Story and Photos by James Walker, Jr.
Contrary to the belief of radio conglomerates like Clear Channel, Smooth Jazz is
alive and well. At least that's the case in Chicago as evidenced by the most
recent visit to our fair city by contemporary jazz artists guitarist Norman
Brown and saxophonist Jackiem Joyner. Both appeared in concert at Du Sable Museum on May 15th before a near capacity crowd attending two performances.
Photos by James Walker (left) and Phil Onofrio (right) - Phil Onofrio Photography, Copyright 2010
Mark Vrabel of SmoothChicago.com sponsored this event and a similar one several
weeks ago that featured Chicago's Nick Colionne and saxophonist Gerald Albright.
Backed primarily by a group of exceptional Chicago musicians including drummer
Clyde Davis, guitarist Lamar Jones, keyboardist Darwin Noguera and Brown's
musical director and keyboardist Gail Johnson, Brown opened the 90 minute set with "Let's Take A Ride" from his West Coast Coolin' CD. After Brown warmed up the audience with this introductory number,
Joyner took over for his 45 minute segment beginning with "Just Groove", from
his first CD, Just Getting Started. Eric followed that up with "Take Me There,"
a recording that reached number one for six weeks on the Billboard Charts. He
engaged in friendly interplay with his guitarist Chip DuBose on this piece.
Jackiem "played" with the audience on "Say Yes," as he hit some stratospheric
high notes that sent the audience into a frenzy. At that point, Brown returned
and paid homage to a few classic guitar players - Jimi Hendrix, George Benson, Wes Montgomery and Ernie Isley, with a medley of songs from these virtuoso
musicians. This was one of the highlights of each set as the audience
demonstrated their appreciation with a rousing ovation. They seemed to
particularly enjoy his imitation of rock star Hendrix.
Joyner returned to complement Brown on "Pop's Cool Groove," which included a nice
"call and response" between the two. Before concluding this high energy concert,
Brown showcased his keyboardist Gail Johnson on her Latin-tinged number entitled
"Let's Do This," taken from her Pearl CD. Brown then engaged the audience in
scatting on his finale, "Out of Nowhere." This was a number he wrote with
"funkster" Brian Culbertson. The crowd loved their opportunity to be part this
Gracious host Nick Colionne joined the fray with his guitar as they jammed on
Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" for an encore. By now all were standing and
singing along with these smooth jazz giants.
If the response of this audience is an indication, Smooth Jazz appears to be
during quite well here in Chicago. For information about future events by
Vrabel's group, refer to their website at SmoothChicago.com.