Bears score one for veterans -- via jazz

Howard Reich

10:21 AM EST, November 6, 2012


When the Chicago Bears and the Houston Texans step off the grass at Soldier Field for halftime on Sunday evening, 60,000-plus fans — and possibly a national TV audience — will see and hear something they've never encountered before.

For though the Bears organization always salutes the U.S. military during halftime, this time the Veterans Day ceremony will include new video footage with a score by one of Chicago's most prominent jazz musicians, Orbert Davis.

Portions of the three-movement orchestral suite Davis composed for the occasion will serve as a musical bed for a video tribute to America's veterans, past and present. At this point, no one knows how much — if any — of the homage will air during NBC's broadcast of the game (starting at 7:20 p.m. Sunday). But regardless, the "Home & Away" video piece and Davis' orchestral score will be available on the websites of the Bears, Davis' Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, Boeing (the Bears' marketing partner) and the USO of Illinois, which will benefit from sales of the music. Davis' opus also will be available for download at CD Baby and iTunes.

So why would the Chicago Bears turn to a jazz musician for its newly expanded salute to veterans?

"To me it just feels right, to have that quality of jazz musician bring together these emotional images," says Chris Hibbs, Bears vice president of sales and marketing.

"We think it will be a terrific wrap-up to this emotional ceremony."

That the Bears turned to Davis in the first place, however, owes to the efforts of a behind-the-scenes jazz devotee who has been quietly influential in music here during the past decade. Jim Newcomb, director of global brand management and advertising at Chicago-based Boeing, was instrumental years ago in launching the Chicago Jazz Partnership, a consortium of foundations that have poured millions into the music in recent years.

But lately he had come to feel that the Bears' halftime tributes to veterans — which Boeing sponsors — created high emotion inside the stadium that dissipated once the game was over.

"I think the Bears would tell you that it has become the single most fan-appreciated moment in the game — other than a victory or a kickoff," says Newcomb (who indeed is backed up on this by Hibbs). "I became frustrated that we weren't adequately communicating it (outside Soldier Field), despite our best efforts and the best efforts of the Bears and everyone else. … I wanted to develop something that can bring the feeling that people get as part of this great in-stadium moment to people who aren't able to get there."

So Newcomb, an ardent fan of Davis and his Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, invited the composer-trumpeter to attend last year's Veterans Day tribute and asked if Davis might consider composing something. Newcomb expected a three-minute piece, he says. Instead, Davis came back with a sumptuously recorded three-movement opus.

Newcomb's associates didn't start filming interviews with veterans until Davis' score had been completed, but you wouldn't know it from watching the vignettes. As the vets describe their experiences and what motivated them to endure extreme hardships, Davis' accompanying music reflects their emotional tone. The pride, nobility and altruism of their words are echoed in the horns and drum rolls of Davis' magisterial Chicago Jazz Philharmonic.

"Boeing could have hired someone to write a jingle or a commercial," says Davis, who clearly is glad it didn't. "But it was important for me to try to compose something artistic, something that will live longer than that. …

"I hope that when anyone who has given service hears the (score), that the music itself would stir their emotions and provide hope and healing."

Whether you've served in the military or not, the score for "Home & Away" surely sounds more musically ambitious than what one might expect to hear during a halftime show. The opening movement is Davis' idiosyncratic orchestration of "The Star-Spangled Banner," its unexpected chords and plucky key changes giving the piece a bit of a contemporary feel. "Our Salute," the second movement, unfolds as a heroic anthem one easily could imagine marching bands playing on football fields across America.

And the suite reaches a genuinely grand finale with "The Face of the Enemy is Always Changing," a bona fide jazz work built on great surges of energy and ultra-sophisticated improvisation and composition.

Even if snippets of this music — and the video footage it accompanies — make it onto the TV broadcast, audiences really will need to download the opus or buy the disc in order to fully appreciate what Davis has created. Newcomb, himself a savvy marketer, believes that even the slightest exposure to "Home & Away" in the stadium or on TV can only help generate interest in Davis' work, and, more important, in the plight of veterans.

"I'm not expecting anybody to change their lives," says Newcomb. "But if they can give another minute of consideration to the service these people are performing on their behalf, that would be huge."

Davis' score — so rich in content and brilliant in orchestral details — could go a long way toward making that happen.

"Home & Away" can be accessed at chicagojazzphilharmonic.org, boeing.com/tribute and facebook.com/usoofillinois, among other sites.

Umbrella Music Festival

The seventh annual event, kicking off on Wednesday, brings improvisers from both sides of the Atlantic to Chicago for a burst of new ideas in music. Here's the complete schedule:

Wednesday at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St.: "European Jazz Meets Chicago," with Clementine Gasser/Tim Daisy Duo, 6:30 p.m.; Dominykas Vysniauskas Quartet, 7:15 p.m.; Angelika Niescier Trio, 8 p.m.; Watershed, with Nicole Mitchell, 8:45 p.m. Free; 312-744-6630 or umbrellamusic.org.

Thursday at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St.: Artur Majewski Quartet, 6:30 p.m.; Jacques Demierre/Jim Baker Duo, 7:15 p.m.; Danielle D'Agaro Quartet, 8 p.m.; Sven-Ake Johansson solo, 8:45 p.m.; Cactus Truck, 9:30 p.m. Free; 312-744-6630 or umbrellamusic.org.

Friday at Elastic, 2830 N. Milwaukee Ave., second floor: Darius Jones Trio, 9 p.m.; Joe Morris solo, 10 p.m.; Chicago Underground Duo, 11 p.m. $20; 773-772-3616 or elasticarts.org.

Saturday at the Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia Ave.: Pandelis Karayorgis Quintet, 9 p.m.; Adolphe's Ax, 10 p.m.; William Parker's In Order to Survive, 11 p.m. $20; 773-227-4433 or hideoutchicago.com.

Sunday at the Hungry Brain, 2319 W. Belmont Ave.: Fred Van Hove solo, 9 p.m.; Harrison Bankhead Sextet, 10 p.m. $15 suggested donation; 773-935-2118 or umbrellamusic.org.

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


Twitter @howardreich