Home New Jazz UpFront Launches ‘Straight Ahead Sundays’ with Reginald Lewis Quintet

Jazz UpFront Launches ‘Straight Ahead Sundays’ with Reginald Lewis Quintet

by Madonna

This weekend marks the inauguration of a new series at Jazz UpFront, titled “Straight Ahead Sundays.” Embracing a no-frills, early evening format with no cover charges, the series is dedicated to showcasing pure jazz talents. The debut performance will feature the Reginald Lewis Quintet, introducing audiences to the next-gen hard bop saxophonist.

Reginald Lewis, a tenor saxophonist, has become a familiar presence at Jazz UpFront since his arrival in Bloomington-Normal last year. While proficient in various styles, Lewis holds a particular affinity for hard bop, inspired by his grandfather and mentor, Robert “Bootsie” Barnes, affectionately known as his “Bop Pop.”

In a conversation within his office at Illinois Wesleyan University, Lewis fondly recalled the influence of his grandfather, who gifted him a Yamaha 23 student model alto saxophone, a cherished possession to this day. Lewis began with basic scales on the smaller instrument before transitioning to the tenor saxophone under Barnes’s tutelage.

Barnes, a prominent figure in Philadelphia’s jazz scene for six decades, succumbed to COVID-19 in 2020. Lewis reminisced, “You didn’t go through Philadelphia and play an instrument without seeing Bootsie Barnes. He lived the music, and he was there when [John] Coltrane first came to town, hanging out with Benny Golson and the Grubbs brothers.”

Currently directing the jazz program at IWU, Lewis, with a doctorate from the University of Illinois, has made it his mission to preserve his grandfather’s legacy, evident in his dissertation focused on Barnes’s illustrious career.

Lewis, optimistic about the jazz program’s growth at IWU, acknowledges the evolving landscape of jazz with the emergence of a new generation of titans. Citing artists like Immanuel Wilkins, Warren Wolf, and Arnetta Johnson, Lewis believes these musicians are already making waves, carrying forward the legacy of pioneers like Bootsie Barnes.

Regarding the local jazz scene, Lewis sees potential where others see gaps. Expressing enthusiasm about the talent pool at IWU and Illinois State, he notes the presence of exceptional players in the area, such as Thaddeus Tukes and the legendary John Campbell.

In Lewis’s perspective, Jazz UpFront holds the potential to be the epicenter of the local jazz scene, urging community support to keep the music alive. He emphasizes, “We have to make it ‘the place.’ We need people to come support the music. If you want to see more jazz, you need to come out and support. That’s what keeps the music alive — is us.” Don’t miss the kickoff of “Straight Ahead Sundays” with the Reginald Lewis Quintet at Jazz UpFront, promising an evening of unadulterated jazz brilliance.

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