The Chris Greene Quartet
Saturday, October 12 @ 9:30 pm
Chris Greene was born on August 28, 1973 in Evanston, Illinois. His parents were big music fans, but there was only a smattering of jazz in the household. His mother blasted Motown at her monthly card parties. His father played a lot of funk, soul, and disco. Young Chris absorbed all manner of pop styles watching MTV.
He took up the saxophone at age 10, and began studying it seriously when he was 16, “playing the hell out of a blues pentatonic scale.” He mainly played alto saxophone in the well-regarded Evanston High School Wind and Jazz Ensemble, as well as with local bands including a rock unit called Truth. “They were into Sting and I was eager to be their Branford [Marsalis],” he said. (Years later, he played in a Dave Matthews cover band.)
He didn’t know much about improvisation. “When I soloed it was with more nerve than skill,” he said. As a self-styled “Joe Jazz Visionary,” he had no great affinity for “older people’s music. Cannonball [Adderley] was okay, but he was no Grover Washington Jr.” As devoted a follower of John Coltrane as he would become, he initially couldn’t stand him. “The only Coltrane album my father had was Om, which I thought was absolutely terrible, the worst thing I ever heard.”
The super-spacey album so turned off Greene to Trane, when someone later told him to listen to Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue and he saw that Coltrane was on it, he hesitated to put it on. “All I could think of was that Om guy,” he said with a laugh. Eventually, he was “blown away” by Coltrane’s playing on “My Favorite Things,” which has had a strong influence on his efforts on soprano saxophone, as revealed on his gorgeous reading on Boundary Issues of Kenny Kirkland’s “Dienda,” from one of his favorite Branford Marsalis albums.
At Indiana University, Greene studied under revered music educator David Baker, who died in 2016, and the much-admired current jazz studies department chair Thomas Walsh. “It was a great experience for me,” he said. “I was a kid with a lot of natural talent, but with a lack of discipline. I learned how to practice, how to break things down, how to solve problems.”
Back in Chicago, he continued his education by reaching out to established artists including genius innovator Steve Coleman. “He was hard-headed in his determination to play music his way,” said Greene. “It was a huge eye-opener for me how he put things together.”
Greene also got a major boost from Coleman’s legendary mentor, Chicago tenor legend Von Freeman, at one of his famous jam sessions. “He didn’t know me from Adam, but he was very encouraging. He said, ‘Hey, I hear what you’re trying to do. Keep at it.’ That meant so much.”