Jazz to the world (or at least Chcago): a guide to holiday performances by Neil Tesser

December 9th, 2010

As I mentioned last week, this year has brought a small sleighful of Christmas jazz discs (and we’ll get to some of them in the next week or so), and also a pretty full schedule of jazz performances for the holidaze. Here’s a look at some of the gigs that might warm your chestnuts in the immediate future.

Typhanie Monique has a soulful, sultry voice, and it matches up perfectly with Neal Alger’s plush guitar modernism. The two have crafted a lovely, soulful duo over the last seven years, as documented on three albums; the last of them, Yuletide Groove (2008), provides all the repertoire they’ll need for their upcoming Christmas gigs, from traditional carols to songs by Thelonious Monk and John Lennon. Their holiday schedule includes this Friday and Saturday at Pete Miller’s in Evanston; next Monday (Dec. 13) at the Green Mill; and the following weekend (Dec. 17-18) at Andy’s for the early show starting at 5 PM.

Espresso is an all-star collection of cabaret/jazz artists that offers a “Holiday Brew” – in the form of Christmassy and other climate-appropriate tidings – at 2 PM this Saturday at the Cultural Center (77 E. Randolph). That’s about the right time for a break in the holiday-shopping action (and a break for your wallet, too: the show is free to the public.) The reasonably caffeinated and warmly complementary crew comprises singers John Eskola, Claudia Hommel, George Howe, and KT McCammond, along with pianist-vocalists Elizabeth Doyle and Bob Moreen.

If six voices seems a bit too reminiscent of a family gathering, then you might want to wait till later Saturday, when Spider Saloff promises some “cool Yule” at the dinner show (6:30 – 9 PM) at Katerina’s in North Center. Vibrant and tuneful, Saloff is a local legend in the cabaret world, but also a totally respectable jazz singer – a combination only slightly less rare than a Christmas miracle. Saloff has the perfect partner-in-rime for the occasion in pianist Tommy Muellner, whose expansive songbook should encompass expected favorites as well as some surprising holiday oddities.

Sunday (Dec. 12), I’ll be taking part in the second annual Chicago rendition of Unsilent Night. Cooked up more than two decades ago by New York new-music composer Phil Kline, Unsilent Night is a “free outdoor participatory sound sculpture of many individual parts,” supplied by Kline and played back – originally on boomboxes, and now on a variety of sound-producing sources – by a group of volunteers roaming city streets.

It’s a sort of caroling session without singers; a moveable feast of sound; and an antiphonal performance that’s slightly different for each of the “performers” as well as sidewalk listeners, depending on where you’re standing as the parade passes by. Unsilent Night will take place in nearly 30 cities around the country and in Canada, England, Australia, and Hong Kong; in Chicago, we’ll step off from Water Tower Place (Chicago and Michigan) at 5 PM and end up at Daley Plaza in the Loop. You’re all welcome to join in.

Finally, next Wednesday (Dec. 15), the Green hosts John McLean’s annual “Guitar Madness” holiday show. Each year, McLean frets (literally) over the plight of underprivileged kids, leading several of the city’s jolliest guitarists in a show that benefits the U.S. Marine Corps charity Toys For Tots. It’s free admission if you bring a toy, and $6 if you prefer to play the Grinch. (The money goes toward buying the gift you didn’t bring. So there.)

The lineup includes McLean, John Moulder, Dave Onderdonk, Chris Siebold of Kick The Cat, and Ernie Denov (on leave from Gary Sinise’s Lt. Dan Band), with Larry Kohut on bass and Tom Radtke on drums. They’ll play from 9 until 1 AM, and trust me: it’s not your grandmother’s Christmas jam.

-Neil Tesser

Neil Tesser has written on and broadcast jazz in Chicago for over 35 years, for outlets ranging from the Chicago READER to USA Today to National Public Radio to PLAYBOY Magazine, and is the author of The PLAYBOY Guide to Jazz (1998). He has authored liner notes for more than 250 albums and has received both a GRAMMY nomination and the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award, as well as the first Jazz Journalists Association award for Excellence in Broadcasting.

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