Roberts spreads joys of ‘friendly jazz’
Judy Roberts and Greg Fishman | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times Media
Judy Roberts and Greg
Northbrook Public Library, 1201 Cedar Lane
3:30 p.m. July 27
www.northbrook.info or (847) 272-6224
Chambers, 6881 N. Milwaukee Ave., Niles
5-9 p.m. Sundays, 6-10 p.m. Tuesdays, through September
No cover, unless noted otherwise
(847) 647-8282. www.thechambersonline.com
Judy Roberts and
Petra van Nuis
8 p.m. Aug. 29
The Laughing Chameleon, Glen Town Center, 1830 Tower Drive, Glenview
(888) 685-2844 or www.thelaughingchameleon.com
Judy Roberts, Chicago jazz icon, is performing this Friday at the Northbrook Public Library. That bears repeating: Judy Roberts, Chicago jazz icon, is performing this Friday at the Northbrook Public Library.
Roberts, accompanied by her husband Greg Fishman on saxophone and flute, will be performing her signature “friendly jazz” at 7:30 p.m.
This is one of two of Roberts’ North Shore appearances during her annual summer homecoming during which she takes the stage of some of her favorite rooms, including the Jazz Showcase and Andy’s Jazz Club. Also up north, she’s performing — without Fishman and with singer Petra van Nuis — Aug. 29 at Glenview’s Laughing Chameleon.
Roberts is particularly jazzed also about her Sunday and Tuesday night appearances at Chambers Restaurant in Niles, and praises the owners for their commitment to presenting live jazz.
And then there’s the Northbrook Public Library, where she and Greg appeared years ago. “It was really fun,” she said. “The people were nice and the atmosphere was intimate and relaxed. I could introduce a song by Duke Ellington and the audience wouldn’t scratch their heads over who he was.”
The evening will feature selections from her vast repertoire, drawn mainly from the Great American Songbook (and in the case of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “The Girl from Ipanema,” she joked, the Great South American Songbook). “We don’t do anything far out or anything that requires academic thinking,” she said. “We just like to have fun playing great songs. We could stay at the library all night and not get through all of our favorites.”
In other words, Roberts will be doing what she has been doing for more than four decades, putting her virtuosic stamp on classic songs from many genres. The only difference is that for the past four years, her home base has been in Phoenix, a move facilitated when her now legendary run at the InterContinental Hotel on Michigan Avenue came to an unfortunate and lamented end in 2006.
Roberts had been performing in Phoenix every winter before she made the gig permanent. “We amassed a great following,” she said. “People picture Phoenix as a retiree town. This is not the case. It’s very vibrant, cosmopolitan and beautiful.”
She performs five nights a week at a club called Remington’s with another transplanted Chicagoan, pianist Danny Long.
But Phoenix was not a good fit for performer, jazz educator/author Fishman, who has a thriving practice teaching music in Chicago. He moved back in 2010. He and Roberts maintain their long-playing, long distance relationship. They have been married 10 years.
Roberts confessed it takes a little while to slip into the Chicago rhythm when she returns. “I play at Andy’s every Thursday,” she said. “Its a great place to play, but for a 5-8:30 gig, I have to leave Wilmette at 2:45 because of the traffic and the parking. There’s none of that in Arizona. That part of it is still very daunting to me. But getting to play with my favorite musicians is the payoff.”
Roberts is a jazz survivor. She laments the dearth of jazz radio in Chicago (“There’s more in Phoenix,” she said incredulously) and the bygone days of great “wall-to-wall” jazz rooms, where legendary artists such as Dizzy Gillespie or George Shearing would play two or three week stands instead of one-nighters.
“Had I known it was going to end, I would have paid more attention,” she laughed.
Jazz is not dead, she insists, but jazz literacy is lacking. “I frequently meet young people who have not heard of Frank Sinatra or aren’t sure who Elvis is, and I’m not joking,” she said. “That’s like not knowing who Michael Jordan is.”
Nothing against modern-day crooners such as Michael Buble (she famously once said, “Just because Frank Sinatra is dead is no reason to listen to Michael Buble”), but Roberts can’t help wonder why audiences would listen to “imitators” when “If you have a CD player or can log on to YouTube, you can hear the original artists.”
While she acknowledges that these performers are introducing a new generation to classic songs, she can’t help but laugh when she gets a request like, “Could you play the Nora Jones song, ‘The Nearness of You.’” Roberts feels compelled to respond, “I’ll do it, but it was written in the 1930s by Hoagy Carmichael.”
Go to the source, is her mantra, not just to budding jazz fans, but musicians as well who seek her out for advice.
“I listen to some new artists,” she said, “but you can’t get better than Stan Getz, Ella, Sarah Vaughan, and Johnny Hartman.”
The same can be said for Judy Roberts.