September 27–Introduction. Much of the music at this two-day event will be presented on the campus of the University of Chicago in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago. The founding organization for this Festival that began in September, 2007, is the Hyde Park Jazz Society; the University of Chicago’s Office of Civic Engagement stepped up in that first year to provide the necessary funding. Additional non-profit organizations and corporations have added sponsorship in years following. The purpose then and now is to honor the rich jazz cultural history of the South Side of Chicago and keep the tradition of creative arts alive. In addition to the Chicago ensembles assembled, several of the national and international performers on the schedule have strong ties to the City.
The performance locations include 11 indoor stages in the Hyde Park and Kenwood neighborhoods, and two large outdoor stages on the Midway Plaisance of the UC campus. I expect to walk easily, but briskly, between venues; excepting two stages, the venues are close together. My tentative plan has me at the Smart Museum of Art for one-hour sets by the Frank Russell Group at 1PM and the John Wojciechowski Quartet at 2:30PM on Saturday. Thirty performances are on the schedule for day one of this two-day fest; a few other names include the Ari Brown Quintet, Frank Rosaly’s Green and Gold, Gerald Clayton Trio (Clayton is pictured above), Dana Hall Quintet, and Ken Vandermark Ensemble: Music of the Midwest School. The final performance on Saturday is Anat Cohen and Douglas Lora Duo at the Rockefeller Chapel ending at Midnight. The music is FREE.
Lest Denverites think I am slighting my current home town, I enjoyed a flight on Denver’s Frontier Airlines to travel to my former home town Chicago. I was a bit discouraged to learn that in-flight beverages were no longer complimentary; however, a cup of hot, fresh Boyer’s (a Colorado company) coffee was served for the price of $1.99 and they accepted my First Bank of Colorado debit card. A beautiful thing.
To get to the Festival from my lodgings at the International Hostel on Congress Expressway and Wabash, I rode the Green Line of the City elevated train system. I disembarked at the end of the line, 63rd Street and Cottage Grove Avenue. I walked north on Cottage Grove to 56th and Ellis and found the Smart Museum of Art. Surprise—the stage is outside in front of the museum and the seats are in the sun. I sat there while others headed for the shade of a few trees and took the folding chairs with them. I claimed one remaining chair in front of and near the musicians with maybe 30 other people—it really was not that hot and the sun was at our backs. I enjoyed two one-hour sets with a 30-minute break.
The Frank Russell Group. The leader Russell is a Chicago-based electric bass player. He was sporting and used three electric 5-string Lakland bass guitars and said, “I represent a music company. . . they want me to play all of them.” The personnel included Vijay Tellis- Nayak, keyboards; Marco Villareal, guitar; Charles Heath, drums; and Tim McNamara on various reed instruments. The band played songs from the 1970’s fusion period including works by Miles Davis, Chic Corea’s “Spain,” Bobby Irvin’s “Code MD,” and Herbie Hancock’s “Dolphin Dance.” September 28 is the date of Miles’ death in 1991 and Russell acknowledged the date.
The last two tunes included a rendition of “Oleo,” a compositon of Sonny Rollins dating from the early 1950’s and recorded by many. This piece featured a well-received drum solo; and, unlike his many other solo sections, Russell advanced with his instrument to the edge of us sun-resistant audience members to demonstrate his prowess on bass. At the onset of the eighth and last piece, Russell was informed he had but two minutes remaining in his one-hour set; instead of 2, he played a 7-minute song entitled “Ladysmith (Black Mambazo),” a song named after the African vocal group Frank Russell said he was associated with for six years. This is one of sixteen songs you can find on the Frank Russell album, Circle Without End, released in 2011 (and pictured above). I got the opportunity to talk with Russell and sideman McNamara after the set; while speaking of my association with public radio station KUVO in Denver, I learned that Russell’s band played at the Telluride (Colorado) Jazz Festival in 2012; and, McNamara was interested in my discussion of Chicago area locales I haunted in my youth. Talking about my two home cities is always a pleasure.
After a 30-minute break at the Smart Museum, we welcomed the John Wojciechowski Quartet to the patio. From the Festival program, “Saxophonist, composer, and teacher, John Wojciechowski (JW) has performed or recorded with The Chicago Jazz Orchestra, The Woody Herman Orchestra, The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and Toskiko Akiyoshi, among others. Completing the foursome are Ryan Cohan, piano; Clark Sommers, bass; and Dana Hall, drums.”
This musical set included five songs and all but one are Wojciechowski originals. The first three are from a project entitled Lexicon, beginning with the song “Pentatonic Tune.” That was followed by the title song “Lexicon” from this CD released in 2009. Then we heard “Lion and the Lamb;” the uptempo section (lion-like) was especially pleasing as the pace really quickened and intensified. Sommers soloed on his upright bass. The fourth song of the set was a slow ballad composed by Ryan Cohan entitled “Kampala Moon” with Cohan showing his virtuosity on the Yamaha piano and JW moving from his tenor to the soprano saxophone; this pleasant piece results from Cohan’s interpretation of his recent experience in Africa. Drummer Hall, whose own quintet was scheduled to play later on the main Wagner Stage this evening, sought some respite shade for this tune. The final number is another JW original and entitled “Title,” at least for now; lacking a suitable moniker, our leader says the title has become the default name from his composition software.
Keeping with my preference, I have sought out and written of the performers that come out early in the day of these quality summer festivals in the City of Chicago. All of the acts are good, the musicians are enthusiastic, and the early-in-the-day crowds are cerebral. I would estimate attendance at this early afternoon session on a pleasant, sunny day at 200 to 300 people.
For the last show of the day (that I was able to catch) it was with pen again in-hand taking notes that I experienced the Ben Paterson Organ Quintet. Paterson (pictured at left) seemed to enjoy and excel at talking to his huge audience at the West Stage at the Midway Plaisance near 60th Street and Ellis Avenue. I made note of his between-song quips. After playing a strong groove Jimmy McGriff “blues” tune, Paterson said, “There is not nearly enough blues in New York. It’s great to be back in Chicago playing some blues.” Spoken by a man who knows–although now based in New York, Paterson said he went to school here (UC) and identified the locations of his former Hyde Park apartments. The musicians in this group are young and they stepped up and played. The second song was the jazz standard, “Perdido,” composed by Juan Tizol and first recorded by Duke Ellington in 1942.
The third and fourth tunes were not named or recognized, but Paterson introduced the first as a “funk” tune and the second as a “ballad.” “Funk” they did, with saxophonist Scott Burns and trumpeter Marquis Hill demonstrating again that these two horns in an up-front duo segment blend well! The next song was identified by Paterson as a Dizzy Gillespie funk tune recorded in 1970, “Alligator.” At times the two horns will retire to a back corner of the stage, only to return to the fore to blow hard a duel solo for a wall-of-sound effect of a kind that we grey-haired people should recognize. Ben Paterson provides the deep bass groove and repetitive bass runs on the organ. The last selection was the Cole Porter tune “Silk Stockings,” featuring Burns on tenor sax and Paterson with his long bass lines forming the groove. No dancers–Paterson tried coaxing dancers throughout. Nevertheless, another pleasing performance at the HPJF.
Paterson’s most recent album is Blues for Oscar, a tribute to Oscar Peterson. As seems to be the custom at blues and jazz festivals, there was a brief sales pitch for the CDs and, “visit my web site” at http://www.benpaterson.com. And, so ended the first day for me at the Hyde Park Jazz Festival.
Additional musical one-hour sets I was able to catch the first day of the Festival included: Ari Brown Quintet, Gerald Clayton Trio, and the Dana Hall Quintet. On Sunday I enjoyed the performances of three ensembles with vocalists: the Chicago Yestet; Jeff Lindberg’s Chicago Jazz Orchestra with Tammy McCann; and the Dee Alexander Quartet. All are recommended!