The arrival of saxophonist and trumpeter Ira Sullivan, one of jazz’s most delightfully unpredictable practitioners, always stirs the memory of my gradeschool clarinet teacher curtly informing me that, no matter what I’d heard, no one could play saxophone and trumpet without lousing up both instruments in the process. Of course, he was wrong. Part of Sullivan’s charisma derives from this ability to move evenly among seemingly exclusive avenues of expression; like two-sport athletes and bigamists, such multi instrumentalists–saxist-trumpeter Benny Carter and drummer-saxist John Gilmore, for example–have always captured the imagination. (Sullivan is a bluff and powerful tenor player and a crisp, exciting trumpeter; these days I also find myself drawn to his airy, almost pastoral flute work.) His charisma, however, extends beyond his stockpile of horns; it results from a restless musical personality that finds no contentment in playing a single role. So Sullivan becomes star soloist, accompanist, theorist, and front man. He improvises not only each tune but an entire set, waving up musicians in the audience for this tune, shutting down the rhythm section at a key juncture of the next, juggling repertoire and arrangements, gesturing to his cohorts to create an impromptu medley that surprises those onstage as much as the audience. Sullivan’s travels bring him home to Chicago sometimes twice a year now, but even that is hardly enough since the real magic of music so often follows in his wake. Tuesday through next Sunday, March 21, Joe Segal’s Jazz Showcase, Blackstone Hotel, 636 S. Michigan; 427-4846.

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