Chicago Jazz Magazine • “Pompe Is Still On Fire”
By Randy Freedman • September-October 2009
Veteran Chicago vocalist/pianist/songwriter Marc Pompe knows his way around the Chicago jazz scene as well as anyone can, possessing a wealth of experience from which to draw. His recent performance at Katerina’s Supper Club as a trio stood out from his typical performances, because that night he stepped away from the piano. As a rarity, instead of being his own accompanist, Pompe got the chance to fully concentrate on his vocal skills and song selection, while leaving the musical driving in the capable hands of guitarist Andy Brown and upright bass player Doug Hayes.
At the height of his long career, Pompe was not only one of the more popular male jazz vocalist in Chicago, but was in-demand nationally, performing dates at- among other venues- the prestigious Jilly’s in New York. Pompe left he limelight behind for a while to pursue a quieter, more peaceful lifestyle in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Upon his return to Chicago, Pompe found (as did many others) that the music scene had changed, and that it was more difficult for his to find work. Pompe could not regain the full extent of his previous popularity with audiences and club owners, though certainly not for lack of skill or effort: changing times had taken their toll.
Today, an ironic side effect of the current worldwide economic slowdown and one that actually favors musicians like Pompe- is that although there is less work overall for musicians in Chicago, vocalist who can accompany themselves on piano are in relatively greater demand than before. Despite the poor economy, Pompe appears regularly behind the piano of venues like Maggiano’s on Clark, McCormick & Schmick’s and the Chambers in Niles.
The opportunities to appear in a concert-like setting with other musicians are fewer for him, and made this performance at Katerina’s a relatively unique opportunity for Pompe and his fans.
Music highlights from this performance included “What Am I Here For” (Ellington and Hendricks) and “Old Chair” (Pompe), the songs sharing a Pompe specialty- the use of what he calls “a busy lyric.” These lyrics are pre-written by Pompe, which he incorporates into an existing song while improvising melody and tempo in a manner similar to “scat,” but using real words and sentences with meaning. Pompe has the annunciation and poise required to do this in a way that lets the listener hear and understand every word clearly, no matter how rapidly they are delivered.
Brown demonstrated his guitar skill by staying with Pompe no matter where his improvisational stylings took him. Other highlights where “Two For The Road,” Flying Down to Rio” and “The Best Thing For You Would Be Me”- all of which all featured great bow work by bassist Hayes.
Some vocalists may experiment with a new song the first few times they perform it, but eventually settle on one interpretation which makes them feel comfortable and seems to please their audience. Pompe seems to regard each new performance of a song the way a great painter does a fresh piece of canvas, and seizes every opportunity to re-examine and re-interpret melody and lyrics as they sound at the moment, in that room, with those instruments and those musicians, and tweak them as he pleases. No two performances are the same, and a careful listener can always find something new and different each time they hear him.
Pompe is every inch an original. He has a breezy, don’t-take-me-too-seriously-unless-I-want-you-to style that suggest an earlier jazz era, but is relevant to the here and now. Pompe can swing hard or can bring you sensitive phrasing and tempo to highlight the beauty of a lyric. Sometimes he does both within the very same song. Few other artists can match his variety of musical skills and imagination.