To honor the late tenor saxophonist Von Freeman and his Tuesday night, jam-till-the-early-moanin’ blowing sessions, vocalist Margaret Murphy-Webb and instrumentalist Anderson Edwards started the Jazz Jam Revival at the 50 Yard Line on East 75th, about half a mile west of where Vonski hosted his séances of sound. Now, some three years later, with the Revival still going strong, Murphy and the newly formed South Side Jazz Coalition (SSJC) are determined to reestablish another local tradition: the South Shore Jazz Festival, originally presented by Geraldine de Haas’ Jazz Unites from 1981 to 2012, and held at the South Shore Cultural Center. (De Haas and her husband relocated to New Jersey in 2013 to be with their children.) “The South Shore Jazz Festival was a tradition for Southeast Chicago and the southern suburbs,” says Murphy-Webb. “Everybody came out for this festival. It was just a wonderful time with all the cookouts, vendors and great music.”
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I used to love catching lePercolateur at the old Katerina’s on Irving Park. There was something about that narrow, dark-paneled room that struck me as faintly European—with its stage tucked modestly between the bar and the kitchen, so that every performance was infiltrated by tinkling ice on one side and swinging doors on the other (which on a good night always seemed to be in time). And lePercolateur is all about the continent. The band owes its chief inspiration to the gypsy jazz pioneered by Belgian guitarist Django Reinhardt—that is, everyone in the band but vocalist Candace Washburn, whose Gallic sophistication owes more to cafes than campgrounds (you can’t imagine anyone for whom the term “chanteuse” is more appropriate). Read the rest of this entry »
By Robert Rodi
There are few musicians more fondly remembered in Chicago than tenor sax giant Von Freeman, who died in 2012. So when Freeman’s son, Chico, also a sax man, and brother George, a celebrated guitarist, came together to record for the first time, it was hard to avoid invoking Von’s memory… especially since they chose to call the album “All In the Family.” (Titling one of the cuts “Vonski” didn’t help, either.) But beyond the nod to their late relative’s legacy, the two surviving Freemans manage to make the music entirely their own. Comprising all-original compositions (with the exception of the haunting standard “Angel Eyes,” plus a smattering of very short improvised pieces that serve almost as amuse-bouches between the more substantial tunes), “All In the Family” plays like an intergenerational conversation between George’s burnished, impeccable guitar and Chico’s deft and energetic sax. Read the rest of this entry »
Seun Kuti / Photo: Johann Sauty
By Gail Dee
What a conundrum that the vast majority of western music enjoyed today—rock ’n’ roll, blues, jazz and hip-hop—has roots in African music spread through suffering. Slavery’s tentacles stretched wide. This cultural diaspora isn’t limited to the U.S. and Caribbean, but extends to Mexico (with Son Jarocho), Colombia (with cumbia and champeta), Peru, Brazil and Uruguay. Even the Argentine tango has its origins in the African slave trade, though Argentina itself is often considered a European (i.e. culturally white) country. The story is told in the film “Tango Negro: The African Roots of Tango” on June 18 at Facets Multimedia (1517 West Fullerton, 8pm, $9).
And the story doesn’t stop there. Like a snake consuming its own tail, the funky soul of James Brown, the acid rock of Jimi Hendrix, the cool jazz of Miles Davis and salsa from New York City then traveled back across the Atlantic and influenced popular music throughout Africa.
This summer, an abundance of exceptional African and Afro-Latin music comes to Chicago, bringing opportunities to check out the amazing diversity of the Afro-musical melting pot. And don’t assume the sound is all about drums; jazzy horns, electric guitars and electronica also prominently propel the dance rhythms. It’s going to be one heck of a hot, sexy summer. Read the rest of this entry »
As an aficionado who does a fair bit of proselytizing in an attempt to get people to listen to modern, improvised jazz, I hear a lot of resistance along the following lines: “It’s cerebral.” “It’s dissonant.” “It’s complex and hard to follow.” To which I always reply: “You say that like those are bad things.” But in a sense I understand; while there’s plenty of fire and ice in most new jazz, there’s not a lot of… friendliness, for lack of a better word—a welcoming hand, extended toward the listener to invite her onto an unfamiliar soundscape. Which is where Shawn Maxwell comes in. Read the rest of this entry »
Blues, Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Folk, Interviews, Jazz, New Music, News and Dish, Orchestral, Pop, Rock
Kimo Williams (left) and Gary Sinise with Lt. Dan Band
By Dennis Polkow
“When I tell people I’m a Vietnam Vet, I hear, ‘Thank you for your service,’ ” laments composer and guitarist Kimo Williams. “There’s a time, there’s a place for saying that. It just rolls off of people like a painful cliché and you’re forced to react or respond. Do you know what my service was? Do you know what I did? Hear my story, then if you want to thank me, fine.”
Williams has spent a lifetime of service to those who have been in service, starting with his own stint in the military that brought him to Vietnam in 1969. “I was a combat engineer and my job was to provide supplies to fix the dossiers that would clear land mines. Two friends of mine and I had decided one morning that we were going to see ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ that night. It got to be the end of the day and I’m getting the popcorn but was told, ‘They didn’t make it.’ That was the first time that it hit me. I was so naïve I said, ‘What do you mean?’ It hit me hard, this was forever. That’s it? I went to the movie and you do continue on. It numbs you.” Read the rest of this entry »
Chicago singer-songwriter Sean Guinan has apparently decided our current cultural moment isn’t Weimar Republic enough. How else to explain Candy Town, the musical troupe he put together five years ago, which has been gleefully trawling Chicago’s demimonde ever since? (Though perhaps seeking to create a Chicago demimonde is more accurate.) Got up in greasepaint, a bowler hat and a backroom croupier’s shirtsleeves, Guinan fronts the band with sinuous glee, flanked by two singers—Maggie O’Keefe and Kristin Srail—who are more often than not dressed in cat suits. Read the rest of this entry »
By Robert Rodi
Haley Fohr is very young—just twenty-five—but she sounds like some ancient oracle. Her rich, resonant female baritone has a lower range that rumbles ominously, like plate tectonics, and an upper that’s so dizzyingly perched, it can induce vertigo. On pure vocal fireworks alone, the new album by her brainchild, Circuit des Yeux, is a galvanizing listen; but it’s got much more than that going for it. Less a collection of songs than a trek across her sonic headspace, “In Plain Speech” is a remarkable document of a budding composer’s development. And lest that come off as condescending, let me just add that she’s already leagues ahead of many singer-songwriters twice her age. Read the rest of this entry »
Blues, Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Country, Folk, Folk-rock, Interviews, Jazz, News and Dish, Pop, Prog-rock, Psychedelic, R&B, Rock, Singer-Songwriter, Soul
By Dennis Polkow
Although Chinese superstar pianist Lang Lang is calling from London, where he’s just given a recital at Royal Albert Hall, he is thinking ahead to Chicago. “I need to buy a new suit, I had my big breakthrough there,” he recalls, a reference to when, at conductor Christoph Eschenbach’s encouragement, he stepped in as a last-minute, unknown replacement for an indisposed Andre Watts at a 1999 Ravinia Festival Chicago Symphony Orchestra Gala, and became an overnight sensation at the ripe old age of seventeen.
Eschenbach, then Ravinia music director, was a mentor to Lang Lang, as was then-CSO music director Daniel Barenboim, so that Chicago was like a second home. He was the first artist to offer a piano recital at the Civic Opera House in 2012, and was so impressed with the sound of the venue, that he returns there this month. “When you see such a big hall, you always worry about, ‘what is the sound like?’ But it has perfect sound. I remember last time, I was playing Mozart, it was so beautiful, so precise, so intimate. It’s a miracle to see such a big space have such an intimate sound.” Read the rest of this entry »
In the sixteen years since his death at the hands of homophobes, Matthew Shepard has become the face of gay martyrdom, and his image—forever young, forever tousle-headed, forever tragic—has permeated gay culture. But that image’s power is redoubled by the almost equally iconic efforts of his mother, Judy Shepard, who turned grief into activism and established a foundation in her son’s name, dedicated to eradicating hate crimes. It’s Judy’s influence that has resulted in the unlikely event taking place on May 3: a benefit featuring an impressive lineup of Chicago musicians, the majority of whom are heterosexual and almost all of whom specialize in jazz—not a genre often associated with gay causes. Read the rest of this entry »