Chicago Jazz Festival 2008

September 2nd, 2008

Chicago is, needless to say, a great jazz city, one of the iconic ones. Growing up in Milwaukee, it was a magnet. Milwaukee had a great scene, but we supplemented by frequent trips down, mostly to the Jazz Showcase, to see “the cats”. I also spent my first real time away from home in Chicago, playing in a R&B band, (hey old folks – remember The Brighter Side Of Darkness and “Love Jones”?), living not far from our next President’s crib in hip Hyde Park, and getting my feet more than a little damp learning about the hang and the complexities of negotiating a life in this music. Chicago, then and now, was/is a proud city, yet a relaxed and comfortable one, culturally complex and divided but somehow united in a certain way of proceeding, a solidness that to me is exemplified by the traditions of its African-American community and citizens. The jazz heritage is deep here, and is being maintained superbly by both its established world class artists and the new generation of young players.

It was out of sight to spend a couple of days there this past weekend, having the privilege to play music in front of the enthusiastic yet discerning audiences at the Festival. We had a great set with Eddie Palmieri, especially with the reunion of the mighty original front line of the Afro-Caribbean Jazz Octet; Conrad Herwig, Donald Harrison, and myself.

And an unexpected treat came my way when I was asked to appear as special guest with one of Chicago’s true musical treasures, the great pianist Willie Pickens, on his festival performance. Willie’s amazing and probing playing, along with a stellar rhythm section of bassist Larry Gray and drummer (and longtime buddy) Joel Spencer, was a stimulus and a challenge to rise to!

I heard a lot of great music as well; I’ll just mention the trumpeters: the outstanding young trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire (with Vijay Iyer’s great quintet); Chicago bad axe Pharez Whitted (with his own fine sextet); David Douglas, brilliant with his new band Brass Ecastsy; Sean Jones, killing in the jam session at the Jazz Showcase, and young Chicagoan Marquis Hill, someone to watch out for. Another highlight of my weekend was those after concert jam sessions, hosted by the legendary Ira Sullivan, at Joe Segal’s newly reopened Jazz Showcase. Ira was concentrating on alto and soprano sax most of the two nights I heard him, but he did give all us trumpet players some lessons by picking up the flugelhorn on a couple of tunes. Inspiring!

Here’s a excerpt of Eddie’s band at the Festival, from You Tube.

Off to Singapore tomorrow, and then straight from there (8 hours layover in NY) to Colombia. We’re talking major jet lag coming up here!

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