CHICAGO JAZZ MAGAZINE
MAR | APR 2016
MAR | APR 2016
Al Jarreau, In His Own Words...
Over 31 years of Jazz Vespers in Niles - Mike Jeffers
View From The Inside - Randy Freedman
Piano Bar featuring Tim Buie - Mick Archer
In His Own Words...
Al Jarreau doesn’t just sing a song, he inhabits it. Hearing Al sing over the years––from the ‘70s to the present––has been one of my great pleasures, a very special perk of being a music journalist.
But it isn’t just the ability to inhabit a song and make it his own that brings Al, like Crosby, Robeson, Sinatra, Cole and others, to the exalted heights of great musical artistry. Add, as well, the almost indefinable element of charisma––the quality that mesmerizes an audience, embracing them within the intimate communicative orbit of a performer. It’s a quality that produces an almost visible glow of sheer energy when Al finds his groove and takes his listeners on an irresistible rhythmic journey.
At times, I’ve heard him sing with the dark baritone timbre of Sinatra, the snappy rhythmic articulation of Cole, the cool balladry of Crosby and the dramatic bravura of Robeson. Depending on his musical mood of the moment, Al can pop out percussion sounds that can rival the layered textures and the upbeat swing of a full drum kit. He can simulate the sounds of horns and scat sing through complex chord changes and tricky rhythmic meters with an unstoppable flow of ideas.
Like Robeson, Jarreau’s roots are in gospel. Raised by parents who were deeply involved in spiritual music––his father a minister and a singer, his mother a church pianist––he sang as naturally as he played sports. The inherent aspects of the music, with the rich, melismatic qualities invested in it by African American culture, provided one of the important elements of what would become the Al Jarreau style.
Drawn to jazz early on, he discovered another foundation stone of his style in the improvisational art, with its inspiring combination of creative freedom, blues/gospel structures and the propulsive rhythmic drive we call "swing." Over the course of Al's remarkable, five decade-plus career, all these attributes coalesced into one of the music world's most uniquely eclectic voices, as well as one of the globe's most universally popular artists.
He is only the second artist––Michael Jackson was the first––to win Grammy Awards in the jazz, pop and R&B categories. And he has done so because of his unerring ability to bring authenticity to each of those styles. Even beyond that admirable quality, Al has been honored for his rare capacity to perform in the recording studio with the same sort of dynamic electricity he brings to his live appearances. Listening to an Al Jarreau recording can be almost as exciting as experiencing him up close and personal. That’s a fact that can be attested to by the Recording Academy voters, who have selected Al for twelve Grammy nominations, and granted him seven Grammy Awards. Even more impressively, the Awards and the nominations have taken place over four decades, from the ‘70s to the 2000s, a rare and impressive display of career continuity. Al Jarreau feels genuine joy in what he does, and communicates that joy to his listeners. ––Don Heckman
Chicago Jazz Magazine: It’s good to meet Al Jarreau, the man himself.
Jarreau: What man?! Don’t be calling me no man myself. It makes me start looking around! [laughs]
Chicago Jazz Magazine: It sounds like you’re in a feisty mood today.
Jarreau: I’m percolating, syncopating, celebrating, elevating, getting up in the morning, and getting busy for the donuts. You wanna go? It’s nice out. I woke up. I don’t care if its raining or snowing, you guys in Chicago been getting some heavy winter, huh?
Chicago Jazz Magazine: Being a Milwaukee boy, you know what winter is like in this neck of the woods. In fact, before you became a professional singer, didn’t you go to school in Wisconsin?
Jarreau: I went to this little school in Wisconsin, Ripon College. My major was Psychology—my bachelor’s. A bunch of kids from the Chicago area went there, especially from little communities on the North Shore. Even Harrison Ford. He was a year after me, but we were there at the same time. He was studying Drama; I was studying Psychology and playing basketball.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: You weren’t taking any music courses in college?
Jarreau: I was singing a lot of music; I wasn’t studying it. I never sang in the choir. That was a real oversight of mine at Ripon. I should have sung in the choir, but I was to busy studying and working on my grades. I needed to be at the library as late as they stayed open, and then went to my dorm and studied my butt off some more all night long. I used to wear my roommate out ‘cause I would be setting my clock so I could get up and study, or stay up late. My clock was ringing at all odd hours because I needed to be up, or sleep a little while and get up and study. You know the term “quick study?” That was never me, a quick study. Not even today.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: That’s hard to believe, the way you can improvise and scat.
Jarreau: No, not even today. I have a musical thing in me that I kind of was born with, and was fostered by being in a home where there was a lot of music going on, and being in a church with a lot of music, and kept that little musical “savantness” about me. But when it comes to the aspect of learning new music, I’m slow because I am very detail oriented. I like to take my time, take it slow and work on the music through repetition. So that’s what I do—I study it and work on it, and when I got it, I got it.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: You may be the only Grammy winner with a Psychology degree.
Jarreau: I might be. I also did a master’s program in Counseling, and that’s the work that I did for a while: I was a rehabilitation counselor, did social work, worked with the disabled, all sorts of categories. In our agency, we saw the blind and deaf, and amputees, cerebral palsy... I had a mixed caseload—I was assigned to the welfare recipients who came to the office. I did that for four years in San Francisco. During that time, I was singing on weekends with the George Duke Trio. I was always doing music since I was four years old, sitting on the piano bench next to my mother. And as soon as they would let me sing in front of the church, I was singing because I had a feeling for it, could carry a tune and enjoyed those perfumed kisses that I would get from the old ladies in the church: Come here sugar—you sang so pretty this morning. That changes your life.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: Life’s too short not to have fun.
Jarreau: That’s the message that the musician needs to carry in his heart and soul, and that’s part of the ministry. Take that with you and have a good time; show people how to laugh: Here is a good one for you guys––three guys walk into a bar, one of them is black, one is Polish and the other one is Chinese... Hey, find a story that is funny, entertain the people and make a difference and bring some joy. That has always been a great little ministry to have. Any musician who has played a song understands that stuff. Laughter and a smile are healing stuff—that’s cardiology. I’m a better counselor now than I have ever been.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: How much of that did you learn from your father, who was a minister, and how much from the school of hard knocks?
Jarreau: All of it—my dad, my mother, the church, and the community I grew up in. It was a very important part of my life. We understood that friendships, relationships and kindness to one another was the deal; that was what was important. We didn’t have a lot of money, so it wasn’t about a car; it wasn’t about ten acres with five horses running around. And a lot of people get it who are from those circumstances—not to say that you can’t get it elsewhere, but a lot of people get it from those circumstances, and it’s important because inside of it is the healing, and the joy. And everybody can have some joy, man! We have to help each other to get there so that people aren’t starving, so people aren’t homeless. That’s our job—to take care of each other.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: That’s a great outlook.
Jarreau: I don’t know where the notion came from that you were supposed to hoard yours—not share it, not be involved and just look for opportunities to consume more and gather more. That notion is afoot, and somewhere in some economics classrooms in great universities—that’s what we are teaching the students.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: Some people see the ministry as “fire and brimstone,” but you find joy in it.
Jarreau: Well, you have to be there, and get to where the joy is. There are places where fire and brimstone is what they talk about all the time—Hell and suffering, you know, a lot of suffering on this level. But you have to get through that and use your old gray matter—that stuff between your ears—and figure out that there is also great stuff to get from there. I’m thankful for those early teachings and learnings. But, I am also thankful for the opportunity to have expanded on that thinking with some other “thinkings” and notions that have come after that, and understand more of what that is about. There have always been great minds that have written books and talked about what it is that we should be doing here as human beings in this community that we collectively call “society” and “civilization.” How do we behave with each other? Plato and those guys have been writing about that for more than 2,000 years. Okay, we have collected the fish and built the home for “Brother John” down the street. What relationship can we have together? Should I steal from you? Do I help you? What do I do? That stuff gets written down in books, and we call it religion. It’s all about behavior and how we relate to each other. And sometimes too much fire and brimstone gets in there and turns us off so we miss what Jesus was really talking about. Or someone else: Buddha, Muhammad, whoever. We have missed what they were really talking about, which is about how we relate to each other, and the marvelous source for all of it, and we need to say thank you.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: When you were out in San Francisco, how did you run into George Duke?
Jarreau: I walked into a club and caught the matinee. I walked in there because I had made friends with Mike Montano. Now, when I was in the service and doing my advanced individual training—that’s what you do after you finish basic training—you pick a field you are going to work in or study. Some guys want to be in the infantry; some guys want to be paratroopers. I joined the medical corps for advanced individual training. It’s six months longer. So, I came to San Francisco, the Presidio. That was my assignment. I was studying my advanced training as a reservist in the San Francisco neighborhood, which is what I had hoped and prayed for as a singer getting his feet wet in Milwaukee, while singing at the finest little jazz clubs and entertainment supper clubs. Off I go into the service after graduate school, and there I am in the reserves, stationed in the San Francisco area—no better assignment. I started hanging out in the city on weekends. I met this kid, Mike Montano, a brilliant piano player. I walked into this place called the Plantation Inn that had music. There’s Mike, and I walked in there, in my uniform. I said, “Hey, my name is Al—I sing. Do you know ‘Foggy Day in London?’ ‘Green Dolphin Street?’ Can I sing with your band?” [laughs] And that’s how it began for me—I walked in off the street and began to hang out with Mike. I followed him around and sang in bars and hotels where he was performing. And one of the places that he took me to on a Sunday afternoon was called the Half Note Club. George was there with a trio; it was a jam session—guys came from all over the country to go play. Pretty soon they were in love with this great little trio called the George Duke Trio, because George was a monster. But he was only eighteen years old—he was too young to play in the club. But the club owner didn’t care because he was a young guy too, just full of fire about music—great spirit. I’m still in touch with a couple of guys from that trio, Al Cecchi and John Heard. We played there for four years, right at the bottom of Haight-Ashbury, feeling the stirrings of that cultural revolution. The hippies and Flower Power and “no more war”—we were there, we heard the music of the day and the time: Janis Joplin, Big Brother & The Holding Company, the Grateful Dead. The list goes on and on of all those people that were in the Bay Area.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: George Duke passed away far too young. Your most recent album was a tribute to him. Are the tunes on the album the ones that you did together?
Jarreau: Actually, the first songs we performed together are on a record called Al Jarreau and the George Duke Trio, Live at the Half Note 1965. George saved some tapes and we cleaned up the hiss and boom and made it available as a CD. But the tribute record, called My Old Friend, was George Duke material that he had done while he was alive. I don’t know if we should call it George’s Greatest Hits—a lot of it was not his material. There are things there that were hits, but we also did some more esoteric things of George’s. We didn’t do any fusion, but George covered so many genres and so many bases: stuff with Billy Cobham, Jean-Luc Ponty, John McLaughlin, all guys who were doing fusion. Crossing, melding rock and roll, R&B and jazz. They were just playing their hearts out. Hitting bebop, or whatever, but crossing it—fusing it with R&B and pop. So George did that, but sang “Sweet Baby,” and a bunch of stuff I heard on Soul Train. Then, in the next breath, he was funking it with Parliament-Funkadelic. Nobody covered it like that. So we tried to do a little bit of all of those things. The most important thing was for me to find the intersections where George and I met musically. I wasn’t trying to do Bootsy Collins the way George would.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: It certainly broadened your horizons on music. You straddle several genres, and sound comfortable within the jazz, R&B and pop categories.
Jarreau: George and I shared together what you might do with your music once you had the audience and a record label and a career. I have to sing some R&B and some pop, and some jazz as well. I didn’t go as deep into the jazz thing as George did—at the same time he was going so deep into the funk thing. Very few can cover those bases like George. You can’t, and neither can I. Nobody goes that deep; the most serious jazz cats on the jazz scene can’t do that.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: Maybe Gil Scott-Heron, another guy who passed too soon.
Jarreau: Yeah, but he wasn’t the musician George was; he was a poet. But George was on his own in the breadth of stuff that he covered, that no one else has done like him. That was really a wonderful few months that I spent delving into some George Duke material. There were some great people that came on and helped me. If you look at the record, there’s a wonderful array of people: Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller—I’m gonna name a few of them here—Boney James, Dr. John, Lalah Hathaway, Geoffrey Osborne. And some big, very important names: Kelly Price and Gerald Albright. It was a wonderful little project that we did. I hope that we have sales numbers that we used to get. But some people have heard it and commented that it was a nice little outing for me...
I Have to Ask Rusty - Judy Roberts
Reflecting on the passing of drummer Rusty Jones, I have two immediate
thoughts: first, I haven't accepted the fact that he's gone; second, there isn't
one memory I have of him that doesn't need Rusty's verification, corroboration,
embellishment and humorous perspective.
In short, it’s difficult to write about Rusty without Rusty's help. At every turn
I'm thinking, I have to ask Rusty!
The beginning: I met Rusty for the first time at a club called Jack Mooney's in Sandberg Village in Chicago. But what year?
Coincidentally, as I was trying to remember, my husband, Greg Fishman, was reading one of his old DownBeat magazines. In one of the 1967 issues, in the “Who's Playing Where” section, there it is: "Judy Roberts at Jack Mooney's, Tues---Sat." So that answers the "what year" question.
Rusty would have known that and more off the top of his head, including various details like what song I was playing when he walked in and all of the things we talked about that night! What I do know is that he was working as a rep for Quaker Oats at the time, and was doing jazz gigs on the side in Cedar Rapids, and occasionally in Chicago. But with whom, when, where? I have to ask Rusty.
And what about the events that occurred between that first meeting and our eventual historic house trio gig at the London House? And the crazy and wonderful things that happened in the years that followed? I'll do my best to remember, but again, I wish I could ask Rusty.
The life and times of Rusty Jones are vast and wonderful and full of love. He touched so many people for so many years with his amazing spirit, humor, talent and generosity.
If Rusty was currently "looking down from above" (which he firmly and famously believed he would never be doing), I'm sure he'd be chiming in with his usual smiley thoughts and facts, and helping me. Like always.
We will be dedicating our week at the Jazz Showcase, May 12-15th, to Rusty. Also, in April, check out the tribute section to Rusty Jones at ChicagoJazz.com, to see the enormous outpouring from friends and fans whose words have appeared on Facebook, in articles, in memorials, from fellow musicians, and from his wife Mary Ellen and family.
Judy Roberts with Rusty Jones at the Chambers in Niles
Over 31 years of Jazz Vespers in Niles - Mike Jeffers
For over 30 years, Karen and Bruce Anderson have hosted a monthly Jazz Vespers service at the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Niles. They have presented hundreds of local and national jazz artists over the years, so we thought it would be good to talk with them about how they started the series and what they have coming up in the future.
You have been hosting a Jazz Vespers at the Lutheran Church for many years. What year did you start it and do you remember the first musicians you featured?
Karen: Gosh—it goes back to 1985, and it featured my brother Tony Thomas on synthesizer and piano. It was done in memory of our mother who died in May of that year. We used the evening prayer (Vespers) service in the hymnal, with two readings for the day and two Psalms. And then we had Tony, who is a very excellent classical organist and jazz musician, play his music in our church. Then I guess it was a year later our good friends, Judy Roberts, Nick Tountas, and Rusty Jones did the second one in the church.
I guess we did two more the next year and four more the year after that. And then we went to once a month, and finally twice a month in more recent years with a break in July and August. Bruce and I just can’t list all the people we’ve had, but it’s been just great hearing such wonderful musicians playing in the church. We should mention that early on there were two prominent members of Resurrection who were jazz lovers, Bob and Donna Beil, who were so supportive of our endeavor. Thrivent for Lutherans helped out with a grant for the honorarium for the musicians and we decided to dedicate some of the money from the offerings to Lutheran Social Services of Illinois/Augustana Ministries for Developmentally Disabled Children and Adults, where I had worked for a number of years. We’ve continued to do that to the present.
Bruce, you are not only the pastor of the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, but you are also an accomplished bass player. How did you get interested in music and playing the bass?
Bruce: My mother was a very good pianist and church organist. I grew up listening to her play Bach, Handel, Brahms, etc., at night when I was in bed. Mom tried to teach me piano, but I wanted to play ball. Then one day I heard one of mom and dad’s records featuring the French horn; I think it was a Richard Strauss composition. I would come home for lunch in LaGrange Park and lie down by the record machine. I wanted to make that sound and that music so I started taking lessons on the horn. We moved to Kenilworth my eighth grade year, and then I attended New Trier High School.
There was an extraordinary music program there, thanks to a wonderful teacher, Sam Mages. I became immersed in classical music, band and orchestra. Then on my 16th birthday, my sister, Sandy, who loved jazz, made the mistake of giving me a Hampton Hawes Trio album, with Red Mitchell and Shelley Manne. I was “hooked.” I went to Paul Siebenmann’s legendary record shop in Wilmette and Paul steered me to Miles Davis, Oscar Peterson, etc. As Nick Tountas’ T-shirt said, “Jazz Ruined My Life.” Mr. Mages suggested I play string bass if I wanted to pursue jazz, since the French horn was a very difficult instrument to play in that medium, although it has been done very well by a few.
So I began playing bass and really was taught by a very close friend over the years, a wonderful musician, Bob Ravenscroft, along with Steve Bagby, Rich Samuels, Doug Mitchell, Bob Sanders and others at New Trier. We played many, many jobs on the North Shore, in private homes primarily. Back in the late ‘50s, jazz was loved by so many people, and we heard Basie and Cannonball, etc., down at the Blue Note and so many other places in the city—it was a wonderful time.
Where did you develop your passion for jazz music?
Bruce: I guess I can say this for Karen, too. When she first heard Oscar Peterson she just loved it, and it grew on us both as we listened to it. She was a classical musician too. We met at Augustana College, Rock Island, and played in the orchestra together. She’s a violist and also a trained vocalist. She tried out for my band in college and kids me because she didn’t get the job. But she got me instead, which must be the boobie prize, because it was bad enough being married to a jazz musician the first seven years when we were first married. But “the pits” was being a pastor’s wife for the past 42 years—we’ve worked together all the way. We both just love jazz; it is America’s artistic gift. Musical historians and other scholars can articulate this better than I, but the love of this music is something that is shared by so many people of many different backgrounds, and it is universal music. Just think of Zvonimir Tot, such a fine guitarist, who heard American jazz when he grew up in Serbia, or Marcin Januszkiewicz, who heard this music in Poland, and plays so very well.
Jazz is, in my opinion, a very soulful music. It’s improvised—musicians take a chance, like jumping off a cliff and skydiving. You could crash, and you depend also on those with whom you are playing, to support you. At its best, jazz music is from the heart, being created new every time, and music that requires real listening by those who have come to hear it. The audience must participate, and when good jazz music is played and listened to, something magical happens, or, let’s say, something very spiritual happens and it’s wonderful. As it is said in the Bible: “He (or she) who has ears to hear, let them hear.”
Did you perform in clubs and venues before you became a pastor?
Bruce: Yes. In high school I played mostly in private homes with Bob Ravenscroft and others. We had a big band for a while too, that was lots of fun, then in college in the Quad Cities, where incidentally there was lots of good jazz music in the early ‘60s. Karen and I lived in the back of a drum shop in Moline. Mary Belson, Louie’s sister, lived upstairs. There was so much jazz there at that time and there were very good musicians. So, I really began playing in clubs in the Quad Cities during college on the weekends, and also my first year of seminary, after college in Rock Island when Karen and I first got married. My dad was a pastor in the Lutheran church, and I had admired his work growing up. But truth be told, I wasn’t ready to commit myself to the ministry when we first got married. And so during my first year of seminary, I decided to drop out. We opened and owned a jazz coffee house in Davenport, called the Take Five; it was a little bit of heaven. Rusty Jones, my old friend, was the drummer as we began. Karen and I had the club for almost three years, with jazz four to five nights a week and with me playing the bass. Then I got a chance to play full time in Cedar Rapids at a place called Joe’s Tender Trap. I played with a legendary pianist, Cal Bezemer, also Lee Konitz and Dave Sanborn, and J.R. Monterose, plus playing in lots of places in the Quad Cities.
For a while, I was on the road and wound up playing in Chicago for about a year and a half, much of it at the Back Room and other clubs that featured jazz. Those years are full of memories with the chance to play with wonderful musicians. Roger Wonderscheid was on drums, and Eddie Harris would sit in at the Back Room quite a lot. Well, anybody who was a musician in Chicago in the ‘60s remembers how great it was. Everybody was working; there was a lot of fellowship. Back in the Quad Cities we had such good fellowship—annual holiday parties together, etc. We were working all the time and the money was pretty good. At any rate, I went back on the road with a very good jazz trio and singer. We played all over the country, including Alaska, and with a month at a time at each venue. I met so many musicians at this time, all over the place and had a great time although I missed my family, Karen and our infant daughter, Connie. At this time I found it very helpful to play handball—my hobby—at the YMCAs, wherever I was. Finally, there were some good jobs in the Quad Cities as I began to make up my mind to go back to seminary in St. Paul, Minn. and prepare for the ministry and follow in my father’s footsteps. You know, you can, as Ira Sullivan says, make the life of a musician as good or bad as you want. I met some nice people in nightclubs over the years and won’t forget them.
What was the concept for starting the Jazz Vespers at Resurrection?
Bruce: I shared this idea with Karen. After my ordination in St. Paul in 1974, I was called to serve at the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, in Niles. It was so nice to be just a few miles from where I grew up. The organist at Resurrection, Carolyn Sanderson, was my sister’s roommate in college, and her husband, John, is my brother-in-law’s brother. My father had been what we now call “Bishop” at the time when Resurrection was founded in 1963. At the time of my installation at in 1974, the Bishop looked me in the face, held up his hands in the stance of a jazz bassist and said, “No moonlighting—do you understand?” I knew exactly what he meant; I couldn’t serve “two masters.” I sold my bass, gave away all my records and concentrated on my work as a pastor. I put jazz out of my life totally; I did not listen to jazz, and filled that void up with Chicago Symphony tickets, hiking out west, etc. Incidentally, I did not play for 22 years, but finally in the mid-‘90s I bought a beautiful bass, and have played with friends at church and occasionally for a low-key job. Karen and I host the Vespers and enjoy it. I do not play at the Vespers, which are mostly for the jazz musicians playing for a living. I plan to play my bass when we have our last Vespers, before I retire.
In the early ‘80s, I went back to school to work on a Doctor of Ministry degree in a consortium of seminaries in St. Paul. It was an ecumenical group, including pastors and priests from many denominations, including a Jewish rabbi. It was a five-year program of hard work, with summer school and frequent trips to the Twin Cities. At one of the retreat seminars we were asked to write an autobiographical statement before we presented our papers on different aspects of ministry. I had omitted the seven years of my life when I played jazz music. A Roman Catholic priest from India asked me what I did during those missing seven years. I told him I played jazz music for a living. He kept questioning me: “Were you proud of it?” he asked. I answered, “Well, yes, but my folks were not too happy about it. “How did you feel about it?” he asked. I said, “I loved those years and was thankful that I was able to play the music.” And then he asked, “What about the people you played with, have you been in touch with them?” I told him no. “No.” “Were they your friends?” he asked, and I said, “Yes. They’re my best friends.” He looked me in the eye and said, “You need to put your life together. You need to put those two parts together, and find your friends again.”
I came home from St. Paul and told Karen what had happened in the seminary, and we came up with the idea for the Vespers. But my father’s friend, Pastor John Genzel, of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in New York, had done this before, who also has hosted Jazz Vespers for years. So I felt like I was following in Pr. Genzel’s footsteps, and, in a way, my dad’s. When I mentioned to Karen about the seminary and the priest’s words, we both decided to check with the congregation. We began the Vespers in 1985 knowing we had support from the congregation, which they have gladly given ever since.
You have featured such luminaries as Ira Sullivan, Judy Roberts, Larry Novak, Rusty Jones and many others throughout the years. Is there a certain process you go through to line up the artists for upcoming Jazz Vespers?
Karen: I’ll answer that; I’m the “fall guy.” Bruce leaves this pretty much up to me. There are so many gifted jazz musicians in the Chicagoland area. We have tried to ask as many as would like to play, and over the years have tried to feature as many players in the area as possible. Sometimes we hear about someone new—a younger jazz player—and we try to give him or her a chance to be heard at the Vespers. We’d like to do the Vespers every week to include them all; there are so many good musicians that should be heard. Of course, Ira Sullivan, Judy Roberts, Larry Novak, Willie Pickens, Rusty Jones, Lady T, Maryanne Riel and a few others are so very close to us, and people want to hear them, so they are included more frequently. We don’t have a process, but we would like to include some of the younger, wonderful musicians, like Willie Blair, who just played for the first time a few Sundays ago, and people like Petra VanNuis, Andy Brown, Ben Paterson and others. There’s so much talent out there and they need to be heard.
Looking back over all the musicians you have featured, is there one who really stands out or is there a particular performance and why?
Bruce/Karen: Oh, gosh—that’s such a hard question to answer. We both have been just amazed at the quality of performances over the years. Looking back, there has never been a bad Vespers yet in all this time! Different people bring different gifts. Yes, some players may be more technically proficient and well known. And there have been some stellar performances to be sure—Sullivan, Roberts, Frank D’Rone, Frank Winkler, Eldee Young, Bob Ravenscroft, Dwight Killian and Rob Moore, as well as Chuck Mahronic from Music Serving the Word Ministries, Ron Perillo Trio, Kelly Sill and Kelly Brand, Willie Pickens, Billie and Renee Foster from Gary, Bill Brimfield and Marc Pompe and so many others. Over the years—please excuse us if we’ve left your name out— people have found the listening atmosphere at Resurrection and the intimacy of the sanctuary, including a beautiful Mason Hamlin grand piano, have been very uplifting and there have been so many great performances that we can’t highlight just one or two. You know, everyone has something to say. When jazz music is played from the heart, that’s a gift of God. My good friend Bob Ravenscroft says that he lets the Holy Spirit guide his playing. Musicians bear their soul, and that’s the greatest gift of all and what the Vespers are all about—it’s a celebration of this spiritual gift of God.
Why do you think featuring jazz music works so well in a house of worship?
Bruce: “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord,” (Ps. 150) “Praise the Lord with timbrel, the harps and the horns and the voice,” and so forth. Our friend, Bob Appelbaum, who lived just a few doors from Resurrection in Niles and now lives in California, writes music and plays frequently in synagogues here in Chicago and California. This music is honored in the Psalms, which is also Jesus’ hymnal. Jazz belongs in God’s house, as well as Bach, Handel and the rich hymnody of the Christian church. Music is one of the most precious gifts that God has given to humans. It is a universal language that unites us with people all over the world. And so we celebrate it in our church and invite people to play or to listen and be a part of it, no matter what their religious affiliation is or if there’s no affiliation at all. That’s what the Vespers, which we think of as jazz cantatas, are about. The Vespers are a celebration of God’s creation, which includes jazz music.
If someone wants to start a Jazz Vespers at their church, do you have any advice for them to help make it successful?
Bruce/Karen: (Ask) Do you love jazz music? If you don’t, it’s not going to honor the musicians who play it. Most jazz musicians now have a very difficult time, not just making a living playing their music, but getting the respect they deserve for this gift, which is truly a blessing and a curse at the same time. Hardly anybody can make a good living from playing this music in our culture today. You and your congregation have to want to do it. Music Serving the Word Ministries, of which we are a partner, was founded by my friend Bob Ravenscroft, and has many good ideas for you to help enhance your worship or your offering of this artistic media. You can contact them at MusicServingtheWord.org.
Do not host a Vespers or series of Vespers if you think that your congregation will make money from it. At best, expenses will be paid. You must give the musicians at least an adequate honorarium and allow them to sell their CD’s after the performance at the reception.
Stick to it for the long haul; it takes a long time to build support for this endeavor. You may be able to serve as pastor and congregation to a few when called upon in a natural way (weddings, funerals, baptisms, etc.), but this will happen when it does. We have never understood the Vespers as a means for gaining new members for our congregation, converting people in any way or making money for the church. Hosting the Vespers has got to be a gift of love, because you love sincerely the music itself and the musicians who play it. You also might contact Lynn Glabe Mueller at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Manhattan, N.Y., as well as MusicServingtheWord.org.
What performances do you have coming up in March and April and is there a place where people could get more information if they would like to attend?
Bruce/Karen: The Lutheran Church of the Resurrection is located at 8450 N. Shermer Road in Niles, one-half mile south of Dempster Street. Our phone number is 847-965-8210.
We are redoing our website. We just need to go through our host to get it online again. It will be at lcotrjazzchurch.com. The schedule for the rest of the season is from March through June. Here is the schedule: March 13, Marcin Januszciewicz on piano, Brian Sandstrom on bass, Phil Gratteau on drums with vocalist Frieda Lee; Sunday, April 3, with Music Serving the Word’s Chuck Mahronic on piano and singer, as Carol Rogers will present the Jazz Psalms project; the third Sunday of April, the 17th, will feature an unusual evening of music, written by Zvonimir Tot, a guitarist, with a five-piece ensemble; the first Sunday of May will be with Bob Ravenscroft and his beautiful program called “LoveSong,” as he plays piano; the third Sunday of May is yet to be scheduled; and June 5 will feature organist Tony Thomas from Memphis, Tenn., a Hammond artist, with Mike Finnerty on sax, Andy Meachem on guitar, Doug Mitchell on drums, plus a vocalist, Mark Demmin.
All Vespers begin with a gathering at 7:30 p.m. A free will offering is taken to give an honorarium to the musicians, and a portion of it goes to our annual gift to LSSI/Augustana Ministries, which benefits developmentally disabled children and adults.
Views from the Inside - Randy Freedman
The film Kenwood’s Journey and its producers, John Owens, Zbigniew Bzdak and Howard Reich, were honored during the 57th annual presentation of the Chicago/Midwest Emmy Awards for Outstanding Cultural Documentary. It was inspired by Reich and Bzdak’s 2014 Tribune series of the same name—this article draws from that work.
But the Emmy win does not begin to tell the whole tale of the making of the film, which is a complicated, with many stories both larger and smaller intertwined together and the subplots of gang violence, racial profiling and courageous dedication to the music itself by both students and instructors running throughout. By documenting the events described in Kenwood’s Journey, so meticulously in both print and film, Howard Reich has made an important contribution to our understanding of the impact of musical education as well as its socioeconomic implications.
When the talented New York City pianist Jason Moran accepted a commission from Symphony Center to both write and coproduce (with visual artist Theaster Gates, who provided original set design and more) an evening-length work, “Looks of a Lot,” to be performed by the Jazz Band of Chicago ‘s South Side Kenwood Academy. The work, dealing with gun violence on Chicago’s streets, I am sure that neither he, nor anyone else could have envisioned the tragedy that would befall one of Kenwood’s band members.
While rehearsals were being held, one of Kenwood’s band members, guitarist Aaron Rushing was shot on May 18, 2015 in the 1100 block of East 47th Street and pronounced dead at Comer Children’s Hospital later that day. This was only two weeks prior to the scheduled world premiere for which the band had been rehearsing. Vaughn Holeman, 15, was standing on West 116th Street when a car drove past him and shooting began. The teenager was hit twice, once in the chest and once under the arm. He was pronounced dead at a hospital one half hour later. This was to be an incredibly painful Mother’s Day for Corliss Holeman, Vaughn’s grandmother. She lost her grandson to gunfire the same way she had lost her son four years previously. This self-perpetuating cycle of violence was one of the main themes of “Looks of a Lot.”
Moran is an American jazz pianist, educator and composer heavily involved in musical theatre and multimedia art. He recorded first with saxophonist Greg Osby, and later debuted as a bandleader with the 1999 album soundtrack to Human Motion. Since then he has released eight other albums with his trio, as a solo, or when leading other ensembles, as well as appearing in about 30 albums as a sideman. Moran has garnered much critical acclaim and won a number of awards for his playing and compositional skills, which combine elements of post-bop and avant-garde jazz, blues, classical music, stride piano and hip hop.
While playing at the Chicago Jazz Festival in 2014, Moran was excited to meet one of his personal all-time jazz heroes, veteran jazz pianist Willie Pickens.
“He (Pickens) is always out there, being extremely positive as an elder statesman of the music,” Moran says. “We had a beautiful conversation, and at the end he told me, ‘You know my daughter (Bethany) works with these kids at Kenwood Academy and they’re playing tomorrow afternoon, you should come see them. They are playing one of her pieces.’ The next day I got over there and sat down and listened to them play. I thought to myself: Oh wow, these kids are serious.
Howard Reich (comments on screen) “He (Moran) started talking to the kids in the band, signing autographs, taking pictures, and he told Bethany ‘I’ll be back, I am coming back’, but in a bigger way than anyone expected...because when he got the commission from Symphony Center to create a world premiere, he decided and said, ‘I am doing it with the Kenwood Jazz Band.’”
Student Aaron Rushing had transferred to Kenwood Academy in the fall of 2013 from the Chicago High School for the Arts where he had distinguished himself, according to some of his ChiArts teachers. Victoria Harris, Rushing’s grandmother, raised Aaron and his two older brothers at various South Side apartments and recognized early on that he was “quiet” and “inward.” Harris also said, “From the outside it would seem that he was somber, but he was just really focused. He learned—just grasped things really quickly.”
As a child, Rushing became fond of the guitar that his eldest brother, Anthony Coleman, was playing. Whenever Coleman wasn’t home, Aaron and his other brother, Alex, would practice using the instrument. Alex was 10 months older than Aaron, and they did everything together: “Two peas in a pod,” as Coleman put it, including borrowing their older brother’s guitar. I think I might have caught them both one time in my room actually messing with it and I used to hate it,” Coleman remembered. His grandmother said Rushing burned to have a guitar of his own, so she bought him a beginner’s acoustic model at an Aldi supermarket when he was in the sixth grade. She couldn’t believe how fast he taught himself to play it so she bought him a better, electric guitar.
The two younger brothers shared a bedroom, and often Alex would see Aaron practicing relentlessly with a metronome, setting the tempo faster and faster.
“He’d just keep going and try to push the limit as much as he could,” Harris remembers.
Aaron later wrote in a high school essay:
“I yearned for an increase in speed, improvising and all other areas on guitar. I had tried a few books that I had gotten from my brother. But those worked as well as an infant teaching me. I was stuck, but being stuck gave me my hunger to get better. …”
Alex said that by seventh grade, Aaron was tearing through the music of Eddie Van Halen and Michael Jackson, and everything else from heavy metal to smooth jazz. Without having the benefit of a single lesson with a teacher, Rushing got so good that he could play Jimi Hendrix’s famous, shattering version of the national anthem, according to his grandmother.
“(Music) was an expression of Aaron—his creativity, his emotion, everything,” says his mother, Jennifer.
“That was his Zen, his place of peace,” Alex added.
Alex brought his younger brother to a band at James N. Thorp Elementary, on Buffalo Avenue. The other kids in the group were struck by what they heard.
“It was so genuine and unique,” said Jawon Mayberry, the band’s drummer, and eighth-grader when Rushing was still in the seventh grade. “It was like a God-given talent.”
Through constant practice, Aaron developed calluses on every finger. And whenever Rushing wasn’t doing homework, he was at the guitar his grandmother says. But he also was learning the realities of city life and was exposed to racial profiling. When he went to a Walgreens store in the neighborhood where they lived, he noticed that he was being watched in every aisle. Rushing wrote about the experience later, again in a high school essay:
“ … I kept seeing this man with dark black, spiked hair, bushy eyebrows, huge pupils and sharp dog teeth that stuck out of his mouth. Then it started to make sense; I’d been the focus of everyone’s eye from when I first came into the store as if I had been the perpetrator of a crime before I even came in the store. In their eyes, I was a crime ‘bomb’ waiting to explode. I had been profiled as a thief, as a resistor of the law and they didn’t know my name. I don’t think it was personal. But with the amount of crime in the area, such as theft and robbery, as well as the neighborhood being predominately African-American, in their minds it was an African-American male teenager in their store, so ‘he must be trying to steal something.’”
In eighth grade, Rushing decided he wanted to study music at ChiArts. His grandmother suggested he line up a second choice, just in case he couldn’t get in (the school accepts 150 students from 1,500 applicants each year).
“No, I’m going to ChiArts,” Aaron told his grandmother. Harris took him to the audition, where he tore into a jazz tune and a rock piece and came out smiling—he knew that he was in.
Near the very start of Kenwood’s Journey, Moran addresses the band during rehearsals.
“All the people who come to see this, they’re going to make out of it something totally different than what we think. We do not have the power to control what they think. What we do know is what we expect from each other and how good this can sound, how powerful it can be. That’s all I am looking for.”
When one of the most esteemed musicians in jazz first walked into the Kenwood band room, hardly any of the students knew who Moran was—or cared. Kenwood bandleaders, Gerald Powell and Bethany Pickens, told the young musicians of the privilege they were about to receive: to work with a musician of Moran’s stature and premiere a piece he wrote specifically for them to perform at Chicago’s most prestigious musical address. They nodded their heads politely and just started to work on the music. The implications of the event were lost on them, and perhaps rightly so. These were high school students, not music scholars. But they were students from whom a very great deal was soon to be expected.
“Looks of a Lot” combined existing musical works from a variety of sources and arrangements of new pieces written by Moran. Franz Schubert’s “Der Doppelgänger” was incorporated into “Looks of a Lot” and performed as a dramatic reading by Theaster Gates and as a musical vocal by the very talented, classically trained vocalist Katie Ernst.
Bringing together a variety of musical and visual forms into one cohesive work would surely have been an impressive accomplishment under any circumstances. But for Jason Moran—and many others who made important contributions—to have persevered under what must have been an incredibly difficult and potentially dangerous working environment for the benefit of Chicago’s youth, is and will likely remain an enduring testimony of courage at Kenwood High School that will be long remembered.
Chicago freelance writer Randy Freedman is a jazz connoisseur, photographer, food critic, humorist, and devoted music fan. He is a regular contributor to Chicago Jazz Magazine.
Piano Bar featuring Tim Buie - Mick Archer
I seldom write about musicians who are not based in Chicago, and I have a strict rule about excluding anyone who doesn’t do at least 50 percent jazz, blues or the Great American Songbook in their show—after all, this is Chicago Jazz Magazine.
But I’m making an exception for my friend, Tim Buie, who is not only a fine jazz player when allowed to do so, but also is attempting to put together the very first of what he hopes will be an annual event, the International Piano Bar Convention, March 21-24. It will take place at Ticklers Dueling Pianos, at 635 Bourbon St. in New Orleans. It is not exclusive to any particular genre of music—all styles are welcome, as are club owners and booking agents. Troy Neihardt, Chicago’s own traveling piano troubadour, will be attending and contributing a report in the next issue.
As many of you know, I teach in what is probably the world’s only semi-academic classroom instruction program on piano bar performing at the Old Town School Of Folk Music. That’s why I think this convention is a really important event.
In a recent phone chat, Tim Buie said, and I agree, “The piano bar is an important American musical tradition that includes all styles. We keep great songs alive while giving people a good time. And it’s also one of the only ways to make a decent full-time living as a pianist.”
Most career musicians reach a point when they realize they are not going to become famous or rich. At that point, they have to assess whether it’s going to be worthwhile continuing to do the kind of work necessary to make a modest middle-class living, which may mean playing a lot of music that wasn’t part of their original vision of themselves as artists. Those who stay in the business make tough choices: Do you continue to devote yourself entirely to your artistic vision (i.e., being a jazz artist, rock star, songwriter, master performer, etc.) and starve? Or, do you become a sellout and find a way to take all of the skills you’ve acquired and try to make money? Many drop out of the business and get jobs completely outside of music, and continue to pursue their art as a hobby; some are lucky enough to be able to teach, and still get enough weekend gigs to keep their chops up and further develop their styles. Then there are the lucky few who get as much joy playing a great version of “Piano Man” for a $20 tip as they would by playing “Here‘s That Rainy Day.”
“Yes, that’s my favorite song,” says Tim, of that extremely complicated Jimmy Van Heusen masterpiece. “But that never comes up as a request, at least not in the places I work.”
Buie, a well-trained jazz musician who makes a nice living as a dueling pianist in New Orleans, says, “I try to use jazz and Great American Songbook in my show. Jazz influences everything I do—I can’t help it! My C major chord normally has an F# attached to it for a little spice and flavor.”
Born and raised in Wilmington, N. C. in 1964, two things kept him from getting into trouble as a child: his love of sports (he was a childhood friend and basketball buddy with Michael Jordan) and playing the piano. Self-taught until he graduated high school in 1982, he then joined the Army and later entered the rigorous band program at the U.S. Military School Of Music in Norfolk, VA. After he completed his four-year stint, he moved to Nashville, where he worked as both a studio and performing musician.
In 1986, he got an opportunity to go to Norway with a country band for a couple of months. After the gig ended, Tim decided to give the international piano bar/cruise ship circuit a try. He spent years living abroad, performing in over 40 countries and in a multitude of styles and settings.
Upon his return, he began working the lucrative national dueling piano circuit. It was in February 2005 at Rum Runners in Wilmington, N. C., when he set the Guinness World Record for continuous piano performances—63 hours and 11 minutes.
“That was a great honor, but it didn’t last very long,” he says. “Very soon afterward, somebody beat me and is in the Book now.”
After spending five years as a house player at Rockeys Dueling Piano Bar in Gainesville, Fla., Tim and his family relocated to New Orleans, where he is part owner of Ticklers Piano Bar in the French Quarter. This place, which employs seven full-time pianists and four drummers, is open seven days a week, running continuous dueling piano shows from 3 p.m. until 2 a.m. And it will be there (and a nearby hotel convention center with an auditorium) the first-ever International Piano Bar convention will take place.
“We have four days of fun-filled piano activities, lectures, jam sessions, audition opportunities (including several important regional, national and international agencies), plus some live training opportunities for new players, or pros who wish to make a full-time living in the business, seminars on Dueling Pianos, jam sessions, award ceremonies and a social event second-to-none.”
Go to ticklersentertainment.com for more. And check back here for my column in the May/June issue CJM for Troy Niehardt’s review