Chicagoans won’t be deterred — like other northerners, they shrug off January and find meaning by escaping their caves. At least, I hope so, heading into my hometown for the Jazz Institute of Chicago’s annual winter Jazz Fair at the beautiful Cultural Center.
The fair is free — free jazz! — and features not just me reading from my new book and showing videos of Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor (at 8 p.m.) but genuine live music across the jazz and jazz-beyond-jazz spectrum. Starting with swing clarinetist Chuck Hedges at 7 p.m. and my high school jam pal pianist Jim Baker (check out his debut solo recording of 2006 More Questions Than Answers) with extraordinary AACM flutist Nicole Mitchell (she has a recent dvd/cd release, Black Unstoppable at 7:30.
At 9 the fair delves into Chicago’s unique jazz-blues connection with harmonica player Billy Branch and direly under-exposed singer Dee Alexander leading what looks like a stellar quintet (with genre-crossing guitarist Henry Johnson plus AACM bassist Yosef Ben Israel and drummer Leon Joyce, who’s unknown so far to me) and simultaneously at another Cultural Center venue Latin jazz by pianist Edwin Sanchez’s Project. From 9:30 to 11:45 Chicago’s jazz master tenor saxophonist Von Freeman, mentor to several generations of midwestern players and at age 85 hugely deserving of National Endowment for the Arts recognition) fronts a quintet and directs a jam session. Usually you’d have to go on Monday nights to the Enterprise Lounge (south 75th Street) for such a treat.
On Saturday, from 11:30 am ’til 5 p.m., the Jazz Fair reconvenes with jazz cinema — The World Of John Coltrane (in ’85 I conducted the interviews with Jimmy Heath, Tommy Flanagan, Rashied Ali and Wayne Shorter used in this film), a Polish tv document of Nicole Mitchell’s “Harambee Project,” “Tootie’s Last Suit” about a renown Mardi Gras Indian chief, “Sippie” is all about late classic blues woman Sippie Wallace, and rare jazz films by Bob Koester, proprieter of Delmark Records and the Jazz Record Mart, where as a teenager I filled my ears, eyes and mind on the roots of what I love today.
I’m not pushing this event for the hype of it. The Jazz Fair should serve as a model for other ad hoc music-lovers’ associations to energize their audiences in the doldrums of harsh seasons. Hearing, viewing, socializing and maybe expanding personal horizons is what the culturally curious enjoy. Low cost and variety are highlights that can attract young and new listeners, whatever genre is presented. The investment by ad hoc arts support organizations can be modest, and the returns huge. If you’re in Chicago, drop by. If you’re not, suffer envy.
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