Ken Vandermark and Joe McPhee

Aug. 31 - 2012

Imagine idolizing a musician as a teenager and not only getting to play with that musician  years later, but also forging a close association with him. Ken Vandermark was first exposed to Joe McPhee’s music when his father Stu, a musicologist and music writer, played him Tenor, a solo saxophone album recorded in 1976. “I heard this ballad, ‘Good-Bye Tom B.,’ and literally said to myself, ‘That’s what I want to do,’” said Vandermark. “It was so utterly beautiful and melodic, with these amazing multi-phonics. It was like an epiphany.”

Years later, as fate would have it, McPhee was in the audience when Vandermark played “Good-Bye Tom B.” at a festival. McPhee was so taken with the performance, and the fact that a young artist would know the song, he introduced himself after the set. The rest is history. In 1996, Vandermark brought McPhee to the Empty Bottle for his first-ever performance in Chicago. The two played together on A Meeting in Chicago (1998) and in such groups as Peter Brotzmann’s Chicago Tentet. Their duets, some of which feature McPhee on pocket trumpet, can be utterly beautiful.

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