FRANZ JACKSON QUINTET/EDDIE JOHNSON QUARTET
“Living history” perfectly describes the pairing of Chicago tenor-sax legends Franz Jackson and Eddie Johnson, who between them have logged more than a century of professional music-making, including stints with such mist-shrouded masters as Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, Earl Hines, Louis Jordan, and Fats Waller. But if the phrase brings to mind something dusty, fusty, or musty, forget I mentioned it, because these are two still-vital and utterly beguiling stylists. Geriatric scientists ought to make a study of Jackson: very few 85-year-olds can still do what they did the way they did it half a lifetime ago, especially when it’s something as strenuous as the gruff-toned tenor playing with which Jackson first regaled audiences in the 1930s. His solos still bounce and hop, and they barrel through each chorus like a happy-go-lucky locomotive. Eddie Johnson, a comparative youngster–he’s still in his mid-70s–epitomizes the suave sophistication of the subsequent step in the evolution of jazz saxophone, the swing era. Like his models Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young, Johnson plays the tenor the way Preston Sturges played the English language–with elegance, economy, and variety, tossing off witty asides but always retaining the narrative focus. Today no saxophonist in the world can match Johnson’s swing tenor, and I count myself lucky to live where I can hear him on a regular basis. To top things off, Ray Brown–the godfather of modern jazz bassists (and a golfing buddy of Johnson’s)–will fly in from LA to perform in his pal’s quartet, adding another half century or so to the life-experience tally. This production is the first of three chronologically organized concerts celebrating the Chicago tenor-sax tradition; the other two are scheduled for July and August. (The series is produced by the Jazz Institute of Chicago, on whose board this writer sits.) Sunday, 1 PM, DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 E. 56th Pl.; 773-947-0600, 312-427-1676, or 312-559-1212. Jackson also performs Friday at noon at Andy’s, 11 E. Hubbard, 312-642-6805, and has a regular Monday through Wednesday gig at Joe’s Be-bop Cafe & Jazz Emporium on Navy Pier; Johnson plays every Thursday at Alexander’s Steak House. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photos.