"Jazz 100" Review- A tribute to Dizzy, Ella, Mongo and Monk at Symphony Center

 100 years ago, in the month of April, 1917, in the midst of World War 1, both Ella Fitzgerald and Mongo Santamaria were born. Six months later, they were followed into being by the births of Thelonius Monk and John Birks Gillespie- later known as “Dizzy”.  These four would change the nature of the world’s musical culture forever.

Danilo Perez, piano

 “Jazz 100: The music of Dizzy, Ella, Mongo and Monk”, was conceived as a tribute to these remarkable musicians. Presented as part of the 86th Season of Symphony Center Presents, on March 17, 2017 at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, it was an evening which celebrated cultural diversity as well as a very special jazz event.


Chris Potter, saxophones

Musical Director Danilo Perez , a Panamanian born pianist who played with Dizzy among many other great artists, gathered together a superb roster of performers: Chris Potter, known as a versatile and innovative saxophonist; Avishai Cohen, described as “a mindblowing” trumpeter; Wycliffe Gordon, referred to as a trombonist “at home in every genre” ; Ben Street, noted to be as a virtuoso on bass; Adam Cruz, called “a polyrhythmic artisan” on drums and Havana native Roman Diaz, a virtuoso percussionist who also led call and response, chanted, and drummed. These master musicians were joined in song by jazz/gospel vocalist Lizz Wright, a smooth and sultry- voiced deep alto, for a Dizzy-dominated presentation; indeed, the concert began with Dizzy’s voice stating he wanted to be remembered for “The uplifting of humanity”.


Avishai Cohen, trumpet; photo by Caterina di Perri

The set list included:

-“Jessica’s Day”, Quincy Jones, arr. Ben Street

-“Cubana-Be, Cubana-Bop”, Gillespie, transcribed/adapted by Mao Stone

-“OW”, Gillespie, arr. Wycliff Gordon

-“How High the Moon”, 1940, Hamilton/Lewis, arr. Danilo Perez/Lizz Wright

-“Shiny Stockings”, F. Foster, arr. Perez; Wright gave a strong introduction to the piece- she said at first she’d underappreciated it’s subject, being a staunch feminist- then she realized it could be about strong purposeful legs which could carry a strong purposeful woman!

Lizz Wright, vocals

-“Round Midnight”, Monk

-“Off Minor”, Monk, arr. Chris Potter

-“It’s Up to Me and You”, Fitzgerald

-“Afro Blue”, Santamaria, arr. Perez

“Manteca”, Gillespie/Pozo/Fuller, arr. Avishai Cohen

-Encore: Medley: “Evidence”/”Four in One”, Monk; arr. Perez

Wycliffe Gordon, trombone


The concert was well-planned with it’s theme not just a collection of swing era and modern jazz, or the melding of big band with Afro/Cuban percussive driven sound, but the gathering of all human beings into a unity of spirit. Many of the chosen songs are known as “jazz standards”, such as “How High the Moon”, which became known as Ella Fitzgerald’s signature song, “Round Midnight”,and “Manteca”, an Afro/Cuban masterpiece and the first tune rhythmically based on the clave to reach such heights of fame.

Ben Street, bass

However, in every case the “Jazz 100” artists, all of whom often shone in stellar solos effected wonderful new arrangements/versions of these great songs. In Santamaria’s “Afro Blue”, particularly, every one of the players got a chance to strut his stuff. “Jessica’s Day”, sometimes called “Jessica’s Birthday”, was translated in a slow and spare version. “Cubana-Be Cubana-Bop” featured a vivacious and sexy bout of improvising. “OW” contained very strong and special trombone riffs. Lizz Wright’s rendition of “How High the Moon” was put over in a strikingly modern interpretation.


Adam Cruz, drums

Perez’ complex harmonies and creative rhythmic takes on the Monk works, especially “Round Midnight” and “Off Minor”, added depth and breadth to already advanced works. Before the concert concluded, the voice of Martin Luther King in sermon introduced the Perez/ Wright collaboration on  “It’s Up to Me and You”, which Fitzgerald dedicated to the slain civil rights leader; it lent a note of solemn gravitas to this fine and  stirring song. The penultimate piece, “Manteca”, featured a protracted and amazing burst of simultaneous horn improvs that drove into the juxtaposed encore and raised the proverbial roof.


Roman Diaz, percussion

For information and tickets to all the fine concerts at Symphony Center, go to the CSO website


Unless otherwise noted, all photos courtesy of The Chicago Symphony Orchestra



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