Saturday, March 30, 2013

Acclaimed musician Lisa Germano coming to Chicago


Lisa Germano has a history of making emotionally rich music.

She continues in that tradition with her latest album, "no elephants." Germano,, who was once a member of John Mellencamp's band, will perform April 23 at Schubas, 3159 N. Southport Ave., Chicago.

Kaiser Cartel and Freedy Johnston also are on the bill. The show starts at 8 p.m., and tickets are $12 in advance, $14 at the door, available at

I had the chance to talk to Germano about the new album and her career.

Q - Will you playing mostly from your new album on this tour?

This tour I will be on my own, playing a piano set as I will play much of 'no elephants' and it is mostly piano. I can't take the bees, cell phones, computers and other animals with me this time.

I hope to create an atmosphere people can relax and go into.

Q - What kind of goals did you have for the new album and do you think you achieved them? What does the album's title refer to?

''no elephants'' is a record about consciousness. Things I've learned about our food, how factory farms torture animals, global warming and being aware of these things so you can make conscious choices. 

The elephant in the room can be that there is no elephant in the room because we aren't even really communicating when we don't speak with each other less and less and speak through devices that allow many different interpretations. Also, if we continue to let poachers kill these amazing beings for ivory which no one needs, there will be no more elephants.

Q - "no elephants" is being described like a book made to be read from beginning to end. In this fast paced world, do you find it frustrating to get people to really sit down with your music?

I find it more sad than frustrating that people look at music as bits and pieces, sometimes not even getting through a whole song, but moving on to the next thing. With this record, me and Jamie did make a little book only 30 some minutes where all the songs are connected, melodies going in and out of each song.

I didn't even realize when writing that they were the same melodies, and the outside sounds from my apartment connecting the music to the outside. I wish more people could take the time to listen all the way through, but I don't expect it.

It's just out there now and I have to let it be what it is.

Q - On this album, you work again with Jamie Candiloro. How did you hook up with him and what do you think he brings to each project of yours?

I met Jamie years ago when working on "Lullaby for Liquid Pig." Joey Waronker, who was making it with me, brought him in for some mixing ideas and we hit it off immediately. Since then he has engineered and mixed the next two records. 

On this one, he brought even more to it with great ideas sound wise, bringing the outside
sounds into the record and inspiring me to keep working on it. Sometimes I don't know if a song is working until I hear it back and he always makes my music pull one in which helps me finish.

He really is a great artist and now we know each other's habits so well that many times he's already doing something I am just about to ask him to do, or he's knowing that I'll change my mind in the middle of a thought and doesn't get upset with me, which I need to be able to try any weird thought.

I'm lucky to work with him.

Q - Early on in your career, you were part of John Mellencamp's band. What did you learn from the experience?

I learned a lot about people working in John's band. It was a great experience and many hard lessons, strange things I never knew were included in playing music. It was a shock and a wonder.

Q - At the end of 1998, you said you were done with the music business and started working at an independent bookstore. What made you want to start making music again?

I guess this info must be on some article somewhere. Anyone in this crazy business says "I'm done, that's it!!!" at some point, and then keeps going. That's all that was about. 

I'm glad to keep trying to be out there playing. Reality is that I will be a bad lady if I don't find others means of making money.

Q - Your albums have been described as "savagely honest." How would you describe your music and how do you think your music has grown since albums like "Happiness" and "Geek the Girl?"

I think my music is very honest still, yet I'm a bit less dramatic and can see from a distance better. I like this improvement, but don't feel it makes the past records mean less, just different.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Chicago band Jackpot Donnie bringing vibrancy to music scene


All bands should play with as much vigor as Chicago band Jackpot Donnie does on its new EP, "Mayday!"

The band,, is likely to gain new fans with its charged-up blend of rock, blues, funk and reggae. "Mayday!" was engineered and produced by former Filter drummer Steve Gillis.

Jackpot Donnie will perform March 29 at Metro, 3730 N. Clark St., Chicago, as part of a CD release party.

The Future Laureates, Molehill and The Scissors also are on the bill. The show starts at 8:30 p.m., and tickets are $14 in advance, available at

I had the chance to talk to Jackpot Donnie frontman Matt Love about the new EP.

Q - In sitting down to make "Mayday!," what were the band's goals and do you think you achieved them?

We wanted to progress with our songwriting. In particular, we wanted to record really crisp, fun, catchy songs that we hoped would be accessible to the casual listener on the radio. 

But on the more emotional side, our drummer had just returned from a year-long hiatus, and we were really happy about that, so that lead to songs that we were really excited about, which we wanted to share with our fans.

Q - Steve Gillis produced and engineered the album. How did you hook up with him and what do you think he brought to the table?

We were introduced to Steve through our good friend Tate, of the band How Far to Austin. They had just done a full-length with Steve, and it sounded great to us, so we were curious to see what Steve would do to help us polish our sound. 

We met him, talked to him about what we wanted this EP to be, and he came out to a couple practices and listened to the songs that we were thinking of putting on the EP. Once we had all agreed that it was a good fit, we moved forward. 

Not only is Steve a really smart engineer, but he's also a talented songwriter. He really helped us craft what were, originally, really just rough ideas that we thought we were ready to record. 

He pushed us to do things that we hadn't thought to do before, which in turn helped us to do a bit more on this EP in terms of showing people what we are capable of. The end result is a 5-song EP that's better than what we had originally hoped for.

Q - You've probably heard the band's music described in many ways. How would you describe the band's music?

We've always fallen back on the "rock-reggae" term, which I think suits us fairly well. But really, we're just a rock band. We love playing music that makes people dance, bounce up and down, and just have a good time.

Q - Your music has been featured on both television shows and in film. Do you view that as just another way to get your music out there?

Absolutely. The more people that can hear us, the better. But we're also creative guys, so it's a lot of fun to be able to combine what we do to other forms of artistic media.

Q - The music business has changed drastically over the years. Do you think it is harder or easier to be a band these days?

It's never really "easy" to be in a band. There are lots of different and passionate personalities, schedules, and individual goals that all need to be integrated. 

But if you're lucky, which we are, then you end up just playing music with your friends, which doesn't ever suck. In terms of getting noticed, that's always been the hardest part for any band. 

It's not just about getting your foot in the door, but having the door open up for you in the first place - that's the trick. Until that happens for us, as we said 10 years ago when we started playing, it's always been about making and playing music with your friends, and having fun doing it. 

As long as we're still having fun, being in the band will always be easy.

Q - How do you think the band's music fits into the Chicago music scene?

There's not a lot of original rock-reggae bands in Chicago. Right now there seems to be a lot of folk-rock, cover bands, or metal bands playing around the city, so we're happy to have a slightly different sound. 

Overall, the music scene in Chicago is really thriving. People in this town love to see a good show, and that's always been our #1 goal - to put on a good live show. 

We've been playing in the city for most of the last decade, so I like to think we've been able to create a niche for ourselves in Chicago music.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Tribute set for blues musician Magic Slim

 The blues community will come together on March 28 at the Mayne Stage in Chicago to honor Magic Slim, who passed away on Feb. 21 at the age of 75. 
"A Night For Magic" will take place at 7 p.m. at the Mayne Stage, 1328 W. Morse Ave., Chicago. Tickets are $25, available at
The host band for the evening will be The Teardrops, fronted by Slim's son, Shawn Holt, who just became a member of the band at the beginning of the year. 
The rest of the lineup will include John Primer, Otis Clay, Eddy Clearwater, Billy Branch, Lonnie Brooks, Wayne Baker Brooks, Dave Specter, Eddie Shaw, Nick Moss, Grana Louise, Big Time Sarah, Zac Harmon, Carl Weathersby, J.W. Williams, Jimmy Burns, Linsey Alexander, Steve Cushing, the Chicago Blues All-Stars and more to be announced.  
All proceeds from the event will go to Slim's family.
 For those who can't make the event but would like to make a donation to the family, donations can be made to Magic Slim's wife, Ann Holt, and mailed to her c/o Slim's manager, Martin Salzman, at 22 W. Washington, Suite 1500, Chicago, IL 60602.
Magic Slim and the Teardrops won the coveted Blues Music Award in 2003 as "Blues Band of the Year," one of six times Slim won a BMA, considered the highest honor in the blues. In 2011, the state of Mississippi erected a Blues Trail Marker in Slim's honor in front of a building in Grenada where his mother operated a restaurant.
Information courtesy of Blind Pig Records.


Friday, March 8, 2013

Glen Phillips coming to Evanston's S.P.A.C.E.


Musician Glen Phillips continues to push forward after a freak accident a few years ago almost put an end to his career.

Phillips,, had to relearn how to play the guitar after severing nerves in his left arm in October 2008 when a glass coffee table he was sitting on gave way.

He will play songs from his esteemed career, including as frontman of Toad The Wet Sprocket, when he performs March 30 at S.P.A.C.E., 1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston.

Dave Sills also is on the bill. The show starts at 8 p.m., and tickets range from $20 to $40, available at

I had the chance to talk to Phillips about the upcoming show and his other activities.

Q - Great to talk to you again. I understand that you will be drawing on songs from your entire career during the upcoming show at S.PA.C.E. Will it be hard to choose which songs to perform? Will you take any requests from the audience that night?

I usually just write down more songs than I'll need in no particular order and wing it. 

I play things from pretty much every project, and try to get to requests as long as I think I can pull them off. There's a lot of solo material, some Toad, some WPA, and a few covers.


Q - Last fall, you toured with Grant-Lee Phillips. When you are not touring with Toad The Wet Sprocket, do you prefer touring by yourself or with someone else? Or do you need both in your life?

I need variety and freedom creatively, so it works for me to mix things up. That's a big reason Toad was able to get together and make a new record (we're just finishing it up). 

We all have different projects, so Toad doesn't have to be our one and only outlet. When I'm out solo I like getting to be on the road with someone else. 

I've made a lot of good friends that way. Otherwise, it's just me in the car listening to Ira Glass talking.

Are solo shows a way for you to showcase how far you have come in the rehabilitation of your left arm?


A few years ago I fell through a glass table and severed the ulnar nerve in my left arm. I just started using my pinky again in a limited way about a year ago, but it's still pins and needles and feels more like a balloon than a finger. 

I was told by my doctor that playing guitar was the best physical therapy I could do. I'm not trying to showcase the recovery so much as I'm trying to just play the music as well as I can. 

There was a lot of room for improvement before I hurt my arm, and there's even more now.

Q - How is the new Toad The Wet Sprocket album coming along? When can fans expect it to be released? What should people expect from the new album?

We're very close to being finished. I'm actually writing these answers in the studio as we're doing some last-minute keyboard overdubs. 

Mixing starts this week. As for the release, we'll put out a single in late spring and sell the record at shows and online to begin with, and hope for a broader release maybe in September. 

All the details are still coming together, so we hope people will check in at the website or sign up for the mailing list so we can let them know about it. 

We're all happy with the record. It's not the record we would have made in 1997. We've learned a lot in the last years, and I think these songs reflect that growth.

Q - Do you view Toad The Wet Sprocket as your main project these days? Do you have any dream projects or dream collaborations?

Toad is my main project for the next year or two, but I have a lot of and friends I want to play with, and am excited about the next solo record as well. 

As for dreams…who knows. I'm lucky to get to do this at all. I just want to keep that in mind and keep trying to do good work.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Chris Greene Quartet pushing musical boundaries


Chicago-based The Chris Greene Quartet continues to earn critical acclaim for pushing the boundaries of jazz.

People can judge for themselves when the band,,  performs March 10 at City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph St., Chicago. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. and tickets are $10, available at

I had the chance to talk to Greene about the group and its latest activities.

Q - Your band's last album, "A Group Effort," earned critical acclaim. Does the album's title sum up the album and what you wanted to achieve? What were your goals for the album?

My goal for any album project is to simply document where the band is creatively and conceptually.

It’s one of those things where all the stars seemed to align at the right time. Six months before recording the album, legendary recording and mixing engineer Joe Tortorici reached out to me with a phone call. 

He told me how much he appreciated my playing and the band concept. He expressed a strong interest in working with my quartet - be it recording in the studio, engineering a live show, or doing a final studio mixdown for us. 

Keep in mind - Joe is a guy who has worked with MAJOR jazz and pop artists (Ella Fitzgerald, Whitney Houston) and feature film soundtracks (A League of Their Own) over the course of his long career. So his endorsement was extremely flattering.


Also, I had a new drummer in the band - Steve Corley - who has roots in acoustic jazz, gospel, and R&B. In just three months, he took my playing and the band’s collective sound to a whole different level. So I was anxious to record the new chemistry.

We had initially planned to record the album in the studio in December, 2011. But I got a call from the Mayne Stage, who wanted to put a concert together with my band as the headliner. 

The Mayne Stage is a historic and beautiful movie theatre from the 1910s located in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago that has been retrofitted with top notch sound and recording capabilities. It’s now a renowned stop for national touring acts. 


As much as I love recording in the studio, I was even more psyched to record a live record. There are so many special moments that happen at a live gig that can’t always be captured in recording studio. 

The Mayne management and I agreed on a date of Thursday, October 27, 2011. I asked Joe - who had already recorded and engineered several shows at the venue - to engineer and record our concert. 

I asked my friend and keyboardist William Kurk (who introduces the band on the CD) to be our opener for the night. The Chris Greene Quartet recorded 9 selections in from of a lively crowd of 100 of our fans. Six of nine tracks ended up on the final CD. The remaining three are available only on our website.

On January 10, 2012, I initiated a Kickstarter campaign to help defray some of the promotion and graphic design costs. I only needed to raise $3,150.

We reached our goal in a little over two weeks, and we ended up raising more than $5,000 overall. People from as far away as Australia and Portugal pledged their hard -earned money to be a part of this process.

The album’s title - Well, the band is not all about just me. It’s not just me on stage with a “backing band."

We’re four musicians on stage with a shared musical history, palpable chemistry and a unified band concept. Joe Tortorici did an impeccable job capturing our live show and mixing the final product. 

And with the help of the Kickstarter campaign, I’ve been able to give the record the promotion it deserves. Also, I wrote 2 songs, our pianist Damian wrote 2 songs, and our bassist Marc wrote one. 

And we all had a hand in arranging them. And then there's the successful Kickstarter campaign. That’s why I called the album “A Group Effort.”

Q - Is the group working on new music? What should people expect from a new album? Will you be building on what you did with "A Group Effort?"

We're always working on new music. Just this past month, we've added 10 new songs to the repertoire. 

We all write for the band, so that makes my job even easier. The only things I hope that people expect from us are artistic integrity, quality, and honesty. 

As far as building on the last album goes, I'm sure we'll be doing that on some level. But ultimately, I hope that we evolve from album to album. If the next album sounds exactly like "A Group Effort," I either need to step up my sax practicing or quit playing altogether.

Q - What was your vision for your current band as opposed to your last band, New Perspective?

I started the Chris Greene Quartet in October of 2005. I initially started the band simply to play some acoustic jazz on tenor saxophone. 

But I couldn’t ignore the soul and funk I heard as a child and the hip-hop that I listened to as a teenager. So all those influences gradually found their way into our repertoire and our band concept. 

Damian Espinosa, my pianist, was a holdover from New Perspective, my previous electric jazz/funk project. I’d played with Marc Piane, my bassist, on and off for about 10 years. And I’d known Steve Corley (drummer) for some time before he joined the band last year. 

My intention for using funk - not to be to lofty about it - is the same as that of Bartok or Beethoven, when they used folk melodies as an element in their compositions. So when there’s funk in the music, it’s because I hear it there, and not because I’m just trying to please the audience. 

So I had to find people who were open-minded and well-versed in acoustic jazz as well as other styles and genres of music.

Q - You started playing the saxophone at age 10. What drew you to the saxophone in the first place? Are there are other saxophonists you admire and why?

Initially, I was drawn to the saxophone because it was shiny and had lots of cool buttons. I didn't realize that I was any good at it until my band directors kept giving me solos in the jazz band.

I find myself attracted to players who can simultaneously juggle rhythm and harmony, and emotion when they improvise. And not just saxophone players, either. 

From a straight-ahead standpoint, I like Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Branford Marsalis and Stan Getz. And I’m also a fan of players who aren’t shy about their love for funk and R&B: Maceo Parker, Eric Leeds, Dave Sanborn, Steve Coleman, and Kenny Garrett. 

But when it comes to pure improvising and thematic development, Sonny Rollins is STILL head and shoulders above everyone.

Q - You've performed or recorded with the likes of Common and The Temptations. What have those experiences taught you?

For one thing, it’s interesting to see all the work that goes into a large scale pop music production. The lights, the great sound, the choreography, the intricate musical arrangements of familiar hit’s all a fascinating process. 

I’ve always thought that there isn’t a jazz musician on the planet that couldn’t benefit from seeing a large scale pop show or a big Broadway musical. Besides the intrinsic entertainment value, you gain an insight into how to entertain people. 

I’m not saying that jazz musicians need to adopt a big splashy stage show with Auto-Tuned vocals and 25 background dancers. But jazz musicians need to give concertgoers something to look at and feel as opposed to just a bunch of extended solos and crazy time signatures. 

When I go to a show, I want to see musicians expressing themselves with passion and heart - not a bunch of music scales and patterns. If I pay to see you, I want to see you throw down.

On the musical side, the Temptations gig was especially enjoyable for me because I grew up hearing Motown music. My parents were both huge fans of many of the artists on that label. 

And it was inspiring to see Otis Williams (the only living original Temptation) out there in his 70s still killing it on a nightly basis. As for Common - how can you not appreciate a local boy done good?

Q - Your band doesn't play traditional jazz, whatever that means. Is it hard to draw people to your music when they have a preconceived notion of what jazz should sound like?

Not really. Most of the people who frequent jazz clubs don't know anything about jazz, per se. They know what they like and like what they know. 

The average person could care less how many Sonny Rollins solos that I've transcribed. Ultimately, they want music that makes them that they can feel. 

Most jazz musicians listen to a wide swath of music. And I see no reason to hide it. 

At college, I would have theory and private lessons all morning, then jazz improv or arranging classes in the afternoon, and then would sit and watch "Yo! MTV Raps" in the evening. Plus, my mom was really big into Motown and Philadelphia soul, and my dad was into funk and disco. 

And because of all that, I already knew a lot of the things the rappers were sampling, which led me to check out James Brown, and then (Brown’s great alto man]) Maceo Parker, and the whole school of r-and-b sax playing. And somewhere along the way, all those wires were crossed and soldered together in my head. 

So even if an audience member doesn't know about jazz, there should (hopefully) be other elements in the music for them to relate to.

I’ve had some people, who have a restrictive view of what "jazz’" is, actually lecture me – "What do you think you’re doing?," that kind of thing. 

But we were playing recently at the Chicago Cultural Center, and a 60s-ish black lady comes up – a lady who’d seen a lot in her time, heard people like Duke Ellington and Count Basie – and she said, "You know, you guys remind me of how jazz was played back in the day." 

She saw right through all the funk and the other stuff and got the traditional element. She found the honesty; she knew we were coming right out of the tradition.

Most of the people who buy our CDs and come to our shows aren’t “jazz fans” per se. But they’ll respond to the visceral, melodic or rhythmic aspects of the music, even if they can’t grasp the musical elements. We’ve had people come up to us after shows and say, “I thought I hated jazz. But I really liked you guys.”

Q - What do you think your band adds to the Chicago music scene? What are the band's short-term and long-term goals?

I have no idea. History and posterity will decide what I or my band have added to the scene. We have performed as far north as Madison, Wis., as far east as Detroit, Mich., as far west as Burlington, Iowa, and as far south as Champaign, IL. 

We plan to do even more touring in 2013 - nationally and - hopefully - internationally. We plan to return to the studio this summer as well.