On 73rd Street and Paxton, toward Merrill, at least one hundred people marched: past cars, over puddles, into alleys and across the block. As they marched, they held bundles of herbs in the air, played percussion, danced, and waved flags. This scene was the beginning of the Back Alley Jazz Festival—and the man at the front of the crowd, who rode in a mint-green Pedicab and wore a sash that read “Grand Marshall,” was Jimmy Ellis, a saxophonist who has been playing in Chicago since 1948.
Steve Coleman’s music resembles flight in more ways than one. For the listener, it is a flight of the senses: nebulous and strange, challenging and innovative. For Coleman and his band, Five Elements, it’s a flight of the imagination. Brisk drumming, propulsive singing, smooth guitar, and piercing trumpet join hands with—and break away from—Coleman’s saxophone. The music is kept aloft by change, creating something new at each moment.