Rain Shortens Jazz Unites Festival
reviewed by Rahsaan Clark Morris
This is a truncated story because Jazz Unites’ Festival, held August 5-6, 2000 at the South Shore Cultural Center was a truncated fest. The promise of two sunny days of beautiful jazz free to all turned out to be one-and-a-third muggy and ultimately washed out days of beautiful free music. I’ll say this: true jazz fans hung tough and were rewarded.
A ray of light broke through the gloom early Saturday afternoon in the form of the South Shore Youth Jazz Ensemble enthusiastically led by the estimable Ron Carter, director of the Northern Illinois University Jazz Band. The man is into the music—mostly Ellington and other earlier big band leaders—and he conveys that love and enthusiasm to his young charges. Almost as soon as the big swinging sounds came to an end, the rain started coming down and I escaped to a friend’s house while it passed.
As I reentered the Park, Jazz Unites’ president Geraldine De Haas was thanking people for staying and introducing emcee Larry Smith of WBEZ to bring up the next group, Willie Pickens, Larry Gray, Kenny Burrell and Ernie Andrews. The instrumentalists swung into an unnamed bop tune as if the sun had kept shining, and then Ernie joined in, finger popping and vocalizing on “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.” Willie and Kenny slowed the proceedings to a sultry “Sophisticated Lady,” which Andrews finished a cappella. They capped off the set with “Take the A-Train.” We got to Harlem in a hurry.
And then it was Spanish Harlem, as the great Cuban trumpeter Arturo Sandoval hit the stage. His blistering runs on trompeta, his hot figures on timbales with the conga player Samuel Torres, and his electric keyboard accompanying the pianist Robert Rodriguez were a perfect music for the sultry humid evening that came on.
Sunday opened hot, less humid, and cloudless. A complete day of music? The music ran until about 5:30, including nice sets with the Peter Lerner Quartet and singer Sherry Scott. But everyone kept their eyes on the sky as it got darker and more ominous. As folks started to scatter, Neil Tesser’s Critic’s Choice, Rene Marie, began her swinging set against the increasing distraction of high winds as she tried to keep the crowd up. Just as she finished, a gust of wind hit the front of the stage, the light bar hung on the front part of the roof blew out and the whole roof over the stage seemed to sway upstage, looking for all the world as if it would break free.
Visions of the accident that paralyzed Curtis Mayfield flashed through my mind—I tried to warn deckhands to lower the roof to cut down its “sail” effect but it was too late. The wind and the rain hit simultaneously, marking the end of the Fest. No Jon Faddis with Jodie Christian, no Jimmy Smith playing with hometown guitarist Phil Upchurch. The Jazz Unites people had presented some beautiful music under some very difficult conditions, and thankfully no one was hurt. Like some things in this town, we’ll just have to wait ‘til next year.
Copyright ©2002 Jazz Institute of Chicago. All rights reserved.