Clip: Profiles of notable young Chicago jazz players
- Lots of good jazz articles this week. Here are some profiles from the
Following the footsteps of Jelly Roll and Louis
By Howard Reich
Tribune arts critic
Published November 3, 2006
When it comes to nurturing young jazz talent, few cities do it better
The city where Jelly Roll Morton made his first great recordings and
Louis Armstrong emerged as the first international jazz star long has
been a cauldron of possibilities for young artists. More affordable
than New York, less slick than Los Angeles and steeped in nearly
century-old jazz traditions, Chicago has given the world artists as
stylistically far flung as Herbie Hancock and Von Freeman, Nat "King"
Cole and Ramsey Lewis.
Today, new waves of jazz artists continue to ascend, and a list of
them could be several times longer than the one that follows.
Each of the five musicians we've selected, though, has logged several
years in the business, yet seems on the verge of wider recognition.
Long may they swing.
NAME: Aaron Getsug
Years experience: 14
Aaron Getsug started early: At age 13, he was playing in the AACM Big
Band, a rip-roaring ensemble staffed by members of the Chicago-based
Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians.
By 15, Getsug was jamming at the old Velvet Lounge on South Indiana
Avenue, under the tutelage of major Chicago players such as alto
saxophonist Ernest Dawkins, percussionists Kahil El'Zabar and Hamid
Drake and bassists Malachi Favors, Fred Hopkins and Harrison Bankhead.
But even if Getsug's prodigiousness did not distinguish him, his
instrument would have, for he's one of the few young musicians in town
to play the baritone saxophone (quite well). The glorious sound of
this instrument -- a low, rumbling, oft-explosive sonority -- helped
put Getsug in demand in several jazz contexts.
Not that Getsug foresaw the possibilities of life as a bari sax
player. He had been focusing on the alto, but early in his career he
brought his baritone to a recital at the now-defunct AACM school.
His mentors flipped.
"Right away, Ernest [Dawkins] said: `That's your instrument, you're a
natural at it, nobody plays it,'" remembers Getsug.
The great Chicago reedist Mwata Bowden "went nuts" over the prospect
of a young baritone saxophonist, says Getsug, "so I got a lot of
Yet if Getsug weren't as dynamic a player as he is, none of the senior
musicians would have begun conscripting him into their ensembles.
Offering tremendous salvos of energy and ornately complex lines,
Getsug represents a unique voice in Chicago jazz.
Lately, he has branched out into rock and hip-hop, which likely will
heighten his profile in his hometown.
"I'm very proud that I didn't run away to New York," says Getsug, who
studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston but was eager to
return home. "I'm glad I didn't go to California and become a session
He adds: "I knew it would be harder to make a living here at first,
but in the long run it would pay off. ... Chicago musicians have a
very unique sound."
See Getsug live: With the Great Black Music Ensemble from 6 to 8 p.m.
the first two Sundays of the month -- including this Sunday and Nov.
12-- at the Velvet Lounge, 67 E. Cermak Rd.; $5; 312-791-9050.
Name: COREY WILKES
Years experience: 8
One of the great, breakout success stories in Chicago jazz of the past
few years has been the emergence of Corey Wilkes, a viscerally
exciting young trumpeter who first appeared alongside another
exceptional Chicago trumpeter, Maurice Brown (who now lives in New
Like Brown, who happens to be his close friend, Wilkes commands a
formidable technique, a charismatic stage manner and an ability to
play a sweeping range of jazz styles. Certainly anyone who can
entertain dinnertime audiences during the Museum of Contemporary Art's
summertime jazz series while also holding a chair in the innovative
Art Ensemble of Chicago is a musician for all occasions.
For Wilkes, the musical journey began at Rich South High School in
Richton Park, then continued at the prestigious Berklee College of
Music in Boston.
When Wilkes returned to Chicago in 2000, however, he hit a few
(inevitable) bumps in the road, starting with the band he formed with
Brown, coyly christened Double Trouble.
"We thought we were going to make it big -- how naive were we?" laughs
The promises that music executives made to Wilkes and Brown never came
to fruition, he says, so the musicians headed to Baton Rouge in 2001,
ushering in "another time of stress and turmoil," recalls Wilkes.
But once he left Chicago, demand for his services here spiked, with
several local presenters paying top dollar to fly him back home for
So Wilkes moved back to Chicago early in 2002 and has been ubiquitous
on the jazz scene ever since, unleashing great volleys of sound in
major concert venues and intimate clubs, while performing regularly
across the country and around the world.
"I've traveled back and forth to New York enough to have that thirst"
for Manhattan recognition, says Wilkes, who nevertheless savors "the
camaraderie" of the Chicago scene.
In New York, says Wilkes, "It's every man for himself."
See Wilkes live: With trumpeter Orbert Davis at 7:30 p.m. Friday in "A
Tribute to Miles Davis," presented by the Jazz Institute of Chicago,
at Austin Town Hall Park, 5610 W. Lake Ave.; free; phone 312-427-1676.
He also leads a quintet 9 p.m. Dec. 8 and 8 p.m. Dec. 9 at the Green
Mill Jazz Club, 4802 N. Broadway; $10-$15; 773-878-5552.
Name: JABARI LIU
Years experience: 4
For someone who's just a sophomore at Columbia College Chicago, alto
saxophonist Jabari Liu certainly gets around. To date, he has led his
own band at The 50 Yard Line on East 75th Street; played robust solos
on the Pritzker Pavilion stage in Millennium Park; and launched an
ongoing engagement fronting a trio called Black Elementz at the
Exchange Cafe on South Exchange Avenue.
The results of all this activity have been apparent, with Liu sounding
more self-assured and compelling with each passing season. Though,
like most teenagers, he still has a ways to go in mastering jazz
traditions and finding a sound of his own, he's off to a brisk start.
His set last June at The 50 Yard Line, for instance, showed the vigor
and impetuousness of youth. The music-making may have been a bit
frantic, but there was no question that Liu was taking artistic
chances, pushing tempos, exploring unusual harmonic choices.
"I want to create music that will uplift you," says Liu, in
explaining his attitude on the bandstand. "When I'm playing bebop or
swing, I'm still thinking about the spiritual aspect, and trying to
For someone who's still in college, though, there's the never-ending
challenge of juggling numerous responsibilities.
Between "practicing and doing the homework, it's like I'm constantly
busy," he says, running between gigs. "I don't even have time to say
`hi' to my siblings."
That's OK, Jabari -- keep practicing.
See Liu live: 8 to 10 p.m. Thursdays at the Exchange Cafe, 7201 S.
Exchange Ave.; $5; 773-336-8592.
Name: JUSTIN DILLARD
Years experience: 5
Like many young jazz musicians, pianist Justin Dillard sometimes
sounds as if he's trying to pack just about everything he knows into
The result is an exuberant, almost-anything-goes brand of pianism.
Drawing upon the influences of two-fisted virtuosos such as McCoy
Tyner, Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Oscar Peterson -- whom Dillard considers
personal heroes -- the young man clearly has decided to reach for the
But he's also keenly aware of what he has learned from his elders in
Chicago, starting with alto saxophonist Ernest Dawkins.
"Dawkins has taught me so much about being a man, in terms of the
business side of music, along with the musicality of it," says
Dillard, currently a music major at Vandercook College of Music on
South Federal Street.
"Fred Anderson has taught me the art of the groove, being humble,
making sure you keep the right kind of people around you.
"And from Kahil El'Zabar, I've learned you have to sometimes find a
point of separation -- you can't conform, sometimes you have to be
The combination of Dillard's iconoclastic perspective and technical
fluidity have earned him some prestigious gigs, including a stint on
the road with blues-soul singer Willie Clayton and recording and
touring dates with El'Zabar, both bringing him international exposure.
Yet, lately, he finds himself mentoring still-younger players --
teenagers who look upon him as a kind of role model.
"We're just continuing the tradition of bringing on the younger cats,"
says Dillard. "It's continuing after us."
See Dillard live: 7:30 p.m. to midnight Tuesdays at the Negro League
Cafe, 301 E. 43rd St.; $5; 773-536-7000.
Name: JUNIUS PAUL
Years experience: 4
If it weren't for Jimi Hendrix, bassist Junius Paul might still be
He had started on the instrument but at age 14 he heard a recording of
Hendrix and never quite recovered, turning instantly to guitar. A year
later, Paul picked up the electric bass to play in church and was
intrigued by its critical role in any ensemble.
And though Paul remains one of the busiest young jazz bassists in
Chicago, on most Sunday mornings you'll find him playing in church.
"It's important to me because going to church keeps me grounded," says
Paul. "Playing gospel music just gives me a different outlet to really
play my electric bass.
"But my jazz has a big influence on everything I do, too."
The sacred and the secular, in other words, converge in Paul's art,
which typically sounds aggressive, rhythmically propulsive and deeply
These days, Paul says he's focused on "getting my chops up, so I can
be prepared for anything that comes my way." He counts Charles Mingus,
Ron Carter, Paul Chambers, Richard Armandi and Christian McBride among
his leading influences, and he realizes that he still has a lot to
"I want to open up my business chops," says Paul. "I'll be 25 next
year, so I'm trying to get the ball rolling on all that stuff . . . .
"But I feel great about what's happening so far.
"I see myself doing much bigger things.
"I mean, I'm playing a lot and working a lot, but this is truly only
See Paul live: With Fred Anderson, 8 p.m. Monday at the Jazz Showcase,
59 W. Grand Ave.; $15; 312-670-2473. With Corey Wilkes, 9 p.m. Dec. 8
and 8 p.m. Dec. 9 at the Green Mill Jazz Club, 4802 N. Broadway;