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BENT NIGHTS Chicago Jazz Festival; Giorgio Moroder
by Vern Hester

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As cool gusts of wind knocked those 95-plus degrees outside down to a more civilized 80 degrees, day after day brought violent thunderstorms and the seemingly endless invasion of cicadas has dwindled down to a scattered few, the city celebrated the start of the end of summer with the 40th Annual Chicago Jazz Festival Aug. 24-Sept. 2.

This year's headliners at the Pritzker Pavilion included The Orbert Davis Jazz Philharmonic, The Kurt Elling Sextet ( featuring Marquis Hill and Jeff "Twain" Watts ), vocalist Dianne Reeves, keyboard legend Ramsey Lewis and celebrated funk/jazz saxophonist Maceo Parker. Apart from the quality of the performances, these sets were notable for Lewis' retirement from live performance and Parker's set—which, at times, bordered on comedy as he insisted that he was not a jazz musician. ( Parker made his career by playing saxophone for the likes of James Brown, Prince, and Parliament/Funkadelic. ) Regardless of what Parker said, the overflow crowd ate it up.

On Aug. 29, Brit vocalist Little Boots played a DJ gig as opener for legendary producer/composer/arranger Giorgio Moroder at Thalia Hall. Boots, looking like a 1960s mod "bird" in a sparkly white ensemble, started the party with a succession of vintage dance cuts that had the sold-out crowd rocking ( The Jackon Five's "Dancing Machine", Shannon's "Let the Music Play" ) while tipping her hat to queer icon Sylvester, who would have been 72 on Sept. 6 ( a re-mixed "Do You Wanna Funk?" and "You Make Me Feel Mighty Real" ), before closing out her set with her own "New In Town."

The 78-year-old Moroder ignited a dance-floor frenzy when he played a generous portion of his work down through the years that acknowledged not only the golden era of disco but included rock 'n' roll as well. There were clips of Kylie Minoque ( "Right Here, Right Now" ), Limahl ( "The Neverending Story" ), Phil Oakley ( "Together in Electric Dreams" ), plenty of Donna Summer ( "Bad Girls," "I Feel Love," "On the Radio," "Hot Stuff," and that portrait of her and Barbra Streisand by Francesco Scavullo as the two chanted through "Enough Is Enough" ).

Oddly, some of the video clips had a way of overpowering the music to an unexpected extent. The segment from Alan Parker's film Midnight Express was almost nerve-wracking as "The Chase" played over the scene where a sweaty Brad Davis is about to get arrested for possession at the border in Morocco. There were other clips that got an altogether different reaction, including a coked-up Al Pacino, from Brian DePalma's Scarface, with Paul Engemann singing "Push it to the Limit" over the soundtrack ( "I want you to meet my little friend" ) and Jennifer Grey's preposterous leap at the climax of the "Flashdance" video. The most hilarious clip featured a virginal Tom Cruise strutting through Berlin's "Take My Breath Away" while wearing a pair of nut crunching Levis in Top Gun ( 1984 ).

With all the laughing and dancing, it could only be expected that Moroder would finish his set with Blondie's "Call Me," the ultimate dance-floor collision of hard-edged punk/New Wave with the business end of disco. Moroder grinned and waved his hands over the SRO crowd the entire evening like some Italian wizard of Oz—and it was clear that he enjoyed connecting with his audience as much as they enjoyed meeting him.

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