The Hyde Park Jazz Festival celebrates its 10th Anniversary with three dozen performances and programs on 11 stages across the neighborhood this weekend. Many of the performances, to their credit, lack easy categorization, and truly exemplify the spirit of Jazz from the South Side of Chicago (multi-layered, collaborative, and connected to the community). A few highlights:
The South Side of Chicago has a rich history of Jazz music, and the Hyde Park Jazz Festival’s schedule represents keepers of that flame, like Maggie Brown (pictured, who is a daughter of the iconic Oscar Brown, Jr. and an electrifying vocalist in her own right); as well as younger creators such as the Thaddeus Tukes / Isaiah Collier Duo.
Stretching out the boundaries of traditional Jazz programming are a restaging of Supreme Love (a live music and tap dance performance set to John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme). In collaboration with dancers from M.A.D.D. Rhythms, musicians on the set include Isaiah Spencer on drums and Junius Paul on bass.
Also as part of the festival, Marvin Tate will present The Weight of Rage, which was initially presented at the Hyde Park Art Center earlier this year. The visual component is an exhibition of work developed in classes in the Prison and Neighborhood Arts Project at Stateville Prison. The show brings together work from incarcerated artists and teaching artists and writers (including Marvin Tate) in the Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project (PNAP) at Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet, IL to explore the question, “how does the state identify you?” There will be a music performance by a sextet as part of Saturday’s presentation of The Weight of Rage, as well.
The Festival also announced a new partnership with the Hyde Park Art Center that commissioned visual artists to install site-specific artwork on Midway Plaisance.
Three main projects have been selected for this inaugural year: Juan Angel Chavez, “Gramaphone”; Jeremiah Hulsebos-Spofford and Faheem Majeed, “Floating Museum”; and Sabina Ott, “Mountain Variation.”
And, the Hyde Park Jazz Festival Story Share Project continues this year, in which visitors are invited to share stories about their relationship to Jazz (particularly Jazz on the South Side of Chicago). All stories are archived for the Hyde Park Jazz Society, and select stories will be made available via an dedicated web platform that is currently in production.
For more on the Hyde Park Jazz Festival (including a full calendar), click here.
In 1967, members of the Blackstone Rangers, a notorious Gang in Chicago, collaborated with singer/composer/playwright/activist Oscar Brown Jr. to create a Musical Revue called “Opportunity Please Knock”. About eight thousand people went to the show during the first weeks of performance (at Chicago’s First Presbyterian Church). Photos in this post are from that first run. The show gave exposure to various teens that had ample talent, but little opportunity.
Oscar Brown Jr., said in a 1996 interview with Rick Wojcik:
I made contact with the Blackstone Rangers, and we began talkin’ to them about some alternative activity to what they were doin’, which was basically gang-bangin’ and terrorizing the neighborhood… The fact that there was this gang presence was bad for business and that’s one of the reasons that I contacted gangs- could we do something for them that would stop them from steppin’ on my hustle! I said we’d do a show for ’em, but they said, “well, we got some talent, can we be in the show?” We wound up doin’ a show called Opportunity, Please Knock, which really changed my life, basically, because it let me see that there was this enormous talent in the black community. This is where all the dances came from; this is where all the popular music comes from; so I began to really concentrate on that. Opportunity Please Knock ran for a little while, with those kids being on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.
The gang’s involvement seems to counter the completely negative impact that most people assume gangs have on communities. The contradiction was fleshed out in a 1969 article published in “The Alantic”:
Since the emergence of the Ranger Nation, individual members have been charged with murder, robbery, rape, knifings, extortion of South Side merchants, traffic in narcotics, extortion and intimidation of young children, forced gang membership, and a general history of outright violence, especially against the Disciples who never joined the Rangers. On the other hand, the Ranger Nation has been credited with keeping the South Side of Chicago “cool” during the summer of 1967 and the spring of 1968, following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. It has been said that they have kept drugs, alcoholics, prostitutes, and whites hunting for prostitutes out of their neighborhoods. They have also been credited with making genuine attempts to form lasting peace treaties between themselves and the Disciples in order to decrease the level of gang fighting on the South Side. They have been alternately praised and condemned by the national press, their community, the United States Senate, the local police, and Chicago youth organizations to such an extent that, if one depends on the news media for information, it is almost impossible to maintain a consistent opinion of the Blackstone Rangers.
According to an August 1967 Ebony Magazine article about the Revue, Oscar Brown Jr. further stated:
These kids are angry because they’re being shot through the same grease their parents were shot through, and they understand that it’s impossible for a bootless man to pull himself up by his bootstraps. But they’re not too disillusioned to work hard-if they ever had and illusions at all. It is up to us to give them a better picture of reality.
Below is a record I found, released on Ramsey Lewis’ record label, called “All this Talk About Freedom” by the Opportunity Please Knock Chorus. It’s what led me to this story in the first place. It’s also the only audio documentation of this slice of Chicago History. It’s also pretty groovin’. Image below is of the Opportunity Please Knock Chorus.
The title cut off this 1968 album is a bluesy monster produced by Charles Stepney with more than enough groove to stay squarely in the pocket. Also on this album is the local hit “Up in Heah”, another blues-infused party track. Both of the records will make sceptics rethink the blues. According to the back of the album:
“Talk about somebody being “tuff” enough. One night in Pepper’s Lounge, a little night spot on Chicago’s South Side, Junior Wells was introduced as “the little Giant of the blues”. It was around midnight and the Chatter that had been incessant for about three hours ceased. In cool dignity the little black walked to the stage, and said: “I’m gonna sing them damn blues, and you’d better dig it.” This audience at Pepper’s where all the blues greats have passed through and left their mark, is as hip an audience as any performer ever faced. When you bring them slow blues it better be nasty, and when you swing it better make them move. Shoot blanks and you won’t last long. Junior Wells could stay there eternally. “
This Saturday, Senegal’s Omar Pene is in Chicago performing at Martyrs (3855 N. Lincoln). A former member of Super Diamono, a 70s Senegalese band that addressed social issues with funk, he is now solo… and in fine form. His voice has been described as both muscular and “islamic”, and the concert promises to be a treat.
Opening act is yours truly, DJ Ayana.
Omar Pene at Martyrs (presented by portoluz)
When: Sat., March 20, 9 p.m. at Martyrs (3855 N. Lincoln Ave.)
Phone: 773-404-9494 or 800-594-8499 Price: $25
To get you in the mood, visit Yassa: savory Sengalese food here in Chicago. African flavors with an emphasis on sauces, seafood, lamb, rice, and cues taken from Islamic and French cuisine, Senagalese food is DOPE! Try the freshly made juice – any of them (they have tamarind, sorrel, ginger and baobab)- or the Dibi Lamb (grilled lamb chops) which comes with red rice. The plantains are delicious, as is the Yassa Fish.
The spot is BYOB, and personally, I’d bring Malta India or a spicy ginger beer, but if you must have an alcoholic beverage, try a stout beer.
716 E 79th St
(between Evans Ave & Langley Ave)
Chicago, IL 60619
“Passing Strange“, the Tony-nominated black rock-opera is righteous…. Amen.
Passing Strange is the coming-of-age story of “Youth” (Daniel Breaker), a kid growing up somewhere in LA in the seventies. He is disillusioned because he doesn’t fit the common definition of blackness. Floating above the city, getting high in his choir director’s blue Volkswagen beetle, “Youth” decides to uproot himself from everything he’s known in order to find home.
It takes a blurry, nomadic trek across Europe to realize some ultimate truths about where he fits in the world and whom he can count among his tribe. Features a great live band (book and music by Stew and Heidi) and meaty writing that sometimes billows poetically like blood in water. For anyone who grew up not fitting in, then realized that they fit in perfectly, after all. Jive on. Below, from the Spike Lee-documented Broadway staging.
Recorded at the House of Blues here in Chicago a few days back. It’s Mos Def, and his homage to the gloved one: a fresh interpretation of “Billie Jean”. Somehow, it works. Invention isn’t dead, after all. Jive on!
Fame (1980) is one of those movies that makes you wish you lived in a world so filled with youthful fervor that at anytime a group of kids might break into interpretive dance and jump on a cab.
But that didn’t keep us from cheering for the characters in the film (especially Coco and Leroy), and later the TV show (which featured Janet Jackson and Debbie Allen).
The story of students at a New York Performing Arts High School, the film follows the ebb and flow of their kinetic reach for stardom. The narrative is, despite pitfalls, like an infusion of fresh hope in admittedly hard times. It expresses a romantic image pairing sweat with success, art with desire.
A new Fame motion picture is scheduled for release this year, but somehow it seems superfluous. Those kids in the original are gonna live forever.
Wanna live forever? Wanna learn how to fly (again?) the Tofu Chitlin Circuit is having a screening of Fame in Bronzeville this Monday….
“If you want fame, well fame costs and right here is where you start paying with sweat!”
The Tofu Chitlin Circuit (a Bronzeville-based theater conservatory) is continuing their Family Reunion with the quintessential theater movie…”FAME!” Enjoy a screening and discussion.
Prizes for the best FAME gear!
When: Monday, July 27, 2009
Where: The Digital Youth Network
1050 E 47th Street
Chicago, IL 60653
Time: 6:30 p.m.
Film starts promptly at 7:00 p.m.
more about TCC:
“Our mission is to bring the audience into the creative process of theater. Our conservatory is an educational platform that assists artists and audience members with intellectual dialogue, poignant interviews from theater practitioners, workshops, classes and of course performances!”