Alumnus sees jazz as regional

Sonny Lee, Deputy Editor

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Head down. Tongue out. Hands ready to dance across the electric bass.

SHREDDING. Marc Piane, Class of 1992, plays the bass in a school performance as shown in the 1992 U-Highlights yearbook.

Marc Piane’s picture in the 1992 U-High yearbook shows him performing a self-composed piece, “Finally Some Funk” in Kenwood Mall, foreshadowing the musical career that defines him today.

Mr. Piane, bassist for The Chris Greene Quartet — which was awarded 2017 Best Jazz Band by the Chicago Reader and 2018 Best Jazz Entertainer by The Chicago Music Awards —  and a 1992 U-High alumnus, explained that although he primarily plays with the band, he also does all things musical including private lessons, writing short film scores, collaborations and working for Summer Lab on Stage during summers.

Since his father was a music teacher at Lab, Mr. Piane couldn’t escape music. He began his musical career on the trombone in middle school band. In high school, he picked up the electric bass. As a student at Knox College, Mr. Piane began falling in love with jazz — Knox was also where he began playing the upright bass, expanding his job opportunities. Mr. Piane played the electric bass in the house band for a jazz jam session in the town and also played in the top jazz combo for his college.

Since 1996 Mr. Piane has seen the jazz scene grow in terms of the number of musicians.

“I think that comes from a couple of things: One, I think the city has become more of a destination, people want to come here, and the other thing is that because the cost of living in Chicago is still reasonably low, you can actually make a career as a jazz musician here,” he said.

With more musicians comes more creative minds contributing to the genre. Yet Mr. Piane believes there are still distinct sounds of Chicago jazz.

“There are a lot of musicians from the South Side who grew up playing in church,” Mr. Piane said, “so I think there is a strong influence of — at least feeling-wise — of gospel in the Chicago jazz sound. That, and blues.”

Rooted in improv, Mr. Piane believes that jazz is defined by its freedom and diverse palette — the reasons he enjoys the genre so much. 

“My primary goal in all of this is expression, it’s some kind of artistic expression,” Mr. Piane said. “Part of the thing that drew me to jazz is the freedom within jazz, there’s such an amazing diversity of what jazz is that your palette is large. The other part of it that I like is the improvisation part. Improvisation is such a defining characteristic of jazz. When you listen to a jazz tune, after the first 20 seconds or 30 seconds, which is the melody, everything after is improvised, it’s within a framework, but you can really go anywhere with it.”