Presented here is an anthology of jazz and improvised music compositions made in Chicago from 1980 to 2010. Real book or fake book are the terms most commonly applied to such an anthology. Under the jazz umbrella, a real book is an essential tool for developing musicians, not only because it serves as an on-the-gig guide for working professionals, but also because it provides rich learning material for developing musicians eager to understand the lexicon. Traditional real books are a kind of text book for jazz musicians, frequently used, often tattered, and always heavily imbued with both the economic realities of working musicians and the gravity of the field in which they work.

            While this book does serve in the aforementioned capacities, it has not been created solely for practitioners and students. It is my hope that it will also be enjoyed by scholars, collectors, newcomers, and longtime fans of the Chicago scene. First and foremost, I hope this real book will be a catalyst for dialogue, debate, and inspiration for those who wish to be a part of the community that birthed this collection. In today’s time period where we have access to more music than ever, we’ve lessened our fascination and conversation.  

            In addition to the notated compositions, this book contains newly written overviews of each composer, provided by some of the journalists of the time that covered the Chicago scene in the pages of The Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Chicago Reader, Newcity, Downbeat, JazzTimes and more. Their written work and critical interaction with the scene was integral to its life, and, as such their presence in this book provides further context for the conversation.

The Criteria

The criteria for selecting these compositions was two-fold: First, the piece had to have been an original composition that was officially recorded and released for the public. Second, the composition had to have been composed by a Chicago-based artist between 1980 and 2010. In seeking songs that met the first requirement, I found there were many great performers of the time period who had little-to-no output as recording artists, as well as those who composed original music but never recorded it. Even further were a great many recordings by Chicagoans that contained standard repertoire material, or compositions of non-Chicago based artists.

But this collection reflects the daring attempts of Chicago-based artists who developed and recorded their own material in a time when technology did not allow for the level of mass recording and distribution we experience today. It should also be noted that a small handful of musicians appear more than once in this collection, an indication of their relative prolific output compared to others of the time period.

            The second requirement—the time period of 1980 to 2010—is significant not because it was a span of any particular major artistic movement, but rather because it is unarguably the era of Chicago giants Von Freeman and Fred Anderson. Both tenor men began the 1980s incredibly respected yet largely under-acknowledged by the world beyond Chicago. However, in the streets of their own city, they commanded a cult-like status among their colleagues and encountered a never-ending supply of young musicians who were eager to curry their favor. Although the tenor men came from different aesthetic approaches, they were both devotees of Charlie Parker, and they were not dissimilar in their expansive generosity. Both provided a platform for developing musicians; Freeman with his weekly jam Session at the New Apartment Lounge and Anderson as proprietor of his club The Velvet Lounge.

            By the 1990s the city had re-established itself as a hub for international risk-takers, attracting artists who were seeking proximity to the working-class creativity that Chicago had never relinquished. The ubiquitous presence of Freeman and Anderson during this time cannot be overstated; both became invigorated by a steady output of new recordings and performances. Both began to receive and enjoy a new level of international interest and acclaim that had previously eluded them. By the first decade of the 2000s, the Chicago jazz and improvised music community had grown its deep muscular commitment to nurturing and supporting emerging players. Not since the rise of the first generation of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians in the early 1970s had the city seen such a vibrant set of internationally acclaimed artists come into full focus.

            By the second decade of the 2000s, the Chicago creative music scene would lose its two beloved anchors. In a very unexpected turn of events, Fred Anderson died on June 24,, 2010. Within one year’s time, the Velvet Lounge was sold to new owners who had a largely new concept for the venue. By January of 2011, to everyone’s surprise, the Apartment Lounge abruptly shut down operations ending the longstanding Von Freeman Tuesday night run. The closure also coincided with a drastic decline in Freeman’s health. With the exception of one concert in the spring, Freeman did not return to performing and passed away on August 11, 2012.

The City Was Yellow

This book is not meant to be comprehensive by any means. It is as much personal as it is historical. Essentially, it is a reflection of the music I experienced first-hand, stumbling in and out of smoky clubs to a soundtrack for a city that was yellow, illuminated by the hue of high-pressure sodium street lamps. The compositions and musicians in this book who came before my time were only recently departed from the scene, and thus their stories remained ever present, passed on to me as my own audible history.

            A collection like this is surely destined to stir a debate as to who is and who is not included, and if it does, then the premise for this book will have been successful. It is in the attempt to create new music—while representing past songs and stories—that we find each other; Ancient to the Future. This book is hopefully a catalyst for new stories and the re-telling of old songs.


—Mike Reed, March 2019