I first came across Ira Sullivan’s name in a record review in my hometown newspaper in 1964. I showed the article to my clarinet teacher, calling his attention to the part that said Sullivan could play trumpet and saxophone with equal facility; my teacher patiently explained that this was impossible due to the different embouchures used on brass and reed instruments–perfecting one, he told me, would certainly ruin the other. All the same, this guy Sullivan could do this supposedly impossible thing–which impressed the hell out of me at 13. Nearly four decades later, I’ve learned a lot more about embouchures and heard plenty of other multi-instrumentalists, but Sullivan still seems just as magical. What dazzles me these days isn’t so much that he can play so many horns (the three main saxes, flute, trumpet, and flugelhorn) but that he can create a distinct voice with each one, then find just the right setting for it. (His trumpet stings with bright fire; his tenor has a hale, burred quality; his alto lines zing with a hint of darkness; and his soprano timbre boasts more body than that of most players half his age.) Sullivan also has an unquenchable artistic restlessness: onstage he often decides, in the middle of a solo, to shift the entire band to another tempo, rhythm, or tune, and half the fun comes from watching him communicate this brainstorm to his sidemen before he flips the switch. Pianist Ron Perrillo, who heads the local trio accompanying Sullivan here, has yet to record under his own name, but he’s popped up regularly as a sideman (on discs by guitarist Bobby Broom, vocalist Hinda Hoffman, and saxist Mike Smith, among others). His right-hand facility stands out even among Chicago’s bumper crop of fleet-fingered keyboardists, and his comp work balances harmonic functionality against ripples of dissonant adventure. Tuesday through Thursday, April 2 through 4, 8 and 10 PM, Friday and Saturday, April 5 and 6, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, April 7, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473.

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