For greater than 20 years, curator, producer, venue proprietor and musician Mike Reed has been a vital a part of Chicago’s music scene, leaving his mark on a number of fronts.
Take the annual Pitchfork Music Pageant in Union Park. As co-founder and director of the pageant, Reed has labored since 2005 to maintain the annual occasion a spot to understand and uncover cutting-edge music. Moreover, you may see his fingerprints on the Chicago Jazz Pageant, the place he’s the chairperson on the fest’s programming committee and works as a bridge between town’s previous, current and way forward for the music style.
Reed’s expertise for curation and tastemaking are additionally on show year-round at his two Northwest Facet music venues, Constellation (3111 N. Western Ave.) and the Hungry Mind (2319 W. Belmont Ave.), the latter he purchased with a enterprise accomplice almost 15 years after Reed started internet hosting a weekly jazz showcase there, one in every of many Reed has hosted all through town.
And he’s a dexterous drummer, who has established a repute for being a dependable spine and a standout participant on phases native and worldwide. As a bandleader, he has develop into identified for assembling gifted lineups of musicians to carry out the type of free, improvisational jazz that stirs one thing inside listeners.
Reed’s longtime contributions to the jazz scene — and the bigger Chicago music ecosystem — will culminate this week, starting Thursday with a present at Constellation. There, he’ll lead his band in a efficiency of “The Separatist Celebration,” his new album, out Friday.
Isolation and connection on ‘The Separatist Celebration’
Spanning 9 songs and almost 45 minutes, “The Separatist Celebration” sees Reed main a stacked lineup of musicians as they specific themes of isolation, fleeting connection and mortality — ideas Reed had been exploring earlier than the pandemic that took on a renewed degree of depth by 2020. It’s his thirteenth album as a bandleader.
All through the album, there’s a way of each eager for connection and being repulsed by folks. Horns wail, guitar, bass and keys weave a fragile thread and melodic, spoken-word lyricism stops you in your tracks — all with Reed’s percussion within the driver’s seat. It’s a singular mix of Pharoah Sanders and Solar Ra, combined with Getatchew Mekurya and Hailu Mergia — and doses of krautrock that set the at-times free-wheeling songs on a deep, psychedelic-leaning groove.
Reed is joined on the document by Chicago music mainstays Ben LaMar Homosexual (cornet, flugelhorn) and Marvin Tate (vocals) — plus, Cooper Crain (guitar, synth), Dan Quinlivan (keyboards) and Rob Frye (tenor sax, flute) — the three members who additionally make up experimental group Bitchin Bajas.
For Reed, his endeavors in producing exhibits and creating music are all linked, permitting him a number of alternatives to create concrete expressions of what he’s pondering and feeling.
“You make issues as a result of these issues that stay outdoors of your self might be even larger than you,” Reed explains throughout a latest interview, his elbows on an empty bar on the Hungry Mind, hours earlier than the venue was set to open. “It’s greatest whenever you get on stage and also you play with folks and also you primarily have this expertise that type of comes out of you — then it’s gone.”
Chicago’s music scene modifications
Born in Bielefeld, Germany in 1974, Reed grew up in Evanston earlier than attending faculty in Ohio. He finally moved to Chicago, the place he started to chop his tooth within the native jazz and improvisational music scenes of the late Nineties and early 2000s. There, Reed realized from the legends in Chicago’s scene, watching and enjoying alongside them. He cites experiences like going to the Residence Lounge to see the late Von Freeman on Tuesdays as one of many many particular experiences Chicago’s music scene supplied at the moment. Venues populated town, with seemingly no scarcity of musicians and audiences able to fill them.
Within the years since, many venues have closed their doorways and audiences seem to have dwindled for the locations nonetheless open. These modifications, in a broader sense, have been particularly obvious throughout the final three years.
That’s based on a research launched by town earlier this month, which discovered that Chicago’s arts and tradition business is struggling because it recovers from the pandemic. The research factors to components like shrinking audiences, elevated prices and decreased budgets and declines in personal funding and sponsorships — all as authorities funding and grants have ended.
By his involvement in Pitchfork Music Pageant and because the proprietor of two venues, Reed says he has seen these shifts firsthand — “Viewers numbers are down throughout the board.”
Explaining why attendance habits have modified just isn’t so easy. Reed explains that, for instance, after Pitchfork returned to Union Park in 2021 following 2020’s cancellation, attendance was nice. But, the success was not repeated in 2022. So what occurred? What’s the explanation for the decline in attendance in venues citywide?
Reed thinks it might be that folks’s social habits have modified — they’re not going out as a lot, or once they do, they’re not ingesting as a lot or choosing different experiences, like going to a restaurant or getting collectively in smaller teams.
When it comes to reserving acts for Pitchfork, Reed says his plan is to remain true to the fest’s ethos and proceed to be music-first, simply as he has because the pageant’s inception in 2005.
Reed describes Pitchfork as “an occasion for people who find themselves actually into music.” It’s a pageant that exists in distinction to greater extravaganzas like Lollapalooza and Windy Metropolis Smokeout, which Reed describes as “way of life occasions.” The music is the primary driver for Pitchfork attendees, vs. “way of life” event-goers prioritizing the experiences, Reed says.
Music festivals apart, Reed says there’s a bigger subject of individuals not eager to pay for native exhibits year-round.
“Folks get upset about paying $10 or $15 for admissions expenses to a small venue present,” Reed says. “Though main live performance tickets are by way of the roof — regardless that these identical folks will spend $14, $15 for a cocktail, it’s like, however you gained’t pay $15 for the entry to see three bands? The psychological factor round that’s ridiculous.”
Getting by way of the pandemic
With the gradual closing of small venues and golf equipment annually, Reed’s venues Constellation and the Hungry Mind are very important belongings of Chicago’s music scene, serving to to supply a number of the few venues on the town for native and touring avant-grade jazz and experimental artists.
And whereas he’s at all times been all for having a sturdy music scene, Reed says that, initially, these weren’t his intentions when he opened Constellation in 2013 and purchased/reopened the Hungry Mind in 2016. He appeared on the venues from a enterprise standpoint, noting that the realm was gentrifying and the 2 venues had the potential to be profitable.
“I used to be simply making an attempt to determine how I’m gonna die effectively,” he says.
However not lengthy after opening Constellation, Reed acknowledged that there was a void in the kind of avant-garde jazz and experimental venues he’d gone to for years. So he began reserving exhibits.
That enterprise acumen helped Reed steer each venues by way of the pandemic. He says that since he already set Constellation up as a not-for-profit in 2018, he was capable of deal with making use of for grants and pivot to livestreaming performances there.
Reed says he did should let some staff go and eliminate workplace and cupboard space to slim down prices as a lot as he may. These employees members would go on to volunteer to assist placed on the scaled-down performances the venue was capable of host, Reed says.
By these collective efforts, Constellation and Hungry Mind have survived and develop into a part of a shrinking listing of small venues within the metropolis the place yow will discover different programming for a comparatively reasonably priced value.
The music scene goes by way of phases, and at present, Reed says, it’s in a lull, leaving him feeling a bit disillusioned.
“I say that the venues are simply partitions — it’s in regards to the those who occupy them which can be necessary. However the folks, it’s like, I’m much less and fewer all for these folks and what they’re doing,” Reed says of musicians within the scene missing drive, or who’re extra involved with vying for accolades than honing their craft and presenting genuine self-expression.
But, after greater than 20 years within the music scene, and regardless of what he refers to as his “misanthropic methods,” Reed says he nonetheless finds inspiration within the metropolis and the folks — and that’s why he’s optimistic for the way forward for the music scene.
Chicago’s at all times been the type of place the place there’s onerous work, fortitude and a notion that you may invent your self — “and generally reinvent your self,” Reed says.
“I believe it’s there within the Marshall Fields of the world, I believe it’s there within the Black migration. I believe it’s there in Solar Ra. … I believe it’s there within the Black Panthers. I believe it’s there in Harold Washington. I believe it’s there within the Thrill Jockeys and Drag Citys of the world. That spirit takes quite a lot of ahead motion.”