Chicago, the links of sound
A blind door at the far end of the South Side. There is no indication that it should be pushed to enter further into what is more happening than the club in good and due form. Welcome to Transition East, a historic store in the heart of Chicago's “black” neighborhood. A few dozen chairs, a fridge, a fitted kitchen typical of the early 80s, and then, at the bottom, a vague platform. This is where Angel Bat Dawid performs, with his clarinet and keyboards, his chords and sharp accents. She sings of the suffering of a people as much as the joy of a community, always ready to reinvent itself. In the depths of a heritage sifted by the years, this young follower of do it yourself searches and finds its way, between cries and hissing. Impressions of another America, far from the Trump Tower which overlooks the Loop, this downtown area populated by skyscrapers. And finally, a timeless heretic gospel, without tempo. Here it’s free. Translate free and free.
"Let's talk about creative music more than jazz, a word inherited from white supremacy", warns the master of ceremonies of the evening, before the second quartet led by "the guru of the places", the saxophonist Eliel Sherman, enters the scene. Storey, sound engineer of Art Ensemble. Old debate, still relevant. Here, anyway, you just need to have style and if possible the following ideas. "In Chicago, music is a story of lineage, insists the young Angel, revealed in early 2019 by the grace of a simple cassette. You learn music by attending musicians, by what they live as much as what they play. It is a kind of pooling of ideas and perspectives. It’s the whole experience of the black community that vibrates within these walls. ” An experience that others over fifty years ago called "Great Black Music" in founding the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians.
"Ancient to the future", the slogan of the Art Ensemble Of Chicago, takes on its full meaning here, too. "The idea of healing is essential in Chicago. The many musicians who have left town need to return there regularly. Henry Threadgill once told me: New York is the essential cattle market, but the spiritual center is Chicago ", analyzes Alexandre Pierrepont, anthropologist and author of La Nuée - AACM: a musical board game (Parenthèses, 2005) which established a program of collaborations between Paris and Chicago under the name of The Bridge. This Friday & nbsp; August 30 & nbsp; the Art Ensemble is back in town to celebrate its half century. From the quintet, only the drummer Famoudou Don Moye, based in Marseille, and the saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell, exiled for a long time, remain. It’s the latter who opens the ball at nightfall: a short solo of soprano sax, strident at will, which vibrates the scene coiled in Millennium Park, in the heart of the city of winds. In this amphitheater designed by Frank Gehry, they brought together several generations: the flautist Nicole Mitchell, the cellist Tomeka Reid, but also the trumpet player Fred Berry, a member of the quartet who foreshadowed the Art Ensemble in the mid-sixties, and the young artist electronic Christina Wheeler… There are also violins, percussions, voices closer to lyrical art in this project which, more than a re-reading, is a vision half a century later of what it is to make art together.
In the middle of the afternoon, the venerable bluesman Billy Branch shared a moment with the veteran - 92 & nbsp; years old! - George Freeman, Von Freeman's brother, is a guardian here. The blues is, of course, always part of this festival, which prides itself on being the most important in the country, in open air and free. "More than 150,000 people," said Mark Kelly, who has been responsible for the city's cultural affairs and special events since 2016.
For four days, the whole park is invested: there is the big stage which can accommodate more than 10,000 spectators where you can dine with friends, family, while listening to music played by audiophile equipment; there are multiple related scenes where you can hear radical post-free jazz as well as more mainstream propositions. Born sixty-eight years ago in Chicago, Mark Kelly sees further for this festival created in & nbsp; 1979. "It is time to establish a closer dialogue with the clubs in town, so that the panorama is fairer. This is the mission that we have set ourselves: that the breath radiates the whole city. Success will only be complete if the musicians of Chicago are listened to, and if the clubs benefit from this echo throughout the year. This is the challenge for the next editions. "
The city hall devotes a budget of $ 225,000 (204,000 euros) to this event, which now spans ten days, and deploys antennas from north to south. "If jazz is part of the city's identity, the fact remains that it is fragile music. It suffices to note the notoriety of the musicians of the AACM, right here in Chicago, compared to the quality of their production. We have never done enough for our musicians, to develop a municipal culture that allows international recognition, says the official, without tongue in cheek. Chicago is the largest incubator of African American music in the United States. But we are not identified with a particular sound, like La & nbsp; New Orleans, Detroit, Memphis ... "The aesthetic here is fertile crossbreeding. And that's why he intends to celebrate this extreme versatility, a more appropriate term than diversity, by setting up a Year of Music in Chicago in 2020, whose official announcement should take place in October.
"It's the music year in Chicago every day. The truth is there, much more than anywhere else! " tempers the tempestuous Mike Reed, who is part of the festival's artistic committee. At 45, the drummer is the “boss” of the new generation that structures the city. He has just published The City Was Yellow, a "real book" which draws up an inventory of the city's compositions between & nbsp; 1980 and & nbsp; 2010. The founder of the Pitchfork Festival now has two reference clubs, located on the North Side. Hungry Brain, a neighborhood bar that hosts open stages in particular, and Constellation, a red brick building that mixes aesthetics (a dance company is hosted there, contemporary music dialogues with experimental rock) and generations. On the wall, a huge portrait recalls his visceral attachment to this good old tradition: Fred Anderson, saxophonist who was the owner of the Velvet Lounge, the place which was the crucible for cadet battalions. Like many, Mike Reed trained there. As little, he has spruced it up with his hands. Like all, he knows that jazz is not popular with investors, "unless it becomes jazzy", without doubting his future in Chicago.
It’s in Fred Anderson Park, located a handful of blocks from the legendary hall, that the festival has scheduled an aperitif time concert. In this neighborhood undergoing gentrification, a typical local quartet led by saxophonist Dave Rempis pays homage to Fred Anderson, in a post-free fashion, then Nois, four young blowers from the city of winds, recalls that the third stream, closer to the contemporary, also has its place here. "We have always favored the meeting of these different planets of jazz", continues Lauren Deutsch, who was for twenty-two & nbsp; years at the head of the Jazz Institute. The 60-year-old native of the South Side has just left the management of this association created in & nbsp; 1969. The same one to whom the town hall will decide to entrust the programming of the festival when it was created ten years later. From the start, the choices have been based on collaborative work between all music-related corporations, from musicians to journalists, and knowledge of the field. "All university programs can never replace the understanding of a culture that cannot be reduced to a set of notes. This essential transmission is still at work. "
This is why, on Thursday August 29, Alexis Lombres, a pianist born barely twenty years ago on the South Side, is very comfortable to greet, with a few elders, Joseph Jarman, who died in January. This is how the naturalness that unites in a brief duet the trumpeter Ben Lamar Gay, current creative pillar of the scene, and the drummer Thurman Barker, one of those who were associated with the foundation of the AACM, is explained. performance at the Museum of Contemporary Art as part of a program called "South Side Suite".
The South Side, we come back on a Sunday. Noon right now, it's time for a date with Tim Black. More than a character: a personality. He was born in the neighborhood a hundred & nbsp; years ago. He lived live the coronation in Chicago of Joe Louis, heavyweight world champion in & nbsp; 1937, he walked here with Luther King, he was at school with Nat Cole, he saw Ellington and all others when they came to play downtown. "But because of segregation, they had to stay sleeping on the South Side, and that's how we used to listen to them in our clubs. In the 1930s, jazz nevertheless helped change mentalities, bringing together progressives, beyond questions of gender, race, age. " It all started from there, the "Black Belt", a corridor that encloses the Gothic setting of the University of Chicago: this vibrant heart of the South Side was the intellectual and artistic matrix of pioneering expressions that will take many forms, never break the bottom of the story.
Reverend Thomas Dorsey's gospel, King Oliver's swing, Muddy Waters' blues, Bo Diddley's rock, Curtis Mayfield's soul, Earth Wind & amp; Fire, the house of Marshall Jefferson, the flow of Chance the Rapper, all are anchored in this continuum, a community of destinies which found the identity of the city, a state of mind more indie than elsewhere. Continuum is the title of an album in the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble by percussionist Kahil El’Zabar. For this former president of the AACM, this unwavering link takes root in segregation. Whose stigmata are always salient.
"When many blacks migrated from the South to Chicago, they had to develop their own businesses, as the job market was not as open as New York. A separate entrepreneurial culture was born, which laid the foundations for a separate culture. Whether in fashion or the press, private companies or workers' unions, and of course music. AACM, like all Chicago music, is the product of this very unique socio-historical DNA, the active principle of which was the sharing of knowledge and the control of our means of production. And behind all these experiences, there is one and the same denominator: the community. ”