These are lively days – and nights – for saxophonist-clarinetist Victor Goines, who last weekend presented the world premiere of an original orchestral suite at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York and this weekend offers new music over three nights in Chicago.
That Goines also busily tours the globe with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and directs the jazz studies department at Northwestern University's Bienen School of Music in Evanston underscores his role as a musician of many locales and identities.
All of this activity may seem a bit frenzied, but Goines frames it in a distinctive way, with Chicago as one of three fulcrums of his musical life.
"Chicago is a mixture of New Orleans and New York," says Goines, who plays Friday and Saturday nights at the Green Mill Jazz Club in Uptown and Sunday evening at Room 43 on the South Side. "New York is the kind of place where people are moving all the time. It's very fast, almost like atoms moving all the time, people focused on what their next activity is.
"New Orleans is the Big Easy: 'Don't worry, man, it's all right, it'll be fine, don't worry about it,'" he adds, emphasizing the Crescent City cadence of the city where he was born and raised. "Chicago is a mixture: They bounce around, but they say, 'It's gonna' be cool, we'll get it together.'
"Chicago is a great place to be. It's a great place for young people. … It's a great place to grow up in music."
Six years after Goines took the post at Northwestern, he says, Chicago musicians and audiences have become increasingly accustomed to encountering him in their midst, a development he treasures.
"Now the musicians are like, 'Yeah, he's from New Orleans, he plays with Wynton (in New York), but he's living in Chicago,'" says Goines. "That's where I'm at – I'm inside of where I'm at."
Being connected to music in Chicago, in other words, has become increasingly important to Goines, and that has been reflected to some degree in his performance schedule. Though, like most internationally touring musicians, he has only a finite amount of time to spend in any one place, he has given Chicago-area audiences several major performances through the years, most recently a revelatory traversal of music of Benny Goodman last November at the Music Institute of Chicago's Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston.
For this weekend's run of performances, Goines will be playing music from his latest recording, "Morning Swing," featuring his new arrangements of scores associated with Goodman, as well as an original composition. As on the album, he will be joined by musicians who are integral to jazz in Chicago: pianist Jeremy Kahn, drummer Greg Artry and bassist Marlene Rosenberg (bassist Dennis Carroll appears on the recording).
Then Goines heads downstate for performance and a recording session for his next album, again in the company of his Chicago colleagues.
All of which demands the question when, or if, Chicago listeners will hear the suite he just unveiled in New York, "Crescent City." One hopes the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra might perform the opus in a future Chicago concert, perhaps paired with Ted Nash's "The Presidential Suite," which the JALC ensemble also premiered last weekend in Manhattan.
Short of that, Goines says he could envision "Crescent City" being performed at Northwestern or at Symphony Center, though a summertime concert at Millennium Park would seem an apt setting, as well. Featuring saxophonist Branford Marsalis, the piece unfolds in six movements, each evoking an aspect of life and culture in New Orleans: "Mississippi Mud Shuffle," the opening vignette, is a blues; "A Dance at the Mardi Gras Ball" celebrates a New Orleans cultural rite; "Marie Laveau" explores the mysteries of voodoo; "Crescent City Express" conjures the movement of a train as well as New Orleans street cars; "Her Eyes Smile" is a love song to the Crescent City; and "Down by the Bayou" embraces Mardi Gras Indian traditions by featuring Big Chief Keith Gibson of the Comanche Hunters tribe.
It's obviously an ambitious undertaking, but Goines is no stranger to long-form compositions, as anyone who was in Millennium Park on Sept. 3, 2009 knows. On that evening, Goines, trumpeter Jon Faddis and the Chicago Jazz Ensemble played the world premiere of his "Benny Goodman: Then, Now, Forever," a five-movement epic that amounted to a kind of jazz concerto for two soloists (Goines and Faddis) and orchestra. Its opening movement, "The Maxwell Street Ghetto," recalled the dawn of the swing era, while the "Benny's Groove" vignette was a tour de force of clarinet wizardry from Goines.
All of which whets the appetite for the new, New Orleans opus.
In the meantime, listeners can focus on Goines' small-group work this weekend, as the clarinetist juggles local concerts alongside international touring.
Chicago, he says, "has the same challenges as most cities have: lots of musicians, very few jazz clubs. But there are more clubs going up regularly. There's music and restaurants on the (near) West Side of Chicago.
"Obviously, Hyde Park is very active. ... There are sessions every day of the week in Chicago. My students take me out every once in a while, or they tell me where they're going, and I meet them there.
"I go by the Jazz Showcase whenever I can, especially when (colleagues) come to town, there's an opportunity to greet them on the way in.
"There's nothing more warming when you come into a certain town (than) for someone you know to be waiting there for you and greet you: 'Hey, welcome to Chicago.'"