The Jazzcat

The Chicago Jazz Festival 2011

by on Oct.21, 2011, under News

Summertime and the livin’ is easy. That is certainly true when it comes to good music and with the Chicago Jazz Festival kicking off, the rhythms and good vibes of the city come alive with the sounds of Jazz! Well, jazz is actually always on hit here in Chicago.

It is hot, and melting in the humidity is the sound that floats in the air and touches all who come to seek the pleasures of sonic tonality. Millennium Park fills the air with arrangements of composer and trombonist Melba Liston, as the Chicago Jazz Ensemble honors her with some fantastic “peaces”!

Drummer Dana Hall has been named the Artistic Director of the Chicago Jazz Ensemble and he tells the stories of the music and relates relevant musical and spiritual knowledge to a giant and ever-growing Chicago audience of jazz fans. His composition “Tales of the Gimbri” along with one from Tamika Reed, “A Testimony of Faith” were just part of the repertoire for an afternoon of music.

Before the great Randy Weston hits the stage, the ensemble performed a Randy Weston Suite, “Little Africa” based on Randy’s quest to discover the origin of the music. Randy Weston represents a pivotal point for music here in Chicago as his performance closes out the “Made in Chicago: World Class Jazz” music series and represents the beginning of the Chicago Jazz Festival.

Chicago has a tradition of musically bringing the fire and I do not mean that sarcastically. The young players from Columbia University who started off today’s performance may have stuck to standards and classic tonality, but young composers like Dana Hall and the aforementioned Tomeka Reed arrange with ears wide open and to the heavens! The Chicago Jazz Ensemble doin’ it right!Randy comes out and immediately starts to tell the audience about how wonderful Melba Liston was and how she was on par with all of the other great arrangers and players of her time. He opens up with a composition he wrote for her called, “A Sketch for Melba” performed by his wonderful trio. This followed by more Melba arrangements, “Blues to Africa” with the ensemble joining in. Oh yes, Africa, the Mother of the music. Randy is always representing, studying, searching and sharing the sounds, colors and rhythms of the continent to connect us with the roots and herbs of the music.

Melba was part of the royalty of music. Randy and Melba performed a piece called “The Healers” based on a quest to find out who created the first music? He dedicated that on to the ancestors. It is so important to keep a foot in the ground and reach for the sky; never forgetting, always respecting and building sound from solid foundations! Dizzy Gillespie, Chano Pozo, Machito brought back the drum and Melba wrote and conducted a composition called, African Sunrise” that featured all of these great players back in the day. Afro-Cuban sounds of love!

Bobby Broom opened it up on Friday night with some swinging organ-ic groove. Joined along with the second Bobby on alto,

Broom and Watson whose name may sound like a law firm you mighthire, comprise the Deep Blue Organ Trio featuring Watson, who put the cool on a warm Chicago night.

My good friend Mark Ruffin of XM radio is taking care of the hosting duties tonight. His mother was a native Chicagoan and was born and raised amidst the vibrant thirst for creativity in music and art here in the city. That makes him a product of this culture by default as he has been a fixture in jazz journalism and broadcasting for many years in the Chicago area. His words and expressions about the wonderful musicians tonight get the audience to unite in anticipated elation over the next 3 days of exciting jazz here in the city. Chicago has a thirty three year old tradition of highlighting local talent as well as international talent to produce one of the world’s extensive and comprehensive FREE jazz festivals!


The John Coltrane suite, which includes “Compassion”, “Ascension” and “India”, performed here in Chicago at Soldier Field back in 1965 was a great concert with the living legend Archie Shepp. Tonight with blood in the band, Ravi Coltrane, Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano honor Coltrane with their rendition of the music.

As Ascension goes, so goes the music to places on high; to the heavens and back down to melodic solos with every emotion in between. Regardless of making no sense or perfect sense, the message is felt and the spirituality is bestowed upon us all. Noises, pitches, sounds and tones together exemplify expressions of “Impressions”, the oneness and togetherness of love; honor and respect due.

With open ears, an audience of thousands is literally peaceful enough to enjoy Cecil McBee lay a bow to a string and they dig! The cats continue to sonic surf as they ride the waves of Trane on into the stratosphere. If you look in the sky and see a beam of light shoot toward the heavens, the other end of the prism touches down here at the Pritzker Pavillion in Millenium Park!

The after hours hit was up North at a place called the Chicago Cultural Center, right at the corner of Milwaukee and Diversy. Now I don’t know how Chitown is doing without the Velvet Lounge and Fred Anderson’s contribution to the art and the city but, all of the cats are here tonight! Intersections, Asian Improv Records and the AACM are all responsible for booking the cats in this series of concerts that Asian Improv Records is sponsoring.

After hours tonight: Mwata Bowden, Henry Grimes, Kidd Jordan, Francis Wong, Aveerayl Ra, Hanah Jon Taylor, Edward Wilkerson, Douglas Ewart, Tatsu Aoki and many others wonderful musicians who think beyond form and live in that space between Western Classical and infinity are here to mix and blend the sounds of spiritual creativity. If progressive music is your thirst, then this is the spot on the planet that will be blessing the Universe. Spoken word, violin, clarinet, flute, tenor, percussion, bass, higher intelligence, science, knowledge and love are the price to pay for freedom in sound. Even though the world lives on the inside of popularity, the truth in music and sound can never be snuffed out. When the earth destroys itself from wars, pollution, poverty, gluttony and oppression and God creates again, we will be the first flower that rises from the dust!

Spoken word artist Kahari B asks the question, can you feel it and indeed you can. A continuous swirling, layered, dense form of expression whose heartbeat starts in Africa and makes its way across the globe. From the darkness to the light within, we levitate with sonic levity and all gather to share in like consciousness and we make music matter.

Saturday brought thunderstorms to the skies of Chi. Did that affect the music? Well yes, in fact a performance was interrupted mid song and the people were told that they had to leave the park for about 30 minutes. Safety first and then the music is allowed to continue.
Trio Three along with Geri Allen proved to be everything that super talent brings; creativity, extraordinary renditions by artists such as Eric Dolphy,Gazzelloni and Blues for Peter by Mama Mary Lou Williams.

Geri is so soulfully melodic in her gorgeous choices of complexity. Oliver should have coined the phrase “In and Out” since he knows all to well how to occupy both spaces at the same time. Reggie’s smile says everything about where he is, inside the mother of the beast and he is slaying them on the bow and pizzicato. Andrew is lighting up the symbols and filling the space with sweetness!

There is so much comfort in the rich dense framework of odd melodies, a real sense of fortified nourishment visually, sonically and collectively. Andrew reads the lyrics to the poem “What’s Your Story” written for Mary Lou Williams and Oliver lights it up like no other. Mary was so melodic and these way the fantastic four spin the sound is really incredible! All of these wonderful selections come from the latest recording called, “Celebrating the Music of Mary Lou Williams”.

Orbert Davis is this year’s Artist in Residence. He has written music for film, television, large ensembles and the native Chicagoan was on WDCB radio with a show called From Dusable to the White House. He is a trumpeter that knows how to arrange the sweetest sounds and does what every musician should do and that is speak to the audience so that they can have a better feel for the music. He claims Mozart was a jazz musician! Is it jazz or is it classical is not his concern; he only wants to make great music. At one point during the performance, the lights went out on the stage but that did not stop the music! His first piece of the evening, “Daveport Blues”, a combination of classical and jazz, was inspired by a 2007 car commercial that Orbert wrote with a little extra beauty for our behalf!

The ensemble also played a movement from the Miles Davis/Gil Evans Sketches of Spain done very beautifully and an Al Cohn composition call, “Villa Robos”. Orbert worked with a number of musicians in Posnan Poland and brought one back to perform on conga and bongos. For Obert’s final composition he was thinking about life and its many facets so he called it “Life”. This particular part of the suite is called “Family Life”.

Who on earth does not love Cassandra Wilson! The perfect mix of eclectic, style, world romance and class all on top of a bed of free sprit. Getting into the sensuality of the note, the essence of each syllable and having fun being the instrument is what it is all about. Every musician is family so trust is a solid platform on which sensibilities can be stretched to possibilities. The box is opaque and she travels in, through, up and around but never trapped inside.

The rhythm rocks! Marvin Sewell takes care of that. Gregoire Maret lights up the harmonica solo giving earthlings new perspective and vision. John Cowherd, Reginald Veal and Herlin Riley get bodies movin’ with a solid bed of good vibrations saturated in a love for the blues, a love for life and of course the beauty and joy of the music!

Took the trip on the Trane back to where 6 points lead to the source; the Elastic, Avant Guard, after-hour, late night, Cultural Art Center, Jam! If you seek the points, ye shall find where it all happens, where it all begins.

You must be present to experience music. Three didgeridoos, hand made by Douglas Ewart,  a wood block, and the strings of a bass tapped with a chopsticks makes for music that is out of this world! No book or the excitement of other peoples forays into adventurous music or any recording for that matter could ever make you feel, heal or understand. You must be present to prosper from the gift of sound. 12:49am and the 2nd set has just gotten underway. I know it is late and I know all 20 reasons why you are not here but really, what are you gonna do for the rest of your life? Where is your excitement? What is your reason for inhabiting this planet, why are you here? If your answers are to live, think, grow rich, seek, question, discover, and realize, then the vibration of music is a potent source of nutrients for your being! The mantras in the music will bring you back to your true self, rediscover what wonderful mysteries of love are there waiting for you to reclaim them. This knowledge is for you and music expressed freely with no constraints is one path to self-enlightenment!

Damon Short Jazz Institute of ChicagoLast day of the festival and the weather finally wants to be our friend but the music continues to be hot! I definitely wanted to check out Mike Reed’s band but arrived right as he left the stage so, much music that it is just not possible to do it all, especially on both ends of the spectrum.
Ira Sullivan is gettin’ down. All these years and Ira is still so very proficient on both tenor and trumpet. He did it all right here in Chicago. I saw him the last time I was here and he still has such a wonderful way of relating to his Chicago audience. One of his students asked him, “How long will it take me to become a jazz musician”? Ira replied, “Everyday from here on out, then you can retire”.

True words indeed from one of the cats who have spent a lifetime honoring this music. He and Willie Pickens are celebrating 80 years of music on the planet. He also made sure to mention the Jazz Standard club owner Joel Siegal who over so many years has always provided a stage, a club and a home for all of the great Chicago jazz musicians as well as the world travelers. The pictures on the walls are the history and tell the story.

David Sanchez is here to close out the festival with Stefon Harris and their project,“90 Miles”. These cats along with Christian Scott went over to Cuba and blended in with the local musicians in a mix of American – Cubanic love for art, people and music.

Here they are back from a beautiful life experience to share gifts with world and tonight with Chicago. David plays a few tunes with the quartet including the title track from his previous recording “Cultural Survival” before bringing out the great Stefon Harris.

What more can you say about a person who brings extreme talent combined with humility and just steps out of the way and lets the spirit take over. The energy and integrity he puts forth is intense and it is evident in his approach to the vibes. You can feel the intention before the note is struck.

I have witnessed Roy Hargrove’s performances for a few decades now and although the band has morphed in many different configurations, the tone, timbre, sound and intellect have always remained at the finest level in music. He maintains the company of youth while always having a statesman by his side usually in the piano chair but now, represented by default from Justin Robinson on alto.

All in all Chi-town gives her city another fantastic cultural experience with music spotlighting local talent as well as from the finest of musical international world travelers. Jazz music at its core, from youth ensembles to the elders, The Chicago Jazz Festival offers gifts of high level sound to its people, for a price you can’t beat, at a time when two plus two doesn’t quite seem to add up to four. That’s love!

LeRoy Downs

5 Comments for this entry

  • yl

    “then the vibration of music is a potent source of nutrients for your being!”
    –leRoy downs
    well said!

  • Alpha Bruton

    Thanks, this looks and reads great, it was cool running into you and your girl on the Blue Line/Red Line after the AfterFest.
    I was just in LA last week hanging out in Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach. Check out the play at the Matrix Theater “All My Sons”.

  • D.Day Media Group

    Totally enjoyed your take on the CJF 2011,you made me feel that I was there,having attende the festival over the years,I’m aware of the superior quality and warm reception the City exudes during the Festival.As jazz singer and musician,my dream is to be part of it some day as an artist.When that happens I hope you’re still covering the music in the depth and richness conveyed in this great blog.Excellent,thank you!

Leave a Reply

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site:

Still not finding what you're looking for? Drop a comment on a post or contact us so we can take care of it!

Visit our friends!

A few highly recommended friends...