We’re kicking off Giving Tuesday early this year! Your donation today will be matched up to $10K, doubling your impact! If you donate $50 today, the Reader will receive $100.

The Reader is now a community-funded nonprofit newsroom. Can we count on your support to help keep us publishing?

Damon Short Tries It at Home

Percussionist Damon Short released his own first album, Penguin Shuffle, in 1988 in an edition of 1,000–and the 500 copies still sitting in the back of his basement provide a constant reminder of how well that went. He let the local Southport label handle his three terrific subsequent recordings, but last year, frustrated by a growing backlog of unreleased work, he decided to mount another attempt at DIY disc making.

He was hesitant to add to the stockpile in his basement, or for that matter in record stores. “There’s such an overwhelming amount of stuff on the market that it seemed pointless to generate a couple thousand more CDs that were never really going to go anywhere,” he says. But in the decade that had passed since his last release, it had become much more cost-effective to produce albums in very small batches, so for each of its first releases–three collections recorded between 1981 and 1994–Short’s new label, Depth Perception, pressed 100 copies. Short got the CD-Rs burned by an outside company and designed and printed the booklets using his home computer. He sells the discs at gigs, at www.damonshort.com, and through the independent jazz distributor North Country; sales have been modest but he’s close to breaking even. One of the releases, Airplay, an early-90s date featuring reedist Chuck Burdelik and guitarist John McLean, sold out and has been re-pressed, and Depth Perception has just released a fourth title: Incidental Dialects, a series of improvised duets between Short and keyboardist Jim Baker recorded at the Lunar Cabaret between 1995 and 1997.

A native of Rock Island, Short earned his BA and a master’s in music from Northern Illinois University in the 70s. He moved to Chicago and started Worry Later, a Thelonious Monk repertory group, in ’81–Acme Monastery, a double CD of recordings by that band, is another Depth Perception release–but in January 1983 his wife, Kathy, got a job in New Orleans and Short followed her there, working with several musicians who now play in the popular group Astral Project.

But the couple wanted to settle in the midwest and returned to Chicago in 1987, several years before Hal Russell’s NRG Ensemble ignited the free-jazz resurgence on the north side. He occasionally subbed for NRG drummer Steve Hunt and he worked regularly with Burdelik, a onetime NRG member. He also began an ongoing association with a trumpeter from Iowa, Paul Smoker; the horn man is featured on Short’s 1994 Southport album, All of the Above, a strong presentation of the drummer’s edgy brand of freebop, where intricate compositions inspire a steady stream of consistently surprising solos.

Despite a decade and a half of adventurous music making, the 47-year-old percussionist is rarely mentioned in most discussions of the current Chicago scene. He himself suggests that he’s too out for the city’s mainstream circuit and not out enough for the youngish avant-garde. “It’s been really frustrating, but in the last few years I finally came to some realization that there’s not really much I can do about it,” he says. “I like more than one facet of what’s happening with the music, and that seems like a drawback because people don’t know how to categorize it. It used to bother me, but now I just do what I can. That’s one of the reasons I started doing these releases in small quantities, to put this stuff out there, and if people want to hear it it’s there.”

Short and Jim Baker will celebrate the release of Incidental Dialects with a performance at the Empty Bottle on Wednesday, December 5; see Kevin Whitehead’s Critic’s Choice in this section for more info.

The View From the Coasts

A significant chunk of the November/December issue of Urb, a major dance-music magazine published in California, is devoted to celebrating Chicago music. The splashy centerpiece is an engaging oral history of house music as told by major players like Cajmere, Larry Heard, Jesse Saunders, Felix da Housecat, Frankie Knuckles, and Ralphi Rosario; there are also features on Derrick Carter, Roy Davis Jr., and Bad Boy Bill. Unfortunately, short pieces on hip-hop and jazz are simplistic and omit a number of important figures.

Jim O’Rourke’s current take on the local scene isn’t nearly so rosy. In the cover story of the November issue of the British magazine the Wire, the lifelong Chicagoan spits: “If I never had to go back to Chicago again I’d be happy. I hate it there. It’s so boring….I think it’s dead musically. I mean, who there knows about folk music? Nobody. For a city that’s supposedly the top improv and electronic music center in the States, it all just seems so half-assed. Not to be mean, but people in Chicago, the musicians, most of them aren’t even music fans. They all listen to the same five records; it’s like some club where they rotate the same discs. I can’t relate to musicians who don’t like music. People I know in New York know all the stuff that people in Chicago know, but they also know, like, the whole English folk thing, from the 60s to now.” O’Rourke recently moved to New York.


Dr. Wax, one of the city’s oldest secondhand music retailers, closed its locations in Lincoln Park and the Gold Coast this summer and opened a new store in the underserved Edgewater area. Since late September the new shop, at 1121 W. Berwyn, has been presenting Local Motion, a freestyle hip-hop competition hosted by WHPK DJ Thaione, on Friday evenings. The series wraps up this Friday at 8, with the winners of previous battles going head-to-head. Next Friday, December 7, the store will host an in-store performance by Texas recluse Daniel Johnston, who’s in town for a gig at Schubas.

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