By Neil Tesser
Think of the Chicago Jazz Festival as the musical equivalent of the trademark Loop skyline–it’s impressive all by itself, but it also serves as a symbol of the smaller, lower-profile “neighborhoods” that build Chicago’s character day in and day out. Over the years, local clubs and institutions–the neighborhoods of the jazz scene–have developed a busy schedule of pre- and post-festival events, transforming Jazz Fest from a downtown display to a citywide showcase. Nowadays these happenings can either complement or replace the main event for a jazz fan, depending on his or her tastes, and they’re a boon to many festival artists as well: feeling somewhat shackled by the tight scheduling in Grant Park, the musicians often jump at the chance to extend their evenings by sitting in at an after-fest jam session or two. In fact, with the park curfew still stuck at a stodgy 9:30 PM, you ignore the listings below at the peril of missing the real festivities–in jazz, nighttime is still the right time.
13th ANNUAL JAZZ CLUB TOUR
Once upon a time Jazz Fest ran a full five days, and in a way it still does, if you count the annual Jazz Club Tour–assembled by the Jazz Institute of Chicago, the same folks who book the Grant Park acts–as the official appetizer before the main course. Actually the tour, which this year takes place on Wednesday, August 30, is a moveable feast: participants shuttle between 14 far-flung venues, ranging from the Green Mill in Uptown to the Velvet Lounge near Chinatown, via free buses that operate along three main routes, with Buddy Guy’s Legends (754 S. Wabash) and Andy’s (11 E. Illinois) serving as terminals. It starts at 6 PM, runs until 11:30, and costs $15–a better bargain than usual, because the lineup ranks among the best in the tour’s history.
Personally, I’d start at the Cultural Center (78 E. Washington), where from 6 PM until 8 PM the internationally renowned soprano saxist Steve Lacy and his wife, vocalist Irene Aebi, will perform excerpts from Lacy’s Beat Suite; from there I’d head to Andy’s to see saxophone maven Ron Dewar, then catch the North Route bus to the Green Mill (4802 N. Broadway), where the virtuosic pianist Laurence Hobgood leads an all-star quartet featuring drummer Paul Wertico on a twin bill with singer Jennifer Graham. After that, I’d catch the bus back to Andy’s, stroll over to the Jazz Showcase (59 W. Grand) for postbop progressives Willie Pickens (piano) and Ira Sullivan (saxes and trumpet), then stagger back to Andy’s for the South Route bus to the Velvet Lounge (2821–S. Indiana), where saxman Dennis Winslett performs. Finally, I’d bus back up to HotHouse (31 E. Balbo) for the double bill of drummer Damon Short’s brainy quartet and the Minneapolis-based power-jazz trio Happy Apple.
But that’s me. If you prefer the pure mainstream, tailor a route that includes the Jazz Showcase but also hits the Backroom (1007 N. Rush, on the Central Route) for the unflappable trumpeter Bobby Lewis; Joe’s Bebop Cafe (at Navy Pier, on the North Route) for keyboardist Ken Chaney and trumpeter Sonny Turner; and Green Dolphin Street (2200 N. Ashland, also on the North Route), where vocalist Dee Alexanander, and wildmen Rich Fudoli (reeds) and Bill Porter (trombone) hold forth. Green Dolphin should also be on your itinerary if you’re looking for soul and blues–along with Buddy Guy’s, for Big James & The Chicago Playboys; Famous Dave’s (739 N. Clark) for Joe Moss; and the relatively new Club Alphonse (1351 S. Michigan), for Crosswind.
For more info, call the Jazz Institute at 312-427-3400 or visit its Web site (www.jazzinstituteofchicago.org).
Sometimes, after a day of navigating the hordes in Grant Park, you just want to go where everybody knows your name–or where even if they don’t, they act like they do. Andy’s (11 E. Hubbard) books jazz every night of the year (one band at cocktail hour, another at 9 PM), drawing appreciative but boisterous audiences. If you want the jazz to continue, but more as a backdrop, this is your spot (though the quality of the musicians may cause you to pay attention in spite of yourself). On Wednesday, August 30, the club serves as a terminus for the Jazz Club Tour; on Thursday, August 31, the quintet led by leather-lunged trumpeter Ron Friedman continues his longstanding weekly residency. On Friday, September 1, Zora Young fronts Ken Saydak’s blues band; Saturday, September 2, Sam Burkhart’s excellent Swing Quintet plays music on the cusp of blues, jump, and jazz; and Sunday, September 3, drummer Greg Sergo leads his Ellington Dynasty band through the maestro’s repertoire in re-creations ranging from faithful to inventive. Each night the music runs till about 1 AM. The food’s pretty good, too.
CHICAGO CULTURAL CENTER
As it has done for the last three years, the Chicago Cultural Center (78 E. Washington; 744-6630) plugs the gaps in the festival lineup. Think the fest could use a little more international flavor? On Tuesday, August 29, at 12:15 PM in the Randolph Cafe, saxist Ernest Dawkins leads a quartet representing his Chicago-South Africa Jazz Initiative, which draws on his experiences on tour in Johannesburg and Cape Town. The festival looks a little light on young jazz stars who’ve never played Chicago? Canadian pianist D.D. Jackson performs in Preston Bradley Hall on Thursday, August 31, at 4 PM. Jackson, who studied with the late Don Pullen, matches his bold swaths of keyboard color and piano percussion (heard on his recent major-label debut, Anthem, and in groups led by David Murray) with the temerity to speak out on such issues as the narrow-minded autocracy that controls Lincoln Center Jazz in New York.
Think the European avant-garde is underrepresented? At 2 PM on Friday, September 1, the Cultural Center presents the Netherlands’ marvelous ICP (Instant Composers Pool) Orchestra, which combines old technique and new ideas and features such luminaries as pianist Misha Mengelberg, reedists Michael Moore and Ab Baars, drummer Han Bennink, cellist Ernst Reijseger, and the newest member, expat American violist Mary Oliver. The ICP set follows a noontime retrospective on the music of reedist, composer, and founding member of the AACM Joseph Jarman (in the Claudia Cassidy Theater). Sure that what the festival really needs is a parade led by Mardi Gras strutters in outlandish feathered-and-beaded get-ups? Thursday, August 31, at 5:15, New Orleans’ Indians of the Nation will step off from the Center’s Randolph Street entrance and lead interested second-liners over to the Grant Park festivities.
The location of HotHouse (31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707), seven minutes by foot from the Petrillo Music Shell, makes it a prime post-festival watering hole; the club’s bookings make it de rigueur for new-music listeners whose appetites have been barely whetted out at the park. This year’s coups include the prolific and controversial pianist Matthew Shipp, making his first Chicago appearance since his notorious “retirement” last year; the legendary and quixotic high-octane tenor man Charles Gayle, a free-jazz icon since the 70s; and a CD-release party for the Italian Instabile Orchestra, who perform at the festival Sunday evening. Shipp will lead his New York trio, featuring bass buddha William Parker and effervescent drummer Gerald Cleaver, on Friday and Saturday, September 1 and 2 (and I’m guessing further Parker sightings over festival week, probably at the Velvet Lounge, are not out of the question). The first night Shipp shares the bill with Gayle, who will hook up with Chicagoans Harrison Bankhead (bass) and Phil Thomas (drums); on the second night TK DETAILS. And Saturday afternoon from 3 to 5, the 18-member Italian Instabile Orchestra will celebrate the release of its new Enja disc by breaking down into duos and trios. The release party is free to the public, and there are rumors of food.
JAZZ RECORD MART
Six years ago, the folks at the Jazz Record Mart (444 N. Wabash; 312-222-1467), tired and hungry from running the store all weekend and hitting the shows all night, decided to combine business with pleasure–in the form of bagels, juice, fresh fruit, pastries, and coffee–and the result was a new festival tradition. As in years past, the free brunch runs from 10 AM till noon on Sunday, and features live jazz from from artists who record for Delmark Records–the Mart’s house blend. This year’s lineup includes reed whiz Ari Brown, young tenor man Frank Catalano, ancient-to-the-future pianist Jodie Christian, veteran vibist Jim Cooper, the strong-willed altoist Ernest Dawkins, vocalist Francine Griffin, trumpet mainstay Malachi Thompson, and the globetrotting reedist Ken Vandermark as well as members of the Chicago Underground gang–cornetist Rob Mazurek, guitarist Jeff Parker, and drummer Chad Taylor, and bassist Noel Kupersmith–whose new CD of trio performances, Flamethrower, comes out on Delmark the following week. You can also expect the usual “special surprise guests.”
The after-fest jam sessions at Joe Segal’s Jazz Showcase have taken on such cache over the last 15 years that it’s hard to believe Segal used to close up shop during festival week, declaring that he couldn’t compete if they were going to just give it away down the street in Grant Park. Now at 59 W. Grand (a convenient 15-minute perambulation from the festival site; 312-670-2473), Segal hews to the plan that’s made the sessions a success: he spends his afternoons at Petrillo sound checks, inviting or cajoling festival headliners to drop by; then around 9:30 each night he sets a rhythm section in motion and waits for the stars to come out. The house band, led this year by Chicago-bred multi-instrumentalist Ira Sullivan, features pianist Willie Pickens and his favorite trio, bassist Larry Gray and drummer Robert Shy. Look for bassist Marlene Rosenberg to spell Gray more than once, and I’d be shocked if Chicago mainstays Stu Katz and John Campbell (piano), John Whitfield (bass), Mike Raynor (drums), and Henry Johnson (guitar) didn’t take their turns as well. As for out-of-towners, it looks good for Grammy-nominated vibist Stefon Harris on Thursday, August 31, altoist Hank Crawford Thursday and Friday, August 31 and September 1, guitarist John Abercrombie and saxist Chris Potter on Saturday, September 2, and at least some members of the Italian Instabile Orchestra on Sunday, September 3. Stay late enough any night and you might even get to (have to?) hear Segal himself tackle the drums.
THE PIANO MAN
Open less than three months and a little out of the way compared to other after-fest mainstays, the recently reconstituted Piano Man (3801 N. Clark; 773-472-2956) ventures tentatively into the fray with a light after-fest lineup and no cover charge. In the mid-80s, this place boasted a pretty good schedule of local players and a cozy atmosphere with cheap drinks; now the former music space serves as an anteroom and neighborhood watering hole and a newly restored interior room hosts the music, using an excellent sound system to reach the 100 or so people that can squeeze into the tables and along the back bar. On Friday, September 1, alto saxist Grady Johnson and his quintet–a little-known but wonderful swing-to-bop veteran with a sweet gritty tone–warm up for their Grant Park appearance; on Saturday, September 2, pianist Dave Gordon and his trio take the small stage to play a mix of bright originals and jazz standards. Local label Southport Records books the artists; during the festival weekend they’ll sell any CD in the catalog for $10.
If you just gotta dance, there’s a place for that too: Summerdance, the city’s open-air summertime dance hall. The 50-by-70-foot floor, on Michigan Avenue between Harrison and Balbo, has lake breezes to the east, the Loop’s brawn to the west, and the heavens for a roof: even Gene Kelly would’ve been impressed. On the festival week program: 30s and 40s rug-cutting to the swing music of the contradictorily named Bopology on Friday, September 1, and cha-cha, mambo, and salsa to the Afro-Cuban son of the band Havana on Saturday, September 2. Professional dance instructors will give lessons from 6 to 7:30 PM each night, prior to the two hours of music and hoofing. For more info, call TK PHONE.
Tenor legend and AACM cofounder Fred Anderson bought the Velvet Lounge (2128–S. Indiana; 312-791-9050) back in the 70s, mostly to ensure his livelihood but also to provide a weekend showcase for his own rumbling expressionism and exploratory bands. By the mid-90s, his little tavern had become ground zero in Chicago’s explosive free-music renaissance. By day the Velvet looks as if it’s suffered a different kind of explosion: downscale and funky, with the original wallpaper and purely functional furnishings, it still serves its near south side as a workingman’s bar. But darkness transforms it into a magic kingdom of blaring musical freedom, youthful experimentation, and the sheer joy of blowing the blues away. On Wednesday, August 30, the Velvet hosts the Jazz Club Tour; on Thursday, August 31, from approximately 9:30 PM till 1:30 AM, it presents a new band, Healing Force, led by saxist William Perry and featuring drummer Vincent Davis, bassist Tatsu Aoki, and the pioneering AACM trumpeter Billy Brimfield. On Friday, September 1, local new-music promoter John Corbett will present a European showcase, with players to be announced. And on Saturday and Sunday, September 2 and 3, New Orleans septuagenarian free-jazz saxist Kidd Jordan journeys north for the ninth consecutive year to lock horns with his old pal Anderson and a host of others–expect the likes of drummer Hamid Drake and reedists Douglas Ewart, Michael Moore, and David Murray, as well as baritone saxist Carlo Actis Dato and trumpeter Pino Minafra from the Italian Instabile Orchestra –in the city’s most adventurous after-fest jams. These usually run till 2 AM or later, and you can count on standing if you arrive any time past 9.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Marc PoKempner/Michael Jackson.