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Story by James WalkerDAY ONE
They did it again!!!! Jazz Unites' 28th Annual Festival at the South Shore Cultural Center was a grand success. And why not? With the beautiful background of Lake Michigan, and an array of exceptional local and national artists, it would have been difficult not for this to have been one of the highlights of the Chicago summer Jazz festivals.
The only damper on the two day event occurred day one when the weather threatened to challenge the crowd and musicians. It was overcast most of the day but never rained. Sunday's weather was perfect as thousands of jazz fans, picnickers, and swimmers took advantage of perhaps the finest weekend day of the summer, partaking in eight hours of sunshine, fellowship, and great music.
As is traditional with this two day event, Saturday's music began with jazz combos from Thornridge and Rich Central High Schools.It's always refreshing and encouraging to see these young musicians gravitating to jazz as their musical career path to follow. Both groups accorded themselves appropriately.
Blues guitarist Fernando Jones and his trio followed. Fernando's quite an entertainer and knows how to warm up a crowd, as he coaxed several audience members(and festival MC Linda Hall of WHPK radio station) to assist him as his "backup" group named "Las Vegas/Mississippi Six" on his first number "Chicago's Got Everything You Need". The audience loved Mr. Jones and his "singers."
Percussionist Greg Penn and Crosswind followed with some nice Latin Jazz sounds and standards featuring vocalist Felena Bunn. This set's highlight occurred on their final selection "Harold The Great", a composition written by trombonist Bill McFarland for the late Mayor of Chicago, Harold Washington.
An early show stopper of the two day event occurred during the appearance of vocalist Terisa Griffin. Ms. Griffin's delivery of any song is done with style and ease. She appears to belt out any tune effortless; perhaps that's because of her vocal range and control. She does it all from R&B, Blues, to Jazz. On this occasion, she peppered the crowd with several selections from her recent CD, "My Naked Soul". Perhaps the highlight was on Aretha Franklin's "Dr.Feelgood", and Prince's "Purple Rain". She left the stage to a well deserved standing ovation.
Not too many performers would have been able to follow that act and garner the attention of the crowd but premier Chicago trumpeter Orbert Davis and his splendid band mates of saxophonist Ari Brown, bassist Stewart Miller, keyboardist Ryan Cohan, and Chicago's hardest working drummer, Ernie Adams were up to the task. Orbert chose most of his program from Miles Davis' songbook and they were a tightly knit group, not missing a beat.
James Moody........What an appropriate way to climax the first day's program with one of the world's all time favorite reedman, Mr. James Moody. Moody is not just a great musician, he's an entertainer and displayed his vocal skills on his two classics, "Pennys From Heaven" and "Moody's Mood for Love". He even ended "Mood" with his version of Rap. The crowd was ecstatic.
Throughout his hour plus set, Moody and his colleagues(Dennis Mackrel,drums,; Bill Cunliffe, piano; and Larry Gray, bass) highlighted their performance with selections like Gene Ammons' "Red Top", and Sonny Stitt's "Eternal Triangle."
What a day of outstanding music that was brought to a climatic conclusion with Mr. James Moody.
Unlike day one, the 2nd day of this festival began without the slightest hint of rain, and under bright sunshine which brought out the crowd early. By the end of the day, very little space could be found until one reached the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan.
Bluesman Fernando Jones again opened the 2nd day with some crowd participation. He solicited the assistance of "dancers" while he worked the festival grounds.
Victor Parma's Mambo Express Afro-Cuban Band followed with some lively Mambo sounds which allowed some audience members to spontaneously rise to their feet and move to the beat of the music. This set included a selection written by Dizzy Gillespie and Tito Puente.
Guitarist/vocalist Micheal Ross really got the crowd into the mood with some very lively numbers including Eddie Harris's "Compared to What", "Morning Sunrise", Sincerely Yours" and the highlight of the set, his rendition of Curtis Mayfield's "Gypsy Woman". It was on this selection that Chicago's premier dance couple, Dawud Shareef and Lura Satterfield entertained the crowd with their spectacular moves and "stepping".
In addition to Ross's fine playing and vocalizing, special mention must be given to percussionist Tony Carpenter for his command and display on the congos and assortment of percussion instruments.
Deep Blue Organ Trio emerged onto the stage in an "attack" mode and never let up. This is one of Chicago's longest standing groups and is comprised of organist Chris Foreman, drummer Greg Rockingham, and world class guitarist, Bobby Broom. These cats have been jamming together for over 10 years and seem to get better with age. They were by far the highlight of the 2nd day. Each member had ample opportunities to showcase their skills with Foreman's Bluesy B3 organ sound captivating the hearts of the audience. They performed like a "well oiled machine" without stepping on one another's notes.
"Old School" R&B/Funk band Norman Connors and his Starship Orchestra closed this successful 2 day event. Back in the '70s, drummer Connors fronted a band that often showcased the talents of vocalists Jean Carne, and Phyllis Hyman. On this evening, he was accompanied by Trumpeter Tom Browne, who had an extremely successful hit entitled "Funkin for Jamaica" back in the '70s. Unfortunately, his solos were limited but Chicago's favorite vocalist, Tecora Rogers stood in for Carne and Hyman and was superb as usual. Tecora sings jazz, gospel, and didn't miss a beat on this night leading a couple of R&B numbers.
Kudos of course to Geraldine de Haas and Jazz Uniets for 28 years of Jazz on the shores of Lake Michigan. Special mention must be given to MC Linda Hall of WHPK for the youman's job of keeping the program moving in a timely fashion both days. Also behind the scene was Brenda Phillips also of WHPK and last but not least, festival general manager, jazz aficionado Clarence Williamson who directed the entire festival. Job well done Jazz Unites and we already look forward toward next years festival.
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