Steely Dan Aja, big band concert of a lifetime


I am not the music festival type.  I used to go to Chicagofest, but I am 5’4″ & it can be overwhelming to be short in a crowd…especially a crowd of drunken guys.

I also don’t care to see  your dancing on stage—I came to hear music.

I  always loved Big Band.   There’s nothing like hearing music in a small room—you are hearing the music, not the sound system.  I   went to experience Woody Herman and his Thundering Herd several times at Rick’s Cafe at the old  Holiday Inn on LSD,  nothing like hearing—FEELING—those wailing horns.

I also got to see/hear  Maynard Ferguson, Buddy Rich (his hands were a blur), Gary Burton (love the vibes…heard him at Gordon’s, right up close), Blossom Dearie, many others…in small rooms.

I’ve always loved Steely Dan—-but remember—-30 years ago—they never toured. Rumors abounded:  they couldn’t recreate the sounds they made in the studio in concert;  just  were reclusive; Becker was in jail….

…then, last year, they played Milwaukee’s Summerfest.  I had to make the trip, and they did NOT disappoint.  It was a bargain of a concert, as you really just paid to get into Summerfest.  They had a huge ensemble, a great percussion section.

I’ve been marginally employed for the past year, but  because business was picking up,  I kept it in the back of my mind to consider  Steely Dan, in town for 4 concert nights.  Last week, when they still weren’t sold out, I splurged—$72—for a 3rd balcony seat (brought opera glasses)at the Chicago Theatre.

The Chicago Theatre is  opulent, nice frescos on the ceilings. Velvet seats.  Seats about 5,000.  You can eat & drink in the theatre.  Sightlines are all good.  The problem is never posts—it’s  over-enthusiastic fans  standing or  throwing their arms all over the place.

Imagine—most of those fans are baby boomers—over 45, many close to 70. So, not a lot of talking….lots of listening.

It really was the concert of a lifetime.  I  pretty much wore out Aja when it came out in the mid 1970’s.  To see & hear them perform  the album  straight through was  incredible. They had 4 horns,  2 other guitars besides Becker)a skilled player), and a keyboardist besides Fagin, as well as 3 back up singers.

This is as close to jazz as most people will get, as the only stations playing jazz on the radio are low-wattage college stations, usually at odd hours.  Steely Dan was always known as jazz-fusion, but having listen to the ‘smooth jazz’ station WNUA (they recently changed formats), Steely Dan  is more mainstream big band jazz than about  any  group you will find performing today.

Now, keep in mind—Aja was only about an hour long album, so they played another 2 hours (more or less) of other hits.  As though that wasn’t entertaining enough, whomever was their lighting engineer did a great job.    It wasn’t over the top, just complementary to the music.

Plus—big one here—-the music was loud enough so you could hear all the subtleties without  hurting your ears.  I’ve left otherwise great concerts because  they were just painfully loud.

I would love to buy a dvd of this concert, to watch at home.  It was worth the splurge.

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