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Clip: Ken Vandermark, also Touch & Go turns 25

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  • Carl Z.
    April 7, 2006 The Jazz Posse A sudden dearth of venues inspires jazz and improvised-music promoters to band
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 7, 2006
      <http://www.chicagoreader.com/TheMeter/060407.html>

      April 7, 2006

      The Jazz Posse
      A sudden dearth of venues inspires jazz and improvised-music promoters
      to band together.

      If you're a glass-half-empty type, it hasn't been hard lately to find
      evidence that Chicago is inhospitable to jazz. The old Velvet Lounge
      is shutting down at the end of the month -- the venerable South Loop
      club is scheduled for demolition to make way for condos. The 3030
      performance space in Humboldt Park closed in September due to zoning
      problems, and for most of the past six months the long-running
      Wednesday-night jazz series at the Empty Bottle has been preempted by
      rock shows. And the annual Empty Bottle Festival of Jazz and
      Improvised Music, where for almost a decade some of Europe's finest
      mingled with the best Chicago had to offer, is missing from the club's
      upcoming shows list.

      But the truth is that the local scene is as strong as ever, and these
      kinds of setbacks are nothing new. Since the early 90s, when Ken
      Vandermark's regular gig at the original HotHouse in Wicker Park
      became the nucleus of a young free-jazz community in Chicago,
      up-and-coming musicians have relied on the kind of venues that are
      likely to fold if audiences dwindle or property taxes jump -- Urbus
      Orbis, Xoinx, the Nervous Center, the Candlestick Maker, and many
      others have all come and gone. There is something noteworthy about
      this round of bad news, though, and that's the coordinated response to
      it. Vandermark, saxophonist Dave Rempis, drummer Mike Reed, and
      cornetist Josh Berman, along with fan-turned-booker Mitch Cocanig,
      have formed a cooperative called Umbrella Music that will help bookers
      and presenters share resources, cross-promote concerts, and organize
      extended engagements with visiting musicians. Members of Umbrella are
      the prime movers behind new series at the Hideout, the Storefront
      Theater, and 3030's successor, Elastic.

      The Umbrella musicians began plotting the co-op with Michael Orlove of
      the city's Department of Cultural Affairs and John Corbett,
      Vandermark's former cocurator at the Bottle, in late 2002 but got
      sidetracked by a campaign to persuade WBEZ to broaden its jazz
      programming and play more local artists. This fall, alarmed by the
      rapidly shifting landscape of the Chicago scene, they reconvened.
      There was no telling when or if the Velvet would be ready in its new
      location on Cermak -- and there still isn't. "The Bottle was doing
      less improvised music, and it wasn't clear if 3030 was going to
      reopen," says Vandermark. "So it was like 50 percent of the gigs
      threatened to disappear."

      Reed asked Hideout co-owner Tim Tuten if his club could help pick up
      the slack, and Tuten jumped at the chance. "I've been wanting to do
      jazz, and I felt it was important for the Hideout to participate in
      it," he says. He approached Vandermark about playing a month of
      Wednesdays at the club -- as part of a residency series that had
      previously featured mostly indie bands -- and Vandermark offered to
      book an ongoing weekly engagement instead. The new series, called
      "Immediate Sound" and curated by Vandermark and Cocanig, started April
      5, and the Hideout has committed to it for at least six months.
      Vandermark has also invited local musicians to DJ before and after the
      sets. "We want to make it a more socially connected thing," he says.

      In December, on Orlove's advice, the Umbrella folks also talked to
      Patrick Daley, director of the Gallery 37 Center for the Arts, who
      wanted to program music at the center's Storefront Theater. Within two
      days of meeting they were working on a plan. The Storefront's new
      "Downtown Sound Gallery" series starts May 1 and runs the first and
      third Mondays of each month. The shows will be free, though the
      musicians will get paid. Each performer must write new compositions
      for a new group, so what could've been a simple showcase for working
      bands is instead a grassroots commission series. "We wanted to stay
      true to the idea that this space is a place to learn or create, as a
      student or as a professional," says Daley. The series begins with a
      four-concert trial period, and the Umbrella group has picked the
      artists for those dates. If all goes well the program will continue in
      the fall, and artists can submit proposals to Umbrella.

      In March the Elastic Arts Foundation, which ran 3030, started putting
      on shows at its new Logan Square space, and after a six-month hiatus
      Rempis has resumed his Thursday-night improv series there. Reed and
      Berman also continue to book Sundays at the Hungry Brain, which has
      become a social hub for the local jazz community. The musicians say
      they make as much in pass-the-hat donations there as they would at a
      comparable club with a cover.

      This month's visit by the excellent Scandinavian group Atomic is an
      example of Umbrella's strengths at work. On April 21 and 22 they'll
      record a live album with Vandermark's band School Days at the Green
      Mill, and on the nights before and after those gigs, members of both
      groups will play at the Hideout, Elastic, and the Hungry Brain.
      Similar plans are shaping up for this fall, when Vandermark's
      ten-piece Territory Band reconvenes to record a new album and perform
      in Millennium Park. The Umbrella guys are also revving up the
      promotional machine, pooling e-mail lists and printing flyers and
      posters that list a month of shows at a time.

      Umbrella isn't the only game in town -- several series that aren't
      directly affiliated with the group are also going strong. Since the
      fall percussionist Michael Zerang, trombonist Jeb Bishop, reedist
      Jason Stein, and bassist Nate McBride have been booking Mondays at
      Silvie's Lounge under the name "Eight Million Heroes." Keyboardist Jim
      Baker has a Tuesday quartet gig at Hotti Biscotti, and in January
      pianist D Bayne started a Monday series at the Morseland. Even the
      venerable Monday improv sessions at Myopic Books have been resurrected
      by cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, electronicist and koto player Brian
      Labycz, and bassist Jason Roebke.

      The Empty Bottle remains a player too -- it recently hosted Fred
      Anderson and Hamid Drake opening for drummer Steve Reid with Four
      Tet's Kieran Hebden. Instead of setting aside every Wednesday, the
      club's now restricting itself to occasional jazz shows and making room
      for them wherever they'll fit. The festival that isn't happening this
      spring may end up on the books for the fall. "Jazz is very important
      to the Empty Bottle and to me," says owner Bruce Finkelman. "We want
      to continue to help the jazz scene grow in Chicago as much as we're
      able."

      Vandermark says his move to the Hideout doesn't mean he's embittered
      by the Bottle's choices. "Whatever the changes in activity over there,
      they did present this stuff at a loss for ten years, and I'm not
      interested in turning my back on that," he says. He's also glad that
      the upheavals in the scene have inspired people to pull together. "The
      holes that were there are suddenly getting filled," he says. "I think
      it's because we took it seriously, but in half a year things have
      really changed in a good way. If I'm energized personally, it's
      because I've realized how much is at stake."
      Look Who's Reuniting Now

      Touch and Go turns 25 this year, and to celebrate the label is
      throwing a three-day outdoor concert. The shows will be on September
      8, 9, and 10, and organizers hope to use the city lot across from the
      Hideout. Twenty-five bands will play; confirmed acts so far include
      Calexico, the Black Heart Procession, Ted Leo + Pharmacists, the
      Shipping News, the Rachel's, and Shellac. Scratch Acid and the Didjits
      will reunite for the occasion, and more reunions may still be
      announced. Tickets, including three-day passes, go on sale late this
      month; watch the Reader's Early Warnings page for the on-sale date.

      --PETER MARGASAK
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