The Crusader Newspaper Group

Chicago Natives Amir ElSaffar and Mike Reed bring compelling projects to SCP Jazz Series

The New 411

By Raymond Ward, Chicago Crusader

Trumpeter Amir ElSaffar and his Rivers of Sound Orchestra bring their cross-cultural sonic tapestry to Symphony Center on Friday, February 9, at 8 p.m., as part of the Symphony Center Presents (SCP) Jazz series. Chicago-based jazz drummer Mike Reed opens the evening with music from his powerful project “Flesh & Bone.”

Mike Reed
Amir ElSaffar

Building upon the creative musical ideas associated with his other groups, trumpeter Amir ElSaffar’s 17-piece Rivers of Sound Orchestra combines elements of jazz and contemporary classical music with the rich musical heritage of the Middle East. Performing music from their acclaimed debut album “Not Two,” the ensemble features both traditionally western and uniquely Middle Eastern instruments, including strings, winds and various percussion, and features ElSaffar performing on trumpet, voice and santur, a Persian hammered dulcimer.

Opening the program is Mike Reed’s seven-piece ensemble “Flesh & Bone”—Greg Ward, alto saxophone; Tim Haldeman, tenor saxophone; Ben Lamar Gay, cornet; Jason Stein, bass clarinet; Jason Roebke, bass; Marvin Tate, vocals; and Mike Reed, drums. Formed in the wake of a violent, racially-charged incident Reed endured while traveling with his quartet abroad, “Flesh & Bone” serves as a musical reflection on that experience. An expansion of Reed’s traditional quartet, “Flesh & Bone” features rich, detailed compositions arranged for the ensemble of winds, bass and drums, and is augmented by video created by Kim Alpert.

Trumpeter, santur player and vocalist Amir ElSaffar has built a career drawing upon diverse musical traditions. Born in Chicago and a former member of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, ElSaffar trained as a classical trumpeter at DePaul University, absorbing the jazz and blues traditions of his hometown throughout his young life. Upon winning the Caruso Jazz Trumpet Competition in 2001, ElSaffar traveled to Iraq, his father’s homeland, to study with the few surviving masters of Maqam – the tonal systems that form the basis of Middle Eastern music. He spent five years pursuing these masters across the Middle East and Europe, learning to speak Arabic, sing maqam and play the santur. ElSaffar’s travels inspired him to combine Middle Eastern musical languages with jazz and other styles of contemporary music. He currently leads four critically-acclaimed ensembles: Two Rivers, the Amir ElSaffar Quintet, Safaafir and the Alwan Ensemble, and has released six albums as leader.

German-born drummer Mike Reed is a musician, composer and arts presenter based in Chicago. He is also the founding director of the Pitchfork Music Festival and the current programming chair of the Chicago Jazz Festival. An active performer on Chicago’s jazz and improvisational music scene, Reed leads several renowned groups including the improvisation-heavy quintet Loose Assembly, octet Living by Lanterns, and is also a member of the collective trio Artifacts. His long-running jazz quartet People, Places & Things has collaborated with such luminaries as Ira Sullivan, Art Hoyle and Craig Taborn. In conjunction with his career as a performer, Reed’s drive to enrich the Chicago arts scene has led him to open the performing arts venue Constellation, as well as the Hungry Brain, a neighborhood venue for live, creative music and socially-driven public programs.

Tickets for all Symphony Center Presents Jazz series concerts can be purchased by phone at 800-223-7114 or 312-294-3000, online at, or at the Symphony Center box office: 220 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60604.

Discounted student tickets for select concerts can be purchased, subject to availability, online in advance or at the box office on the day of the concert. For group rates, please call 312-294-3040.

Artists, programs and prices are subject to change.

The Symphony Center Presents Jazz series is sponsored by Exelon.



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