Tuesday, September 30, 2014

My Trip to Chicago

Last week, the family had to go to Chicago for a wedding. It was the furthest west I've ever traveled in my life, and for that reason alone, the whole trip became kind of a four-day vacation. The deal was sealed when we finally made it into Chicago - after getting in the wrong lane for an exit and having the google map app go haywire on us (giving directions and then jumping ahead before I could drive to the next instruction) - and found out valet parking at the hotel was both expensive and the only real option for dealing with the car. After that, room service was the only viable option for a late night dinner.

The good news was that our window looked right down onto Chicago's fabled Jazz Record Mart. I knew it was around the corner from us, but I didn't think it was that close. Friday afternoon, after going to the Art Institute of Chicago to see the Magritte exhibition, I broke away from the family to get to the store. You want to talk about a kid in a candy store - this place personifies the cliche. I kept running back and forth between names in the racks, between CDs and vinyl. Grabbing albums as soon as I saw them.

And who else did I happen to see that but Sean Jones, who I wrote about in the soon-to-be-released issue of JazzTimes. I knew he was playing in Chicago that night, but who'd'a thunk that we'd see each other in the Jazz Record Mart? He introduced me to Ken, the manager, who also happens to be from Meadville, PA.

After picking up a couple albums, I starting thinking of things that I can't find back here in Pittsburgh, and things that I'm always thinking that I'd like to order online, but never do. So I looked for a Steve Lehman section and found his album On Meaning. Score. I figured I probably had every Vijay Iyer album, but sure enough, I found Blood Sutra. Upon looking at the Rudresh Mahanthappa section, I found The Beautiful Enabler CD by Mauger, the trio of him, Mark Dresser and Gerry Hemingway. That's on Clean Feed, which is based in Europe so I really felt like I had to get that right away. Better to stick with three things, than go completely hog wild. Besides, I was hoping that a certain double Coltrane LP would greet me back at home when I returned. It's important to make sure there's enough time to listen to all of this. (Didn't really feel right blasting any of that with the wife and kid in the car during the driving.)

Friday night, after going back and forth in my mind, I decided to hoof it to the Jazz Showcase to see Sean play a set. It was a bit of a walk, and me being me, I got a little lost and made a wrong turn on the way. But I still got there in plenty of time to say hi to him and the band and check them out.

The second set at a Chicago jazz club - a legendary one at that, which has been presenting this kind of music since the mid 1940s - was still only filled to about 25% of its 170 seat capacity. But maybe since Sean was there for a few nights, it's different with each set and evening. Nevertheless, I was kind of surprised that it wasn't too different from what I see back home.

The quartet casually made their way to the stage and drummer Mark Whitfield., Jr. - in place of Obed Calvaire - started up the beat of a new Jones original, the name of which escapes me right now. But it was inspired, Jones said, by the realization that Art Blakey and John Coltrane didn't record much together. It might be "Art and the Mitigating Factor," but don't hold me to it.

Jones is gifted at that between-song discussions, cracking jokes as he explains songs. He took his time introducing the next song, which was written for a couple that won an auction where the prize was to have a song written for them by the trumpeter. His description of the couple, and the set-up of the song, played into the "men are from mars, women are from venus" cliche, but the song sure felt good.

Throughout the night, I felt so happy to hear Orrin Evans playing in person. His style of attack on the piano, as well as his chordal ideas, are really energizing and exciting. Most of the set consisted of songs that were newer and didn't appear on the recent im.pro.vise album, so the glory of the second set made it fun. The only damper on the evening was the middle aged woman who drank her martini too fast, got snockered and thought it was cute to keep rattling off cutesy comments and sounds during one of Jones' obbligatos. There's always one in every crowd: someone who thinks the band is playing to an audience of one. Oy.

The Jazz Showcase has a lot of pictures of musicians on the wall. The stage itself has an eight-foot poster of a classic young Charlie Parker on the back wall. Along the side walls  of the club are flyers from bygone years, advertising engagements. This one proved to be a great study in contrasts:

(For those who don't recognize the bottom name, he was the butter-toned trumpeter on all the lush Jackie Gleason albums.)


JP said...

Nice post. I've been meaning to go to Chicago to check out the music scene for years now but it hasn't happened...yet.

I'm a fan of your blog, especially the local coverage. I have a blog the covers jazz in pittsburgh as well. Although it's no where near as well written as yours. Check it out if you have a chance.


shanleymusic said...

JP - Thanks for the compliment! I looked at your blog quickly with plans to look at it in detail soon. Looks like you get around a little more than I do, which is cool.
The Hyde Park (?) Jazz Festival was going on over the weekend in Chicago and I would've loved to check that out, but the wedding was on Saturday and we left on Sunday. But I really like a lot of the experimental cats in that city, if this blog doesn't already make it clear. - mike

Gregg said...

Enjoyed reading this well crafted travelogue and gig review. Thanks for your blog.

Hope you make it dahn-tahn to that "amazing" book store on Liberty and find some decent records.

shanleymusic said...

Thanks for the tip on the book store! I'm going down in a little bit.