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Dave Rempis: Communication, Improvisation and No Screwing Around

By Published: August 7, 2006
AAJ: And you're also in Ken Vandermark's Territory Band. You're a huge part of the Vandermark 5—you're Ken's sort of second-in-command—when Ken is indisposed playing, you're the one cueing the players with those classic V5 hand signals. I think the records and performances by this group are always good. Tell me what it's like to play in Ken's groups and what you get out of playing with him.

DR: A ton. Ken is a really amazing person on many different levels. I've just learned a ton from him. I started playing in that group when I was 23, and in that time, whether it's musically or just in any number of different ways, I've just learned a ton of different things from working with him and from working with the musicians in that band. It's certainly a big thing in my career as far as developing. Ken's not really somebody who's willing to put up with something that's half-assed at all—ever. Just having people push you like that is a great, great thing. I hope in some ways that's kind of translated to the rest of the Chicago scene in that there's an attitude here of people not screwing around, but really doing their thing in a wholehearted sort of way. That's probably the biggest thing.

AAJ: Was it an intimidating band to join?

DR: Oh, yeah. I still can't figure out why he asked me to do that band at that point, because I certainly wasn't ready for it. I think the biggest thing was that he knew I was young and would be able to tour with the group. Mars Williams, whose place I took in the band and who's an amazing saxophonist, was doing a million other things at the time and couldn't really commit to touring with the group and building the group into the thing that Ken was seeing. So I got lucky [laughing] and I guess I was able to help with that, in the perspective of, "okay, yeah, I can go do two weeks in the States.

AAJ: I know you've been acting as curator for the Improvised Music Series at Elastic in Logan Square here in Chicago. Why don't you tell me about that.

DR: Well, the space started as a space called 3030 in Humboldt Park. They opened, I think, in 2001, and the series I started doing there was in April of 2002, and we did every Thursday until they closed in September of 2005. So it was about three-and-a-half years. All told, we did somewhere around 150 concerts, plus two three-night festivals and probably 20 special events on the weekends and stuff. It's always been a Thursday-night series—which was an outgrowth, I would say, of some of the stuff Ken Vandermark was doing on Thursdays at the Lunar Cabaret in the mid-nineties, which then moved over to the Nervous Center in the late nineties. When that space closed, we tried to move it over to 3030, which seemed like it would work out for a while, and luckily, it's still running. As I said, that old space closed in September of 2005, but they managed to reopen, and we starting doing the series again [at the Elastic space] in April of 2006.

So at the new space we're up to our thirteenth concert, which is tonight. And we've already done a few special events—Fred Anderson Trio and some other ones.

AAJ: Aren't you also affiliated with the Immediate Sound Series, which occurs Wednesdays at the Hideout?

DR: Yeah. We've basically formed a group of musicians and presenters called Umbrella Music. This was originally formed without a name about three years ago. The idea was to work together with a lot of the people presenting this type of music in Chicago, so that we could make it easier for artists to come to town and play a number of gigs—either with their own group or with local musicians. To really coordinate in a way that was beneficial both to musicians in town and people coming from out of town, in terms of trying to secure funding and other things.

One of main projects we worked on for quite a while was to try to get [Chicago Public Radio station] WBEZ to develop their programming a bit and move away from what a lot of us saw as bordering on smooth jazz at times. They were very resistant to that idea, because, according to them, everything was perfectly fine and their ratings were great. But as we've seen in the last few months, that clearly was not the case, as they finally axed their programming director and announced that they were actually getting rid of music altogether.

So we spent a lot of time on that, and then kept in touch informally over the last few years. Then in the fall, with the Velvet Lounge closing, 3030 closing, the Empty Bottle cutting way back on its jazz bookings, it seemed—particularly to myself, Ken Vandermark and [percussionist] Mike Reed from the Hungry Brain—that we needed to do something to keep venues where we could all perform our music. So we talked a bit over the fall, we talked with Mike Orlove from the Cultural Center, and he introduced us to Pat Daley of Gallery 37. We formed a new group called Umbrella Music, which is programming weekly series—sort of on our own, but as a federation, I would say. Ken Vandermark and [local fan-turned-booker] Mitch Cocanig are doing Wednesday night at the Hideout; I'm doing Thursday nights at Elastic; Mike Reed and [cornetist] Josh Berman are doing Sunday nights at the Hungry Brain. And the whole group has been working together, with me as the sort of contact person, for the Downtown Sound Gallery Series at Gallery 37.

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