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Festival to jazz up St. Charles next week

Chicago area jazz saxophonist Chris Madsen has spread his music far and wide.

Madsen, 30, has performed at the esteemed Chicago Jazz Festival and has played with the likes of Paul Simon and Wynton Marsalis. Now Madsen will be taking the stage at the inaugural St. Charles Jazz Weekend, set for Sept. 20-23. A full festival schedule can be found at

Kane County Chronicle Reporter Eric Schelkopf had the chance to talk to Madsen about his music and the upcoming festival.

Eric Schelkopf: Do you think jazz festivals are a good way for the casual listener to hear jazz music?
Chris Madsen:
The performances that we’re doing present jazz more as an option. You can either listen to it directly and intently, or just sort of enjoy it while you are enjoying dinner or having a drink.
It’s kind of cool because if you are a casual listener, you don’t feel like you’re forced to listen against your will. You have the option to drift in and out.

ES: Will you be playing with anybody else?
Every one of the performances feature myself and a guitarist, Tim Fitzgerald. We’ve performed a few times together, here and there.

ES: Why do you collaborate so well together?
He’s a really good listener, and he is very attentive as an accompanist to a saxophone player like me.
Both of those things just make it fun to play with him.

ES: So, for people who come out to the festival, what should they expect?
From my ensemble, they should expect to hear songs that are both familiar and also songs that they are not used to hearing.
It’s sort of a mixture from the Great American Songbook and also some lesser known jazz standards.

ES: You’ve done a lot of things. What would you say are some of the highlights of your career?
: The Chris Madsen Bix Quartet was the kickoff act at the recent Chicago Jazz Fest. That was very gratifying. That was one of the highest profile things we’ve ever done.

ES: What made that so special to you?
The Chicago Jazz Festival has been around for so long, and it’s such a big deal to be able to play there. I’ve gone to see it ever since I was a kid. And to be able to perform at it was a real thrill.

ES: What drew you to jazz in the first place?
I started just playing the saxophone when I was a kid, about 9 or 10. It’s kind of hard to be a saxophone player and not to be exposed to jazz. The two are so linked together.
I discovered that I had a real interest in it. I had a natural affinity for it.

ES: What do you like about playing the saxophone?
It’s such a vocal instrument. It’s one of the closest approximations to the human voice that you can get. It sounds like a human voice. Not being a good singer, I’m able to sort of vocalize through the horn instead.

ES: You’ve played with Paul Simon and  Wynton Marsalis. What do you learn from those experiences?
Well, I would say what you learn in those situations is how to bring your own voice to the table while still fitting into that established person’s persona.
It’s sort of walking a line between being yourself, but also fitting into their established musical mindset.
You want to play the way they’re expecting you to play, while still bringing your unique gifts to the table. It’s a real big challenge, but it’s part of the fun of it.

ES: What do you think makes the Chicago music scene so special or different from other scenes around the country?
I think there is just a really rich history of music in Chicago, particularly the blues.
And that blues tradition really does inform a lot of the jazz players that live here. There’s kind of an emphasis on understanding the blues and understanding songs that fit into that sensibility.

ES: Do you have any dream collaborations or projects?
I think I’m just going to keep going and playing with different people. I just want to continue doing what I’m doing now.

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