11:38 AM CST, December 5, 2013
By a fortunate coincidence of scheduling, two of the most influential trumpeters in jazz – Wynton Marsalis and Dave Douglas – will play our stages this weekend. Their appearances say a great deal about the multiple stylistic currents coursing through the music today and how best to perceive them: as complementing, rather than opposing, one another.
Marsalis stands as a singular figure in American music, partly thanks to the sheer breadth of his work. As managing and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, in New York, Marsalis leads one of the busiest jazz presenting organizations in the world.
Though he works in various instrumental contexts, Marsalis tours constantly with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, a large ensemble without peer when it comes to virtuosity, visibility and nurturance of jazz masterworks. The orchestral music of Duke Ellington, Count Basie and other jazz masters can live only if performed often and at the highest level, and no jazz orchestra brings these scores to listeners more vividly or with more fidelity to the composers' intentions than Marsalis' organization.
But Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center through the decades also have championed major new works, such as Marcus Roberts' "Romance, Swing and the Blues," Ted Nash's "Portrait in Seven Shades" and Marsalis' "Blood on the Fields," which was the first jazz composition to win the Pulitzer Prize in Music, in 1997 (I served on the jury).
This time, Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra will bring a "Big Band Holidays December Tour" to Wentz Concert Hall, in Naperville, which heightens interest in the event. For Wentz Concert Hall, on the campus of North Central College, ranks among the most acoustically sumptuous listening rooms in the Chicago area. Seating 617 in a warmly embracing space, Wentz evokes the sound and feeling of Northwestern University's Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, in Evanston, a somewhat larger room that similarly puts the audience in close proximity with performers.
Marsalis and the JALC Orchestra will be joined by Cecile McLorin Salvant, a vocalist of charismatic presence, in holiday repertoire. Expect swing-style Christmas fare, plus selections from the orchestra's enormous repertory.
Trumpeter Dave Douglas sometimes has been cast as a foil to Marsalis, at least in media circles, an unfortunate development considering that each artist defines his own space quite apart from the other.
During the past couple of decades, Douglas has established himself as an uncommonly protean figure, his music encompassing avant-garde, Eastern European, American folkloric, acoustic, electronic and mainstream idioms. Douglas bands such as Keystone, Brass Ecstasy, Tiny Bell Trio, Charms of the Night Sky and others attest to the span of his vision.
If there's a through-line that connects all of this music, it's Douglas' gifts as improviser, his cadenzas utterly spontaneous yet somehow inevitable in their progress. By any measure, he stands as a consistently creative soloist.
He also happens to be a force outside the realm of his own performances, thanks partly to his Greenleaf Music record label, which has released important work by Douglas, saxophonist Donny McCaslin and Chicago bassist-bandleader Matt Ulery (most notably Ulery's hauntingly beautiful double album of last year, "By a Little Light"). Douglas' Festival of New Trumpet Music, meanwhile, has been a nexus of original music-making in New York for a decade.
Douglas turned 50 earlier this year and has been marking the occasion with a tour designed to take him to all 50 states; a "DD/50" boxed set that features the albums "Be Still," "Time Travel" and "Pathways"; and, of course, a commemorative T-shirt.
The tour brings him this weekend to his longtime Chicago venue of choice, the Green Mill Jazz Club, where Douglas has given many indelible performances. He'll lead a quintet with saxophonist Jon Irabagon, pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist Linda Oh and drummer Anwar Marshall.
Through the years, some observers glibly have described Douglas as a brave experimenter and Marsalis as a staid traditionalist. But it was Marsalis who dared to challenge conventional wisdom as far back as the 1980s by championing non-electric, non-fusion jazz in a hostile media environment, even as some of his original works bristled with ultra-complex harmony and thoroughly unorthodox musical forms. Douglas, meanwhile, consistently shows a melodic grace and poetry that in some ways harkens back to earlier generations of players.
Between these two performers' engagements this weekend, listeners will be able to bypass the accepted wisdom about each artist and hear them for what they are: individual voices.
Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra perform at 8 p.m. Friday at North Central College's Wentz Concert Hall, 171 E. Chicago Ave., Naperville; $100-$125; 630-637-7469 or tickets.noctrl.edu.
The Dave Douglas Quintet plays at 9 p.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday at the Green Mill Jazz Club, 4802 N. Broadway; $15; 773-878-5552 or greenmilljazz.com.
Also worth hearing:
Lee Konitz: The admired alto saxophonist launched his career here in the 1940s and went on to create a distinct approach to the instrument, cooler and more fluid than the work of most of his peers and predecessors. Konitz has been an all-too-infrequent visitor in Chicago in recent years, but he returns as part of an important tribute to William Russo, who founded the music program at Columbia College Chicago and based the Chicago Jazz Ensemble there. For this engagement, Konitz will be guest with the Columbia College Jazz Ensemble at 8 and 10 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 4 and 8 p.m. Sunday; admission is $20-$35. In addition, Konitz will share the bill with trumpeter Orbert Davis, harmonica player Corky Siegel and the Columbia College Jazz Ensemble at 8 p.m. Saturday; admission is $50. At the Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Ct.; 312-360-0234 or jazzshowcase.com
"Celebrating William Russo: Artist and Educator": Ten years after the death of Chicago composer-bandleader Russo, Columbia College Chicago has organized a major tribute to the man. The festivities begin with a screening of John and Faith Hubley's animated film "Everybody Rides the Carousel," with a score by Russo, 6 p.m. Friday at Columbia College's Film Row Cinema, 1104 S. Wabash Ave. eighth floor; free. A panel discussion examining the range of Russo's work will feature Scott Hall, Albert Williams, Norman Alexandroff, Orbert Davis, Corky Siegel, Kate Buddeke, Don Rose, Ron Dorfman and Louis Silverstein; 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday at Columbia's Concert Hall, 1014 S. Michigan Ave.; free. And, as mentioned in the Lee Konitz item above, the Columbia College Jazz Ensemble will perform Russo's music with Konitz, Davis and Siegel at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Ct.; $50; 312-360-0234 or jazzshowcase.com
Rudresh Mahanthappa: An alto saxophonist who pairs a keen intellect with a prodigious command of the instrument, Mahanthappa has been at the forefront of bringing aspects of his Indian heritage to jazz improvisation and composition. He'll lead his quartet in music from his album "Gamak." 7:30 p.m. Friday at the University of Chicago's Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St.; $35; $5 for students; 773-702-8068 or arts.uchicago.edu
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