SCP Jazz offers premieres by pioneering artists

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Wynton Marsalis return for their annual residency, set for Jan. 27-28.

Frank Stewart

For 2022/23, Symphony Center Presents will continue to offer an exciting season of jazz that highlights the artistry and diversity in the genre today.
Performers include Cuba’s greatest living pianist, bold new works from visionary composers, NEA Jazz Masters and celebrations of heroes and history. Along with Chicago premieres, the season will feature some of the city’s longtime favorites.

Here’s the lineup:

Chucho Valdés, Oct. 18: Jesús “Chucho” Valdés, one of Cuba’s most influential jazz pianists, turned 80 in 2021, and he used the milestone to create a bold work celebrating his more than six decades of music-making. Called “La Creación” (“The Creation”), this three-part suite for small ensemble, voices and big band tells the story of the beginning of time, according to the Afro-Cuban Santería faith. The pianist describes the work as “a summation of all my experiences in music up to today” and declares, “I’m just coming into my second adolescence.”

That energetic artistic rebirth has also included a reunion with Cuba-born clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera for their album, “I Missed You, Too.” Their partnership goes back to the early 1970s, most famously in the band Irakere, which blended Afro-Cuban music with funk, rock and jazz — all of which are just part of the myriad journeys that Valdés has always explored. The son of another legendary Cuban pianist (Bebo Valdés), he studied classical music at Havana’s prestigious conservatory. His spiritual connection to the roots of Afro-Cuban drumming also informed his work as a young musician, and he carried that passion into Irakere, as well as albums under his own name. This includes his Jazz Batá project, which includes the specially shaped batá percussion.

These rhythms have also informed his unaccompanied piano recordings — including “Solo Piano” (1991) and “Solo: Live in New York” 10 years later — and duo piano album, “Trance” (2018). His other projects have ranged from the classically informed “Fantasía Cubana” (2002) to duets with Argentinian singer songwriter Patricia Sosa for Once (2017). To date, Valdés has won six Grammys and three Latin Grammys.

The Brubeck Brothers Quartet Celebrates Dave Brubeck with special guests Catherine Russell, Joey DeFrancesco and Camille Thurman, Dec. 2: Drummer Dan Brubeck and his brother, bassist-trombonist Chris Brubeck, have celebrated their famed pianist father Dave Brubeck’s legacy for more than 50 years. The composer of such popular jazz songs as “Blue Rondo a la Turk,” Dave Brubeck’s 1959 “Take Five” (1959) was the first jazz album to sell a million copies. The Brubeck Brothers have honored the path their father created not just through engaging interpretations of the jazz standards that he crafted, but also through their own original works.

Chris and Dan Brubeck started performing with their father when they were teens and released their debut album, “See How It Feels,” in 1972. They have developed several bold new works since then, including Chris Brubeck’s symphonic pieces. Dan Brubeck has brought his facility in complex time signatures to the electric jazz group the Dolphins. With this expertise across diverse idioms, Brubeck Brothers albums like “Classified” (2008) blend in elements from fusion, bossa nova, country and chamber music. In 2018, the group commemorated the 60th anniversary of Dave Brubeck’s historic U.S. State Department global tour with the commemorative album “TimeLine.”

In addition, the night will showcase vocalist Catherine Russell, Hammond B-3 organist Joey DeFrancesco and tenor saxophonist Camillr Thurman. Russell has received wide acclaimed for her distinctive interpretations of American songbook and blues standards since “Cat” (2006), her debut disc. She has also served as a backing vocalist for pop-rock stars such as David Bowie, Paul Simon and Jackson Browne. DeFrancesco, a second-generation jazz organist, has recorded more than 30 albums as a leader, including the recent “More Music” that highlights his original works. Since his debut playing with Miles Davis — at 17 years old — he has worked alongside such leaders as Nancy Wilson and John Scofield.

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, Jan. 27-28: Ever since New York’s Lincoln Center started its jazz initiative in 1992, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra have made performing and teaching the music’s living history their mission. Along with recording, global tours and opening its own Jazz at Lincoln Center Manhattan venue in 2004, the ensemble continues to evolve while schooling the planet. Meanwhile, the orchestra’s annual residency at Symphony Center has made this Chicago hall its second home.

Throughout the years, the JLCO has presented its music to an ever-expanding audience, having performed in more than 440 cities in 40 countries on five continents. Since launching its free concert webcast series during its 25th anniversary season, more than 330,000 people in more than 150 countries have viewed its performances online. During the past few years, Marsalis and the JLCO have used their performances and workshops to demonstrate how jazz is essential for democracy and civil rights. This work includes the recording “The Democracy! Suite” (2021), with tracks dedicated to voting and the Black Lives Matter movement. Other recent JLCO albums include a tribute to saxophone great Wayne Shorter (“The Music of Wayne Shorter”), a collaboration with salsa star Rubén Blades (“Una Noche Con Rubén Blades”) and a salute to a popular children’s television show (“A Swingin’ Sesame” Street Celebration”).

Marsalis has won nine Grammy Awards and is the only artist to ever receive that accolade in both jazz and classical music. His septet has expanded the scope of jazz composition on the albums “Citi Movement” and “In This House,” “On This Morning” during the 1990s. He is also the first jazz musician to receive the Pulitzer Prize in Music for his oratorio Blood on the Fields. Along with these accolades, Marsalis has served as a cultural correspondent for CBS News and has written six books celebrating jazz and blues traditions.

Note: The ​Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra performance on Jan. 28 is an SCP Special Concert and will feature a different program, which will be announced at a later date.

Maria Schneider Orchestra, “Data Lords,” March 10: Composer and NEA Jazz Master Maria Schneider takes on today’s challenging times in her orchestral piece and album “Data Lords” (2020). On her YouTube page, she explains how the work presents the duality of people living their lives on computers and through social media while the natural world offers so many more wonders. It’s a sizable statement, and she delivers it via an 18-piece ensemble, most of whom have collaborated with her for more than 20 years.

This bold work reflects the wide-open vision that Schneider has always brought to her music, which fuses together jazz and classical ideas in entirely individual ways. Flowing rhythms combine with a mixture of suddenly shifting textures along with incredibly precise harmonies. Schneider’s “The Thompson Fields” (2015) evokes her upbringing in the Minnesota countryside while also embracing the samba sounds she absorbed on recent tours of Brazil. Two years earlier, when Schneider combined poetry with chamber music for “Winter Morning Walks,” she earned three Grammy Awards in classical-music categories. She also created a landmark bridge between jazz, chamber music and rock when her orchestra collaborated with British-born rocker David Bowie on his noirish single, “Sue (Or in a Season of a Crime)” — another Grammy winner. This recording became key to Bowie’s late-career artistic resurgence.

While Schneider’s music and plans can be complex, she is not one to shy away from crafting lines that are beautiful in their simplicity. “Young musicians may think they have to have more ‘thick’ harmony or faster, more complex lines,” Schneider said to DownBeat. “It’s the idea that, to be progressive, you have to do more, and not realizing that the simplest thing can be very raw and profound.”

Danilo Perez’s Global Messengers and Children of the Light with John Patitucci and Brian Blade, March 31: For more than 20 years, pianist Danilo Pérez has blended classical technique with a reverence for jazz history and the indigenous sounds of his native Panama — while also embracing sounds from across the planet. For this presentation of his new music, Pérez will perform with two of his groups, Global Messengers and Children of the Light.

Global Messengers represents his ideal of “recovering the function of the artist as a tool to redirect humanity in a positive direction,” Pérez says on his web site. This international chamber group also features Greek laouto player Vasilis Kostas, Iraqi/Jordanian violinist Layth Sidiq, Palestinian cellist Naseem Alatrash, Palestinian percussionist Tareq Rantisi and vocalist Farayi Malek, who is from Idaho. The combined layers of strings, drums and Pérez’s own rhythmically charged piano playing crafts the music as both flowing and strongly syncopated. Its music also reflects Pérez’s educational and humanitarian missions as the artistic director of the Berklee Global Jazz Institute at Boston’s Berklee College of Music.

While Global Messengers is a new sextet, Children of the Light is a trio comprised Pérez’s partners for two decades. The pianist, along with bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade, formed the core of iconic saxophonist Wayne Shorter’s quartet, which he started at the dawn of the millennium. Since Shorter’s recent retirement from performing, they have carried on his legacy, taking their name from his 1960s composition, “Children of the Night.” The group released its self-titled debut in 2015 and received wide acclaim for its stunning compositions. “John said, ‘We should call it ‘Children of the Light’ and bring a little light to the world,” Pérez said. “You say thank you to a great man like Wayne not by imitating what he does but by playing off the language he created and finding a new language in the process.”

Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour — Celebrating 65 Years, April 14: California’s Monterey Jazz Festival has been one of the most outstanding outdoor celebrations of this genre for more than six decades. For the event’s 60th anniversary in 2018, artistic director Tim Jackson decided to take the festival’s spirit on the road with an all-star roster of artists. Five years later, the tour will reconvene with a new mix of veterans and rising stars.

Two of those stars are vocalists Dee Dee Bridgewater and Kurt Elling. Bridgewater began singing with the Thad Jones and Mel Lewis Orchestra in the early 1970s. Since then she has served as the host of the NPR program “Jazz Set”; her “Memphis … Yes, I’m Ready” (2017) album is a tribute to the soul, gospel and rock songs that were hits from her hometown. Elling, who began his career in Chicago during the 1990s, has won two Grammy Awards and topped the DownBeat Jazz Critics’ poll for more than 14 years. His approach includes creating new lyrics to jazz standards by such composers as John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter and has also crafted multi-dimensional theatrical pieces.

Fueling this vocal pair is an accomplished instrumental quartet that includes saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin. With a résumé that includes collaborations with such jazz stars as saxophonist David Murray, as well as arranging for R&B star Anita Baker, Benjamin’s own work as a leader includes the album “Pursuance” (2020), a stirring tribute to John and Alice Coltrane. Pianist Christian Sands has also received considerable acclaim from drawing inspiration from not just the jazz tradition, but also from Earth’s elements on his album “Be Water.” Swinging and precise bassist Yasushi Nakamura is a regular collaborator with Sands and has also performed with such jazz legends as Wynton Marsalis and Hank Jones. Perpetually busy drummer Clarence Penn has been a first-call collaborator for a range of jazz stars since 1991 and recorded a moving tribute to Thelonious Monk (“Monk: The Lost Files”) with his group Penn Station.

An Evening with Dave Holland featuring Kenny Barron, Kevin Eubanks and Obed Calvaire, May 12: Bassist Dave Holland has been one of the premier jazz bassists for more than 50 years. After working with Miles Davis’ groundbreaking fusion ensembles in the late 1960s, he has led ensembles ranging from swinging big bands to driving funk groups. His other collaborators have included Chick Corea, Anthony Braxton and Herbie Hancock. Holland has also carved out his own sound in top-flight straight-ahead jazz bands, avant-garde meetings and as an accompanist to star vocalists and international instrumentalists. Along with Holland’s impeccable technique and versatility, his pieces are renowned for their intricate arrangements that allow room for extensive improvisational passages.

For this performance, Holland will lead an especially accomplished quartet. Pianist Kenny Barron, like Holland, a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master, has been a longtime colleague. Barron and Holland recorded together on the widely acclaimed duo album, “The Art of Conversation” (2014). Guitarist Kevin Eubanks and drummer Obed Calvaire have been longtime colleagues and were featured on Holland’s recording “Another Land” (2021), which was constructed from originals that the band composed while touring extensively. Eubanks was seen on millions of televisions as the leader of “The Tonight Show Band” but since heading out on his own in 2010, he has continued to navigate new musical directions. This includes the host of different genres on his album “East West Time Line” (2017). Along with accompanying Holland, Calvaire has also been a choice drummer for Wynton Marsalis, Mary J. Blige and many other stars.

An Evening with Branford Marsalis, June 2: Saxophonist Branford Marsalis has always lived deeply within the jazz tradition, which has never stopped him from taking its musical language into invigorating directions. But after all of his life experiences, the bandleader is paring down and refocusing. “What I’ve learned how to do as I’ve gotten older is to take all of the information that I have,” Marsalis recently told National Public Radio. “And push it aside and try to distill each song into an emotional theme.”

All of that information includes an education that started with Marsalis’ esteemed New Orleans family, who became National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters as a group in 2013. His own quartet has been a force for bold new compositions and interplay since its formation in 1986 and has blended the jazz tradition with ideas from across the spectrums of pop as well as African rhythms. The group’s discs include such critically acclaimed albums as “The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul” (2019) and “Upward Spiral” (2016), which included contributions from vocalist Kurt Elling.

Away from the recording studio and concert stages, Marsalis appeared in living rooms around the world as leader of TV’s “The Tonight Show” during the 1990s. Like his trumpeter brother Wynton Marsalis, he has also performed classical music. This includes Branford Marsalis’ collaboration with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra for distinctive takes on the works of Ravel and Debussy for the album “Creation” (2001). (Marsalis recently reteamed with Orpheus for a U.S. tour, which stopped in January for an SCP Special Concert at Orchestra Hall.)

More recently, he has successfully focused on creating orchestra scores for film and television. He channeled the feeling of early 20th century blues in his 2020 soundtrack to the film “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” The following year, he earned an Emmy Award nomination for music to the documentary “Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre.”