Yes, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but sometimes an album is more than an album. Just looking at the cover of Ira Sullivan's new CD, A Family Affair, looking at him sharing grins with Joe Segal of the Jazz Showcase (where the CD was recorded) and vibraphonist/pianist Stu Katz (his co-leader and longtime crony), summons deep feelings of good fortune. About this thing called Chicago jazz. About being in the right place during the right times to hear so much life-changing music. About being lucky enough to be around such inspired and committed individuals.
The Showcase soon will mark its 60th ? yes, 60th ? year in existence. Most of those years have been in the face of culture-wide indifference, making Segal's achievement even more remarkable. Dozens upon dozens of the artists who shared communion here are gone (RIP Johnny Griffin, Red Rodney, Tommy Flanagan, Art Farmer, Clifford Jordan, Joe Henderson, Frank Morgan and Chet Baker, among the amazin's who made my nights at the club special). But the music pushes on.
The advanced ages of the album's cover boys (Sullivan turned 80 this year, a milestone he celebrated at the Chicago Jazz Festival) tells you there's an end date stamped on the good times. But the playing on A Family Affair is so not valedictory, so not an exercise in nostalgia, it makes a fool of regret. A culmination of the many bandstand nights Sullivan has spent in this fair city, before and after moving to Florida in 1963, the performance embraces yesterday only on a version of "Yesterdays" featuring Ira on cutting soprano and Lucia Newell on scat that sounds nothing like other versions of the Jerome Kern chestnut you may have heard.
As he loves to do, Sullivan also plays tenor, alto, trumpet and flugelhorn (what, no flute?), costume changes that work perfectly within the contours of the set. If you've never been to the Showcase, or need a meaningful whiff of Chicago jazz, breathe in this album. Smells like bop spirit, ageless and elegantly defiant.