One listen to David Boykin’s audacious playing is enough to tip off a listener—this guy has plenty to say. A fixture of the South Side jazz community, and a stalwart of the boundary-pushing aesthetic of the Chicago avant-garde, the saxophonist chatted with Chicago about his recently released album and the health of the city’s jazz scene.
Talk about how your new album Live at Dorchester Projects came about.
The Dorchester Projects is a creation of installation artist, potter, and urban planner Theaster Gates. He converted his home into a community center of arts and culture for residents of his Grand Crossing neighborhood. I was in residence there for eight weeks holding open rehearsals with my trio to give audience members an intimate look at my creative practice. We recorded the last two dates of the residency and released some of the material as an album.
It seems like saxophone trios have been coming back into style in recent years. What was the appeal and challenge of playing in that stripped-down format?
Intitially the decision to play in a trio [with the bassist Alex Wing and the drummer James Woodley] was one of practicality. The result of playing in this smaller ensemble is that there is more space sonically. It’s less cluttered and some dynamic effects like changes in volume, intensity, and tempo are easier to create and more pronounced.
You’re an artist who is very much associated with the South Side. Why do you think it’s important for the South Side to continue to nurture a vibrant jazz community? Does it matter which part of the city the music comes from?
Jazz in the black community, and specifically on the South Side, is important as a cultural phenomenon. Music is one of the most essential aspects of black culture—it is at the center of everything we do. Music is a celebration of the wonder of creation. Music is essential to our humanity. So yes, it is very important for the continued evolution of the music that the South Side nurture a vibrant jazz community.
Chicago has lost a few key figures in the past several years—Fred Anderson, Von Freeman, Jodie Christian. How has this affected the city’s jazz vibe overall, but specifically the South Side scene?
Artistically, each of them represented or upheld a particular style. Fred Anderson and Jodie Christian were first-generation members of the AACM and represented the black avant-garde jazz style. Jodie Chrisitian, in addition to this, was a master of the bebop piano style. Von Freeman was the last Chicago bebop saxophonist with ties to the Charlie Parker era.
Fred Anderson and Von Freeman [also] played significant [social and economic] roles in black Chicago’s arts and entertainment scene. Fred Anderson was the owner and proprietor of the Velvet Lounge, which was the last black-owned nightclub in the South Loop to my knowledge. It was also the only jazz club near downtown Chicago that regularly presented the avant garde style of jazz. Von Freeman’s weekly session at the New Apartment Lounge was one the last holdovers of the pre-integration era South Side Chicago jazz scene that had mass appeal, creating an eclectic fan base.
Mark Loehrke is a contributing music critic for Chicago magazine.
Photograph: Ted Fishman