Jazz with Mr. C: For the New Year, Remembering the People Who Give Me a Reason to Write

By Jeff Cebulski

 

 

As 2019 wound down and 2020 rushed up to replace it, I paused to contemplate the past two-and-a-half years as a writer for Chicago Jazz Magazine, especially in regard to the people I had the privilege of interviewing. Many of these musicians are personal strangers, as I often conduct my question-and-answer sessions via phone or email. But their interest in my—and your—curiosity and interest has been mostly genuine, and I am indebted to them for giving me something to write about.

 

These artists are as human as you and I: they have lives, vocations to deal with on a daily basis, some operating on thin budgets and tensions between their art and their bills. Some have broken through and into the public interest, carving careers that, at least for the moment, show great promise. Others operate largely hidden excursions that pop up in the public interest off and on.

 

I am dedicating my first column of this new year to the people who have responded to my requests for interviews—to catch up, so to speak, and give them a chance to begin 2020 by communicating their achievements, plans, and activities. Not all I wrote to responded, but the ones who did are featured below, evincing significant energy that suggests this year will be hardly boring. Included are links back to the original articles, if you are so inclined.

 

Bill Boris: I interviewed the guitarist and Columbia College ensemble director in early 2018, leading to an article/review about his then-new release Bright Moments. It was a treat getting to see Boris in action behind the scenes, leading wonderfully talented young musicians. And it was great to see his album finally get some national interest in 2019.

 

Bright Moments received very positive reviews from Scott Yanow from L.A. Jazz Scene (2018) and Jon Ross, Jazz Guitar Today (2019), and received airplay on WDCB. My trio performed at the St. Charles Jazz Weekend in September and in the Art Institute jazz series in the summer, and I performed in a duo under my name for the Jazzin’ at the Shed series. I was featured on two Doug Lofstrom compositions, which are on YouTube. My quartet—Rafe Bradford on bass, Bob Long on piano, Tyrone Blair on drums—performed on New Year’s Eve at Asparagus, 7876 Broadway, Merrillville, Indiana. I’m currently writing material for my next CD.

On the education front, the Columbia College Fusion Ensemble, which I direct, won the Best Fusion Ensemble award in the 2019 DownBeat Student Music Awards. In the past year the group has performed with Donny McCaslin and Kendrick Scott at the Jazz Showcase, and Cory Henry, Woody Goss (Vulfpeck) and Darryl Jones (the Rolling Stones bassist) in concerts at Columbia. The group also performed at the 2019 Elmhurst College and Notre Dame Collegiate Jazz Festivals, winning many awards. The group will perform at the festivals again in 2020. They will also work with Chicago guitarist Isaiah Sharkey and Ambrose Akinmusire in the spring of 2020. The Fusion Ensemble, Gospel Repertoire Ensemble and the Columbia College Jazz Ensemble will perform at the Illinois Music Education Conference in Peoria on January 30. This is actually significant because it’s the first time the conference has featured performances other than concert band and big band performances.

 

Also, I was asked to serve as Associate Chair of the Music Department at Columbia and have been in this position since the fall of 2018. This has been a great learning experience and fulfilling, satisfying work.

 

Ramona Horvath: The subject of a personal-favorite column, Ramona has experienced significantly positive response to her piano jazz since our conversation, with bassist Nicolas Rageau along for the ride. Her music was recently featured during a program on Columbia (New York) University’s radio station, WCKR.

 

My recent album in duo with Nicolas Rageau, Le Sucrier Velours, was and still is very well received by the French and international press (Hungary, Austria, Netherland, Romania . . . etc.). We had so many great articles . . . wow, I am so impressed and of course happy to see the music and our performance was so appreciated . . . and thank you one more time for your great article and portrait!

 

So, it looks like I’ll be pretty busy in France next year, playing in clubs and festivals, with different groups: duo (with Nicolas), trio (with drums or guitar) and quartet (with sax or guitar). In addition to that I am invited to play in Romania in April, a very special concert—the first part with my Parisian trio (with Nicolas on bass and Antoine Paganotti on drums) and the second part along with the National Radio Big Band of Bucharest. It will be a tribute to Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn music, and we are all very excited about it.

 

I am also planning (along with Nicolas) to promote our recent CD, with several concerts in Hungary and Austria (probably in the 2020 fall).

 

Last but not least I start working on my next album, which I hope to record as well in 2020, although there is no rush. I’ll tell you more details about the music/cast/concept later on, when the music will be ready to be released.

 

It will be my pleasure to keep you posted with my news, really hope to be better and better :) Hope to make it to the U.S. sometime soon . . . although looking at my 2020 schedule not sure if I can make it, but who knows?

 

Romain Collin: Had a great conversation with this rising New York City-based postmodern keyboardist and had a chance to meet him after his SPACE concert in May.

 

I recently released Tiny Lights, my fourth album as a leader, featuring drummer Obed Calvaire and guitarist Matthew Stevens. We toured the U.S. in 2019 and very much look forward to performing this music in Europe in 2020.

 

Following up on this record, I just completed Tiny Lights RMXS: a shapeshifting and highly collaborative project that reimagines the original works from Tiny Lights through the lens of raw, analog electronic production. This collection of remixes features collaborations with rap artist Samad Savage, multi Grammy-winning producer JLoucas, singer-songwriters Lulu Gainsbourg and Fredrika Stahl, among others. Central to this project is a three-part music video that paints a dystopian, surrealist story of passion and elusive love, accompanied by three tracks from the record. The film features the collaborative efforts of contemporary dancer Alina Fatieieva, fashion designer Alexander Chen, cinematographer Drew Dawson, and director Matthew Palmer. Tiny Lights RMXS will be released this year.

 

In addition, I am excited about the release of a collective project that features harmonica virtuoso Grégoire Maret, guitar legend Bill Frisell, and myself. We booked a day in the studio to record compositions by Bill, Grégoire, and me, as well as a few cover songs. The repertoire is inspired by the varied roots of American music and culture. We called this record Americana, and it is scheduled for release in June 2020 on ACT. We will tour with this project, with the kickoff date in Europe on May 8 at the Berlin Philharmonic Hall, with Kurt Rosenwinkel joining us for the evening.

 

Chris Madsen: I touched base with the saxophonist and educator twice, first in an introductory interview, and next at the Chicago Jazz Festival where he and his excellent quartet kicked off the release of his CD Bonfire.

 

I do have a few things I’m very excited about coming up in early 2020, specifically:

 

—A residency with the Dease/Madsen Quintet featuring amazing trombonist Michael Dease January 23–26 at the Jazz Showcase. Mike and I co-led a quintet in New York in the early 2000s and I’m happy to reunite with him once again with an incredible local rhythm section.

 

—A February 12th show at the California Clipper with my group called The Trio Book (#thetriobook) featuring Clark Sommers on bass and Dana Hall on drums. We have an online/social media series where we release a video of the trio once every few weeks and it’s been catching on. We are bringing the group to the Clipper for our first public show.

 

—A performance at the Fulton Street Collective for the Jazz Record Art Collective [series] as saxophonist Geof Bradfield and I join forces to present the 1960 record Lookin’ at Monk! by the Eddie Davis/Johnny Griffin Quintet.

 

—Our continuing tri-annual residency at Winter’s Jazz Club featuring vocalist Alyssa Allgood on February 21 and 22.

 

 

Frank Russell: Okay . . . I didn’t actually interview the veteran electric bassist (that was Mike Jeffers’ gig for the July 2018 edition), but we struck up some nice conversation following my review of his fusion tribute album Influences in 2018. So I decided to check up on him—he’s been spectacularly busy downtown!

 

I am currently the bassist/bandleader and co-writer of the music for a multi-million dollar production at the Steppenwolf Theatre, Lindiwe, starring the legendary Ladysmith Black Mambazo! After playing with Ladysmith twenty-four years ago and traveling the country doing the play Nomathemba, it was my honor and complete surprise to be called back to do a new production. The cherry on top was my getting my brand-new bass at Lakland [Bass Guitars]—the Frank Russell Limited Edition Signature Bass—in time for the beginning of rehearsals. It has been the absolute best bass I’ve ever played!

 

This has been my highest-profile assignment in music since I began playing bass at fourteen years old! Working with this cast of some of the most talented actors, production people, directors etc. . . . that I’ve ever been associated with has been a blessing. And helping with the music with Ladysmith putting South African music with the Chicago blues has been one of the most thrilling projects I’ve been part of. Playing to sold out audiences with standing ovations after every performance—it has been a mind-boggling position to be in and I’m grateful! I hope they take this magnificent play Lindiwe to Broadway.

 

I hope to continue playing with my band when this is over in January, and playing with many other bands as a sideman. I hope to be doing another CD, this time a tribute to Ladysmith. My last one was a tribute to bass guitarists in jazz that had a wonderful review in Chicago Jazz Magazine!

 

Alejandro Urzagaste: I spoke with the generous and talented guitarist in late 2018 for a January 2019 article.

 

What a year 2019 has been. This past year I have worked on two new projects. One [was] doing guitar arrangements of popular standards and bebop anthems as a trio with bassist Jorge Orozco, [and] drummer Ethan Kogan. We even included a new composition of mine, “Double Talk.”

 

The other project is very exciting—a new Flow recording entitled This From That. It will be released in spring of 2020 on the True Stereo Recordings label. We will be performing in April to support the release. Both recordings were done at Pro Musica by Ken Christianson. Ken is an amazing engineer who creates a space of musical conductivity. His vision of fine-tuning is what comes out on the ‘tape.’

 

My shop, North Shore Music, is starting its fourth year, and we have added excellent instructors along with a strong selection of top-line gear. Check us out online or in Wilmette.

 

Thank you, Chicago Jazz Magazine, for the feature, and I look to speak with you more in the future.

 

Miguel Zenon: I was thrilled to interview this world-renowned alto saxophonist for a pre-benefit concert article. He’ll be back in Chicago for a Symphony Hall date with Kurt Elling on May 1, 2020.

 

I’m still touring my latest quartet album (Sonero: The Music of Ismael Rivera) and will be doing a lot of that this coming year.

 

I’m premiering two commissions . . . one for an ensemble called Tres titled El Pais Invisible and another one for SFJAZZ called Golden City.

 

I’ll be playing some dates with Fred Hersch in the spring, over the summer with Antonio Sanchez, Scott Colley, and Donny McCaslin, and in the fall with the Jazz Gallery All-Stars.

I also teach at the New England Conservatory and Manhattan School of Music and will be the resident jazz artist this year at the Zuckerman Institute at Columbia University [in New York].

 

Regarding Chicago, I’ll be at the Symphony on May 1, with Kurt Elling and Danilo Perez.

 

Bobby Broom: One of the best representatives of Chicago jazz, this veteran guitarist experienced a renaissance of sorts in 2019 with the release of Soul Fingers, which propelled him to an East Coast tour and greater exposure nationally. My 2018 interview evinced a musician who had pride in his personal development and excitement about his reconnection with jazz fans via his cool, slightly retro album.

 

I just finished my first semester in my newly appointed position of Professor of Jazz Guitar/Jazz Studies at Northern Illinois University. I taught a jazz improvisation course, as well as my private, undergrad, and graduate-level guitar students. I was also able to fit in a few performances during the semester—one local, at a great spot right in my town of Evanston, Studio5. I also played a University-hosted jazz guitar festival in Ohio, along with club dates in Cincinnati and Indy, and another radio-sponsored concert series at one of the local universities. All that was with the trio with Dennis Carroll on bass and Kyle Swan on drums.

 

With the organ group, the Organi-Sation, I just did a couple of East Coast dates, one in Boston and the other in Connecticut. It’s great to still get out and connect with my listeners whenever I can. Otherwise, I’m learning to be a full-time university professor and colleague. It’s a dream come true to be at an institution that supports and encourages my creative activities and, in that way, celebrates my accomplishments and who I am in this music that I’ve devoted my life to. I daydreamed about this and am so pleased that it’s now my reality.

 

As far as upcoming plans, there’s definitely at least one recording in me that’s due to arrive soon. Actually, both groups are on the docket. I have a desire to do a record with just me and orchestra and I’m hoping that that can happen. There’s also a Chicago-based quartet in my vision. I just played a jam session this evening with the great saxophonist/educator, Greg Ward, and I was marveling at how abundant and energetic the scene is here in Chicago now—full of so many young, talented, dedicated, capable, and hungry jazz musicians. It’s so encouraging and endearing.

 

I’m looking forward to the next twenty years, settling into my new role as professor and the one of elder statesmen that I’m hinting at.

 

Ben Sidran: In an interview before his appearance at the 2019 Chicago Jazz Festival, the longtime pianist/vocalist was as taciturn in the conversation as he is loquacious in his performance, be it music or writing. Nevertheless, he is always interesting and meaningfully representative of what he considers to be a lost era. A new archived and recommended collection of live recordings, Been There, Done That: Live Around the World 1975–2015, was released in 2018.

 

In 2020 I will be playing lots of gigs, mostly in Europe, working on a couple of new recordings and about to publish the biography of record producer Tommy LiPuma.

 

Kimberly Gordon: The winsome songstress, who has carved two simultaneous professions in two continents—singer and kitchen muse—was the subject of an interview in early 2019. She was also my first connection with Ramona Horvath, for which I will be eternally grateful.

 

All is well in Kimi’s Kitchen. I am so grateful for all that I have received from the world of music this year. My kitchen business had a crazy Thanksgiving week making hundreds of mini pies and bagels. Now I’m taking orders for my bread puddings and cookies. It’s going to be smelling heavenly in here again for the rest of the holiday. (www.facebook.com/kimiskitchenchicago; 773-931-2820, text for menu)

 

Looking forward to 2020, I’m doing a month tour of France in January and then again in September; back to Greece and New York in the spring and laser-focused on future bookings as Poland, Sweden, and Scotland are on my list. It’s looking good and I’m so thankful.

 

Catch me every Sunday with Chris Foreman at Le Piano in Rogers Park, 7 p.m.–10 p.m.

 

Sending happiness and light to you, Jeff, and all your readers out there.

 

John Moran: This career-developing guitarist was the source of a very interesting remembrance column about the late iconic guitarist Larry Coryell. John represents an important part of the Chicago jazz scene, the student who vies for a meaningful spot in the culture.

 

It has been a busy time just finishing up with finals at Elmhurst College. I will be completing my undergrad studies next year to receive my BM in music theory and composition at Elmhurst, which in 2020 will be Elmhurst University. I am loving my time there in the music department, something I should have done forty years ago but hey . . . it’s never too late. I do plan on seeking an assistantship to get my master’s degree upon completion at Elmhurst.

 

I am still playing at DA’s Deli and Dining on 159th and Harlem in Orland Park on Thursdays and Sundays. I am negotiating with other venues as well. I am teaching private lessons twice a week. On Saturdays I am at Down Home Guitars in Frankfort, and on Mondays I teach at Horizon Music Studios in Evergreen Park. Funny story: Horizon has been in business for well over fifty years and I took guitar lessons there when I was about twelve. The owner and piano instructor Jim Giovanazzi is eighty-three years old and is still going strong with about fifty students per week.

 

 

Roy McGrath: This friendly and engaging saxophonist, a fellow graduate of the Northwestern University jazz program with bassist Kitt Lyles, has made a mark in the Chicago scene with his involvement with Lyles’ Real Talk Collective and several Latin-focused groupings. I reviewed his fine album Remembranzas early in 2019 and interviewed him about his bi-yearly educational excursions into Asia.

 

Things are going pretty great, I can’t complain! I’ve started a new steady gig on Saturdays at Francois Frankie in downtown Chicago, 222 W. Randolph, a brand new American brasserie that’s modeled off of New Orleans’ Hotel Monteleone (rotating carousel bar and everything!). They have a new jazz brunch curated by Chef Mike Sheerin that’s top notch. We perform from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday, usually with Sam Peters on bass and Jonathon Wenzel on drums.

 

As far as 2020 is concerned, I’m focused on being the best sideman I can be in the many projects that I am in. I just want to be a better saxophonist and an overall better musician. So hopefully I’ll be practicing more and helping grow the bands I’m in. I’m also on new albums by Kitt Lyles, Gustavo Cortiñas, Afinca’o, Giovanni Revelle, and Rosalba Valdez that will be released in 2020. As for my own music, I’m getting back to writing [in] 2020 and would like to have my new project recorded by the end of the year.

 

Dan Bruce: This guitarist’s release with the :beta collective, Earthshine, was the subject of one of my earliest reviews. I interviewed Dan shortly before a concert at Constellation and wrote back recently to see what was going on with him.

 

I now live in Cleveland, Ohio, where I perform regularly and teach at a couple area colleges. I have a new lineup for :beta collective made up of musicians from northeast Ohio. I have added trombone and vibes to the lineup, and with horn doubles the instrumentation now includes soprano sax, bass clarinet, and melodica. It has been very exciting to write for these new colors and textures. I have also been programming in Ableton Live to add an electronic texture to the new compositions. We plan on recording this summer and touring next spring.

 

I have been performing with The Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, and they recently recorded one of my compositions. I also just finished recording a project with guitarist Dan Lippel (International Contemporary Ensemble, Mice Parade) and bassist Aidan Plank with special guests Chris Anderson on trombone, Noa Even on saxophones, and Nathan Douds on drum set. The recording features a number of compositions from me, Plank, and Lippel, featuring the members in duo, trio, quartet, and quintet formats. The music covers a lot of ground, drawing on contemporary classical and modern jazz genres as well as rock, noise, funk, and free improvisation.

 

I have also been back in Chicago performing a number of times each year. I was at Andy’s the weekend of December 27th with The Ashley Summers Quintet, and I will be at Winter’s on January 18th with an organ quartet featuring Rose Colella, Jon Deitemyer, and Dan Murphy.

"Jazz with Mr. C" is written by Jeff Cebulski, a jazz enthusiast and regular contributor to Chicago Jazz Magazine. Contact Jeff at bullski@hotmail.com.

 

Jeff Celbulski