Story by Brad Walseth and Photos by John Broughton and James Walker, Jr,, Copyright 2010
Last Tuesday night, the Mayne Stage in Rogers Park saw four of the city's finest saxophonist ascend the stage to pay tribute to the late great Chicago tenor star - Gene Ammons. These four "boss tenors" included Eric Schneider, Hank Ford, Greg Fishman and the dean of Chicago saxophonists - Ari Brown. These four outstanding players were backed by a first class rhythm section of keyboardist Dan Trudell, bassist Dennis Carroll and drummer George Fludas and the band as a whole kicked off with a hard-charging version of "Blues Up and Down." Seeing and hearing firsthand these four tenor masters as they played in unison and exchanged cutting solos was an exhilarating experience for the small but attentive crowd who braved the severe winds to catch what seemed to be a once-in-a-lifetime event.
Upon concluding this opening number, each performer took a solo turn - which highlighted the differences in their playing styles. The popular Schneider started off with the ballad "My Romance" - which showed his strong traditional approach. Eric is always a treat to hear live and his command of the instrument gives him the ability to both sing and growl. The talented Trudell added some beautiful work on the grand piano on this number as well. The veteran Brown - perhaps the pre-eminent saxophonist/jazz musician in the city followed with a lovely take on the appropriately chosen "Autumn Leaves." Brown's knowledge of music is stunning and his mind is always working to choose interesting paths in which to take a tune. He also is a master of harmony - adding unique complementary tones that enhance the other players.
Greg Fishman was up next with "Speak Low" and the youngster of the group displayed a lighter touch, while also showcasing an astonishing technical prowess. Drummer Fludas was also given a nice spotlight on this piece. Meanwhile, Hank Ford spoke of the power of single well-chosen note and then demonstrated it with a gripping version of "In a Sentimental Mood" that simply screamed "Old School."
The rhythm section were given the spotlight for a rousing and obscure Hank Mobley tune, before Trudell switched over to the B-3 organ for a burning take on "Red Top" - which brought the four saxmen back onstage to spar good-naturedly with their solos. The players watched with bemusement as their counterparts tore off unexpected lines - smiling at the talent and creativity of their peers.
The second half included Eric and Greg on "You Talk that Talk," more funky B-3 on a Hank Ford selection - "Jumbo Strut" and a fine rendition from Fishman of "Angel Eyes." Everyone got into the act on "Exactly Like You" - which featured Trudell playing both organ and piano at the same time. Brown's wonderful "Richard's Tune" was featured on his acclaimed Live at the Green Mill album and he next took the stage to perform this classic. Here, he revealed that this song had actually been written for Gene Ammons - who recorded it under another title and only gave Brown his due under the threat of legal action. "He must have forgot my address," the veteran saxman stated dryly.
The evening concluded with "Canadian Sunset" (Schneider's "Fascinating Rhythm" quote was a highlight) - and it was revealed that the Hyde Park Jazz Society has asked these players to repeat this performance at Room 43 sometime in the near future. One hopes that the jazz fans who missed the Mayne Stage appearance will take the opportunity to hear these great players in action playing the songs written by and/or associated with the legendary Ammons.