Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Weekend in Chicago

Just returned from 5 days and nights in Chicagoland and music played an integral part of the first few nights.

 The Heath Brothers Band was performing at Joe Segal's Jazz Showcase and we caught the first set on Friday night.  Before the band hit the stage, Albert "Tootie" Heath (left) was in rare form, joking with customers and picking on the "babies" in the band (pianist Jeb Patton is 35 while bassist David Wong is but 28.) We mentioned we had seeing the band 32 or 33 years ago (when brother/bassist Percy was still alive and Connecticut-based guitarist Tony Purrone was in the group) and "Tootie" (aged 75) shook his head saying "who can remember that far back?" and pointing to bassist Wong, "Not this guy!"
Jimmy (84 years old) came over and we mentioned that we were from Connecticut and he reminded us that the group was scheduled to play at "Jackie McLean's place" (The Artist's Collective in Hartford) on Saturday May 15 and he'd be signing copies of his newly published autobiography "I Walked with Giants" the day before at the Hartford Public Library (to find out more about both events, call 860-527-3205.)
Then, the band played - if you've never experienced "Tootie" Heath, you are missing a treat. Yes, he's a master drummer and showman but he's really the heart and soul of the quartet. Always in motion, working the cymbal and the snare drum, really pushing the beat. Always in eye contact with either the bassist or pianist, making sure he's with them. Both Patton and Wong are excellent players with the pianist displaying serious blues roots and the bassist incredible facility and great melodic sensibility.  Jimmy played tenor sax most of the set and switched to soprano for one fine ballad.  Despite a small audience, they had fun playing together and for us.
On the way out, Jimmy Heath shouted back to our goodbyes, "Thanks for coming, Connecticut!"

The following morning, I was strolling through the area where we were staying and discovered, quite by accident, that Anat Cohen was performing a free concert at 12noon in the music department of Border's Books.  We returned in time to watch the Israeli-born clarinetist play a short and sweet duo set with Chicago-based guitarist Andy Brown.  Cohen was promoting her new ANZIC recording, "Clarinetworks" - shew had just finished a short tour with one group and was getting ready for a short tour with pianist Benny Green, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash (the rhythm section on the new disk playing music inspired by Bennie Goodman.)
For the Borders' hit, the duo played 4 standards including a sweet version of "Fats" Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz."  Ms. Cohen is quite the fluid player, with a sound that is "sweeter" than Goodman's but filled with smears, lightning-quick runs and gutsy blues phrases.  She chatted up the crowd, signed copies of the new CD and then headed off into misty Chicago afternoon.

We ate well (love that Eleven City Diner), visited family, drove to Milwaukee for a Brewers-Cubs game (with side trips to the Milwaukee Art Museum and Kopps' Custard Stand) and walked through Millennium Park (twice.)  Good to get away.

More music to follow, including a preview of Tomas Fujiwara at Firehouse 12 Friday and Bennie Maupin Trio (with Buster Williams and Billy Hart) on Saturday.

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