Marshall Vente/Billy Harper
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Marshall Vente/Billy Harper

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The best kept secret in music


"Vente and Harper Liven Up Jazz Fest"

Vente and Harper Liven Up Jazz Fest

One warm and pleasant memory (not erased by the horrors of September 11th) still fresh in my mind is the September 1st Saturday performances at the Chicago Jazz Festival. The sky that day as magnificently blue the sun warm but not hot, the music inspirational and none had a care in the world. The headlining group on the Jackson Street stage that glorious afternoon paired NYC tough tenor, Billy Harper with Marshall Vente and his Project 9 Ensemble. The occasion marked their second Chicago performance together, and judging from the response of a large, ultra-attentive audience that day – it surely won’t be their last.

Harper and Vente came together over a shared commitment toward presenting original music and ideas in a large jazz ensemble context. Both share the rich musical legacy of Gil Evans; with Harper gaining his first exposure as a player in the Evans aggregations of the ‘60s and ‘70s and Vente serving his composing and arranging apprenticeship with Evans during the 1980s (he was Evans last protégé). And not unlike jazz composers who came before him, Vente is currently presenting original music inspired by a recent visit to another culture (Ellington, Brubeck and Silver come to mind).

Drawing upon his impressions of Spain, Vente offered five freshly arranged compositions, skillfully performed by his augmented ensemble Project 9 – now in its 22nd year (Woody Herman’s record of 51 years for a large band is beginning to look vulnerable!). Vente made deft use of added tuba, as blown by Dan Anderson, and Latin percussion provided by Javier Gonzalez. The varied program, from stringent to romantic and contemporary to post-bop, proved a laudable launching pad for Harper’s searing interpretations. With a sound that is at once primal and visionary, Harper demonstrated that he is one of the important and underheralded stylists in the vast tenor lineage. Acknowledging thew links to Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders merely serve as an azymuth, a checkpoint. Harper’s sound and approach are his own. Soldjourns to the windy City spread over the last decade have garnered a Chicago following for the tenorman that may be approaching the recognition he enjoys in the Big Apple.

By the same token, Vente’s total commitment to music solidifies the veracity of his latest Chicago Jazz Festival appearance. With the exception of Bill Russo, Marshall Vente is the only native Chicago artist leading a consistent large ensemble while composing new music for it to perform. Let’s hope that a leading record label will recognize the significance of this partnership and record it for broader international consumption. There could be no finer reflection on the state of Chicago jazz today.

Peter Coppock
Sag Harbor, New York
October 2001
Former jazz disc jockey,
WDCB 90.9 FM Glen Ellyn

"Critic's Choice"

Critics Choice

Project 9 featuring Billy Harper

Billy Harper approaches the tenor saxophone the way his Methodist minister grandfather might have approached the pulpit: he thunders and cajoles with messianic zeal, and as he sings praises he swings like hell. Along with Jan Garbarek and George Adas, the Houstonborn Harper was one of a troika of 70's tenor men who managed to craft unique styles under the influence of John Coltrane. Hordes of players since have honed malleable but ultimately metallic timbres Trane's name, but Harper's sound, built from woods and earth tones, brings him closer that anyone else to the gorgeous complexities of the master's saxophonic voice. Coltrane's technique also provides the foundation fro the careering cascades of Harper's solos, but even as far back as the early 70's, when Harper established himself as the principal tenor soloist in the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, he was distinguished by this intense lyricism. His strong artistic and political convictions have for the most part kept him off American record labels: last year's blistering Soul of an Angel (Metropolitan), the 16th album under Harper's name, is only his second for a stateside label since 1973.

Chicagoans have had a number of opportunities to hear him anyway - local trupeter Malachi Thompson has brought Harper to town maybe half a dozen times in recent years to play with his Freebop Band. But we haven't had a chance to hear his tenor erupt our of a full ensemble the way it did in Thad Jones's arrangements in the 70's, at least until now. This year's Marshall Vente Jazz Festival, named for the indefatigable composer, arranger, radio host, and promoter, features Harper in two sets by Vente's Project 9, performing new music commissioned in anticipation of the saxist's participation. With the addition of tuba and an extra percussionist, the lineup is 12 strong for these shows-still not as big as the Jones-Lweis Orchestra, but under Vente's direction, it should serve as a more than adequate launching pad. Saturday, 9PM (January 20, 2001), and Sunday, 3PM (January 21, 2001), Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 630-942-4200 or 312-670-2473

~Neil Tesser
Reader, Friday, January 19, 2001 - Volume 30, Number 17

- Neil Tesser, Chicago Reader, January 19, 2001

"Letter of Recomendation"

March 6, 2003


Just a note to thank you again for putting together what I consider to be the perfect type of event for this musical organization and this school.

Having a composer of your caliber bring in eight arrangements of mostly original material, professionally copies, and adding the powerful voice of Billy Harper's saxophone was a real honor and pleasure for us all. From the rehearsals to the material I was able to use in a combined theory class to the final performance,our work together exemplified everything people in my business like to say we're about but rarely get a chance to actually do. Plus, in the words of a friend whoenjoyed the concert immensely, it rocked.

Here's to more events like this around here. Around anywhere!

I wish you nothing but the best of luck and well-tuned pianos with this and the myriad projects that you're constantly attacking. Without your organizational skills and clear understanding of the goals for a final product we would have been dead meat, and I love any opportunity to show the public what a myth the space cadet jazz player is.

Cheers, and thanks again!

Tom Tallman
Music Director
College of DuPage
McAninch Arts Center
Glen Ellyn, IL 60137

(630) 942-2369

- Tom Tallman, Music Director, Arts Center Jazz Ensemble

"Critic's Choice"

Tenor saxophonist George Adams died in 1992, and reclusive Norwegian tenor and soprano player Jan Garbarek rarely makes albums or tours anymore. So of the three tenor saxists who emerged in the '70's to spin distinct styles out of the legacy of John Coltrane, only Billy Harper still has any sort of presence. But what a presence it is: he's a Texas-born tornado given to intense but lyrical improvisations. Chicagoans have had more chances than most to hear Harper, at least sincethe late '90's, when trumpeter Malachi Thompson started bringing him in from New York for major engagements. But nobody anywhere has had much opportunity to hear him in the sort of context that launched his career,his tenor soaring above a full-throated big-band arrangement, as when he was a young solist with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra. That's a shame, as it suits Harper especially well: the broad palette of big-band writing can supply the woods and earth tones that highlight his sound, as well as the power to support or buffet his dervish solos. Enter Marshall Vente, the juggernaut pianist, composer-arranger, bandleader, and producer-emcee of the 10th annual four-day jazz festival bearing his name. A longtime admirer of Harper's work, Vente also missed hearing the saxist in a big-band format and set out to fisx the problem: after gauging Harper's interest, he wrote a series of charts designed around harper and his Project 9 band, deduting them at the 2001 Marshall Vente Jazz Festival and reprising the performance nine months later at the Chicago Jazz Festival. This week marks the third consecutive year Vente has written an entirely new program for Harper; this installment includes an arrangement of one of the saxist's most impressive pieces from the '70's, "Cry of Hunger."

Neil Tesser - Neil Tesser, Chicago Reader, January 17, 2003


A CD sampler of excerpts from various live performances at the Chicago Jazz Festival, Jazz Showcase and MAC is avalable for the asking.

Both Billy Harper and Marshall Vente have numerous commercial releases that have received airplay in the US, Europe and Japan.

Visit and


Feeling a bit camera shy


As of 2004, Marshall Vente and Billy Harper have been collaborating for 5 years developing an all original repetoire for expanded nonet and/or big band. Billy Harper is a well-known NYC tenor soloist who has performed with many jazz masters, his first professional association was with Gil Evans. Marshall Vente is a busy Chicago pianst/composer/arranger who was blessed with two consecutive Jazz Apprenticeships with Gil Evans and David Matthews, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts. MV was also a NEA Composer and Illinois Arts Council Compser. The music that they have created together is new and original, not repetory music, that celebrates the mind-set of Gil Evans.