Saturday, November 18, 2023

Musicians come together to support Chicago saxophonist Mars Williams


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Innovative saxophonist Mars Williams brought a new sound to the Chicago music scene with his band Liquid Soul.

Now his fellow bandmates along with guest musicians will come together as part of a benefit concert for Williams, who recently passed away after battling a rare form of cancer known as ampullary cancer.

Music For Mars will take place at 8 p.m. Nov. 25 at Metro, 3730 N. Clark St., Chicago. The show will feature Liquid Soul (Williams will be there in spirit) as well as the Joe Marcinek Band and Jesse De La Pena.

The show will also feature guest musicians Jeff Coffin of the Dave Matthews Band and Chicago musician Ike Reilly. Tickets are available at metrochicago.com.

Proceeds will benefit the Mars Williams Medical Treatment Cancer Fund.

I had the chance to talk to Liquid Soul trumpet player Ron Haynes and keyboard player Frankie Hill about the show.

Q – It is great that so many of the people that Mars has worked with over the years have agreed to be part of the fundraising concert. Did everyone jump at the opportunity to be part of this concert?
 
Yes! Musicians from all eras of Liquid Soul jumped on board as did some special guests who have played with Mars in other bands.
 
 
 Q – How is Mars doing these days? Is he still receiving chemotherapy treatments?
 
Mars stopped chemo before doing the Psychedelic Furs tour this fall. They were not getting positive results from what I understand anyway.
 
He is not well at this time. We are hoping that he hangs in there for as long as possible. I know he has so many other projects he still wants to finish. 

Q – What are the goals for the concert? How are ticket sales going?
 
The goal is to bring everyone together as a tribute to Mars and to raise funds for him and his family to deal his cancer treatment and his current health needs. Ticket sales are strong but we are still getting the word out and will continue to do so right up until the doors open at Metro on Nov 25. 

Q – Liquid Soul was a big part of the Chicago music scene in the '90s. Why do you think the band made so much of an impact and did it surprise you? 
 

When the band broke through in the mid-90s, we were combining hip hop and jazz but not just with loops; there were live players and we had a killer horn section let by Mars Williams, plus the free-style rap genius of Dirty MF. 
 
This took the jazz/hip-hop combo to another level. Miles Copeland, Sting's manager at the time, heard the band and wanted us for his new ARK 21 label, his follow up to IRS Records. 
 
Q – Mars has been a musician who is in high demand. Besides leading the group Liquid Soul, he has played with bands like The Waitresses and The Psychedelic Furs. What has made him such an in-demand musician? 
 

Mars plays monster sax solos and big, fat melodies! Plus he has superior jazz chops. Just listen to the Furs, Waitresses, and Liquid Soul records!

 

 

 


 

 

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Acclaimed musician Bruce Cockburn talks about new album, career ahead of shows in Chicago


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

 

His introspective and passionate songwriting has won Bruce Cockburn acclaim from music lovers across the world.

As he shows on his latest album, "O Sun O Moon," the 78-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter and guitarist still has plenty to say. Cockburn will likely perform many of his new songs when he plays Nov. 3 and 4 at Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 North Lincoln Ave., Chicago, as part of a nationwide solo tour.

The shows start at 8 p.m. and tickets are available at Old Town's website, oldtownschool.org. I had the privilege of interviewing Cockburn about the album and his career.

 

It certainly is. I've had great respect for Ruth and the rest of her gang for years and we've had the occasional opportunity to perform together, which was great.

I take all that stuff with a grain of salt. It is an honor and it feels really good to have people want to sign up for something like that and then perform the songs.

But I don't do what I do to get that sort of stuff. But it certainly is a nice thing.

Q – Have you had musicians come up to you and say that they became a musician because of you?

I don't think I've heard those exact words, but certainly I've heard from people who have said that I had an effect on what they did. That's mostly a third person kind of thing, like it will show up in an article somewhere.

Q – Your song “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” came out in 1984 during the Cold War. Do you think we live in more dangerous times these days or equally as dangerous?

Well, it's hard to make that call. I don't think that the world has ever been free of the kinds of dangers that we see around us, other than the environmental one.

I guess the world has seen climate change before, but not in a way that we're seeing it now and not with the effects on us that we're seeing now, or potential effects. So that's different.

But otherwise, war and mayhem have always been with us as a species. But one thing I think we really have to think hard about is charity and compassion and fairness. 

We have to try to resist the temptation to be drawn into positions of rage and hate.

 

Q – You address some of the problems that society is facing today in your song “Orders” off your latest album. In a previous interview, you talked about the song’s meaning and about the importance of loving each other. Do you see the song as a reminder of that?

When the idea for the song came to me, it seemed like this was something that really needed to be said right now. That and the song "Us All" were ideas that wanted me to put them in songs and put them out there.

That's how it felt.

Q – Is the song “On A Roll” a celebration of what one can accomplish at any age?

I wasn't really thinking about it in term of accomplishments, other than survival. But I suppose that's a kind of accomplishment.

I think of that song as a very personal one and I think other people can relate to it in their own personal way. I mean, anybody who's over a certain age will get that song.

Q – Do you think a song like “To Keep the World We Know” can help convince people that climate change is real?

I doubt it. It might, I guess.

I wouldn't rule it out. But I don't think that's the expected effect of a song like that.

For me, I don't think songs by themselves have that power. If people are sort of sitting and wondering about it or giving it some thought and a song like that comes along, it can push them in the right direction.

But if they're resistant to the idea of climate change, then they're just not going to like the song.

Q – In sitting down to make the album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?

The intention is to make the best album that we can. When I say we, I mean me and in this case, Colin Linden, who produced "O Sun O Moon," and whoever is playing on the album. Everybody wants it to be good.

And that's the goal. I make an album when I have enough songs to make an album.

Q – Do you think that a solo tour like the one that you are on allows you to better connect with the audience? I watched a video from your Oct. 11 show at FirstOntario Concert Hall where you ended your show with a new song, “Us All.” It seems like the audience was listening intently to the song.

 

It's been really great, the acceptance of the new stuff. The show is peppered with songs from the new album and people are responding really well to them.

So I'm happy about that. It seemed like just an obvious song to close the show with. 

We spent 2 1/2 hours in this room together and that's a microcosm of the rest of us as well.

Q – On a solo tour, it's just pretty much you and your guitars. Do you think that connects you better with the audience because they are only concentrating on you and your guitars and your songs?

I think so. There are people I hear from who prefer the band shows. They like the energy and stuff like that.

There's elements of a performance that take away from the focus on the song. In the solo situation, it's all on the song.

The attention is on the song and the lyrics. And that's a good thing, in my book.

Q – You've done so much in your life. Do you have any dream projects or collaborations?

Well, the one thing I may or may not ever get around to doing that I would like to do is an album of other people's songs. And I have a small list of those that I might want to record someday.

What I look for is the next idea. It's more about waiting for an idea.

I like touring. It's what I've always done and it's where the songs really become their true selves.

I like doing it, but at this point in my life, it requires more focused energy to get that show done than it used to. I don't have the energy for other stuff very much while I'm doing this or the time, for that matter.

I've got a busy life apart from this. 

It's just a question of waiting. I don't really make plans and I never have.

Q – Because you also have an 11-year-old child, right? That must keep you busy as well, I would imagine.

He's about to turn 12. Yeah, it does. It's part of a generalized life picture that is busy.