4:36 PM EST, January 10, 2013
When it comes to playing through pain, Chicago tenor saxophonist Frank Catalano has more experience than most of his colleagues.
Eighteen years ago, he severed the middle finger of his right hand while fixing his car, enduring surgery to reattach it and months of therapy to regain the ability to play his horn. To this day, the digit sometimes swells up like a balloon.
Two years ago, he was in auto accident that tore a ligament and cartilage in a shoulder and left his neck "hanging out like a Slinky," he recalls.
Months of therapy have ensued, and it wasn't until last year that he started playing hard again, though he has had to cancel dozens of important engagements along the way.
So when he takes the stage of Andy's Jazz Club on Friday and Saturday nights, Catalano, one of the mightiest of this city's under-40 tenor men, will be ready for battle, he says.
"At this point, I'm just excited to be in one piece," Catalano says.
"I still have to deal with pain in my hand and wrist and shoulder; it kind of runs up my whole arm. But other than giving it more time (to heal), there's not much else I can do. Unless something is absolutely life or death, I don't recommend surgery. I tried it after I lost my finger.
"But, physically, I'm doing pretty good," adds Catalano, whose optimism and exuberance always have been evident in his larger-than-life playing. "Mentally, I'm excited."
For good reason. In the next couple of months, Catalano will release the first of three recordings he made last year.
"Old Skool" pairs him with pianist Scott Williams in duo settings of jazz standards, such as "Bye Bye Blackbird" and "Our Love is Here to Stay," plus an original homage to one of Catalano's heroes, Von Freeman: "Blues for Vonski."
After that will come a duo CD with the inimitable Chicago drummer Paul Wertico and a trio album with former Smashing Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlain and Brand X bassist Percy Jones, which promises to be a high-powered, high-energy affair.
"It's definitely a jazz album," says Catalano of his partnership with Chamberlain and Jones. "Yeah, Percy has played on Brian Eno records, and Chamberlain with the Smashing Pumpkins, obviously, but they're such good players in a jazz setting too.
"I knew it would be a powerful trio, but it has ballads also."
More important, the repertoire is real jazz, including Rahsaan Roland Kirk's "Serenade to a Cuckoo," John Coltrane's "Equinox," Wayne Shorter's "Footprints" and a work Catalano penned for his wife, whom he married a couple of months before his auto crash.
The very fact that since that terrible event Catalano, who always has been an exuberant, extroverted player, has been recording in such intimate contexts seems as intriguing as it is promising. For if Catalano always has leaned toward epic-scaled statement, perhaps he's taking a somewhat different tack now. Maybe he's personalizing and deepening his approach.
Certainly, he appears to be regaining his energy, for he's back to doing the late-late shows Wednesday nights (early Thursday mornings) at the Green Mill in Uptown, an engagement he loves because, he says, it enables him to develop new material.
Most important, Catalano sounds ready to go in the new year.
"2013 is going to be a (very good) year," says Catalano, who sounds like he means it.
When: 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Where: Andy's Jazz Club, 11 E. Hubbard St.
Tickets: $15; 312-642-6805 or andysjazzclub.com
Also worth hearing
Chevere: The long-running, ebullient Latin jazz band doesn't play Chicago's clubs often enough, mostly because its personnel are in high demand in uncounted ensembles. That makes this appearance by Chevere a signal event for the winter season; the group usually at its best at the Green Mill. As always, Chevere will feature percussionist Alejo Poveda, pianist and harmonica whiz Howard Levy, percussionist Ruben Alvarez, keyboardist Chris "Chicago Hambone" Cameron, reedist Steve Eisen, guitarist Ernie Denov, trumpeter Mark Ohlsen and congeuro Joe Rendon. 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
Alfonso Ponticelli: Chicago's tireless champion of the gypsy jazz genre developed by Django Reinhardt may be best known for his Wednesday night engagement at the Green Mill Jazz Club, but he also appears periodically at Katerina's. The room's intimate environs suit the music. 10 p.m. Saturday at Katerina's, 1928 W. Irving Park Road; $10; 773-348-7592 or katerinas.com
Soul Jazz Party: The staffing has changed a bit for the late-night Sunday show at the Green Mill. Guitarist Joel Paterson, perhaps best known as leader of the Modern Sounds, will still lead a trio, with drummer Alex Hall. But Chris Foreman will sit behind the Hammond B-3 organ, occupying the chair that had been held by Ben Paterson (no relation to Joel Paterson). Foreman, who also plays the 5 p.m. "Flip Side" show Fridays at the Mill, is always worth hearing and should fit into the lineup with ease. 11 p.m. Sunday at the Green Mill Jazz Club, 4802 N. Broadway; $4; 773-878-5552 or greenmilljazz.com
Chris Greene: The Chicago saxophonist will lead a quartet in one of the most inviting Sunday night sessions in the city, the friendly gathering of the nonprofit Hyde Park Jazz Society. 7:30 to 11:30 p.m. Sunday at Room 43, 1043 E. 43rd St.; valet parking available; $10; hydeparkjazzsociety.com
To read more from Howard Reich on jazz, go to chicagotribune.com/reich.
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