[JPL] Howard Reich Chicago Tribune Expansive site, costs make for an imperfect fit

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Mon Sep 15 07:40:33 EDT 2008




Expansive site, costs make for an imperfect fit

By Howard Reich

Chicago Tribune critic

September 14, 2008

For audiences and arts organizations attuned to jazz, world music and other
sophisticated fare, the Harris Theater has been a blessing‹though some have
felt more blessed than others.

The theater's high-profile location, in Millennium Park, lends instant
prominence and credibility to musicians and presenters alike. Moreover, arts
groups enjoy bowing at the Harris.

"It has been central for us," says Richard Dunscomb, executive director of
the Chicago Jazz Ensemble, a repertory big band that soon will launch its
third season at the Harris.

"The stage is wonderful, the staff is very cooperative, the box office is
good," says Jazz Showcase founder Joe Segal, who presented a major
fundraiser there last year.

"I love the acoustics," says Morris Phibbs, deputy director of the Center
for Black Music Research, which has staged two major concerts at the Harris.

>From the listener's point of view, too, the Harris has a great deal to
recommend it. Excellent sound, unimpaired sightlines and a dramatic
proscenium make the venue an appealing alternative to larger rooms such as
Orchestra Hall and the Auditorium Theatre.

Yet for musical forms that do not cater to mass-appeal audiences, the Harris
can prove larger than ideal.

"In my own experience, it's a little cavernous for jazz," says Lauren
Deutsch, executive director of the non-profit Jazz Institute of Chicago, who
has staged concerts at the Harris. "So I don't think the Harris is the
ultimate theater for presenting jazz, but it's one of the best options we
have now."

Apart from size, the major caveat regarding the Harris remains cost,
according to many presenters. Renting the theater for a night runs $4,750,
plus the expense of stagehands, says Harris president and managing director
Michael Tiknis. For small, non-profit arts groups, that's major money.

In the case of the Chicago Jazz Orchestra, the total came to more than
$8,000 for presenting a single concert, says executive director Alyce

"The work they do is very, very good, but the expense of it is why we're not
using it [now]," says Claerbaut.

Tiknis says groups that commit to using the venue long-term are eligible for
various grants. 

Reservations notwithstanding, the Harris has given Chicago many indelible
nights, including a landmark performance of Duke Ellington's Sacred Concerts
by the Chicago Jazz Ensemble; a historic comeback appearance by jazz
trumpeter Nicholas Payton, following an accident that had damaged his lip;
and the first indoor Chicago show by the ineffably expressive Portuguese
fado singer Mariza.

Mariza's show at the Harris created tremendous buzz in Chicago, leading to
an upcoming appearance at Symphony Center.

"We're happy when they try to steal something away from us," says Tiknis,
with a laugh.

hreich at tribune.com

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