Pumping Up the Jam

By: Mark A. Moore Senior Executive, Smooth Jazz Entertainment LLC.

“People start smiling and cosigning—shouting their approval of what is being played….Cat’s with horns come out of the woodwork.  If the rhythm section is right, you might stay there and play or just listen, soaked in swing, until the sun comes up.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    —Wynton Marsalis, Moving to Higher Ground

I was sitting at home on Sunday night with my wife watching the millionth episode of some show centered on rebuilding a home in a neighborhood I have no interest on living in.  Perhaps she was giving me, yet another subtle hint!  While sitting at my computer, I got a quick message via Facebook from my friend telling me that a jam session was about to go down at Andy’s Jazz club on Hubbard St.  Ever elated and truly grateful for the escape, I quickly changed clothes and headed over to what I knew would be an eventful evening.

I had the pleasure of visiting a jam session hosted by jazz vocalist Rose Colella.  It was held at the legendary Jazz Showcase.  After the final set was played, I took some time speak to her. Rose is a lovely lady, blessed with height and an incredible singing voice.  Her gentle, engaging presence is warm and friendly—the type of person you’ve never met, yet always known.  After waltzing through the chairs and tables closest to the stage we engaged in a very memorable exchange.   I simply asked her, “Why did you choose to do this?”  Rose explained that these sessions were “a great way to meet some other talented musicians in the city”.  In her mind, jam sessions are simply a continuum of the jazz movement that will evolve and nurture talent.  Unfortunately, Rose’s jam session series at the Jazz Showcase has ended, but we should not despair.  Jam sessions are alive and well in the city.

Recently, Chicago has seen a resurgence of them across the city.  Andy’s Jazz club has been hosting a Sunday night jam session for the past few months.  Lead by the accomplished and incredibly talented Pharez Whitted, it has quickly grown into a “who’s-who” of the Chicagojazz scene. Each Sunday, he and his house band play live.  The band is comprised of incredibly talented artists.  Bobby Broom and his sonic strumming are on guitar, with Dennis Carroll anchoring the rhythm section on bass. Greg Artry exhibited his mastery on drums.  Eddie Bayard ripped the stage on saxophone, and Ron Perrillo’s transcendent melodies on the piano made for gripping solos. And not be outdone by any measure, Pharez Whitted reminded you why he is regarded as one of the best trumpeters the Midwest has ever produced.   They are serious musicians who bring out the best in each other.  There was no holding back with the group. (They’ve announced that they will have a new album set to be released later this year.)

Chicago is a breeding ground for musical talent, making it an attractive setting to artists who happen to be in town.  The incredibly talented jazz saxophonist and clarinetist Victor Goines sat in with the band during two sets.  His incredible tone, delivery and artistry added excitement to performance.  In addition, some ofChicago’s best and brightest graced the stage as well.  Marquis Hill (trumpet), Greg Spero (piano), Brent Griffin Jr. (alto saxophone), Samuel Jewell (drums), Christopher McBride (alto saxophone), and Milton Suggs (vocals) represented the future of jazz music with enthusiasm and energy.  Together they played a spirited rendition of Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night inTunisia”.  It was an uplifting night of great music and unparalleled camaraderie.  I certainly got what I was looking for.

Dating back to the late 1930’s, jam sessions have always played an integral part of the jazz experience. They are notarized by their nostalgic yet cliché connotations.  We’ve all seen the imagery of the speakeasy; complete with hot jazz music in bawdy surroundings in cities like Chicago,New York and New Orleans. The jam session was a place of enlightenment; a completely integrated environment. It was a chance for an artist to make a statement and to express themselves. An artist had to earn respect from their peers regardless of your race.  Imitation was frowned upon.  Forget about sounding like Dizzy or playing like Coltrane. You had to find a way to create your own sound.    By today’s standards, the jam session is less about the surroundings and more about the interpretations and improvisations.  Most jam sessions are held at jazz clubs across the country.  A common tune or jazz standard is selected and just like that… they’re off!  Any musician who has participated in one will tell you: It is best that you bring your “A” game. There is an element of competition and showmanship displayed by the artists.  Skills are honed and passed on.  It is where old meets new, pushing the art form forward, creating new movements.

Listed below are jam sessions that are hosted regularly around the city of Chicago.  If you love jazz, you should make every effort to check them out.  If you know of others, please send them to smoothjazzenterainmentinfo@gmail.com .  We would be happy to list them on our website as well.

Andy’s Jazz Club

Pharez Whitted Jam Session

11 E. Hubbard St.

Chicago,IL60611

Every Sunday night from 9 PM – 1 AM

The Green Mill Cocktail Lounge

Green Mill Quartet and Jam Session

4802 N. Broadway Ave.

ChicagoIL,60640

Every Friday 1:30AM – 4 AM

www.pharezwhitted.com

www.bobbybroom.com

www.rosecolella.com

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Catching a Show at the Showcase

By Mark A. Moore, Senior Executive, Smooth Jazz Entertainment LLC.

After a busy Saturday afternoon, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to venture anywhere for the evening. As I was perusing my emails, I got a message from the Jazz Showcase. The Wallace Roney Sextet was in town. At this point, I had never heard of him, but his musical pedigree was uniquely compelling. Early in his career, Mr. Roney was considered to be a protégé of the late great Miles Davis. Of course, Miles Davis is arguably one of the most influential trumpeters ever to play. Wallace Roney has never professed to be Milesesque, but it was intriguing to imagine what someone who worked closely with him would sound like. What would be his influences? How original would his sound be?

I arrived at the Jazz Showcase just in time to sit in on the final set of the night. I managed to find a quiet corner in the room, ordered a gin and tonic and patiently waited for the beginning of the set. After 64 years, the “showcase” as it’s so affectionately called, is one of Chicago’s most storied and treasured jazz locales. It is a veritable time capsule of Chicago jazz history. The side walls are covered with photos of some the great players that have graced their stage over the years. Posters with the likes of Sarah Vaughn remind us of jazz from an earlier time. The back walls are adorned with the old front signage from the club’s original location on Division and Clark. Though faded and rusted, they symbolize the strength and continuity of its ongoing tradition. Wooden chairs surround tables decorated with circular candles, which are designed for drinks and finger foods as opposed to full scale meals. It is a rather dark and austere environment, but the service is good. The stage itself is small but well lit. The performers have enough room to play, but at times they must dance around each other while playing. The sound system provides an accurate reflection of the artists playing, while producing a broad and illuminating sound. Anyone who is part of the jazz community knows this is one of the premiere places to experience jazz of all shapes and sizes. But I have to admit, it wasn’t as well attended as I expected it to be. Then again, perhaps I have greater but unrealistic expectations. I think every jazz club should be packed-especially on a Saturday night!

The final set began with a brief introduction of the group. It was a surprisingly young set of musicians on stage. Aside from his brother Antoine Roney, the other group members were at least 10 years younger than Mr. Roney. (He referred to them as the “future” of jazz) Mr. Roney has a unique stance while playing. He prefers to hold his horn downward into the microphone as opposed to up and out. He stood slightly hunched while blowing, but still managed to produce a clean sound with a slight vibrato. The first piece began with a melodic solo opening, with the trumpet setting the mood of the room. It had a driving beat accented by the piano. Their polished style rounded out the rhythms effortlessly. This group was grooving; being careful not to push too hard. They focused more on the softer subtleties of each piece. They managed to communicate fluidly without competing with each other. These were somewhat lengthy pieces with solos featuring the tenor sax, soprano sax, alto sax, bass, drums and piano.

As for the Miles comparison; clearly this group wasn’t afraid to play along slightly different musical lines. This was irreverent music. They played with a controlled intensity that was driving but not overpowering. This is a versatile group who plays within their set limits. They are more interested in managing their arrangements, rather than blowing the listener away. Mr. Roney plays under complete control, allowing his notes to flow seamlessly through each bar. His almost workmanlike approach leaves audiences to absorb his sounds and to ponder his melodies. But I guess that’s where the comparison ends. The crowd was appreciative but somewhat reserved. They appreciated the artistry they were witnessing.

This was a good Saturday night, especially since I managed to catch a cab quickly on S. Plymouth! Besides, it wasn’t too cold either. Thursday, October 27th is the big day. The Chris Green Quartet at Mayne Stage should be a memorable performance.