Thursday, April 10, 2014

Neo-Bohemian Rhapsody: On Great Cheap Jazz and Perhaps Even the Sound of Salvation

Article references and recommends:

Tuesday Night Jazz Sessions
Multikulti Community Center
1000 N. Milwaukee, 4th Floor
Every Tuesday, 10pm-1am

Art has long been the antidote to societal toxicity.

And while I can't deny that I also enjoy considerably pricier cultural offerings, this year I have been especially enriched by numerous live entertainment outings that have demanded an outlay of $12 or less.

So, perhaps as a counterbalance to an abiding nihilism borne from economic injustice, employment insecurity, existential inequity and environmental instability, I--along with my friend Ken and at times others--have detected a Bohemian undercurrent running through a variety of local venues and activities.

Whether referencing visits to venerable Chicago music clubs like the Green Mill and Kingston Mines, enjoying meals at unvarnished old-school eateries like Manny's Deli, uncovering free or cheap collegiate performances of considerable merit (1, 2, 3), celebrating a legendary blue collar bard like Nelson Algren, reveling in the timeless bliss of 60s rock with a Human Jukebox or merely my periodic hosting of Movie Nights for family and friends, I have found that appreciating redemptive artistry with a smattering of like-minded souls--especially for a minimum of cold hard cash--somehow makes all the bullshit seem not so bad.

Not that emotional sustenance via cultural exploration is anything new. 

To varying degrees of acuity, virtually everything I've written or posted on this blog says or connotes much the same thing.

But beyond being perpetually and unequivocably impressed by the talent (and not simply the gumption and effort) of many who perform for little or no pay or prestige--whether community theater actors and musicians, college jazz students, poetry slam participants, part-time tribute bands, cabaret acts booked into local libraries, construction workers moonlighting as improv comedians, etc., etc.--I have been profoundly galvanized by discovering people and places that have provided intrinsic nourishment for mere pennies.

And, at risk of redundancy or preachiness, I feel compelled to share each time I stumble across such an experience.

For perhaps I'm not the only one who believes in Bohemia, whether as a bastion in which to non-chemically numb one's worldview or a pasture from which to fertilize it.

Which is a rather roundabout way to reference that on Tuesday night, Ken--at his unearthing--and I attended a terrifically enjoyable jazz performance in a rather unique place for next to nothing.

I won't pretend to know much about the overall mission and purview of Multikulti, but it seems to be a finely funky community center and performance space, located on the 4th floor of an old building mostly occupied by office space, at 1000 N. Milwaukee in Chicago.

For about a year now, according to keyboardist and organizer Andrew Lawrence, Multikulti has hosted a Tuesday night jazz session designed to be warm, welcoming, inexpensive and for those--unlike me--with musical talent, participatory.

Each week, the music starts around 10pm, so as to accommodate easy street parking after the meter boxes have stopped collecting campaign contributions.

According to the website, there is a $5 suggested donation, which I was happy to give once I came across the rather non-imperious collection jar.

The vibe at Multikulti is of an oversized living room, with a motley collection of couches and a couple rows of chairs, but no bar, foodservice, flatscreens, etc. As the website notes, it's BYO, but upon taking our seats, Ken and I were offered a couple of PBRs by Lawrence; we graciously declined.

But despite the rather low-key surroundings, a bit of ad hoc setlist decision-making by the musicians, the specter of an open jam session later in the night and the odd reality that as the first note was played there were more people onstage than in the audience, any suggestions of "amateur hour" were immediately put to rest.

Opening with a Charlie Parker composition whose name I can't cite, it was clear that this was a group of first-rate musicians.

As I would learn from Lawrence at the set break, he is a piano teacher by day and many of the others in the core house band are teachers and/or students.

Both sax players--Brent Griffin, Jr. on alto; Ben Schmidt-Swartz on tenor--were particularly impressive, with Lawrence and guitarist Sam Moshing taking several stellar solo turns, and stand-up bassist Mike Harmon and drunmer Pete Mannheim solidly maintaining the rhythm.

The ensemble sounded great on Cole Porter's "I Love You" and an original Lawrence ballad called "Falling" was truly mesmerizing.

Though the open jam session undoubtedly would have been fun to watch, with at least one audience member obviously equipped to join those onstage, the 11:30pm set break provided the perfect opportunity for old fogies like Ken and me to bow out, even at the risk of undermining a true Bohemian lifestyle.

But taking into account the surroundings--both within the venue and in terms of easy street parking right outside--as well as the low-cost and relaxed vibe, I have rarely if ever seen high-quality jazz (or almost any live entertainment for that matter) in an environment any more comfortable.

I realize the more of these cool places I--or Ken, or other friends--find, the less likely it is that I will revisit any, let alone all, of them. 

But if I don't get back to Multikulti for more Tuesday night jazz sessions, it will be to my detriment in more ways than one.

Still, if you know of other great Chicago-centric examples of the neo-Bohemian ethos I should check out, by all means, please share. 

The future of the world--or at least mine--may depend on it.

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