During the late 1970′s and early 1980′s, no Chicago piano trio was more popular or formidable than that of pianist John Campbell, a Bloomington, Il., native whose chemistry with University of Illinois alums Kelly Sill (bass) and Joel Spencer (drums) was unsurpassed. As the house rhythm section at the Jazz Showcase, they backed a Who’s Who of jazz greats.
For all that, it was hard for this un-recorded unit to make a living. A compleat bop stylist, Campbell went on tour with Clark Terry in 1981 and later moved to New York, where, among other highlights, he subbed for Jim McNeely in Stan Getz’s band. He had a memorable stint accompanying Mel Torme, joined the Terry Gibbs-Buddy DeFranco Quintet and settled in Los Angeles, where, except for a brief return to Chicago in the late ’90s, he has remained.
Dare we say that for this trio, recapturing their old chemistry will be as easy as getting on a bicycle built for three? Sill and Spencer, who teach at Northern Illinois University and Northwestern University, respectively, have been a bit less visible these days. But Sill remains the voice of subtle persuasion with his flawless time and resonant tone and Spencer combines power and precision like few other stick men. Hearing this trio, we’re assured that the glory days never went away, they’re just waiting for a wakeup call