Chicago Jazz Festival 2009
For anyone who had not heard Archie Shepp live, this was a welcome introduction. No longer the fire-breathing free-jazz radical of the'60s, Shepp dug his tenor into Ellingtonia, channeling his hero Ben Webster in a heavy-breathing but luminous "Chelsea Bridge." He finished up shouting the blues Kansas City-style.
On a night devoted largely to avant-gardesorry, but I've tried and failed to get satisfaction from sounds that lack melody and harmonyMadeline Peyroux was a pleasant change of pace. More folk singer than jazz diva, she sang originals about finding and mostly losing love, backed by a first-rate rocking quartet. Her voice often echoes Billie Holiday's, and what's wrong with that?
Chicagoan Dee Alexander wowed the crowd on the final night, singing originals all about her beloved hometownin a voice that compares to Sarah Vaughan's and backed by a fine big band. She seems poised to make a splash on the national and international jazz scenes.
Chicago has a limited yet robust club scene, and I got to Joe Segal's long-running Jazz Showcase and to Andy's for two successive nights of post-fest jam sessions.
Crusty multi-instrumentalist and Chicagoan Ira Sullivan was in charge of mixing and matching more than a dozen eager players at the Showcase, and ended up with a trio of top-tier tenor playersChris Potter, Eric Schneider and Scott Burnsbattling it out. Then Sullivan showed his tender side, picking up his flute for his traditional benediction, "Amazing Grace," in remembrance of the several jazz stars who have passed on this year. Johnny O'Neal sat in on gospel-rooted piano.