The return to prominence of 69-year-old trombonist Curtis Fuller is easily the feel-good jazz story of the decade. Fuller starred in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in the 60s and appeared on John Coltrane’s classic Blue Train in 1957, but as of last year, when he performed in the Blakey alumni tribute that opened the Chicago Jazz Festival, he apparently hadn’t stepped into a recording studio since 1986. Three days after that, Fuller took advantage of his extended visit and recorded Up Jumped Spring for Chicago’s Delmark label, a quintet set with Cincinnati trumpeter Brad Goode (himself a former Chicagoan) that reprised a format they’ve often played in together over the past couple years. A month later he guested on another new disc, David “Fathead” Newman’s Song for the New Man (HighNote); of such small steps are comebacks made. When Fuller was at his peak, no one played with such a combination of speed, precision, and fire: listening to him solo on the live Blakey album Three Blind Mice can still take your breath away. But in the late 70s and 80s, fickle fame abandoned Fuller and he settled into teaching high school on Long Island; in the late 80s and 90s, he dealt with an illness that left him one lung lighter. Though he can no longer pull off the pyrotechnics that earned him his place in jazz history, his mind for melody remains fertile and sharp–and at his festival gig here he was clearly in great spirits, thrilled to be back onstage and getting his props. At these shows Fuller will play with the group from Up Jumped Spring: Goode, pianist Karl Montzka, bassist Stewart Miller, and drummer Tim Davis. Friday, May 7, 9 PM, and Saturday, May 8, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.