For jazz lovers, it's time to play – at summer camp

Howard Reich

12:49 PM EDT, July 2, 2013


Summer's here, which means it's time for … jazz camp?

Yes, indeed, but the leading such enterprise in Chicago isn't exactly designed to keep the kids occupied while school's out.

On the contrary, the fifth annual Straight Ahead Jazz Camp — which starts Monday and runs for five days — welcomes anyone from college freshmen to senior citizens to convene with some of the city's top jazz musicians, plus jazz scholars from across the country. Though the sessions clearly have been designed to entertain, a great deal of enlightenment comes with the bargain.

Created by the nonprofit Jazz Institute of Chicago, an organization that has championed jazz education in Chicago for decades, this year's Straight Ahead Jazz Camp will be staffed by such widely admired Chicago musicians as drummer Dana Hall, trumpeter Pharez Whitted, vocalist Tammy McCann, multi-instrumentalist Mwata Bowden, cellist Tomeka Reid and pianist Robert Irving III. Some will lead improv sessions; others will give lecture-demos. All will take participants inside a music bound up with Chicago's cultural identity.

In addition, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon — who famously played in the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and the Wynton Marsalis Septet — will present several lectures focusing on the central theme of this year's gathering: "The Legacy of Louis Armstrong."

Gordon "has become something of an authority on Pops," says Jazz Institute executive director Lauren Deutsch, invoking one of Armstrong's famous nicknames. True enough, Gordon's recordings — such as "Hello Pops! A Tribute to Louis Armstrong" and "Dreams of New Orleans" — speak to the trombonist's deep affinity for the Crescent City roots of jazz.

But Gordon won't have monopoly on Satchmo-ology. Gordon-led sessions such as "Ambassador Satch is Black and Blue" (a guided tour through the music) and "Pops for the People" (about Armstrong's rarely acknowledged ardor for social justice) will be augmented by many presentations, including archival treasures from scholar Ricky Riccardi. In "For Posterity: Louis Armstrong in His Own Words," Riccardi will play excerpts of Armstrong's private recordings; in "Cinematic Satch: Rare Footage of Louis Armstrong," he'll show clips of the master from TV, film and concert appearances.

Not all the offerings, however, will spotlight the man who remains the personification of jazz around the world. Jazz camp also will investigate music of such Chicago giants as saxophonist Von Freeman, pianist Andrew Hill and bluesman Little Brother Montgomery.

Nothing else quite like this exists in Chicago, the event resembling a miniature humanities festival that happens to focus on music (and also includes instrumental master classes).

But it didn't start out quite so broadly conceived. Originally, the Jazz Institute created the camp primarily as a vehicle for teachers who wanted to bring jazz into their classrooms.

"We attracted a lot of educators who said they had been really interested in starting a jazz class, but had no idea how to do it," says Deutsch. "Part of this endeavor is to raise the number of opportunities for kids to be able to learn about the music. The other part is to recognize that jazz educators really also need a chance to brush up on their skills."

But during the past couple of years, Deutsch and colleagues began expanding jazz camp to interest the general public, as well, realizing that amateur musicians, jazz devotees and even some pros might welcome the chance to learn from the masters. Singer McCann, for instance, was a participant before being invited to join the faculty.

"It's for just about anybody who's interested in the music and (wants) some new skills," says Deutsch.

Following is an annotated guide to a few of the sessions at Straight Ahead Jazz Camp, presented in collaboration with Columbia College Chicago. All events take place at Columbia College Chicago Music Center, 1014 S. Michigan Ave. Registration for the weeklong series is $155; $140 for Jazz Institute members. For the complete schedule and other details, visit jazzinchicago.org or call 312-427-1676.

Hello Pops: The Life of Louis Armstrong, 10:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Monday. Trombonist Gordon traces Armstrong's biography, an incredible journey that transformed an impoverished young trumpeter into a global pop star.

Get Your Improv On!, 1:45 to 3:15 p.m. Monday through July 11. Beginning, intermediate and advanced jazz improvisation sessions are led, respectively, by trombonist Audrey Morrison, saxophonist Jarrard Harris and trumpeter Pharez Whitted.

Bright Moments, Memories of the Future: South Side "Jazzy Collages" Mural Tour, 2 to 5 p.m. Monday. Jeff Huebner leads a tour of murals portraying the musical legacy of the South Side, plus a swing by a residence where Armstrong once lived.

Instrumental Master Classes, 9 to 10:30 a.m. Tuesday through July 12. Daily sessions led by Dan Anderson, Dan Nicholson, Pharez Whitted and Tammy McCann.

Modern Pathways: Exploring the Multi-Dimensional Music of Andrew Hill, 1:45 to 3:15 p.m. July 9. Drummer-bandleader-composer Dana Hall will survey Hill's music and methods, in a prelude for Hall's forthcoming performance at Millennium Park on Aug. 15: "The Andrew Hill Project with Dana Hall."

Collective Improvisation, 3:30 to 5 p.m. July 9. Mwata Bowden, a key figure in Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, will preside over an audience-participation session exploring improvisational techniques created and developed by the AACM.

Creative Improvisation and Social Practice, 9 to 10:30 p.m. July 10. Arts administrator Kate Dumbleton will converse with jazz musicians Tomeka Reid and Mikel Avery about how jazz can inspire and transform communities.

Von Freeman: Mentoring the Future, 1:45 to 3:15 p.m. July 10. Guitarist Mike Allemana, who played with Freeman for years, discusses Vonski's profound effect on generations of musicians who sat in with him.

Little Brother Montgomery: Swinging the Blues, 1:45 to 3:15 p.m. July 11. Robert Irving III, who worked for years as Miles Davis' pianist and stands among Chicago's most creative keyboardists, discusses the music of bluesman Montgomery — and how deeply it influenced Irving.

A strong New York bow

The British-based pianist Zoe Rahman made an unanticipated New York debut last week, when she was invited to fill in for a previously scheduled artist who had to bow out. So Rahman found herself making her first Manhattan appearance playing at one of the most high-profile venues in the city, Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Though Rahman — the daughter of a Bengali father and British mother — told the crowd last Wednesday night that she was a bit keyed up about the occasion, she needn't have worried. For by digging deeply into musical facets of her cross-cultural heritage, she produced work as richly appealing as it was stylistically distinctive.

Leading a trio, Rahman offered a suite of pieces lush in texture and steeped in Eastern melodic and harmonic structures. Though she developed this music via jazz techniques, its incantatory rhythms and chant-like lines instantly distinguished it, as did Rahman's ultra-sophisticated color palette.

Rahman was joined by drummer Gene Calderazzo (brother of pianist Joey Calderazzo), who gave her plenty of space in which to experiment; and bassist Alec Dankworth (son of saxophonist John Dankworth and singer Cleo Laine), who brought considerable intensity to the proceedings.

Much of this music appears on Rahman's most recent album, "Kindred Spirits," but during this performance she stretched beyond it, as well, particularly in music of JoAnne Brackeen, one of her teachers. In Brackeen's "Friday the 13th," Rahman reveled in stop-start rhythms, abrupt silences and buoyant tempos.

An auspicious debut indeed.

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


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