Chicago Jazz Orchestra With Bobby Broom | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Chicago Jazz Orchestra With Bobby Broom 

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The Chicago Jazz Orchestra concludes its current concert series with a program never heard in Chicago (and rarely anywhere else): the big-band and orchestral arrangements written by 60s icons Oliver Nelson and Don Sebesky to frame the leads and solos of guitarist Wes Montgomery. In the years before his death in '68, Montgomery went from jazz sensation to minor pop star, thanks largely to the Verve albums Goin' Out of My Head and California Dreaming, and A Day in the Life and Road Song for Creed Taylor's fledgling CTI label. They featured covers of hits like "I Say a Little Prayer," "Scarborough Fair," "Chim Chim Cheree," and a batch of Lennon-McCartney tunes as well as Montgomery's own catchy melodies. And though jazz purists sneered--particularly at the end of the run, when Sebesky's arrangements reached some execrable excesses--these recordings did pour Montgomery's unique rich tone and uncompromising solos into three- and four-minute packages palatable to a wide audience. The earlier arrangements by Nelson (and by Johnny Pate, an influential if all but forgotten Chicagoan) pack plenty of punch, but the popularity of the albums wasn't just about slick production or crossover appeal. Montgomery always employed his singular and deceptive virtuosity for communication rather than exhibitionism. Case in point: he could play melody lines in octaves, a technique practically unheard-of till he pulled it off; while fellow guitarists may have dropped their picks in envy or astonishment, the masses just warmed to the bigger, heftier sound. The Chicago Jazz Orchestra's re-creation of this repertoire is split almost evenly between Nelson and Sebesky arrangements, but cherry-picks the latter with the wisdom of hindsight. The smart and soulful guitarist Bobby Broom, who has conducted workshops on Montgomery's style, fronts the band. Sunday, March 28, 3 PM, Harold Washington Library Center, auditorium, 400 S. State; 312-409-3947.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.

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