Chicago has a rich tradition of nurturing and producing bold and innovative tenor saxophonists. Gene Ammons, Johnny Griffin, Fred Anderson, Von Freeman, Clifford Jordan, Red Holloway, Eddie Harris, and Sonny Rollins all cut their chops in the Windy City and made indelible marks on its jazz scene (and, of course, the music world in general).
For about twenty-five years, Frank Catalano has been billed as a "young, up-and-coming, prodigy" saxophonist cut in this Chicago tenor tradition. But a musician can only retain the "young prodigy" title for so long. Now 39-years-old and a fixture in Chicago's music scene, such as through his weekly late-night gig at the legendary Green Mill, Catalano has assumed his rightful place as a torchbearer of the great Chicago tenor saxophone tradition.
Catalano's instantly recognizable, powerful and dynamic tenor playing--yet at the same time nimble and thoughtful--is on full display on his upcoming May 20 release, Bye Bye Blackbird: Blowing In From Chicago For Von And Eddie (Ropeadope). To stay true to his Chicago roots, the album pays homage to his heroes and mentors Von Freeman--affectionately known throughout Chicago as Vonski--and Eddie Harris.
Catalano pays tribute to the soulful, R&B-tinged Harris with the equally soulful and funky original opening track, "Chicago Eddie." Harris had a remarkable ability to use simple yet infectious melodies as the starting points for exploratory, virtuosic improvisations. You can hear this throughout Catalano's music. "I had the chance to perform with Eddie a few times while I was playing with Charles Earland," said Catalano, referring to his work as a teenager in Hammond B-3 master Earland's group. "He was always very nice to me, and of course, I grew up listening to him, being inspired by his playing." Catalano was able to channel Harris' tone when he was featured on recordings by Beyoncé and John Legend.
In honor of Freeman, the title track is a standard that often found its way into the saxophonist's performance repertoire, and which Freeman recorded on at least one occasion. "Vonski was such a mentor and inspiration to me," said Catalano, who recorded and released in 1999 an album with the late Freeman, You Talkin' To Me?! (Delmark). "I first sat in with Von at age 10 at Andy's Jazz Club in Chicago. Thanks to Von, I got to jam with Miles Davis, Better Carter, Tommy Flannigan, Charles Earland, Elvin Jones...Do recordings for Delmark, Blue Note, and Savoy... I will never be able to say thanks enough."
The title track is much more than just a tribute to Freeman. It is also the first of two tracks on the album--the other being the Stanley Turrentine-penned soul jazz classic "Sugar" - on which the legendary alto saxophonist David Sanborn trades solos with Catalano. Sanborn's distinctive alto proves to be a perfect complement to Catalano's sound, as their soloing appears to seamlessly build upon the other's playing. "I am so honored that David agreed to play on these tracks," Catalano said. "He has had such an influence on jazz and on my playing. I remember watching 'Night Music' as a kid and was inspired by seeing amazing jazz on TV."
Catalano continues what has become a musically simpatico and prolific relationship with Jimmy Chamberlin, who is best known as the drummer of the pioneering Chicago alternative rock band The Smashing Pumpkins. Chamberlin has collaborated on Catalano's Ropeadope albums Love Supreme Collective (#1 on iTunes) and God's Gonna Cut You Down (#1 on Billboard Charts). Chamberlin and Catalano have been touring together over the past four years and have been friends for nearly 20. "Jimmy and I have really built up a rapport," Catalano said. "He swings, grooves and really propels the group. It's so exciting to play with him, to build something great musically."
Rounding out Catalano's band on Bye Bye Blackbird are New York-based guitarist Nir Felder and Chicago's Demos Petropoulos on Hammond B-3 organ, both of whom throw down with the groove, drive, grit and grease that hearken back to the heydays of organ jazz groups, such as when Catalano spent his formative years in Earland's group. The band offers a grooving version of Miles Davis' "All Blues," a powerful interpretation of the Etta James vehicle "At Last," and closes with the Catalano live staple "Shakin'." It's a high-energy ear worm that bears Catalano's trademark powerhouse, inspired, and most importantly, Chicago-based playing.
"I'm at a point in my career where an album like this just feels right," Catalano concluded. "My wife and I recently purchased a cozy loft in Greenwich Village and we are really enjoying seeing the world. I'm looking back at the artists and sounds that made me who I am as a musician, while at the same time placing my stamp on music I love. We are touring Japan in May and then going to France. I can't wait for the release of this album and everything ahead. It's a very exciting time."
Upcoming Frank Catalano Performances:
April 27 / The Green Mill / Chicago, IL
* April 29 / Club Bonafide / New York, NY
May 4 / The Green Mill / Chicago, IL
** May 10 - 13 / Cotton Club Tokyo / Tokyo, Japan
** July 8 - 9 / The Green Mill / Chicago, IL
** August 6 / Deer Park Jazz Festival / Deer Park, IL
* feat. Nir Felder, John Benitez and Francis Benitez
** feat. Jimmy Chamberlin
Frank Catalano · Bye Bye Blackbird / Ropeadope · Release Date: May 20, 2016