Thaddeus Tukes • "Chicago"

Musicianship is alive & well in Chicago. More so than in perhaps any contemporary music scene, young people are making their mark with instruments in their hands rather than solely relying on the electronic tools that are much more prominent amongst young artists these days. The latest example of such comes in the form of Thaddeus Tukes' reworking of "Chicago", a song made famous by Frank Sintara. While this may be the first time we've had the opportunity to cover Tukes' as a solo artist, his work precedes him. With deep roots in the city's music scene and a longstanding reputation, dating back to his high school days, as a respected young musician, we've seen him contribute to The JuJu's Exchange, Nico Segal's Surf album and front his own group with Syndicate. We had the opportunity to chat with Thaddeus, get to know him a little better and discuss the song that serves as the first single off of his forthcoming album, Thad's Groove. Listen up top, and learn a little down below. As always, we hope you enjoy.

While we’ve heard your work in a collaborative form previously, this serves as our first proper introduction to you. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I've been playing music for pretty much my entire life. Started taking piano lessons at the age of five, then joined the Percussion Scholarship Group at the CSO, which is where I first discovered the vibraphone. I've performed at venues all over the country, such as Carnegie Hall, and I recently realized I've been fortunate enough to meet and/or perform with many of my favorite musical artists. I've also been blessed with some of the best mentors and teachers in the entire world, really. 

I am a graduate of Whitney Young High School and Northwestern University. While in college, I co-founded a music group, Syndicate, which was voted the most popular band on the campus for all four years I attended. I have many diverse interests, which led to my role as Vice President of Accessibility and Inclusion on the student government, as well as president of the Northwestern Chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists. While I was president of NABJ-NU, we won National Student Chapter of the Year for the second time in Northwestern's history. Most notably, I was the student ambassador for a multibillion dollar campaign at NU, where I traveled to different cities to discuss my work on campus. 

Since college, I have been creating my own path as a musician. I received the Emerging Artist award from the Vivian G. Harsh Historical Society in June. I was given the opportunity to premiere a musical experience, NuViibez, at the Chicago Jazz Festival in August. I've also been able to move through genres pretty fluidly, performing at venues such as the Jazz Showcase with my quintet, but then playing a show at Schubas with Syndicate. It has been an interesting ride, but definitely a storybook journey for me. 

Chicago is a special place for musicians right now, how’s your experience within it been thus far?

Well, I've been a part of this music scene for as long as I can remember, and many of the major players are friends. I always tell people I've had the best seat in the house during this Chicago Renaissance. I would study artists' careers in an academic setting, and could then ask them questions directly because they've remained accessible. I've performed with people who are now Grammy award winners, who are extremely supportive in helping me blaze my own trail. It's honestly been a bit surreal, especially since I've back home. Everything that I dreamed our music scene could pretty much happening. 

It seems there’s been a bit of a Jazz resurgence in the last couple years, would you agree?

A resurgence would suggest that people weren't playing Jazz before but have started again. I just think more people are being exposed to Jazz and are coming to the understanding that it's a very relevant music. Jazz has always been a means of unity and liberation in America, and internationally, and honestly we need it now more than ever. I think the feeling of "resurgence" stems from many jazz musicians now are also producers, so we are finding more jazz tradition references in mainstream music, specifically hip-hop. I love being a Jazz musician in Chicago, though, because Chicago was the epicenter of the scene during the Jazz Age in the '20s. I think with this newfound attention on Chicago's music scene, we could make jazz the "cool" music again. 

What does the record “Flying Home” by Lionel Hampton mean to you?

That album changed my life. I discovered that album after snooping through my Great-Grandmother's album collection (may she rest in peace). I saw a vibraphone on the front and I thought 'hey, I play that instrument' so I listened it and was entranced. After one rotation, I decided that I wanted to play jazz vibraphone. Lionel Hampton is definitely one of the greatest vibist ever, and probably my personal favorite. 

How did this new single come about?

Chicago has so many jazz roots and has literally pioneered sounds within the genre. I wanted to do a song that would pay homage to my city and it's history, but try to encompass as many sounds of the city as possible. "Chicago" was made famous by Frank Sinatra, but it tells the story of so many faces and places in our extremely diverse and sometimes divided jazz scene within the city. But, I've been really studying the AACM and their legacy lately, while also studying places like the Green Mill and its legacy, and so on. My arrangement of Chicago considers all of those histories in a modern context. It's a song that can be played on any side of the city and be appreciated (I've tested it).

What can you tell us about the upcoming album Thad’s Groove?

Thad's Groove is extremely collaborative and extremely Chicago. It's all original music (outside of the single "Chicago") and gives a good snapshot of my musical journey. There are about 20 musicians featured on the project, and it was recorded jam session style -- an event that is at the cornerstone of the Chicago jazz community. There are songs for all ages and backgrounds, and I'm very grateful for all who participated in its creation.

Lastly, how’s your moonwalk coming along?

I've been practicing! I have a background in dance as well, and while I don't dance professionally, I definitely am looking to incorporate more dance into my aesthetic. Because if the swing doesn't make you aren't swinging.