Jazz Institute of Chicago’s Jazz Club Tour 2016 Review - So many great places to see music

Every once in awhile a night comes along and brings you a treat. This past Wednesday night gave me a surprise treat.  I showed up to the Old Town School of Folk Music to hear some Latin Jazz.  And I quickly learned that there was much, much more to the night.


World Music Wednesday featuring Johnny Blas & his Afro-Libre Orquesta


As part of their World Music Wednesday, the Old Town School of Folk Music presented Johnny Blas & his Afro-Libre OrquestaJohnny, a conguero (a congo player), fronted the 7-piece band in a wonderful fusion of Latin funk and jazz with a heavy Caribbean groove.  The performance of Mr. Blas’ original works was passionate and fierce, so much so that the crowd couldn’t help but get up to dance.


Johnny Blas directing his band from behind his giant congos


The musicians improvised, with Johnny Blas directing them from behind his giant congos.  He would tell the horns when to pop or tell the other percussionists when to come back in all while expertly driving the beat into the congos.  It created a wonderful energy in the Old Town School of Folk Music.

I would have been happy and completely satisfied with my night after Johnny Blas & his Afro-Libre Orquesta’s performance, but the night was just beginning.  I was informed that not only was this performance part of World Music Wednesday, but also part of the Jazz Institute of Chicago’s Jazz Club Tour 2016!  What was the Jazz Club Tour?  I wondered that myself:  it is an annual night to explore jazz all over the city by visiting 14 (fourteen!) Chicago clubs. The Jazz Club Tour included a trolley to take you to each club!  What an event.


The lively contemporary jazz stylings of the Ryan Schultz Quintet



I had no other choice than to keep the night going, so I jumped on the trolley and headed to the next venue:  Jerry’s Sandwiches in Wicker Park.  There I saw the Ryan Schultz Quintet play lively contemporary jazz. 


Ryan Schultz soloing on his bass trumpet


Schultz instrument of choice is a bass trumpet, which is somewhat unique. A bass trumpet is pitched one octave below a trumpet and plays the bass clef.  It produces a sound that isn’t quite like a standard trumpet and isn’t quite like a trombone, but utterly unique and memorizing – especially during Schultz’s solos.  The Quintet’s set was energetic, up-beat and modern. 

The next stop on the trolley tour wasn’t another Jazz venue, it was the legendary Rosa’s LoungeRosa’s has been operating on a rough stretch of Armitage Avenue since 1984, but has always been a destination for Chicago blues fans with blues musicians playing every night of the week. Wednesday night’s performer was guitarist Brian Lupo and his band. 


Last stop of the night was Rosa'a Lounge


They were playing down home Chicago electric blues that everyone on the tour instantly fell in love with.  You could tell that these jazz lovers were more than ok to switch gears to blues by the way they danced and hollered at the stage.  Mr. Lupo and his band ripped through some blues standards.  Lupo’s guitar solos, at times holding a note for what seemed like eternity only to unleash into an ecstatic fury of notes, is what the crowd will remember.  Lupo and his band rocked so hard that the stage decorations literally fell off the wall.  It was definitely the performance of the night.


Brian Lupo rocked so hard the stage decorations literally fell off the wall



I wasn’t sure how to top this performance, so I called it quits even though I was well short of hitting all fourteen clubs on the tour.  This tour was so robust with so much music I am not sure how anyone could fit it all into one night.  But that is probably the point:  Chicago has so many great places to see music of all kinds:  from Johnny Blas’ Latin Jazz, to Ryan Schultz’s contemporary jazz, to Brian Lupo’s electric blues.  There is never enough time to see it all.  The Jazz Institute of Chicago’s Jazz Club Tour (as well as the Old Town School of Folk Music, Jerry’s Sandwiches and Rosa’s Lounge) does a great job of highlighting it, but it is up to everyone to go out and enjoy it.  Even if it comes up and surprises you.


Photos by:  K Joseph Fotos

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