*The Loews Chicago O'Hare Hotel, home to the Montrose Room, is offering discounted room rates for those attending this show. Book a room, stay 'til the very last note of the final encore and don't worry about having to make the drive home! For information, click here.
The Smooth Video of the Day: Memories of a previous Hyde Park Jazz Festival.
Chicago loves its jazz. We celebrate it over the Labor Day weekend every year with a public festival on the lakefront. And we have Duke Ellington to thank for it.
The Duke’s death in the summer of 1974 sparked several Chicago musicians to stage a festival to honor his legacy. They held it at the southern end of Grant Park near the museums in the old band shell. The crowd was ten thousand strong. It became an annual event, but by 1978 there were three different August jazz events being planned. When confronted with the dilemma of issuing overlapping permits, a solution was proposed by the city to combine them all into a full week festival. Starting with two days called Jazz Panorama, a tribute day for Ellington, one for John Coltrane and Wes Montgomery, the 29th celebrating Charlie Parker’s Birthday, followed by a day for Blues and Swing and ending with a day without a title that featured Benny Goodman and Mel Torme, the Chicago Jazz Festival was born.
The Petrillo Music Shell was new and over 125,000 people attended the first Jazz Fest. Putting it on Labor Day weekend and broadcasting portions of it on WBEZ and WDCB have helped it become a worldwide draw for fans of jazz.
Grab your sunscreen and head to the Jay Pritzker Pavilion for this year’s edition of the Jazz Fest, now held in Millennium Park. It’s some of the best free music around. Hope to see you there!
They call this part of the year the "dog days." When I was a kid, I thought it was because of the heat, when the only things dogs would do was find a shady spot, stick out their tongues and pant. But that’s not the case. It’s because of the influence of Sirius, the brightest object in the constellation Canis Major (Latin for the big dog). Rising and setting with the sun and visible to the naked eye, Sirius was believed by ancients to have added its heat to that of the sun to make the days sultry.
Here are some stars who have added their heat to the constellation of Jazz with birthdays in August.
I want to start on Saturday, the Ides of August (the 15th), but if I do I miss Karen Briggs on the 12th. She is the wonderful violinist who played with Yanni in the 1980s. So we will cut cake in honor of her, Bobby Caldwell’s great vocals, Everette Harp’s sexy saxophone, David Benoit’s twinkling keyboards and Nick Colionne’s grand guitar.
Or we could ask birthday boys Branford Marsalis and Gerald Albright to play a new arrangement of "Happy Birthday" that we will ask Wayne Shorter to write for the flumpet, a trumpet–flugelhorn combination that was specially designed for the late Art Farmer, between bites of cake and spoons of ice cream.
Then, we need to get some pretty flowers for the late Oscar Peterson, Isaac Hayes, Count Bassie, Art Farmer, Diana Washington, Charlie Parker and Michael Jackson, the August born musicians who have left behind their music for us to enjoy.
Then, just like that, the month is over. The dog-star has trotted off to play in the sky for another twelve months and we have to look ahead to September.
~Lydia Barnes (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Smooth Video of the Day: August 18 birthday boy David Benoit teams up with veteran vocalist Jane Monheit on a new track.
We think about them frequently, even write songs about them. Just ask Andreas Vollenweider while he’s "Dancing with the Lion" or Gregory Porter when he sings "Be Good," which is subtitled "Lion’s Song." You can stretch the point with Warren Berhardt’s "Felinicity," because a lion is a really big cat. I can even argue that an entire form of music is named for one. Reggae music come from the Rastafarian religion of Jamaica, which worships his highness Haile Selassie, the last emperor of Ethiopia, who was known as the Lion of Judah. Bob Marley, one of the most famous proponents of both Rastafari and Reggae wrote him a song called "Iron Lion Zion."
And why is this important to jazz fans? Because August 10th is World Lion Day. It’s getting a lot of publicity this year because of the Cecil the Lion tragedy, and that is a good and bad thing. Bad because Cecil is dead and the remaining lions in the wild are endangered, good because it is raising our consciousness. The range of the Lion was once this entire planet. He was absolutely the King of the Beasts. Today, they are confined to a small patch of Asia and several places in Africa. Sad legacy for such a magnificent creature.
And what is contributing to the endangerment of the Lion, the Tigers and the Bears? Sad to say, it’s the growing population of man. We tipped the scale in our favor decades ago without providing large enough places for the wild things to live. Now we are lamenting their demise. There are over thirty organizations fighting to turn the tide for all the big cats, especially the Lion.
Hopefully, we will be able to continue to sing to them (from a safe distance) and not to their memory.
I missed the birthdays of some very influential people (jazz and otherwise) who were born in the early days of the month of August.
On the 1st of August, we needed to acknowledge Francis Scott Key. Not jazz, I know, but you have to admit that "The Star Spangled Banner" is one of the best songs to hear. It reminds us that we are living in the land of freedom, the place where jazz was born, raised and perfected. Without his song, we wouldn’t be talking about our songs.
Then, on the 3rd, Tony Bennett celebrated his 89th birthday, crooning his way into our hearts. Keep singing Tony, we love you.
These days the 4th of August is newsworthy because it is the birthday of our Commander in Chief – President Barack Obama. But if he were alive today, I am sure that it wouldn’t edge out the fact that this day is shared by the great Louis Armstrong (1910 – 1971). If he were still around, I'm pretty sure Louis and his golden horn would be blowing out a chorus of Happy Birthday to the President while POTUS did the same thing to the candles on a big White House cake.
Luckily, there isn’t another birthday to mention until the 9th, when Whitney Houston (1963 – 2012) shares the date with Jack DeJohnette, a Chicago jazz man who switched from piano to drums and played with Miles Davis, Sonny Rollings and Pat Metheny. Or the 10th of the month Patti Austin shares the date with Leo Fender, the inventor of the solid body Fender guitar, but I have done a blog piece on her, so that gives me some wiggle room. Looking at my Jazz Birthday Calendar, it means I have between six and sixteen days to catch up with the other August artists that I want you to know about.
So, here are my best wishes to them all and my sincere apology for being late. Like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, I’m off to do my research because I’m late!
No, she wasn’t a smooth jazz artist, but her father was a member of a boy band that was dominant in the '80s and '90s, and her mother was powerful songstress who crossed genres (including Smooth Jazz) with stunning ease. When Whitney Houston sang, we all held our breath and got goose bumps from the high notes.
We’ve watched Bobbi Kristina her entire all-too-short life. I remember Whitney bringing her onstage as a toddler, getting her a chair and singing the rest of the performance to little Bobbi Kristina. Then there was the inside look at the entire family, the reality show called Being Bobbie Brown. To me it ended up being more about Bobbi Kristina and Whitney than about Mr. Brown.
Her mother died a tragic death, very similar to the one she experienced. Almost three years to the date of Whitney’s accidental drowning in her bathtub in the Beverly Hills Hilton on Grammy weekend, Bobbi Kristina’s sad accident is even more tragic.
She never got to show us what she could do with her voice or her life, but I believe that now she is in the arms of her mother. Peace be with them both.
On stage he’s the tall, thin one on the electric bass, his long hair and magic fingers flying in passionate fury. Verdine’s musical career started back in high school. His father, Dr. Verdine White Sr., was encouraging him to follow in his footsteps and take up medicine, but it was not to be. Verdine tells his musical origin story on his website as follows:
"The instrument (string bass) was standing alone in the corner of the orchestra class....tall, mysterious and majestic, so different from all the others, it called me and the love affair began."
It didn’t stop there. He was so good that he played with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for several years while hitting jazz clubs all over the area, perfecting his style on Fender electric guitars. When his brother Maurice, the drummer for Ramsey Lewis’s Trio, decided to start a band in 1969, Verdine joined him. Earth, Wind and Fire was born.
Now, after thirty five years, six Grammy Awards and seventeen nominations, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, he’s still going strong, playing solo and with many others. And through it all, he’s been married to a former Ikette, Shelly (Michelle) Clark.
Still on the road with his band and the band Chicago, Verdine will be in the neighborhood in late August, playing in Aurora at their Riveredge Park. Welcome home and happy birthday, Verdine.
Once upon a time in Chicago, there was a woman who loved music. At an early age she was given various musical instruments by her father in an attempt to see which one would sing out the songs that he knew were in her heart.
Like Stevie Wonder, she was given a harmonica, but it hurt her lips and the only notes she could coax out of it sounded like the squeaks of dying rodents. Neighborhood cats would gather to peek into the basement windows when she practiced.
She was given a wooden chantor from a bagpipe, but it tasted funny and her fingers were too small to cover the holes. Her grandmother replaced it one night with a large peppermint stick and said the fairies needed it.
There were the two green leather octagons with a cloth covered Slinky holding them together. It was called a concertina. It made better sounds when it was rolled down the stairs than when she attempted to play it.
When she held her dad’s Gibson acoustic guitar on her lap, she was so small that she couldn’t see over it to strum the strings, so he bought her a ukulele. After lots of plucking and plinking, she bashed it over the neighbor boy’s head because he said her version of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" sounded stupid.
Weekly piano lessons lasted for years and years. She knew that she was no Liberace because her family didn’t own a candelabra or fancy sequined clothes. Hearing Ramsey Lewis play "The In Crowd," she ran out and bought the sheet music. She quit lessons shortly thereafter because her version was more out-takes than "In Crowd."
Trying to build on that success she had found with four strings, she moved to the violin and played in the High School orchestra. But like many high school musicians, she was told that maybe she should find another hobby. The college she went to did not have a music program. Her instrument was put aside.
She tried to make music her day job. She worked for Lyon and Healy Music Company, renting pianos and later Carl Fischer selling sheet music, but to no avail. She went into the corporate world and spent many years drowning out the office Muzak by listening to smooth jazz on large Sony headphones, long before Dr. Dre made them stylish.
She even worked for a public radio station, thinking it would be nirvana, but they were in the process of changing their format to all talk. The next blow to her love of music was when her favorite smooth jazz station got changed to mariachi music. Then, just as her music life seemed bleakest, a perfect niche was found. Instead of notes, she uses words.
On July 24, 2014, Rick O’Dell gave me the opportunity to blog for Smooth Jazz Chicago!
Thanks Rick, for giving me a place to use my real music voice.
To all my readers, Happy Anniversary! Never hesitate to contact me about stories – pro or con - I promise that I don’t bash folks with Ukuleles anymore!
If I said that he cast his fate to the wind and Charlie Brown answered, who would you guess?
If you needed another clue I would say that, with his handlebar mustache and horn rimmed glasses, if he bent over his keyboard, he could have be a grown up version of Linus Van Pelt.
However, Linus was born from the pen of Charles Schultz in 1952 and described by Charles Schulz as his spiritual side. Our mystery guest wasn’t involved with the project until 1964.
Would you have the answer yet?
If you still didn’t get the references, I might tell you that he died of a sudden heart attack in 1976, a few weeks before his music aired on a beloved television special and they played Peanuts music at his funeral, much of which he wrote.
Do you have it now?
So who is this performer? The one and only, Vince Guaraldi.
Born in 1928, he lived in San Francisco most of his life. On his 1962 single inspired by the movie Black Orpheus, the A side “Samba de Orpheus" flopped but the DJs loved the B side, "Cast Your Fate to the Wind." It received considerable air time on the jazz and pop stations of the day. Hearing it while in a taxi cab going over the Golden Gate Bridge, Lee Mendelson, the producer for the first Charlie Brown animated special, decided that Vince was the man to compose the music. As they say, the rest is history.
From the bio on his website, he and his music are described as follows:
“Guaraldi's smooth trio compositions -- piano, bass and drums -- perfectly balanced Charlie Brown's kid-sized universe. Sprightly, puckish, and just as swiftly somber and poignant, these gentle jazz riffs established musical trademarks which, to this day, still prompt smiles of recognition.
They reflected the whimsical personality of a man affectionately known as a 'pixie,' an image Guaraldi did not discourage. He'd wear funny hats, wild mustaches, and display hairstyles from buzzed crewcuts to rock-star shags. . .
. . .On February 6, 1976, while waiting in a motel room between sets at Menlo Park's Butterfield's nightclub, Guaraldi died of a sudden heart-attack. He was only 47 years old.
A few weeks later, on March 16, ‘It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown’ debuted on television. It was the 15th--and last--Peanuts television special to boast Guaraldi's original music.”
It started back in 1969 when he played Woodstock. For many folks Carlos and his band were the gateway into the world of jazz. As for me, I was raised on a steady diet of jazz from a very early age, so Santana’s fusion of Latin, jazz and rock music made for a delicious treat. I was elated that I could enjoy his unique guitar playing and be hip at the same time.
His first album cover added to the sense of mystery by being a white line drawing of a snarling male lion with people hidden in his face and mane. "Santana" is written in distinctive psychedelic lettering. The cut "Evil Ways" got lots of air play on pop, jazz and rock stations of the day.
Again mixing art and music in a thought provoking package, the next album cover was quite a favorite. Everyone I knew had the album Abraxas. It was the one with the cuts "Black Magic Woman" and "Oye Como Va." For many, even more tantalizing than the music was the buxom chocolate colored reclining nude with a stark white pigeon smack dab in the middle of the cover. They speculated that she was the inspiration for the song, "Black Magic Woman."
Others said that Abraxas was the nude red angel riding the floating bongo drum pointing up to a very fancy "S" because when you read the Herman Hesse quote on the back of the album it said “We stood before it . . . questioned the painting, berated it, made love to it, prayed to it: We called it mother, called it whore and slut, called it our beloved, called it Abraxas...”
One of my friends went to the record store and paid the owner for the promotional poster which was a much bigger version of the album cover. He had it framed and displayed it prominently in his living room. It was a win-win situation because in the early '70s, even with the sexual revolution in full swing, the store owner didn’t feel that he could display it.
When Santana released his Greatest Hits in 1974, the album cover featured a headless figure holding a white pigeon. Because this figure is decidedly male, we had many a discussion about whether it was the Abraxas pigeon or not, as Santana’s music played and the wine flowed.
We also spent time discussing Carlos’s love of hats. Like his album named Shape Shifter, Santana has always shifted his head covering. From an African kofia to an American Pork Pie, a Greek Fisherman’s cap to knitted beanies, baseball caps or sharp throwback fedora, Carlos is seldom seen bareheaded.
To this day, I find it difficult to describe what Carlos does with his guitar, but there is no dispute that he has mixed art, music, love and magic together. I wonder if for his birthday this July 20, they found him a new style of hat? Perhaps a trip to Ravinia in August will answer that question for me.
He plays piano, trumpet and electric bass. He has more than 100 published works recorded by his own music company and over 150 compositions/arrangements in his catalog.
He’s used his last name to do some great puns that mix art and music on three of his first solo albums, Pensyl Sketches 1, 2 and 3. And his first name is different too. It’s Kimothy, which he shortens to Kim. That's my guess because Timothy means God’s Honor and Kim means noble and brave. Putting them together must mean he is all those things. But, even more than that, to my ears, I think it means wonderful.
He’s been a side man for the likes of Guy Lombardo, Louie Belson and Al Hurt. He’s toured with Acoustic Alchemy and the Woody Herman Orchestra. He has a Master’s in Music from California State University and a Bachelor of Music from Ohio State University. He was named one of Billboard’s Top 20 Contemporary Jazz Artists of the Year twice and has had four albums on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Chart. He was the featured artist in the WJZA Smooth Jazz Trio around Central Ohio until they changed the format in 2010. Kim is still in Ohio, playing, writing and teaching at the University of Cincinnati.
Somewhere I found that his birthday is in July, but now that I am searching more, I can’t find the reference again. That’s what happens when you’re a wonderful musician who everyone wants to work with--your presence can seem to fade into the background.
Happy Birthday, Kimothy Pensyl! Whenever your exact birthday happens to be, know that we enjoy you, your music and your sense of humor.
(Rick O'Dell's note: Kim Pensyl is one of two male artists in Smooth Jazz who go by the name Kim. The other is saxophonist Kim Waters. Back in the early days, when both artists were unknowns and there were new Smooth Jazz stations popping up around the country, you could tell the disc jockeys who did their homework by how they referred to both. If they referred to the artists as a "she," you knew they hadn't done a sufficient amount of show prep--or taken the time to glance at the album cover.)