Back to the Oak Park Arms: Jazz pianist Kahn, guitarist Brown return to familiar venue

Originally Posted HERE

Myrna PetlickiPioneer Press

Performing close to home is a real treat for jazz pianist Jeremy Kahn but the Oak Park resident insists that’s not the only reason he loves doing concerts at the Oak Park Arms.

“The people who come to my performances are very appreciative of what I have to offer,” Kahn said. “They show that by their enthusiastic responses. They listen quietly, which is not always the case at my other performances.”

The Jeremy Kahn Duo, featuring guitarist Andy Brown, will perform a Monday Night Concert at the Oak Park Arms on June 25. Kahn estimates that this is the 30th time he has performed at that venue.

The playlist hadn’t been set, but Kahn reported that they will follow a still-to-be-determined theme.

“There are all sorts of themes,” he said. “But they’re mainly based around songs that are by the master composers of the Great American Songbook, either by Richard Rodgers or Cole Porter, Irving Berlin or George Gershwin; or some of the jazz masters like Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk or Antonio Carlos Jobim.”

The pianist noted that they try to make the majority of the songs recognizable to the audience.

“We’ve seen a lot of the same faces over the years, and we know what they respond to,” Kahn said. “We’ll take requests from the audience if it’s something we know how to play.”

Sometimes, the duo will invite certain people onstage to sing a song.

“People get a kick out of that because it’s someone most of them know quite well,” Kahn said.

Kahn has performed with a who’s-who list of celebrities.

“I had the thrill of playing for Joni Mitchell. That was pretty amazing,” he said. “I played with Dizzy Gillespie when I was in college, and I got to be part of an orchestra that backed up Aretha Franklin.”

For the last six years, Kahn has played every Wednesday night at Andy’s Jazz Club downtown with the Andy Brown Quartet. (Brown doesn’t own the venue.)

“I love everything about playing with Jeremy,” Brown said. “He’s a fantastic all-around musician, master of the piano, and a great person to make music with. We have a lot of the same influences and same things we love about jazz and music in general. He’s such a phenomenal musician, it’s always a lesson for me to get to play with him.”

Brown has performed as a sideman with a number of internationally known jazz musicians, including Anat Cohen and Kurt Elling, as well as working with such Chicago jazz luminaries as Don Stiernberg, Bobby Lewis and Judy Roberts. He also accompanies many Chicago vocalists, including his wife Petra van Nuis.

Brown praised the Oak Park Arms as “a great outlet for jazz musicians. I’ve been playing there in different configurations for a couple of years. Last year, I had a series of different duet partners there, and Jeremy was one of them.”

Brown noted that playing in a duet with Kahn is very different from when they perform together in the quartet.

“There’s more freedom, more openness, more spontaneity,” he said. “In that duet setting, it’s more adventurous.”

No Regrets

I’m writing this to recall the first anniversary of Mariana’s passing. It’s good get past all these milestones: the first this; the first that without her. But, trust me: I realize that there will always be a hole in my heart. I just need to try to make some nice decorations around that hole to make it presentable.

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There was a lot of discussion during the 2017 NBA Playoffs about one of the best players on the Boston Celtics. His sister had recently died in an accident, and sports pundits opined about whether or not he should feel an obligation to continue to play while dealing with his grief, or if he would want to play (regardless of whether or not he felt an obligation).

This topic resonated with me, and here is why:

My wonderful wife Mariana passed away on February 25th, 2017. She was in rough shape for the last few months of her life, and I had to make decisions about how much or how little I would (and/or could) continue to work during this time. I wanted to be with her as much as possible, but economics dictated that I work at least part of the time. This was tricky, and I felt that there were no “right” or “wrong” answers to this issue.

Backing up a few months, a new Chicago jazz venue called Winter’s opened its doors in November of 2016, and its owner Scott Stegman  was kind enough to offer me some gigs during its opening months. But I had already accepted a gig in the pit band for a show that was having a 10-week run, so I had to respectfully decline his offer in the hopes that there’d be future opportunities. I was right, and Scott offered me a bunch of gigs, the first of which was on (yes, you guessed it) 2/25/17.

As that date approached, I was clearing my schedule as Mariana’s condition worsened. But I was so looking forward to my Winter’s debut, and they were wonderfully kind about letting me make a last-minute decision. They had someone lined to take my place if I felt unable to make it.

Waking up early in the morning of February 25, I looked across the room at Mariana in her bed, and, based on her stillness, my suspicions were true: she had come to the end of her journey. I’ll spare the details, but it was a surreal (but inevitable) end to a journey of my own. And also for the journeys of our boys Charlie and Luke. We said our goodbyes and let the new reality sink in as best as we were able.

Some time that afternoon, I realized that I needed to decide about the Winter’s gig. I reflected on the questions that arose: Should I stay home and be with Luke, Charlie and close friends and family? Or, if I chose to play the gig, would it be disrespectful of Mariana’s memory so soon after her passing? And would I be able to focus (and stay awake) after this long, stressful and exhausting day?

I decided to go for it: the bandstand has long been a sanctuary for me, and the chance to make music with some of my favorite players (Andy Baker, Larry Kohut and Phil Gratteau) beckoned with the possibility of taking my mind off of what had just occurred. I’m glad that I did: making a joyful noise surrounded by friends, family and random music-lovers was a balm for my soul. That, plus a couple of cocktails.

From my extremely unreliable perspective (I recall feeling like I had dropped some LSD), the music felt much like it would have on any other night. Perhaps a bit more heartfelt. I keep meaning to find an opportune moment to ask Andy, Larry or Phil how they recall that evening. 

Is there a moral to this story? I don’t know. Maybe it’s to trust your instincts. And let the chips fall where they may.