Austin Town Hall Park, 5610 W. Lake St.
The DePaul University Jazz Workshop under the direction of Dana Hall & the Northwestern University Jazz Ensemble under the direction of Jarrard Harris help kick off the 20th season of the JazzCity series.
The battle of the bands, one of jazz’s longest-standing rituals and best-loved attractions, goes back to the days when musicians were, indeed, out to “cut” or “chop” their opposites – to show up members of the other band with speed, flash and punch. Fans of Chick Webb speak in awe of his band’s dominance of Benny Goodman’s in a famous 1937 encounter.
But on the whole, as competitive as they can be, today’s jazz musicians are less interested in winning any such contests than using such a setting to inspire them to their very best performances. “Of course you always tried to do your best when he was around,” Count Basie wrote of his band’s “contests” with Duke Ellington’s band. “But that wasn’t about battling him. It was about pleasing yourself by measuring up.”
That said, there will be plenty of sparks when the DePaul University Workshop faces off against the Northwestern University Jazz Ensemble to kick off the gala 20th season of JazzCity, the community-oriented series programmed by the Jazz Institute of Chicago in partnership with the Chicago Park District. Kids these days? They can swing like crazy.
But under the direction of Dana Hall and Jarrard Harris, respectively, the DePaul and Northwestern units will impress not only with their youthful chops and go-get-’em spirit, but also their deep understanding of the colors and textures that make big bands so special.
Expect to hear fresh readings of songs by such innovators as Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Bob Brookmeyer and Thad Jones – and, of course, Ellington and Basie, whose mutual admiration knew no limits.
DePaul’s Jazz Workshop is a laboratory setting. Its role model is the great Charles Mingus’ groundbreaking Jazz Workshop. A dynamic leader, Hall is former artistic director of the Chicago Jazz Ensemble, a mentor in the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz’s Jazz in America Program and has earned a reputation as one of the best drummers now at work in such settings as the Jazz at Lincoln Center band, the Terrell Stafford Quintet and his own acclaimed group.
The Northwestern University Jazz Ensemble draws from that school’s outstanding jazz performance groups. Harris, a saxophonist who has played with artists ranging from Jimmy Heath to the Chicago Sinfonietta, is a prized educator whose positions include director of jazz studies for the Chicago Public Schools Advanced Arts Education Program in conjunction with the Thelonious Monk Institute.
Here’s to the next 20 years of JazzCity’s invaluable series. Chances are some of the players featured in tonight’s concert will be among the seasoned players featured during season 40.
JazzCity is a free concert series initiated in 1997 by the Jazz Institute of Chicago in collaboration with the Chicago Park District, now celebrating its 20th season of bringing people together from across the city to listen to Chicago’s top jazz musicians. JazzCity is sponsored by WDCB 90.9 FM and WHPK 88.5 FM Radio and supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.