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From Payton and Marsalis to Benson and D'Rone, an all-star weekend

Howard Reich

3:52 PM CDT, June 20, 2013

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Even by Chicago standards, this weekend in jazz will be intense:

Nicholas Payton: The brilliant New Orleans trumpeter keeps expanding his palette. We've known for more than two decades, in other words, that Payton ranks among the most technically accomplished trumpeters in the world. Moreover, his work in everything from vintage repertoire of Louis Armstrong to post-bebop, funk-tinged and contemporary idioms attests to his expressive range. But last March at Symphony Center Payton outdid himself, leading his puckishly named Television Studio Orchestra in original scores that spanned epochs. Listen closely, and you heard everything from baroque instrumental techniques to incantatory trance music to various shades of jazz, pop and funk. Is there another trumpeter anywhere who dares so much and accomplishes it so audaciously? This time, Payton will be bringing the trio from his newest release, "#BAM Live at Bohemian Caverns," featuring bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Lenny White. 8 and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 4, 8 and 10 p.m. Sunday; at the Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Ct.; $30-$50; 312-360-0234 or jazzshowcase.com

George Benson: To jazz purists, Benson long ago went pop, downplaying his wizardry on guitar for more broadly accessible, easy-breezy vocals. But that perspective may miss the point: Better simply to acknowledge that Benson's innate musicality surfaces in many forms, from his prowess on his instrument to his charismatic nature as singer-performer. He drove the point home in March of last year, when he played the Chicago Theatre and overcame a harshly over-amplified sound system to produce a persauuive show steeped in jazz. Somehow, he breathed new life into vintage hits such as "On Broadway" and "This Masquerade" and reiterated his vocal acuity in "Moody's Mood," a showpiece. Lately, Benson appears to have been returning to his roots, emphasizing his jazz technique on last year's album "Guitar Man" and looking to one of his earliest heroes in his newest recording, "Inspiration: A Tribute to Nat 'King' Cole." Now that Benson has turned 70, perhaps it was inevitable that he would be looking back. As in last year's Chicago Theatre appearance, Boney James will open the show (well, one out of two isn't bad). 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State St.; $40-$250; 800-745-3000 or thechicagotheatre.com or ticketmaster.com

Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra: Contrary to conventional wisdom, big bands are not an endangered species these days. In the Chicago area alone, the honor roll of working units includes Orbert Davis' Chicago Jazz Philharmonic and its Chamber Ensemble, Jeff Lindberg's Chicago Jazz Orchestra, the John Burnett Orchestra, Bill O'Connell's Chicago Skyliners Big Band, the 911 Mambo Orchestra and others. None, however, maintains a touring itinerary as busy as trumpeter Marsalis' Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. The JALC's relentless performance schedule helps explain its astonishing ensemble virtuosity. So does its personnel, which includes such Lincoln Center veterans as trumpeter Ryan Kisor, baritone saxophonist Joe Temperley, reedists Walter Blanding, Jr. and Victor Goines (who's also head of jazz studies at Northwestern University's Bienen School of Music). Plus, of course, Marsalis, whose gifts as trumpeter-composer-bandleader have shaped the sound and style of this majestic organization. 8 p.m. Friday at Symphony Center; $60-$85; 312-294-3000 or cso.org

Chicago Gospel Music Festival: Last year, the city's annual gospel celebration broke with tradition, moving the weekend events from its traditional downtown home to Ellis Park on the South Side, where the music originated. That will be the format again this year, though Friday's events will unfold at the Chicago Cultural Center, with Faith Howard at noon; ALTAR, 12:45 p.m.; Cinque Cullar, 1:30 p.m.; and Just Friends, 2:15 p.m.; at the Cultural Center's Preston Bradley Hall. Also: Brian Pettis, 12:15 p.m.; Sauk Elementary School Show Choir, 1 p.m.; Mark Wright & Friends, 1:45 p.m.; Leanne Faine & Favor, 2:30 p.m.; and a screening of the documentary film "The Sweet Sisters of Zion: Delois Barrett Campbell and the Barrett Sisters," 5:30 p.m.; at the Cultural Center's Claudia Cassidy Theater. The Cultural Center is at 78 E. Washington St. The music-making runs from noon to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Ellis Park, higlights including Vickie Winans hosting performaces by John P. Kee and New Life, Lecrae, Tamela Mann and Smokie Norful at 5 p.m. Saturday; and the Brat Pack – with Bishop Hezekiah Walker, Ricky Dillard and Donald Lawrence, plus Dexter Walker & Zion Movement – at 6:30 p.m. Sunday. For details, visit chicagogospelmusicfestival.us or phone 312-744-3316

Howard Levy: Chicagoan Howard Levy stands among the foremost jazz harmonica virtuosos in the world, past and present. What casual listeners may not realize is that he also happens to be a superb pianist. He'll get a chance to focus on that facet of his work when he appears at the PianoForte Salon, an intimate venue that regularly showcases the worthiest jazz and classical pianists. I wouldn't be surprised, though, if even in this shrine to pianism Levy brings out his harmonica – yes, he sometimes plays both instruments at the same time, but this is no stunt. Close your eyes, and you'd swear two accomplished players were at work at once. In a way, that's true – they just happen to inhabit the same body and soul. 7 p.m. Saturday at the Pianoforte Salon, 410 S. Michigan Ave., Studio 825; $20; reservations recommended; 312-291-0291 or pianofortefoundation.org

Frank D'Rone: Tony Bennett isn't the only octogenarian swing singer who's still got it. D'Rone – an artist admired by Bennett and practically everyone else – remains a Chicago treasure. Unlike most of his crooning peers (an admittedly dwindling population), he also happens to be a first-rate instrumentalist, playing guitar with all the finesse and free-flying improvisational spirit of his singing. He'll be joined by pianist Tom Hope, bassist John Bany and drummer Chuck Christiansen. 9 p.m. Saturday at Chambers, 6881 N. Milwaukee Ave., Niles; $15 cover; 847-647-8282 or thechambersonline.com

Midwest Cabaret Conference: The annual event brings a range of shows to Davenport's, Chicago's top cabaret. Sally Mayes, Beckie Menzie, Lina Koutrakos and Rick Jensen play at 7 p.m. Saturday; $15 plus two-drink minimum. "Undefeated: Living Life and Loving It" features KT McCammond, 9:30 p.m. Saturday; $15 plus two-drink minimum. And the 3d annual Midwest Cabaret Conference Participants Showcase starts at 7 p.m. Sunday; $10 and two-drink minimum. At Davenport's, 1383 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-278-1830 or davenportspianobar.com

Chicago Yestet: Trombonist Joel Adams has gathered some of Chicago's strongest players for his Yestet, the personnel including reedists Geof Bradfield and John Wojciechowski, drummer Dana Hall, pianist Ryan Cohan and trombonist Tom Garling. 7 p.m. Sunday at Evanston SPACE, 1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston; $10-$18; 847-492-8860 or evanstonspace.com

The Three Ellas. The Ella Fitzgerald acolytes are singers Dee Alexander, Spider Saloff and Frieda Lee, each taking on a particular facet of Fitzgerald's enormous legacy. They'll be joined by 11-year-old singer Mae Ya Carter Ryan in a benefit for the Merit School of Music. 7 p.m. Monday at City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph St.; $55-$100; 312-733-9463 or citywinery.com

To read more from Howard Reich on jazz, go to chicagotribune.com.

hreich@tribune.com

Twitter @howardreich