJ Barry Winograd, will concentrate on the more danceable charts in its ambitious repertoire, and Sunday afternoon winds down with the Dick Kress Big Band, a swing orchestra more attuned to the classic jazz-dance sound. Each SummerDance concert is preceded by 60 to 90 minutes of dance lessons.
With the Jazz Festival turning 20, one can’t help but note some of the other traditions that have grown up around it. New Orleans saxophonist and free-jazz icon Kidd Jordan has been making a festival-week pilgrimage to the Velvet Lounge–the intimate and relaxed near-south-side bar that’s become a hot spot on the map of Chicago’s new-music renaissance–every year since 1992. It began as a visit coupled with the chance to join his contemporary, tenor-sax hero and club owner Fred Anderson, in the occasional onstage free-for-all; it soon became a regular part of the city’s underground jazz festival, with Jordan the featured guest and de facto coleader of the avant-garde jams scheduled for Saturday and Sunday nights. This year he’ll have Chicago mainstays Kirk Brown (piano), Harrison Bankhead (bass), and Avreeayl Ra (drums) as his rhythm section; flutist Michael Mason will also take part and, on Saturday only, Anderson will haul his tenor out from behind the bar to raise the stakes. Reedist Ari Brown leads his trio Thursday; Yapree Howell leads the Space Bop Vanguard quartet Friday.
JAZZ RECORD MART
The CD player grows unaccustomedly cold, the back room buzzes with live music, and the bagel crumbs proliferate, signaling that the nationally famous jazz shop’s annual Breakfast Bash is under way. On Sunday, for the fourth year running, Jazz Record Mart (444 N. Wabash; 312-222-1467) offers a generous Chicago version of a continental breakfast–with fresh fruit and bagels, not just the usual rolls and coffee–and live jazz from artists who record on the Delmark label, the Mart’s house blend. Artists confirmed at press time included a tenor triad of Ari Brown, twentysomething Frank Catalano, and Ed Petersen, making his annual return from New Orleans, where he teaches, to the town where he learned his craft; an exceptionally strong alto section comprising Andy Goodrich (see festival listing) and Mike Smith; trumpeter Malachi Thompson; pianist Jodie Christian; and drummers George Fludas and Barrett Deems. (You can count on one or two others from the label, not to mention the ubiquitous “surprise guests.”) The music kicks off at 10:30 AM–early by festival-week standards, but worth the attempt–and runs till noon, in time for listeners fortified by carbs and caffeine to stroll over to Grant Park for the first show of the festival’s last day.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Ysef Ben Israel photo by Michael Jackson; Ed Wilderson photo by Marc PoKempner; Chucho Valdes photo by Marc PoKempner.