The Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University in Chicago, IL is currently hosting the Miles Davis Festival in celebration of the 85th Anniversary of Native-Illinois jazz icon Miles Davis’ birth. The four-month celebration (from January to April 2011) features 19 performances in venues large and small throughout a variety of Chicago’s neighborhoods.

On Thursday, March 31st, the Bitches Brew 40th Anniversary Band held its tribute performance at Martyr’s in honor of Davis’ legendary “Bitches Brew” recording session that initiated the groundbreaking usage of electronic instruments and editing. Performers included: Vince Wilburn Jr. (nephew to Miles Davis) on drums, Darryl “The Munch” Jones (of The Rolling Stones) on bass, DJ Logic on turntables, Munyungo Jackson and Mino Cinelu on percussion, Blackbyrd McKnight on guitar, Nicholas Payton on trumpet, Gary Thomas on tenor sax, John Beasley and Robert Irving III on keyboards, and Badal Roy on tabla.

The Miles Davis’ alumni of the 40th Anniversary Band impeccably recreated the magic of the 1970 Bitches Brew session while creating their own unique history that evening in a quintessential Chicago jazz club setting dimly lit with a red glow. The two-hour live performance contained enough talent to engulf the room and awaken any soul. The band maneuvered from song to song with seamless transitions, displaying the genius fusion of their craft through improv, with veins of structure and rhythm. With an at times sensuous melodic build-up, each instrument was introduced – from the tabla to the electric guitar – in the collaborative spirit of creation.

The horns of Payton and Thomas (also on flute) danced intricately above a rendition of “Pharaoh’s Dance”. Jones’ savvy bass solo, with just Wilburn to join with tapping his drumsticks, yielded almost a unanimous “Yes” to the groove from the crowd.

For the finale, DJ Logic precisely mixed records over the ensemble, including Wilburn’s energetic beats on the cymbal and drums, Payton and Thomas’ perfectly pitched horns, and Blackbyrd’s electrifying guitar. They invigorated the crowd to the point of no return while paying homage to the great heart of jazz that now throbs throughout hip-hop.

The evening’s performance solidified that Bitches Brew isn’t just about the collaborative musical essence Davis facilitated over 40 years ago. It’s about the music recreating itself inside of each listener – new and old. This pure, good music, with all the complexities of finding a clear path through the twisted vines of a jungle or through a city’s labyrinth streets, is meant to stir the souls of its listeners and challenge them too to create.

Chicago residents and visitors can enjoy festival highlights of the like at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University through April 16th. Visit for more information.

Words by Adrienne Pope


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