Just because you’ve got an internationally known event–one of the largest free jazz festivals in the history of the world, approaching its third decade–going down right in the city’s lakeside front yard, don’t expect the little institutions that gird and maintain the jazz scene the rest of the year to fold up like cheap tents. For many of them, the festival has become the impetus for special bookings throughout the week. Depending on what you think of the festival lineup, these gigs offer either a complement or an alternative to the big show in Grant Park: whatever your taste, they let you turn the festival into a customized celebration of both the music and the city.
This summer the Bop Shop made more moves than the White Sox front office. In its current and allegedly permanent home, the club has its third address since March (1146 S. Wabash; 312-922-3233). A moderately sized but maximally intimate affair, the new Shop has tiered seating in the back and good sight lines throughout; it fills the space formerly occupied by the Cleopatra Lounge & Pub, from which it’ll probably anchor the new near-south music strip on Wabash. Since she’s still settling in, the Shop’s indefatigable proprietor, Kate Smith, has opted to maintain her regular schedule (though she’ll uphold her tradition of presenting no fewer than three bands in rotation on the night the Jazz Club Tour comes through; see the Jazz Club Tour entry below). Nonetheless, it takes just ten minutes to walk from Grant Park to the new locale, making it an obvious after-fest hangout. Thursday, August 28, the new octet led by Georg GrŠwe and Ken Vandermark starts at 10 PM and will add an extra (third) set for festival-goers, taking them till 1:30 AM. Next Friday, August 29, David Hernandez & Street Sounds mix Latino poetry and hipster-homage jazz from 10 PM to 1:30 AM; Saturday, the Power Trio (bassist Tatsu Aoki, reedist Mwata Bowden, and drummer Afifi Phillard) plays from 8 to 10 PM, followed till 2 AM by Panamanian-born, New York-based flutist Mauricio Smith, who’s deservedly well-known in both the jazz and Latin-music spheres. And Sunday, August 31, Aoki returns with a different trio to back up former Ink Spots vocalist Elija Levy from 9 PM to midnight.
Chicago Cultural Center
Thanks to the ambitious guidance of events coordinator Michael Orlove, the Chicago Cultural Center (78 E. Washington; 312-744-1424) this year becomes a major festival-time player. Saturday, August 23, at 2 PM saxist and poet Joseph Jarman and bassist Malachi Favors–both cofounders of the Art Ensemble of Chicago– will play music and chat with moderator Steve Saltzman as part of the Cultural Center’s ongoing “Rollin’ on Randolph” series. On Monday at 5:30 PM, new-jazz musicians Hamid Drake, Georg GrŠwe, and Mars Williams will join journalists John Litweiler, Art Lange, and John Corbett in a discussion of whether postfreedom improvisation fits into the jazz tradition or boldly goes where no music has gone before; after the panel, the musicians will illustrate their views in a trio set. Tuesday from 5:30 to 7 PM jazz and poetry collide in a program called “Verbs and Vibes” (see entry on Chicago Underground Orchestra for details). On Wednesday, the center will for the first time take part in the Jazz Club Tour (see separate listing) by presenting the Polish-born Grazyna Auguscik, who takes a sometimes strikingly pure approach to jazz singing, from 5 to 7 PM. And on Thursday, August 28, the Jazz Festival’s opening day, the Cultural Center scores a coup: a 4:15 PM duo concert by expansive pianist Kenny Drew Jr. and daring young saxist Seamus Blake, both on loan from the Mingus Big Band, which performs that evening in Grant Park. Immediately after, the Original Pin Stripe Brass Band of New Orleans will quite literally lead the parade–in traditional Crescent City second-line fashion–over to the band shell in time for the festival kickoff.
A 40-by-60 dance floor surreally situated for the summer on Michigan at Washington, with the lake behind it, the skyline all around, and the stars for a ceiling, the city’s Summerdance pavilion recalls nothing less than a set from a Busby Berkeley film. During festival time the sponsoring Department of Cultural Affairs (312-744-6630) has loaded the schedule with mainstream jazz. It starts Sunday, August 24, from 3 to 5 PM with the Jazz Members Big Band, which in addition to its original compositions owns enough classic swing-band charts to liven up any garden party. The hyperkineticism of drummer Barrett Deems should make his band’s appearance (Thursday, August 28, 8 to 10 PM) ideal for jitterbuggers of all ages. And the Ellington Dynasty (Friday, August 29, 8 to 10 PM) promises the most romance, via noteworthy interpretations of its namesake’s peerless repertoire. Each Summerdance event is preceded by dance lessons, starting 60 to 90 minutes before show time. (Both the Jazz Members and Ellington Dynasty will play under a certain duress due to the recent death of trumpeter Steve Jensen, the coleader of and a star soloist in both groups.)
With its cozy performance space tucked away behind the LPs, Jazz Record Mart (444 N. Wabash; 312-222-1467) uses the festival weekend to summon a time when jazz shops more regularly featured live as well as recorded sounds. Sunday, August 31, from 10:30 AM till noon, the Mart holds its third annual Breakfast Bash. It features a continental breakfast (in other words, a breakfast you wouldn’t usually eat on this continent) and music by artists who record for Delmark, the Mart’s house label. The lineup boasts trumpeter Malachi Thompson and cornetist Rob Mazurek (see entry on Chicago Underground Orchestra); two quite different alto saxists, the hard-bopping Andy Goodrich and the space-traveling Rich Corpolongo (see festival listing); veteran vibists Jim Cooper and Carl Leukaufe; ancient-to-the-future pianist Jodie Christian; and the usual “special surprise guests.” The Breakfast Bash has always proved a satisfying way to roll into the festival’s final fling–provided you can roll out of bed early enough after Saturday night.
Jazz Club Tour
The semiofficial kickoff to the Jazz Festival occurs the night before–that’s Wednesday this year. Newcomers call it the Club Tour, while old hands still refer to it as the Pub Crawl (the event’s original name, prior to complaints about its unseemliness from a city official), and everyone considers it a bargain: starting at 6 PM, a double sawbuck gets you free bus transportation to as many of the dozen participating music spots as you can pack into five and a half hours. The map sprawls from the Velvet Lounge down near Chinatown (see separate listing) to the Green Mill in Uptown, and for this tenth year the bus routing has been streamlined to avert overcrowding and decrease travel times. Of the four major routes, three use Buddy Guy’s Legends (754 S. Wabash; 312-427-0333) as a hub; concertgoers aiming for the northernmost clubs, the Green Mill and Green Dolphin Street in Bucktown, will use Andy’s (11 E. Hubbard; 312-642-6805) as their downtown connection (but ought to first stop in and hear the marvelous alto man Mike Smith). Other highlights: the jam session led by Ari Brown at Rituals (537 S. Dearborn; 312-922-3834), the return of Jeff Newell’s New Trad Octet at the Bop Shop, and the outside-in double bill of Witches & Devils (an Albert Ayler tribute band featuring Ken Vandermark and Mars Williams) and Broken Wire at the Empty Bottle (1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600). The tour is sponsored by the Jazz Institute of Chicago (which also programs the Jazz Festival, and on whose board this writer sits); call 312-427-1676 for a complete schedule.
One of the signal events in recent Chicago jazz history occurred in the mid-80s, on the day Joe Segal realized (“Eureka!”) that he couldn’t beat the Jazz Festival and so might as well join it. He stopped closing his Jazz Showcase (now at 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473) during the fest and began offering after-hours sessions starring the world-renowned artists who had come to town to headline at Grant Park. Segal’s jams begin around 10:30 PM, which gives concertgoers enough time to catch the last notes from the Petrillo Music Shell and still get to the club before the sessions start–provided they don’t mind standing in the back or even the lobby. (The folks in the chairs are the ones who forewent the last festival set.) This year, Segal has installed as a foundation a Chicago trio led by pianist Willie Pickens (who leads a quintet Sunday at the festival); a partial list of guest soloists includes pianist Kenny Drew Jr., the great baritone saxist Ronnie Cuber, the strong-souled trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, and alto saxist Charles McPherson, whose dead-on homages to Charlie Parker will come in handy Friday night–Bird’s birthday. (Belgrave and McPherson, both from Detroit, will help close the festival in an all-star salute to Motor City jazz.) The Showcase has a national reputation and mainstream orientation that make it the perfect venue for this tried-and-true tradition. These days, you rarely get a cutting contest of the sort that in 1987 found trumpeters Wynton Marsalis, Terence Blanchard, and Bill Hardman engaged in a round-robin battle royal; nonetheless, such potential pairings as McPherson and local saxman Andy Goodrich, or Cuber and Australian tenorist Bernie McGann (see festival listing), should keep things far from dull.
The Velvet Lounge (21281/2 S. Indiana; 312-791-9050) has a downscale, cozy feel, like a basement rec room; saxist Fred Anderson (see separate listing) runs it as a working-class bar by day and free-jazz hub on weekend nights. But during the jazz festival, the music schedule expands to five nights. Wednesday Anderson’s own trio, plus Chicago Underground Orchestra guitarist Jeff Parker, performs during the Jazz Club Tour (see separate listing), Thursday David Boykin leads his trio, and Friday it’s the Vandy Harris Ensemble; all three shows run approximately from 10 PM to 2 AM. The Velvet shifts into high gear on the weekend, when New Orleans saxophonist and avant-garde instigator Kidd Jordan hits town for what has become an annual affair. Jordan, a mainstay of the often overlooked progressive-music scene in the Crescent City, will hook horns with Anderson and saxist Ari Brown, spurred on by Ari’s pianist brother Kirk, flutist Michael Mason, bassist Harrison Bankhead, drummer Avreeayl Ra, and assorted unannounced guests. Over the last few years, these free-jazz jams (Saturday from 11 PM till 3 AM, Sunday from 10 PM till 2 AM) have established themselves as a festival-week highlight for more adventurous listeners, and the club has a rather small seating area. So arrive early or prepare to stand; either way, the music will go right through you.