Orbert Davis is a sterling trumpet virtuoso, a brilliant orchestrator, and a groundbreaking educator who has advanced the use of music in teaching other subjects. He’s also the Artist-in-Residence for the 33rd annual Chicago Jazz Festival (which begins Thursday afternoon), during which he’ll lead several distinct bands.
And this year, he’s a shuttle bus, too (courtesy of The Chicago Trolley & Double Decker Company).
Chicago Trolley supplies the transportation for the Jazz Institute of Chicago’s annual Jazz Club Tour, taking place tonight (Wednesday) and leading into the Jazz Festival itself. The Club Tour runs from 6 PM till midnight, and nearly half the clubs offer a food menu, making the long march a less hungry one.
The trolleys will traverse four separate routes – north, central, and two southside circuits – comprising 15 separate venues, making this the most extensive Club Tour in its nearly 30-year history. In addition, with nine clubs south of Roosevelt Road, this year’s romp completely reverses the balance of this traditionally Loop-and-northside-centered event.
For those new to the concept: an up-front fee of $30 buys you a Club Tour badge, which provides entry to as many of the participating establishments – stretching from Mayne Stage in Rogers Park to Red Peppers Masquerade Lounge (a blues-and-comedy club at 8700 south) – as you can squeeze into six hours. The badge, which you can purchase at any of the clubs, gets you limitless trolley transit among the clubs; the bus rides themselves usually provide enough camaraderie to rival the music for entertainment value.
And this year, they’ve named one of the trolleys the “Orbert Davis.” It’s not quite the “City of New Orleans,” but then again, it doesn’t have to travel nearly as far.
(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.)
Regular Wednesday-night headliners hold forth at Chicago’s best known jazz clubs. Up at the Green Mill, gypsy jazzers Alfonso Ponticelli and Swing Gitan will alternate sets with tenor saxist Frank Catalano, while at Andy’s, alto saxist Mike Smith (early) and guitarist Neal Alger (after 9) each lead their long-running combos. At the Jazz Showcase, Ira Sullivan finishes up an entire week of performances (and prepares for his Sunday-night Jazz Festival show) by hosting invited guests to jam.
Since you can hear most of these folks during the year, I’d recommend saving them for another time and using your precious Club Tour time to check out bands you might not have previously heard.
My top recommendations include the vocal duets from Saalik Ahmad Ziyad and Sarah Marie Young (the recent winner of the Montreux Jazz Festival’s International Vocal Competition) at Mayne Stage, 1328 W. Morse. Their first such pairing, earlier this year, held the seeds of something quite marvelous. Young and Ziyad have gorgeously compatible voices, evoking past duos from Sarah Vaughan & Billy Eckstine to Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway. And each of them has the wit to spark improvisational fireworks of the sort usually seen only from instrumentalists.
Other good bets: the trad- and gypsy-jazz pairing of vocalist Petra Van Nuis and the band Le Percolateur, appearing at Chant (1509 E. 53rd); bands led by saxist Rajiv Halim and trumpet ace Corey Wilkes – soon to be seen on The Playboy Club TV series – at L26 in the South Loop Hotel (2600 S. State); and performances from the trio led by bassist Junius Paul, alternating with the often striking vocalist Erin McDougald and her band, at ETA Creative Arts (7558 S. South Chicago Ave.)
In addition, you can attend one gig which will be preserved for posterity: smooth-jazz saxist Ray Silkman will be recording for a “live” album during his sets at the Marmon Grand Ballroom, 2230 S. Michigan.
Perhaps the best aspect of the Club Tour, from my perspective, is this: at least half of the bands on the slate are new names to me. And that’s the whole point of the Club Tour; it encourages you to find new venues and hear new bands that don’t normally pop up on your radar — without even having to stay awake enough to drive. You won’t find a better chance to indulge your inner lounge lizard all year long.