Billy Harper with Marshall
Vente and the Project 9 Ensemble

Vente and Harper Liven Up Jazz Fest

One warm and pleasant memory (not erased by the horrors of September 11th) still fresh in my mind is the September 1st Saturday performances at the Chicago Jazz Festival. The sky that day as magnificently blue the sun warm but not hot, the music inspirational and none had a care in the world. The headlining group on the Jackson Street stage that glorious afternoon paired NYC tough tenor, Billy Harper with Marshall Vente and his Project 9 Ensemble. The occasion marked their second Chicago performance together, and judging from the response of a large, ultra-attentive audience that day – it surely won’t be their last.

Harper and Vente came together over a shared commitment toward presenting original music and ideas in a large jazz ensemble context. Both share the rich musical legacy of Gil Evans; with Harper gaining his first exposure as a player in the Evans aggregations of the ‘60s and ‘70s and Vente serving his composing and arranging apprenticeship with Evans during the 1980s (he was Evans last protégé). And not unlike jazz composers who came before him, Vente is currently presenting original music inspired by a recent visit to another culture (Ellington, Brubeck and Silver come to mind).

Drawing upon his impressions of Spain, Vente offered five freshly arranged compositions, skillfully performed by his augmented ensemble Project 9 – now in its 22nd year (Woody Herman’s record of 51 years for a large band is beginning to look vulnerable!). Vente made deft use of added tuba, as blown by Dan Anderson, and Latin percussion provided by Javier Gonzalez. The varied program, from stringent to romantic and contemporary to post-bop, proved a laudable launching pad for Harper’s searing interpretations. With a sound that is at once primal and visionary, Harper demonstrated that he is one of the important and underheralded stylists in the vast tenor lineage. Acknowledging thew links to Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders merely serve as an azymuth, a checkpoint. Harper’s sound and approach are his own. Soldjourns to the windy City spread over the last decade have garnered a Chicago following for the tenorman that may be approaching the recognition he enjoys in the Big Apple.

By the same token, Vente’s total commitment to music solidifies the veracity of his latest Chicago Jazz Festival appearance. With the exception of Bill Russo, Marshall Vente is the only native Chicago artist leading a consistent large ensemble while composing new music for it to perform. Let’s hope that a leading record label will recognize the significance of this partnership and record it for broader international consumption. There could be no finer reflection on the state of Chicago jazz today.

Peter Coppock Sag Harbor, New York October 2001
Former jazz disc jockey, WDCB 90.9 FM Glen Ellyn

You may contact Marshall Vente 
by phone at: (630) 541-3381

Cell phone: (630) 430-5113

or by e-mail at


Marshall Vente 
P.O. Box 1135
Westmont, IL 60559

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