Got a call from John Campbell over the weekend, which is pretty unusual – the part about hearing from Campbell, that is, but not the part about the phone call, because Campbell is the last guy I know who doesn’t use a computer.
But old-school has its virtues as well as its drawbacks, and when it comes to jazz piano, it sure has served Campbell well. He’s one of the guys who was drawn in by Bill Evans when he was growing up, but not so much that he couldn’t find his way out. Actually, he started with Erroll Garner and Oscar Peterson and then Ahmad Jamal and then Herbie Hancock, and put them all together to make that powerful, versatile style of his own.
He’s been gone from Chicago for so long now, moving first to New York in the mid-80s – you know, he played in Stan Getz’s band there – and then to California; and it’s been a while since he was on tour nationally with Mel Torme which, although a pretty high-profile gig, was in the 90s. Sure, he had that little stay back in Chicago, in the late 90s and all; still, I’d be surprised if many people under 35 around here would remember him.
But for seven or eight years, Campbell was the man on piano in Chicago. And with Kelly Sill on bass and Joel Spencer on drums, they were the rhythm section in Chicago, playing all the time at the Jazz Showcase and backing up almost every soloist who came into the club: Buddy DeFranco, Eddie Harris, James Moody, Clark Terry. Those are some of the guys who leap to mind. But chances are that if you name some big star, Campbell probably played with him in Chicago.
Anyway, I’m thinking of all this because Campbell called to say he’s back in town for a few days – came in to see his mom down in Bloomington, and Monday he’s coming on up to his old stomping grounds to hang out at, and undoubtedly sit in on, the gig run by his pal Tommy Muellner.
I don’t have to tell you, Diary, that Muellner’s a terrific piano player on his own, and he’s been running this sweet little gig every Monday at the Serbian Village Restaurant up in Irving Park. He’s got the veteran vibraphonist Jim Cooper joining him as his “first set special guest” at 9, and then the jamming commences; and since Campbell also plays a mean vibraphone himself, as well as piano, you gotta think he’ll be zipping between instruments from 10:30 till closing.
I hope some of those younger folks – the ones who missed out on Campbell when he lived here – will make the trek and check him out. He plays such tremendous pure melodies, and when he opens up those dense chords to let in a little light, they shine with a dark fire. He hardly comes back to town at all these days, and almost never to play, and man, he’s missed. The city has no dearth of great piano players, of course, but Campbell’s something special.
Good thing he called, huh? I might’ve missed him myself.