Red Rodney, who died this spring, became a great trumpet player twice. He first achieved jazz personage when Charlie Parker hired him in 1949, and then again in the 1970s, when he returned to jazz after a long hiatus and proceeded to play rings around his best work of a quarter-century earlier. His relationship with Parker–which occupied a good chunk of plot in Clint Eastwood’s film Bird–made Rodney the perfect choice to inaugurate this year’s Charlie Parker Month at the Jazz Showcase; his passing turns the occasion into a double memorial, celebrated by musicians worth hearing even if they hadn’t shared the stage with him. The rhythm section includes the clever and fluent pianist Garry Dial, who played in Rodney’s bands from 1980 till the end, and Chicagoans Kelly Sill (bass) and Joel Spencer (drums), who worked regularly with Rodney when he was in the midwest. They’ll back the two saxophonists with whom Rodney was most associated (after Bird): the inestimable Ira Sullivan and Chris Potter, who is among the very best of the young lions. Potter–who joined up with the trumpeter less than five years ago, at the age of 19–augments the expected virtuosity with an unexpected musical sagacity, giving his playing weight and substance; he doesn’t clutter his solos with stock phrases or cliches. And Sullivan–who first recorded with Rodney in 1955, then co-led the 1980s band that brought them both renewed fame–remains one of the most committed improvisers in jazz. His vigilant search for new possibilities guarantees the unpredictability of not only his own solos but also the band’s arrangements, which he never hesitates to change midstream. Friday through Sunday, Joe Segal’s Jazz Showcase, Blackstone Hotel, 636 S. Michigan; 427-4846.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Lauren Deutsch, David Lubarsky.