by Neil Tesser
Offering a sort of drum roll for the upcoming Hyde Park Jazz Festival, GRAMMY® Award-winning journalist and jazz aficionado Neil Tesser shared his understanding of improvisation as it relates to what he described as “a truly American artform” with residents and visitors at Montgomery Place, 5550 South Shore Drive on Thursday, Sept. 14.
“Jazz is a great mongrel, a great sponge. It’s constantly evolving,” he said, inviting the audience of 60 or so to listen to a bebop tune, Koko, created by Charlie Parker, he said, “When you hear the speed and complexity, you realize no one can do this unless they don’t have to think about it.”
Tesser also explored the musical mastery of other jazz greats—Sonny Rollins, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Addressing a question from the audience, he said, “Improvisation in jazz is not just free style. It’s more intentional. It involves knowing the instrument inside and out and internalizing the material. Unlike many artists, jazz artists create as they perform.”
Tesser likened “the convergence of production and product that occurs in jazz” to regarding the process of painting a painting and hanging it on a wall as the art form— not just the completed painting. “Because jazz artists constantly improvise when they perform, they are innovative and constantly create diverse new sounds,” he said.
Tesser concluded his presentation by recommending several innovative, must-hear jazz artists set to perform on Saturday, Sept. 23:
Twin Talk, 2:30 p.m., Smart Museum of Art, 5550 S. Greenwood Ave., 2:30 p.m. Grazyna Auguscik Group, 4 p.m., Logan Center Penthouse, 915 East 60th St. Nick Mazzarella/Tomeka Reid Duo, 4:30 p.m., DuSable Museum, 740 East 56th
Place. Geof Bradfield, 7:15 p.m., Logan Center Performance Hall, 915 E. 60th St. Double Monk, 7:15 p.m., International House Assembly Hall, 1414 E. 56th St.
Montgomery Place Jazz Aficionado Tesser hosted a nightly jazz program on NPR’s WBEZ-FM (91.5) for 16 years as well as a jazz discussion program broadcast on 100 stations. He currently hosts a weekly program on WDCB-FM (90.7) in Chicago. He was the first winner of the Jazz Journalists Association’s Willis Conover Award for excellence in broadcasting, and in 2015 that organization recognized Tesser with its Lifetime Achievement Award.
For more information about the Hyde Park Jazz Festival, visit