Ambient, Blues, Chicago Artists, Festivals, Folk, Interviews, New Music, News and Dish, Orchestral, Pop, Rock, Singer-Songwriter, Vocal Music
Paul McCartney, Martin O’Donnell, Michael Salvatori
By Dennis Polkow
Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori have been friends back to their college days in the 1970s when they were in rival bands in the western suburbs. “We’ve always been very competitive with one another,” Salvatori recalls. “Marty came in to record five songs with his band, so of course, I had to write better songs and record those as well.”
While Salvatori was working for his father’s printing company, O’Donnell was painting houses to put himself through music school. “They were shooting a television commercial and Marty was painting the set. The director found out that he was a composer and offered him five hundred dollars if he would write some music for it. I had just taken out a loan for a basement recording studio setup and Marty called up and said, ‘If you let me record there, I’ll split everything with you fifty-fifty.’ We put ourselves out there on a handshake and collaborated on the commercial as O’Donnell-Salvatori, like Lennon-McCartney. It has been that way ever since.” Read the rest of this entry »
James Conlon/Photo: Ravinia Festival
By Dennis Polkow
“After I became music director eleven years ago,” says Ravinia Festival music director James Conlon, “it was so interesting how many people I would meet around the country, or Americans I would meet in Europe, that would say, ‘You know? I heard my first concerts at Ravinia.’ I started to think that everybody grew up on the North Shore of Chicago and somehow or another moved to another place in the world. It is astounding how many people of all ages were formed there, from twenty-year-olds to eighty-year-olds, and how many people Ravinia has been able to reach in its way and introduce classical music to them. Of course, the trump card of the Chicago Symphony is the best way you can do that. It was very striking to me and I am very proud to be a part of that tradition and process and hope it will continue on forever.”
Nonetheless, Conlon announced last August that the 2015 season would be his last as Ravinia music director, and that 2016 would also end his music directorship of the Cincinnati May Festival after thirty-six years. Instead, he will become the first American to ever become principal conductor of the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della Rai in Turin, Italy. Read the rest of this entry »
Our biannual behind-the-scenes look at Chicago’s thriving music community gets a little more complex every year. Performers are easy enough to pin down; they’re front and center, by definition. But it can take some digging to excavate the driving forces behind the city’s rich tapestry of orchestras, festivals, music venues and record labels. On the other hand, a certain kind of celebrity has attached itself to bloggers, promoters, radio announcers, artistic directors and journalists, that puts them almost on an equal footing to the artists they’re here to support. So we find ourselves, in this year’s Music 45, ranging wide across the city’s musical landscape, reacquainting you with names and faces you may know almost as well as your own, while introducing you to several newcomers who have labored, if not quite in obscurity, then without the recognition their endeavors have earned them. What they all have in common, is that your life—yes, yours—is a little bit richer because of them. (Robert Rodi)
Music 45 was written by Robert Rodi and Dennis Polkow
With additional contributions by Keidra Chaney, Corey Hall, Robert Loerzel, Dylan Peterson and John Wilmes
Cover and interior photos by Joe Mazza/Brave Lux on location at Metro Chicago Read the rest of this entry »
Dimitri Hegemann/Photo: Marie Staggat
By Lee DeVito
Detroit’s Movement Electronic Music Festival is a rare instance of the mainstream embracing what is otherwise still a relatively underground aspect of the city’s musical legacy. It’s an occasion on which thousands of visitors, from the city’s suburbs to the world over, flock to Hart Plaza to celebrate an entire genre of music that can be traced back to a handful of Detroiters tinkering with making electronic music in the 1980s.
At Movement, it’s not uncommon to hear DJs pay respect to Detroit’s contributions to electronic music by dropping tracks like Cybotron’s “Clear”—regarded as the first techno record—into their sets. As celebrated and accomplished as DJs like Juan Atkins, Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson and Eddie Fowlkes may be, they’re not quite household names to your casual millennial raver; yet at Movement, they’re reserved prominent slots alongside mass-appeal electronic acts like Skrillex, Fatboy Slim and Moby.
During the rest of the year you might catch some of those early Detroit DJs playing far more low-key events in Detroit’s smattering of electronic clubs. But while Mecca comparisons are a cliché, it’s hard not to evoke it in the way that many music fans, artists and DJs look to Detroit during Memorial Day weekend.
This May, as organizers were gearing up for the festival, members of the local media gathered for a more low-key appreciation of techno, centered around a man from Berlin who has been making waves in the media for his vision for the city. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Daniel Meyering
By Lee DeVito
To be fair, none of the parties involved ever actually declared that rock was dead. Yet that sentiment was the takeaway for many earlier this year when The Magic Stick, an iconic Detroit rock club, announced it was switching formats to electronic dance music.
The club—part of a historic entertainment complex that includes The Majestic Theatre and the city’s oldest continuously operating bowling alley, The Garden Bowl—enjoyed its peak as the epicenter of the “garage rock” boom of the early 2000s. Homegrown acts like the White Stripes, the Von Bondies, the Detroit Cobras and the Dirtbombs helped make stripped-down, guitar-based music cool again, resonating with audiences in Detroit and beyond.
For a time, bills stuffed with four or more bands were common, with the second-floor venue’s wooden floors flexing somewhat alarmingly under the weight of up to nearly 600 sweating fans. Hip national acts like Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Sleater-Kinney and Arcade Fire would make stops at the venue in the following years. The White Stripes, by then selling out theaters and stadiums across the world, even considered the venue as the location for an “Elephant”-era secret show, before those plans were thwarted by Jack White breaking his hand in a car accident. Read the rest of this entry »
Illustration: Ray Noland
By David Safran
I am a solo artist who performs live music in Chicago. Urban Dictionary, the summit of our English language, has a few definitions of “solo artist.” The second is fitting: a musician who works on “material/songs in a primarily solo state.” But I prefer the first definition: solo artists are musicians so skilled at masturbation that “they take it to the level of an art.”
At any rate, I write songs and perform them live. I use my own name—a tricky sell in 2015—and I hire musicians to accompany me on stage. These musicians are professional and skilled—and expensive. It’s a costly process, taking on a show. Each musician gets about $100-$150 for the performance. I reimburse the band for travel expenses. Sometimes they request separate payment for rehearsals. I also rent space for our practices. If I perform one local show, I need at least $450 to break even.
Occasionally I get offers to open for touring solo artists. Over the past couple of years, talent buyers have contacted me about support slots not because the music matched or the headliners (and their agents) were David Safran fans, but because I could “add heft in ticket sales.” Those headliners—all global and careered and acclaimed—were, for whatever reason, having a tough time selling tickets here. Per-show booking fees for artists I’ve supported have all been in the thousands. My guarantees have been meager. For example, City Winery paid me $300. Lincoln Hall paid me $200. In October, SPACE offered me $100 with the expectation to bring the crowd; the headliner had only sold twenty-five tickets. SPACE is a music room in the back of a suburban pizzeria. You’d think its talent buyer, Jake Samuels, was booking La Scala. Yet I couldn’t get a guarantee higher than $100. I turned down his show offer. Read the rest of this entry »
Kenji Bunch/Photo: Erica Lyn
By Dennis Polkow
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that so many composers have been attracted to the viola,” says violist and composer Kenji Bunch. Like Bach, who noted that he enjoyed playing viola because he was always “in the middle of the harmony,” Bunch observes that “it lets you experience music from the inside out and you really get a unique perspective on how things are put together.
“If you sing alto or tenor in a choir rather than soprano or bass, those are the hard parts to hear and be able to pick out the right notes for those funky inner lines rather than the more obvious top or bottom lines. I think the viola really finds you. It’s suited for a certain kind of personality that is interested in more offbeat things, literally offbeat things.”
Since the viola is a darker-colored instrument with less brilliance than its more popular cousin the violin, “we don’t have a lot of traditional repertoire written for our instrument, which means we violists usually gain exposure to twentieth century music a lot sooner than violinists or cellists do. 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 »
Gayle and Alan Heatherington
By Dennis Polkow
More often than not, performing arts organizations tend to cease operations for insufficient funding, declining audiences or both. How then to explain last month’s stunning announcement that after twenty years, with its extraordinary aesthetic vision fully intact, its operations solvent and its audiences supportive and enthusiastic, the 2014-15 season would be the final one ever for the Ars Viva Orchestra?
Coming onstage with his wife, Ars Viva executive director Gayle Heatherington, at his side, the organization’s founder and music director Alan Heatherington postponed his customary illuminating introductory remarks about the music about to be performed.
“All good things come to an end,” he said instead, “all great things come to an end. How many of you have had a favorite restaurant that closed?” By now, audience members had become uneasy with suspense, so Heatherington immediately broke the tension by getting right to the point: “So we are here together to announce that the May concert will be the final concert of Ars Viva,” he declared to audience gasps. 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 »