Composer, Arranger and Jazz Saxophonist


02 January 2013

Nothin’ like a G thing Jim Gailloreto brings cred back to the soprano sax with his stellar jazz fusions.

Issue 237 : Sep 10–16, 2009 

By Doyle Armbrust, Time Out Chicago

“Kenny G has created a new low point in modern culture,” guitar grandmaster Pat Metheny notoriously ranted on his website in 2000. “Something that we all should be totally embarrassed about—and afraid of.” Stop ten people on Wabash Avenue and say “soprano sax,” and all ten likely will reply “Kenny G” faster than you can say man-perm.

But if you’ve spent any time sipping a Manhattan in the burgundy booths of the Green Mill, you’ll probably recognize bespectacled saxophonist Jim Gailloreto, whose inventive improvisatory soprano work with Mill luminaries such as Kurt Elling is the very antithesis of G’s uninspired oxygen consumption. Chicago Symphony Orchestra audiences have also caught the 49-year-old on the Symphony Center stage performing Mark-Anthony Turnage’s “Scorched.” However, it’s Gailloreto’s rare jazz-classical crossover project, the Jazz String Quintet, that sets him apart as one of the most unique composer-performers putting pen to staff paper today.

The ensemble’s roots run back to Gailloreto’s days as a composition student at DePaul University, beginning with his budding romance with his (now) wife and JSQ cellist, Jill Kaeding. “Here was this wonderful, beautiful cellist willing to play my music,” Gailloreto says. The couple now live in Albany Park, and their son, Coleman, just started college.

If impressing brunets was what first sparked his interest in string-writing, it was a giant, if forgivable, lie that made the jazzer-plus-string-quartet concept a reality. Gailloreto recalls that, in 1996, composer Peter Saltzman “called me up and said, ‘Jim, I’m doing a concert. Do you have anything written for string quartet and saxophone?’ I lied and said yes.” After hanging up, Gailloreto cloistered himself in his basement with a two-month deadline to write a 20-minute piece titled “Justina with Strings.”

Classical musicians often stumble through the swing of jazz, having had rhythmic elasticity surgically extracted during conservatory. Gailloreto resolved this disconnect by writing the swing into the string player’s parts with expertly placed accents, moving away from the traditional dotted-eighth-16th or triplet rhythms. He also collected some of Chicago’s finest freelancers for the JSQ: Katherine Hughes (first violin), Mark Agnor (second violin, replaced by Carol Kalvonjian in 2007) and Benton Wedge (viola).

In 2006, the Jazz String Quintet recorded a self-titled debut album with special guest Elling. On Tuesday 15, the fivesome releases its sophomore effort, American Complex, featuring the incomparable jazz vocalist and Green Mill fixture Patricia Barber on original tunes and adapted standards of Jerome Kern, Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane. With poignant, beguiling poetry (“Tea for two, minus one, begets me, though alone / I prefer a stiff drink to the tea”), Barber’s voice drifts among darkened bedrooms like some melancholy ghost in her “Spring Song,” one of her two originals on the album. Gailloreto’s spacious, late-night horn snakes around Barber as the strings intersperse little constellations of harmonics. Yet it’s the album’s title work (a commission by Chamber Music America) that exhibits Gailloreto’s finest writing to date, most notably in the “Lullaby” movement when the lyricism is offset with an ominous string pizzicato.

With a recent appearance at New York City’s prestigious Bargemusic series and this week’s can’t-miss album-release performance in the Chicago Cultural Center’s Under the Dome series, the Jazz String Quintet is poised for exposure far beyond city limits. And there’s nary a smooth Christmas album in sight.

JSQ teams with Barber at the Chicago Cultural Center’s Preston Bradley Hall Thursday 10 at 6:30pm. American Complex hits stores Tuesday 15.



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