• courtesy of the artist
  • Milton Suggs

At the 2012 Chicago Jazz Festival, young singer Milton Suggs gave a galvanizing performance that signaled he was on his way to becoming one of Chicago’s finest singers. Then, a few months later, he was gone, transplanted to New York. And whereas a bunch of jazz musicians who’ve also decamped to the east coast—such as saxophonists Greg Ward and Christopher McBride—have returned so frequently it would be easy to think they never split, Suggs hasn’t popped up much at all in his hometown. I’m happy to report that he’s coming back next Thursday, July 24, when he’ll kick off the city’s Made in Chicago: World Class Jazz series at the Pritzker Pavilion at 6:30 PM. (Full disclosure: I’m a volunteer on the committee that programmed this year’s lineup.)

For Thursday’s performance Suggs leads a big band featuring some of the city’s brightest talent (trumpeters Marquis Hill and Victor Garcia, pianist Miguel de la Cerna, bassist Joshua Ramos, drummer Xavier Breaker, and reedists Fred Jackson, Rajiv Halim, and the aforementioned McBride are among the 15-strong personnel) in a program that sets the work of Harlem Renaissance poet Paul Laurence Dunbar to original compositions. The practice of drafting new music for existing words flips the script from Suggs’s most recent album, Lyrical Volume 1 (Skiptone), a 2012 effort for which the singer wrote new lyrics to classic jazz numbers by Wayne Shorter, Lee Morgan, and Benny Golson (in addition to a few tunes where he composed music and lyrics). Suggs possesses a rich, elegant instrument, and he deploys it with refined, precise phrasing. On a few tunes he improvises, stretching melodies and scatting, but he has more than enough confidence, poise, and trust in his material to refrain from the acrobatic grandstanding that mars the work of many young singers. Below you can check out “Walking Out,” his adaptation of the Shorter standard “Footprints.”

Today’s playlist:

International Contemporary Ensemble, George Crumb: Complete Crumb Editions Vol. 12 (Bridge)
Mory Kante, Touma (Mango)
Inhabitants, The Furniture Moves Underneath (Drip Audio)
Matt Blostein/Vinnie Sperrazza Band, Paraphrase (Yeah-Yeah)
Ricardo Villalobos, Dependent and Happy (Perlon)