Review: A Rebirth of the Cool at the Lighthouse

It was a wondrous summer night with jazz on the menu at The Lighthouse Artspace. I consider August to be Jazz Month in Chicago even though you can hear the world’s finest musicians on any given night. It is all building up to the Chicago Jazz Festival and on August 10, Cyrus Chestnut, Lenny Williams, and Buster Williams brought a cumulative 214 years of musical wizardry to Chicago. I had not heard any live music in the Lighthouse space and wondered how the sound would bounce off unbaffled walls. It was better than I could imagine. Of course, I am talking about three musical treasures who would sound amazing in a tin roof juke joint.

Before the trio came out we viewed the Immersive Mozart exhibit. It was a sort of greatest hits of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with projections of whimsical toys, beautiful 18th-century brocade clothing, and Mikhail Barishnykov as a ghostly specter of Mozart’s father. Requiem, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, and The Magic Flute would seem to be an odd opening act for Chestnut, White, and Williams, but the trio played from their classical and gospel roots to the delight of the full house.

The trio came out and lit right into “It Could Happen to You” for a very appreciative audience of jazz aficionados. They played Chestnut’s “Faith Amongst the Unknown” before Lenny White got up to speak of how he was amazed at the location and to be “playing in a painting.” The Lighthouse provided a cyc wall of Frida Kahlo, Van Gogh, and iridescent images from the Mozart exhibit. White still has the cool charm from his days playing for Chick Corea in Return to Forever. I remember jamming to his funk-infused R&B group Twennynine. He introduced his bandmates as “not just some of the best musicians, but some of the best people.”

Cyrus Chestnut is a pianist with bonafides from playing with Big Chief Donald Harrison and as a child prodigy at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. Chestnut also grew up playing in the church, which is imbued in his improvisational and joyful playing style. He plays with an ecstatic smile and glides across the keys blending jazz, gospel, and classical music. It was a kick to listen to him start a song with a riff on Chopin’s Opus 28 Number 20 but up a few keys in F. He also glided through Erik Satie’s Gymnopédie #1 with Williams and White seamlessly entering the song.

L-R Cyrus Chestnut, Buster Williams, and Lenny White. Photo by Kathy D. Hey

Buster Williams has played with so many greats like Art Blakey, Gene Ammons, Sonny Stitt, and Herbie Hancock. Williams improvises beautifully and segues into a walking bass line without breaking a sweat. He is a giant among bass players like Red Callender and Ron Carter and has accompanied a platinum list of vocalists such as Nancy Wilson and Betty Carter. Williams has a smooth touch that blends and stands out at the same time.

Lenny White is a self-taught drummer and it is hypnotic to watch him keep the high hat and bass drum in perfect time. His skill must come from a love of playing and a laser focus. He is a vision of cool and steady with perfect rhythm. The show included a composition by Miles Davis and made famous by Bill Evans—”Nardis.” The last three songs included a composition by Buster Williams called “Tokudo,” which was originally recorded in Japan. It translates as the initiation into the Zen Buddhist priesthood. Then “Dedication” by Lenny White before ending with an Art Blakey composition called “Minority.”

It was a dream to see three masters of jazz in an unexpected venue. The sound was great and it was such a treat to see them live and feel the vibe of joy in playing for people. The Lighthouse venue, located at 108 W. Germania Place, is perfect with the use of immersive projections and lighting that evokes a smoky lounge with glass brick windows and an appreciative audience of cool cats. None were cooler than Chestnut, White, and Williams.

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Kathy D. Hey
Kathy D. Hey

Kathy D. Hey writes creative non-fiction essays. A lifelong Chicagoan, she is enjoying life with her husband, daughter and three dogs in the wilds of Edgewater. When she isn’t at her computer, she is in her garden growing vegetables and herbs for kitchen witchery.