Annual ‘Jazz Club Tour’ by Neil Tesser

August 31st, 2010

In ancient times – by which I mean the first four years of its existence (1979-82) – the Chicago Jazz Festival was a week-long affair. In the slightly more recent days of yore (1983-88), it still ran for five days, then shrank to four, and finally settled into the three-day weekend it has occupied since 1992. But this year, for the first time in nearly 20 years, the festival has actually expanded; it kicks off at noon Thursday at Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.

And for all intents and purposes, the week actually extends to five full nights, starting tomorrow, September 1. That’s the date of this year’s annual Jazz Club Tour – originally known as the “Pub Crawl,” until political correctors objected to the lounge-lizard connotation – organized by the Jazz Institute of Chicago.

(Disclaimer: your Chicago Jazz Examiner sits on the Board of the Jazz Institute and chairs the Programming Committee for the entire jazz festival. This means I had a significant hand in choosing the artists, so feel free to read any of my comments through that filter.)

For those new to the Club Tour concept: an up-front fee of $30 provides entry to as many of the thirteen participating venues as you can pack into six hours, stretching from the Green Mill (4800 north) to Red Pepper’s Masquerade Lounge (a blues-and-comedy club at 8700 south). The fee, which you can pay at any of the clubs, includes limitless transportation via four bus routes run by Chicago Trolley Co. The bus rides themselves usually provide enough camaraderie to rival the music for entertainment value.

The Club Tour runs from 6 PM. Regular Wednesday-night headliners hold forth at the Green Mill (gypsy jazzers Alfonso Ponticelli and Swing Gitan) and Andy’s (trombonist Russ Phillips’s trad-styled quartet); at the Jazz Showcase, Eric Schneider fronts the Willie Pickens Trio, previewing the weekend shows at the club (in which Schneider will preside over a jam-session format, welcoming artists from the Jazz Festival for after-set sitting-in).

Since you can hear these guys regularly – either during the year or later this week – there’s no need to use your precious Club Tour time to see them Wednesday. Instead, consider returning to Andy’s after 9:30 for the quartet led by fine tenor man Scott Burns; or drop by the Velvet Lounge for the double bill of trumpeter Corey Wilkes’s Abstrakt Pulse and the too-rarely-seen saxist Edwin Daugherty.

My other top pick would be Reggie’s Music Joint (2109 S. State), where three post-fusion bands – Prosaic, Crawl, and the Tim Seisser Band – will alternate sets throughout the night. I haven’t heard any of these groups; in fact, of the 13 musicians in the three bands, I’m only familiar with a handful of them.

But that’s the whole point of the Club Tour: hitting venues and hearing bands that don’t normally pop up on your radar. And trust me, you won’t find a better chance to indulge your inner lounge lizard all year long.

-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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