Museums and celebrations offer quality ways to spend MLK Day

Many Chicago museums have free admission for MLK Day.
Many Chicago museums have free admission for MLK Day.

Fortunately when schools close for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, several Chicago museums answer the what-to-do question with free or discounted admission for Illinois residents. In addition, the Black Ensemble Theater and the Chicago Children’s Theatre also have programs.

Here are some places to spend quality time Jan. 15, 2018.

 

Museums

On Chicago’s Museum Campus, Adler Planetarium, 1300 S. Lake Shore Dr., (312) 922-7827,  The Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Dr., (312) 922-9410 and the Shedd Aquarium, 1200 S. Lake shore Dr., (312) 939-2438, all have free general admission to Illinois residents. (Not included: all access to special exhibits).

At the Art Institute of Chicago, the Ryan Learning Center (entrance at the Modern Wing, 159 East Monroe St. is doing “Say it Loud” program of  story telling, arts and discussions from 10 :30 a.m. to 3 p.m. No registration needed. However, admission to the museum is also free that day for all Illinois residents as part Free Winter Weekdays, January 8–February 15, 2018.

The Museum of Science and Industry, 5700 S Lake Shore Dr., (773) 684-1414, also has free general admission on Jan. 15 and is celebrating Black Creativity Family Day with special programs and art.

Chicago History Museum, 1601 North Clark Street (312) 642-4600, has free programs all day with free general admission to Illinois residents on MLK Day.

 

Theater

Chicago Children’s Theatre, 100 S. Racine Ave. at Monroe, has a free Martin Luther King Birthday party from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Black Ensemble Theater at 4450 North Clark St., celebrates “And still we rise,”  from 6 to 9 p.m. with programs by the African American Arts Alliance. Tickets are $20 and includes a reception.

 

 

 

Windy City Winds American Originals

 

RECOMMENDED

The Windy City Winds recently celebrated their Third Season Fall Concert   at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Chicago, playing a selection of American Originals. The program covered a thoughtful selection of American music suitable for wind, brass and percussion.

Windy City Winds
Windy City Winds

Windy City Winds is a not-for-profit adult community concert band founded on the premise that many accomplished musicians who were music majors or played instruments in college have little opportunity to play seriously after graduation, particularly if they do not pursue musical careers.

The 55 talented volunteer players age twenty-one and over are all experienced playing at the college level.

Mark and Sarah Mosley co-founded Windy City Winds in September 2015 and serve together as Music Directors.

Mark Mosley is an articulate and engaging conductor. He enthusiastically opened the first half of the concert with the very familiar and playful “Overture to Candide” by Leonard Bernstein partly in homage to the composer’s upcoming 100th birthday being celebrated in 2018.

They continued with “Night Song” by Joliet native Ron Nelson featuring a rare euphonium solo by Eon G. Cooper. The rich basso instrument takes charge of the central theme and sings sweetly with a low lyrical line through the entire piece.

You almost can’t get more uniquely American than Charles Ives, in this case the “Fugue in C.” The program notes describe Ives as “nostalgically quoting popular, patriotic and church music from his youth, while boldly embracing dissonance and experimenting with polytonality, rhythmic complexity and tone clusters.”

Windy City Winds
Windy City Winds

The band concluded the first half with “Chester” based on the patriotic tune of William Billings which became the unofficial hymn of the Revolutionary War. This variation is composed by Pulitzer Prize winning American composer William Schuman who in 1961 became president of the NYC Lincoln Center for Performing Arts.

After a brief intermission Sarah Good Mosley conducted the six movement “Divertimento for Band, op. 42” by Vincent Persichetti described as “…distinctly urban and American – energetic, lonely, humorous, and nostalgic.”

She followed next with ”October” by popular contemporary composer Eric Whitacre who is largely known for his choral music as the artist-in-residence at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. His composition “Sleep” inspired the work of Dutch born artist and current Wisconsin resident Anne Horjus ..

Mark Mosley closed the concert with “Chorale and Shaker Dance” by John Zdechlik. “The short chorale theme is original, while the Shaker melody ‘Simple Gifts’ is familiar to many.”

Windy City Winds will perform two concerts in 2018 at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ, 2335 N. Orchard St.in Chicago: March 9, “Cityscapes” Winter Concert, and May 11, “Adventures” Spring Concert. Admission is free (donations welcome).  For more Information visit Windy City Winds.

Reno Lovison

Related:   Ann Horjus article.

 

Baroque music soars with Quint artistry

 

Violinist Philippe Quint and the Lake Forest Symphony’s strings led by Vladimir Kulenovic dispelled any image that listeners might have had that Baroque music is sedate or boring.

Playing last weekend first Lake Forest Academy’s Cressey Center for the Performing Arts and then at the College of Lake County’s James Lumber Center for the Performing Arts, Quint introduced concert goers to Baroque works by playing Johan Adolph Hasse’s melodic “Sinfonia” with dramatic and joyous gusto. Although Hesse is arguably better known for operatic works, his “Sinfonia” interpreted by Quint showed that Baroque could be both exuberant and elegant.

Grammy award-winning violinist Phillipe Quint. Photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco, from Lake Forest Symphony
Grammy award-winning violinist Phillipe Quint. Photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco, from Lake Forest Symphony

To educate the audience on the difference between a shorter, differently constructed bow used for Baroque music and the sound that emanates when a violinist uses the classical longer bow, Kulenovic had concert master Netanel Draiblate  play the next piece, Arcagelo Corelli’s “La Folia” on one side of the podium and Quint do his bowing on the other side.

The piece used was the 1729 Francisco Geminiani edition which was perfect for the demonstration since there are solos for two violins and also the viola and cello.

The Baroque education continued with Tomaso Antonio Vitali’s “Chaconne in G minor with the recommendation to listen for the organ. But what really drew the audience’s attention was Quint’s passionate interpretation.

Of course no Baroque program is complete without something by Johann Sebastian Bach. In this case it was his “Air in D Major” from his Orchestral Suite #3 which reminded the audience how perfectly the harpsichord fitted the piece’s melodic musings.

Quint continued his remarkable showmanship in the second half with Antonio Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” from Op. 8. Really for concertos for violin and strings, they are tone poems whose sounds evoke birds in spring, other animals and breezes in summer, harvest celebrations and hunting in autumn and running, stamping feet and chattering teeth in howling storms in winter.

But along with the descriptive parts already in Vivaldi’s music, Quint used the concertos to add several embellishments. Some seemed planned ahead while others appeared to be impromptu.

The concert turned out to be a delightful survey of baroque music, a powerful introduction to the high quality of the Lake Forest Symphony under Kulenovic and an unforgettable demonstration of Quint’s artistry. This reviewer will be looking for more programs featuring Philippe Quint.

For Lake Forest Symphony information call (847) 295-2135 and visit LFSymphony.

Jodie Jacobs

 

A look at Chicago Composer Regina Harris Baiocchi

Regina Harris Baiocchi
Regina Harris Baiocchi

It seems virtually every day there are fabulous artistic programs being offered all around Chicago, many of which no one ever hears about. These gallery exhibits, theatrical productions and musical performances are often presented by individuals of exceptional quality and sadly only have one presentation.

On Nov. 10, 2017 a concert of the music composed by Chicago native Regina Harris Baiocchi was one of those exceptional events at Sherwood Community Music School / Columbia College on South Michigan Avenue.

Baiocchi’s music has been performed by the Chicago and Detroit Symphony Orchestras and in concerts around the world. Her refined and sophisticated compositions are inspired by various musical genres and are often informed by the experiences of African Americans, women and poets.

A poet herself, her music is very lyrical but she likes to play with percussion and the dynamics of sound.

In the opening piece, “Miles per Hour” the lone trumpet of Edgar Campos is heard only offstage for a full minute or two before he slowly emerges from the wings.  Providing a sense of musical motion heard at first in the distance then moving toward you.

The impressionistic “Deborah” is inspired by a painting by Lillian Brulc has the most talented and versatile Dr. Jimmy Finnie, percussion chair at Indian State University, moving adroitly between marimba, vibes and drums accompanied by Beverly Simms, piano.

“Ask Him” is a page from the composer’s jazz book it has a sultry quality fully enhanced by the vocals of Dee Alexander with Dr. Thomas Wade Jefferson (North Park University & Sherwood Conservatory) on piano, accented by the saxophone of Edwin Daugherty.

Baiocchi returns to her “classical” sensibilities in a modern solo cello (Jill Kaeding)  performance “Miriam’s Muse” accompanied by Michael Keefe, piano.

“Farafina” described as a vocal jazz suite work in progress is translated as “Land of the Black Skin,” features an un-ornamented vocal by Cherresa Lawson giving it a haunting call and response quality, accompanied by Jimmy Finnie on marimba and David Bugher on vibraphone with an African style rhythm.

Flutist Nathalie Joachim performed “Praise Dance” unaccompanied and reminiscent of a shepherd on a hillside revisits the composers’ penchant to explore the way brass and wind instruments interact with the atmosphere and seemingly hang in the air.

“Hold Out for Joy” is from the opera “Gbeldahoven: No One’s Child” by Regina Harris Baiocchi based on the lives of Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes.  A soulful melody performed by Cherresa Lawson with vibraphone accompaniment (David Bugher).

Natalie Joachim (flute) returns with “Three Brevities” composed by Regina’s mentor Dr. Hale Smith providing some insight into her own musical inspiration.

“Nilisikia Sauti Kubwa” is a holiday choral music based on Swahili poetry arranged for tenor (Kameron Locke), trumpet (Edgar Campos), crotales (Jimmy Finnie) and piano (Michael Keefe). Once again with a beautiful lyrical melody Ms. Baiocchi allows the lone trumpet to sound like a voice in the distance as the tenor vocal rises slowly above the instrumental in this piece translated as “I Heard a Voice.”

The concerts concluded with two contemporary jazz songs, the cool “Lovers & Friends” and the upbeat “Dream Weaver” with Dee Alexander (vocal), Edwin Daugherty (saxophone) and Thomas Jefferson (piano).

Regina Harris Baiocchi is a thoughtful, versatile, and accomplished composer. Selected works can be heard at a concert of “6 Degrees Composers” 2:30 PM on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017 at Roosevelt University, Ganz Hall, 430 South Michigan Ave., Chicago.  Admission is Free.

Learn more at Baiocchi

Reno Lovison

(Guest reviewer Reno Lovison produced the video of the concert that will be seen in Chicago on CANTV in January 2018.)

 

 

 

This Weekend: Petty and posters and rock paper scissors

 

From a French poster by a famed artist and fantasy sculptures amidst nature’s forms to a commemorative sing-along for rocker Tom Petty, here are some things to do and places to go the weekend of Oct. 20-22, 2017.

Artist Kevin Box origami sculpture: "Rock Paper Scissors at Morton arboretum.
Artist Kevin Box origami sculpture: “Rock Paper Scissors” at Morton Arboretum.

Great art deals at TAC

Art lovers have a chance to pick up excellent fine or decorative art works including a Yaacov Agam at a price below what they typically bring in a gallery at the Upscale Art Resale. Held by The Art Center in north suburban Highland Park, the annual event is a win-win for collectors and TAC.

Paintings, antiques, jewelry, sculptures and other items are donated by designers, the community and TAC’s patrons.

The best chance to snag a treasure is Oct. 20 at the 6 p.m. early party preview which is $150. But the 7 p.m. regular party at $75 in advance and $90 at the door, is also excellent and have  an additional incentives including a 20 % discount on prices from 7 to 7:30 p.m.

“It’s a wonderful party with fun bites, cocktails and desserts, “ said Jacqueline Chilow, event chairperson.

The art resale opens to the public free of charge from Oct. 21 through Oct. 31. Hours are Mon.-Sat. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sun. Oct. 22 noon to 4 p.m. and Thurs., Oct. 26, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The Art Center is at| 1957 Sheridan Road | Highland Park. For benefit tickets and more information  call (847) 432-1888 and visit TAC.

 

Sing “Free Fallin”

Gather in the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Grand Foyer Saturday to pay homage to late rocker Tom Petty. A musician who inspired more than a generation, Petty died Oct. 2, 2017.

Participants will receive the lyrics and be divided by voice category so they can join with Toronto Canada’s Choir! Choir! Choir!  to sing “Free Fallin.” No singing experience needed. Reservations needed. Tickets are $25.

The Lyric Opera House is at 20 N. Wacker Dr., Chicago. For reservations and tickets visit Lyric concert.

 

Rock Paper Scissors and more

Oct. 22 is the last day to see Origami in the Garden, the Morton Arboretum’s fantasy-like metal sculptures. See what looks like birds, elephants and a delightful Rock Paper scissors sculpture.

Morton Arboretum is at 4100 IL Hwy 53, Lisle. For garden admission and other information call 630) 968-0074 and visit MortonARB.

 

 

‘It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got That Swing’

RECOMMENDED

Ladies in sparkly gowns and men in tuxes croon such  tunes as “Satin Doll,” “Prelude to a Kiss” and “In My Solitude” in “Duke Ellington’s Greatest Hits,” a Music Theater Works production.

Ellington tribute at Music Theater Works. (Photo by Brett Beiner
Ellington tribute at Music Theater Works. (Photo by Brett Beiner)

The show includes songs popularized, written or arranged by one of the greatest jazz musicians of the 20th Century. Ellington defined sophisticated elegance and cool.

The performers have fun with the exotic melodies of “Caravan” and “Perdido,” and pick-up the rhythm with jazz classics “Take the A Train,” “Sophisticated Lady,” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing,” as well as the sultry “Mood Indigo.”

Singers Justin Adair, Dawn Bless, Jar’Davion Brown, Caitlyn Glennon, Amanda Horvath, Evan Tyrone Martin, and Martin L. Woods move seamlessly from song to song delivering a steady stream of familiar hits.

Adair who performed Older Patrick in Music Theater Works’ recent production of “Mame,” surprised the audience by accompanying the ensemble on the guitar playing “In a Mellow Tone,” showing yet another of his many talents.

The three piece band with Christian Dillingham (bass) and Phillip Fornett (drums) is energetically directed by Joey Zymonas (piano).

This is an entertaining 90 minutes or so that celebrates the legacy of this great composer and entertainer but “Ain’t got” enough “swing.”

DETAILS: “Duke Ellington’s Greatest Hits” is at Music Theater Works (formerly Light Opera Works) at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Ave., Evanston, through Oct. 15, 2017.  For tickets and other information call (847) 920-5360 and visit MusicTheaterWorks.

Reno Lovison

(Guest reviewer Reno Lovison is married to pianist Julie Lovison who is proud to say she kissed Duke Ellington on the cheek after one of his performances.)

A million dollar group jams at Paramount

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Nicholas Harazin plays “the father of rock and roll,” Sam Phillips, seen here under the classic image of Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash shot at Phillips’s Sun Records Studio on December 4, 1956, in Paramount Theatre’s Broadway Series opener 'Million Dollar Quartet.' Liz Lauren photo
Nicholas Harazin plays “the father of rock and roll,” Sam Phillips,  under the classic image of Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash shot at Phillips’s Sun Studio on December 4, 1956. Liz Lauren photo

Go to Paramount Theatre’s ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ if you love Johnny Cash. Go if you appreciate really good boogie piano. Or go if you are interested in the Sam Phillip’s Sun Studio’s handling of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis.

It’s nice to have the show back in the Chicago area, if even for its short, little over a month, duration.

The story, captured in a photo and on tape at Sun Records Studio, Memphis, tells of the only time that four of Sam Phillip’s top stars jammed together.

They happened to stop by his recording studio when Carl Perkins was supposed to be taping. Some were going to tell Phillips that they were not renewing their contract but Lewis was looking for a long contract at Sun.

The important incident was turned into a “jukebox” show of great mid-last century songs by Floyd Mutrux who wrote the book with Colin Escott and directed the original productions.

Started in Daytona Beach in 2006 before going to Seattle in 2007, the show was developed further at the Goodman Theatre in fall 2008.

It transferred to the Apollo Theatre where it ran until recently, closing early in 2016. But the original cast went on to NYC where ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ ran on Broadway from mid 2010 to mid 2011 while still playing the Apollo. It brought Levi Kreis a Tony Award as Jerry Lee Lewis.

The phrase “blown away” is often used but that was how I felt when seeing Kreis. Paramount guests will feel the same way when watching Gavin Rohrer as Lewis. Rohrer is incredible. He has already portrayed Lewis in two other shows including the Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma.

Nor will long time fans of Johnny Cash feel cheated when they see Bill Scott Sheets in the role. An operatic baritone who has all played such musical theatre rolls as Don Quixote, Sheets nails Cash’s sound and microphone approach.

Chicago set designer Kevin Depinet has recreated Sam Phillips’s original Sun Records studio in Memphis - where Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins played together their first and only time. Liz Lauren photo
Chicago set designer Kevin Depinet has recreated Sam Phillips’s original Sun Records studio in Memphis – where Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins played together their first and only time. Liz Lauren photo

While some rockabilly aficionados might know that “Blue Suede Shoes” was written by Perkins who epitomized the genre, the fact that his hit song was closely identified with Elvis Presley is important to the show.

That frustration comes across with Broadway actor Adam Wesley Brown, a veteran of Chicago theatre and film, taking on the role of Perkins with the characteristic knee raise and emphasis.

It’s easy to see that Kavan Hashemian who has appeared in other ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ productions as Elvis, really enjoys the role. He has the moves down pat and can probably sing the songs in his sleep because he has been performing them since age three.

The surprise of the Paramount show which is all about male performers, is the wonderful turn as Elvis’ girlfriend, Dyanne, by Courtney Mack. Her “Fever” in Act I and “I Hear You Knockin” in Act II, brings the house down. Of course, Paramount regulars likely remember her from “Mamma Mia”

Paramount Theatre’s 2017-18 Broadway Series opener Million Dollar Quartet stars (from left) Gavin Rohrer as Jerry Lee Lewis, Adam Wesley Brown as Carl Perkins, Kavan Hashemian as Elvis Presley, Bill Scott Sheets as Johnny Cash, Courtney Mack as Dyanne and Nicholas Harazin as Sam Phillips. Liz Lauren photo
Paramount Theatre’s 2017-18 Broadway Series opener Million Dollar Quartet stars (from left) Gavin Rohrer as Jerry Lee Lewis, Adam Wesley Brown as Carl Perkins, Kavan Hashemian as Elvis Presley, Bill Scott Sheets as Johnny Cash, Courtney Mack as Dyanne and Nicholas Harazin as Sam Phillips. Liz Lauren photo

Another unexpected musical treat comes when Zach Lentino as Perkins’ brother Jay shows off his skills as an upright bassist. BTW Lentino was in ‘Million Dollar Quartet at the Apollo.

Drummer Scott Simon who plays in several Chicago productions is Fluke, a member of Perkins’ group. He’s excellent but not really noticed until near the end.

Perhaps the most unappreciated role in the show is that of Sam Phillips. Played by Nicholas Harzain, a film actor who is also in several regional shows, Phillips comes across as a hard-working, small-town, talent developer.

A note about Kevin Depinet’s set design: folks who have been to Memphis and walked through what is now, basically a museum, know Depinet has totally captured Sun Studio.

Directed by Jim Corti with music direction by Kory Danielson, ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ has a “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.”

DETAILS: ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ is at Paramount Theatre, 23 Galena Blvd., Aurora, now through Oct. 29, 2017. Running time is two hours. For tickets and other information visit Paramount or call (630) 896- 6666.

 

 

Energetic ‘Rock of Ages’ revisits eighties music

RECOMMENDED

‘Rock of Ages’ at Drury Lane Oak Brook is a fun 80’s inspired musical romp through the apparently now nostalgic Reagan / G.H.W. Bush era.

Russell Mernaugh (Drew), center and the band. Brett Beiner photo
Russell Mernaugh (Drew), center and the band. Brett Beiner photo

The ankle-deep plot is reminiscent of the old Beach Party movies of the 1960’s.  Basically boy, Drew (Russell Mernaugh) meets girl, Sherrie (Cherry Torres). He aspires to be a rock star. She aspires to be a movie star. The couple’s love affair is interrupted by the intervention of superstar Stacee Jaxx (Adam Michaels) and hijinks ensue.

Meantime the evil, Nazi inspired Hertz (George Keating), reluctantly aided by his cowering and outrageously funny son, Franz (Nick Cosgrove), plans to push out the “rockers” and redevelop a portion of the Hollywood Sunset Strip into a European inspired mega-mall featuring all of the popular retail brands.

The plan includes taking a wrecking ball to the iconic Bourbon Room, a kind of Urban Cowboy bar run by aging proprietor Dennis (Gene Weygandt) who has not noticed that time has snuck up on him.

However, the culturally destructive aims of Hertz and Franz are energetically and enthusiastically challenged by the grassroots efforts of Regina – pronounced with a long “I” (Tiffany Tatreau).

This musical farce is sped along by the cornball humor and physical antics of Lonny (Nick Druzbanski). Think Svengoolie meets John Belushi.

The stage manager/audio tech and keeper of the Fogmaster 5000, acts as a kind of one man Greek chorus.

‘Rock of Ages’ has no religious connotation and the idea that the music of this period has a kind of timelessness is hopeful at best.

Cherry Torres (Sherrie) gets a job at the Bourbon Room in 'Rock of Ages.' Brett Beiner photo
Cherry Torres (Sherrie) gets a job at the Bourbon Room in ‘Rock of Ages.’
Brett Beiner photo

The story-line is basically an excuse to revisit a series of tunes and pay homage to the theatrically inspired Los Angeles Glam Metal genre whose rhythms are ideal for driving your shopping cart through Target or Walmart which is where you have probably heard most of these songs lately.

As the early part of generation X, the 80’s is defined musically by the rise of Madonna, Whitney Houston, Prince and Michael Jackson. The rock bands of the period had names like Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Poison, Megadeth, and Anthrax which this production aptly spoofs.

Every member of the cast has the vocal chops required for their individual tasks. Donica Lynn who plays Mother gives us a couple of much appreciated soulful gospel-inspired moments.

The voice of Tiffany Tatreau is not lost in the crowd. Her feisty performances alone, and with Adam Michaels, really raise the energy level.

Much of the success of this production is due in no small part to the outstanding rock band led by keyboard/conductor Chris Sargent with guitarists Tom Logan and Dan Peters, Patrick Williams on bass and drummer Rich Trelease. The high point of the evening was their post finale jam played as the audience was filing out.

This production lived up to the high standards Chicago audiences have come to expect from The Drury Lane Theatre.

Director Scott Weinstein obviously encouraged his performers to have fun. The choreography (Stephanie Klemons) included a cool segment that was reminiscent of the mechanical bull rides that were popular at the time.

The set design (Jeffrey D. Kmeic) that incorporated the use of projected images and video was very innovative and effective, while the lighting (Greg Hoffman) captured the techno vibe of the era and contributed to the rock and roll atmosphere.

Kudos also to Theresa Ham for some costume surprises and Ray Nardelli for keeping the sound levels appropriate for a theatrical audience while not losing the rock essentials.

Though not timeless, “Rock of Ages” is an energetic fun filled performance that can be enjoyed by ages 13 and up.

DETAILS: “Rock of Ages” is at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, now through Oct. 15, 2017. For tickets and other information call (630) 530-0111 and visit Drury Lane Theatre.

Guest reviewer Reno Lovison says, “Don’t Stop Believing.”  He is an avocational folky soft-rock singer/acoustic guitarist and video producer who says he was too busy to remember much of the 1980’s.

Reno Lovison is @Renoweb.net

 

Master of Boogie

 

There isn’t a beer hall or gin joint in Chicago with a piano that hasn’t been visited sometime in the past 50 years by the fingers of jazz pianist and boogie master Erwin Helfer.

Boogie master Erwin Helfer Photo credit: iranaydebrecen.hu
Boogie master Erwin Helfer
Photo credit: iranydebrecen.hu

This week we caught up with him at Hungry Brain 2319 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, where he will be appearing Tuesdays at 7 p.m. through September and possibly longer.

The venue is a clean. old-school style tavern with a mid-century vibe and a sizeable beer list. Wine lovers will find only a red and white choice. They have enough booze to whip up a cocktail if you keep it simple. Cash Only!

Sorry no food, but we skipped around the corner to “90 Miles” on Clybourn and brought back a couple of delicious Cuban sandwiches which I washed down with a Bells Brown Ale while my wife opted for a glass of the “white.”

If you are a lover of straight-up classic jazz with a boogie rhythm, Erwin is “the man.” He’s a pianist’s pianist. I know this because my wife is a pianist she has been a groupie of his for years.

Erwin has a mean left hand that can pound that bookie bass. His improvisations on the right hand are thoughtful but not showy. He is classically trained and has restraint and a love for the songs he plays.

Between the banter and reminiscences of the many legends he has known and performed with, you’ll hear him play several of your favorite melodies like “Georgia on My Mind”, “St. James Infirmary” and “Swanee River Blues” (a variation on “Swanee”). You’ll know “Pinetop Blues” when you hear it and according to his mood you might hear some riffs on gospel standards like “Take My Hand Precious Lord” or a country tune like Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya.”

Erwin Helfer is one of the sweetest guys you’ll ever meet. He is a gentle soul whose temperament is reflected in his music.  At 80+ he still gigs several times a week.  Seeing him wherever he is playing should be on your Chicago bucket list.

If you miss him at Hungry Brain you might check out his upcoming concert with Spanish Blues and Boogie Woogie pianist Lluís Coloma at the Old Town School of Folk Music Oct. 27, 2017 at 7 p.m.

For more information visit Erwin Helfer and Hungry Brain.

-Reno Lovison

Around Town: Labor Day Weekend

If  you don’t want to compete with other drivers going out of town Labor Day, take advantage of the long weekend to visit events and places in the Chicago area.

Luzia: A Waking Dream of Mexico, is under the Big top next to the United Center now through sept. 3, 2017. Photo courtesy of Cirque du Soleil.
Luzia: A Waking Dream of Mexico, is under the Big top next to the United Center now through Sept. 3, 2017. Photo courtesy of Cirque du Soleil.

Cirque du Soleil

“Luzia, A Waking Dream of Mexico” will leave Chicago after this weekend. The final performance is Sept. 3. An amazing mix of color and culture, the show is under a tent at the United Center in Parking Lot K. For tickets and other information visit Cirque du Soleil Luzia.

Chicago Jazz Festival

Enjoy great music to sway and tap to under the stars in Millennium Park or surrounded by wonderful mosaics in the Chicago Cultural Center at the Chicago Jazz Festival this weekend. Admission is free. Millennium Park stages (201 E. Randolph St.) host music from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. For Cultural Center, (78 E. Washington St.) times and for who is playing where and when visit ChicagoJazzFestival.

Chicago Jazz Festival is in Millennium Park and the Chicago Cultural Center Labor Day Weekend. Photo by Jodie Jacobs
Chicago Jazz Festival is in Millennium Park and the Chicago Cultural Center Labor Day Weekend. Photo by Jodie Jacobs

Art Fair on the Square

Wander around historic Market Square downtown Lake Forest Sept. 3 or 4 to see 180 exhibitors at Art Fair on the Square. Sponsored by the Deer Path Art League, hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days. Admission is free.
For directions and more information visit Deer Path Art League.

Gauguin

Catch the Gauguin exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago before it leaves. It is an exceptional show of Paul Gauguin’s sculptures, ceramics, paintings and etchings, but it ends Sept. 10 so try to fit it in during the long Labor Day Weekend. The exhibit is so popular it requires tickets. They’re included in admission price but they are date sensitive. For information and tickets visit ARTIC.

Paul Gauguin, "Self Image with Yellow Christ." Photo by Jodie Jacobs
Paul Gauguin, “Self Image with Yellow Christ.” Photo by Jodie Jacobs

Breakfast and hike

Go to Morton Arboretum for waffles, eggs and other yummy treats in the Ginko Garden Restaurant, Saturday or Sunday.  Then, hike the trails to work it off. The weather is supposed to be perfect for exploring the Arboretum, 4100 IL Hwy 53, Lisle. For more information or restaurant reservations call (630) 968-0074 and visit Morton Arb.

Hear UB40 or Aretha Franklin

Picnic on the lawn at Ravinia Festival in Highland Park where UB40 performs Sept. 2 and Aretha Franklin gets respect Sept. 3. The UB40 concert is 7:30 p.m. Aretha Franklin, original scheduled for June 17, also starts at 7:30. Original tickets will be honored. Ravinia Festival is at 418 Sheridan Rd., Highland Park. For directions, parking, tickets and other information visit Ravinia.

Enjoy the weekend and be safe.