Howard Reich: Jazz music

For the first time, the Chicago Jazz Ensemble will hold two "Listening Sessions" back-to-back next week -- Wednesday and Thursday -- as curtain-raisers for its next major concert ("Beneath the Underdog: The Musical World of Charles Mingus" on Jan. 20).
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In effect, the CJE -- based at Columbia College Chicago -- is doubling down on a nascent effort to reach audiences through more than just concerts. For the CJE's "Listening Sessions" series represents something quite different than a lineup of traditional performances. At the "Listening Sessions," CJE artistic director Dana Hall converses in an informal setting with the soloist who will be appearing at the next CJE concert. More important, the audience is welcome to participate in the conversation.
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"It's a new concept that we're really starting to shape," says Kate Dumbleton, executive director of the CJE and Hall's partner in guiding the orchestra.
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"Sometimes, we all have this big celebrity thing, where the artist seems to be in some sort of cloud. ... People often see the musicians as these geniuses on stage. But when (audiences) get to talk to them, it's so meaningful. I'm trying to create those opportunities."
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Liberated from the spotlight and the conventions of the concert hall, the musicians can articulate in words what they hope to express in music. The history of the repertoire, the purpose of a concert, the transformative effects of jazz -- all these themes, and others, tend to bubble up when a soloist is taking questions from Hall and the public.
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In the case of the Mingus sessions, Chicagoans will have the rare opportunity to get up close and personal with two leading musicians. Meshell Ndegeocello -- who since the 1990s has ignored boundaries separating jazz, pop and politics -- will discuss Mingus' collaboration with Joni Mitchell (which Ndegeocello will explore further in the CJE concert). <b>Christian McBride </b>-- the leading jazz bassist of his generation -- likely will riff on Mingus' multiple roles as virtuoso bassist, uncompromising bandleader and prolific composer. And Ndegeocello and McBride will take on any other subjects that the audience broaches. That all the "Listening Sessions" are free can only encourage listeners to attend. 
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"Listening Session with Christian McBride":</b> Noon to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Conaway Center of Columbia College Chicago, 1104 S. Wabash Ave.; free; chicagojazzensemble.com
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"Listening Session with Meshell Ndegeocello": </b>Noon to 1:30 p.m. Thursday at the Hokin Gallery of Columbia College Chicago, 623 S. Wabash Ave.; free; chicagojazzensemble.com
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"Beneath the Underdog: The Musical World of Charles Mingus": </b>Featuring McBride and Ndegeocello and the Chicago Jazz Ensemble, under the direction of Dana Hall. 7:30 p.m. Jan. 20 at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, in Millennium Park, 205 E. Randolph Dr.; $18-$48; 312-334-7777 or chicagojazzensemble.com or harristheaterchicago.org
chi-20120112-new-entertainment-in-chicago-pict-003

For the first time, the Chicago Jazz Ensemble will hold two "Listening Sessions" back-to-back next week -- Wednesday and Thursday -- as curtain-raisers for its next major concert ("Beneath the Underdog: The Musical World of Charles Mingus" on Jan. 20).

In effect, the CJE -- based at Columbia College Chicago -- is doubling down on a nascent effort to reach audiences through more than just concerts. For the CJE's "Listening Sessions" series represents something quite different than a lineup of traditional performances. At the "Listening Sessions," CJE artistic director Dana Hall converses in an informal setting with the soloist who will be appearing at the next CJE concert. More important, the audience is welcome to participate in the conversation.

"It's a new concept that we're really starting to shape," says Kate Dumbleton, executive director of the CJE and Hall's partner in guiding the orchestra.

"Sometimes, we all have this big celebrity thing, where the artist seems to be in some sort of cloud. ... People often see the musicians as these geniuses on stage. But when (audiences) get to talk to them, it's so meaningful. I'm trying to create those opportunities."

Liberated from the spotlight and the conventions of the concert hall, the musicians can articulate in words what they hope to express in music. The history of the repertoire, the purpose of a concert, the transformative effects of jazz -- all these themes, and others, tend to bubble up when a soloist is taking questions from Hall and the public.

In the case of the Mingus sessions, Chicagoans will have the rare opportunity to get up close and personal with two leading musicians. Meshell Ndegeocello -- who since the 1990s has ignored boundaries separating jazz, pop and politics -- will discuss Mingus' collaboration with Joni Mitchell (which Ndegeocello will explore further in the CJE concert). Christian McBride -- the leading jazz bassist of his generation -- likely will riff on Mingus' multiple roles as virtuoso bassist, uncompromising bandleader and prolific composer. And Ndegeocello and McBride will take on any other subjects that the audience broaches. That all the "Listening Sessions" are free can only encourage listeners to attend.

"Listening Session with Christian McBride": Noon to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Conaway Center of Columbia College Chicago, 1104 S. Wabash Ave.; free; chicagojazzensemble.com

"Listening Session with Meshell Ndegeocello": Noon to 1:30 p.m. Thursday at the Hokin Gallery of Columbia College Chicago, 623 S. Wabash Ave.; free; chicagojazzensemble.com

"Beneath the Underdog: The Musical World of Charles Mingus": Featuring McBride and Ndegeocello and the Chicago Jazz Ensemble, under the direction of Dana Hall. 7:30 p.m. Jan. 20 at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, in Millennium Park, 205 E. Randolph Dr.; $18-$48; 312-334-7777 or chicagojazzensemble.com or harristheaterchicago.org

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