Chicago Jazz Philharmonic

Chicago Jazz Philharmonic

This was a bad year in Chicago for jazz pianists.  We lost Willie Pickens and Muhal Richard Abrams.   There is hope however, as Orbert Davis and his Chicago Jazz Philharmonic ("CJP") demonstrated when they opened the 40th Annual Chicago Jazz Festival last night during a 2.5 hour concert at Millennium Park.

The concert was billed as Legends and Lions.  Once again, Davis and his crew demonstrated the depths of Chicago's jazz scene.  Among those contributing to a delightful evening of music were Chicago trumpeters Bobby Lewis and Robert Davis; vibists Stu Katz, Joel Ross, and Thaddeus Tukes; saxophonists Ari Brown, Pat Mallinger and Kevin King; vocalists Sarah Marie King, Tammy McCann, and Kurt Elling; and pianist Bethany Pickens.  I am not a fan of Elling's, largely because of his narcissistic airs, but I must admit, he sounded pretty good night.  Vocally, he seems to be mining the Tony Bennett/Frank Sinatra vein.

Unlike the typical CJP outing, this was not a musically-themed affair.  The numbers were all over the map.  Bethany Pickens honored her late father, the beloved Willie, with Puccini's E Lucevan le Stelle from Tosca; the vibraphonists opened with a Davis composed number (Scenes from Life), following it with with Cole Porter's You'd Be So Nice to Come Home; the trumpets played one of my favorites, Hoagy Carmichael's Stardust, George and Ira Gershwin's Embraceable You, and Thad Jones' A Child is Born.  No blaring or harsh notes on those numbers.  The saxophonists honored Fred Anderson and Von Freeman by playing Duke Ellington's Cottantail and another Davis penned number, The Best of Jackson Payne.

When it came time for the vocalists to take the stage, we were treated to Misty, Dave Brubeck's Blue Ronado a la Turk, Come Fly with Me, and the late Al Jarreau's Morning.

Yep, all over the map, but quality all the way.  It was propelled by the 60-piece orchestra, composed of a violin-viola section on the left and a cello-bass section on the right.  In between sat Leandro Lopez Varady on piano, Stewart Miller on bass, Ernie Adams on drums, and John Moulder on guitar.  Also on stage were three french horns, two oboes, a few saxophones, three trombones, and even a harp.

Davis kept the audience laughing with his introductions throughout the evening.  He clearly was the happiest person in the house.  He joked about family members in the audience, kidded (seriously) about wanting more CJP performances at Millennium Park, and embraced each guest performer.  Several times, he turned from his conductor position with trumpet already raised to his lips.  He chose to add a little seasoning to the performances rather than dominate them.  As anyone who has had a good meal knows, seasoning, when added subtly, can make the dish.

The festivities began at 6:00 PM with a colorful march by the CJP Youth group in what was dubbed the Second Line Parade.  About 60 youngsters marched around Millennium Park in costumes and face paint as they chanted three songs and played tubas, saxes, bass drums, flutes, trombones, and assorted other instruments.  

On top of all this, it was a warm summer evening.

The Second Line I

The Second Line II

Tubad Blows the Roof Off the Pritzker Pavilion

Orbert Davis: A Man With a Sweet Wit and a Killer Trumpet

Ari Brown with the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, Orbert Davis Conducting

Bethany Pickens Plays E Lucevan Le Stelle from Tosca

Stu Katz with the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic

The Chesire Cat: Thaddeus Tukes on Vibe

Joel Ross with the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic

Bobby Lewis with the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic

Bobby Lewis with the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic

John Moulder (guitar) and Stewart Miller (bass) with the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic

Mayshell Morris with the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic

Orbert Davis with the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic

“Clap Hands, Say Yeah” (Person Pictured May Have Been at the Festival on Another Night

Kurt Elling Surprises Tammy McCann (with the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic

Photographer’s Notes: Over 60 people on the stage at one time. Lots of music stands. This was a photographer’s nightmare. I am not a film director, so I don’t get to arrange the stage to my liking. You deal with the hand you are dealt. I have, however, become a huge fan of musicians who replace the black stands with iPads on a pole. Hopefully that trend will catch on.

The Place to Be: The Cultural Center

The Place to Be: The Cultural Center