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Jazz Spotlight: Tenor Saxophonist Chris Madsen

The history of the tenor saxophone runs as deep as it does wide in jazz, from Bean to Brecker, to the extent that one can almost question what else can possibly be done on the instrument.  Fortunately for the skeptics, the jazz community does continue to turn out unique tenor saxophone stylists and among them is Chicago-based tenor player Chris Madsen.  The first thing one notices about Madsen is his unusual stylistic lineage.  Note – as a jazz journalist, I’m getting really tired of the word “influence”, I’m always afraid that it implies a lack of originality, plus I don’t think anybody uses that word as much as jazz journalists do.  I cannot imagine anybody citing Derrick Rose’s influences on the basketball court…but I digress.  While many tenor saxophonists have explored the styles of Coltrane, Rollins, Gordon, Shorter, Henderson, Brecker, and Lovano (this is certainly not a bad thing – that’s a pretty stellar bunch of players), Madsen does not reflect the influences (oh, shoot, I did it again) of Lester Young, Stan Getz, and Warne Marsh in a two-dimensional manner but incorporates that lineage into a unique personal style.

With Madsen, it’s not the stylistic lineage that really impresses, however, it is his supple tone, oblique melodic lines, and effortless sense of swing.  Madsen displays an uncanny sense of space, lyricism, and melodic direction in his solos.  I have marveled many times at his ability to apply this style to diverse group jazz settings (that’s another phrase that makes jazz sound less fun) from traditional vocalist accompaniment to more contemporary modal tunes.

Madsen has also carved out a career as a successful jazz educator in Chicago.  He is currently Jazz Department Coordinator at Northwestern University, Director of Midwest Young Artists, and has coordinated the jazz program for the National High School Music Institute in Evanston since 2009.

Recently, Madsen has released Chris Madsen Trio Plays Bix Beiderbecke, a tribute to the music of legendary cornetist.  The release, a dazzling drummerless trio work, features Dan Effland on guitar and Joe Policastro on bass.  The CD is a shining example of swing artistry at its best.  It is teeming with creative arrangements of Bix’s original compositions (including the tunes in his masterful “Modern Piano Suite”) and some of the cornetist’s popular recorded standards.  It also features great solos from all involved, with a special emphasis on understated, witty nuance that thrived in the solos of such practitioners as Lester Young and Harry “Sweets” Edison

Furthermore, Chris Madsen’s latest album, Pop Art, featuring all original material will be available in early March.