Story and Photos by James Walker
The Hyde Park Jazz Society's Checker Jazz Set on December 14, 2008 was another occasion to celebrate the lives and works of some legendary Southside musicians.Bill McFarland and the Chicago Horns provided the music for this special affair and kept the large crowd smiling all night long. Those honored included keyboardist Karl Johnson, silky smooth vocalist Lenny Lynn, the families of the late vibraphonist Jimmy Burton and the incomparable Oscar Brown, Jr. Mr. Lynn almost stole the show during the 2nd set with a couple of sitrring numbers.
The first set consisted primarily of a few classic standards and selections from the "Horns" "Fire Horns Alive & Live" cd. Ensemble members on this evening included Hank Ford on tenor sax, Kenny Anderson on trumpet, Kirk Brown on keyboard, Jack Zara on bass , Kevin Smith on drums and of course, McFarland on trombone. Most of these guys have been playing together for years and their effort on the stage is seamless. They know each other so well and never miss step. Throughout the first set, each member had ample opportunities to demonstrate their skill.
Perhaps the first set highlight included McFarland's "Harold The Great". This selection was written in honor of the late mayor of Chicago , Harold Washington. During the playing of this number, the large crowd was so attentive, one could almost "hear a pin drop". It was amazing and so well done. A royal tribute to a Chicago hero.
As previously mentioned, vocalist Lenny Lynn was coaxed into singing a couple numbers with the band during the second set, and he had this packed house begging for more. He did a medley of "Misty" and "Moanin" and this "Old School" crowd was delighted. Lynn is a southside "legend" and after seeing him for the first time, this writer can see why he's so well respected by true jazz aficionados.
Another special moment during this set occured when Ben Sexton, the "Mechanical Man" did his routine as the band played "Killer Joe". Sexton, a local actor has been seen throughout Chicago during summer festivals entertaining crowds with this spellbounding act(see photos below).
The third set included an exccellent rendition of Wayne Shorter's "Footprints", McFarland's "Mar-Di-Gras", and a splendid upbeat version of "Summertime" . These guys seem to be able to arrange any number and make it special as was done with Summertime, with all horns blasting away. Although all band mates had exceptional moments throughout the night, this writer would be remiss if special mention wasn't given to bassist Jack Zara, as he was "on fire" all night long.He's one of the hardest working bassist this writer has ever seen and kept a steady beat from start to finish.
Closing out the night , guest keyboardist Vince Willis joined the group for a spectaculiar version of Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage". Willis , no stranger to the "Horns", as he recorded a couple tracks on their "Fire Horns" CD, tickled the 88s with the greatest of ease, running up and down on the keyboard. It was a sight to see ,as those remaining for the third set was rewarded with this bonus selection. For detailed information about future sets, refer to their website at : www.checkerjazz.org.