Great expectations for Constellation

For anyone who values innovation in music, the next few days could mark the beginning of a significant era in Chicago.

On Monday, Chicago jazz drummer and music producer Mike Reed will launch Constellation, a performing arts center that will feature an array of music — from experimental jazz to classical avant-garde — plus dance, film and other eclectic work.


Equally important, these genres often will intermingle at Constellation, as in the "Collision Theory" series produced by the Links Hall organization , which brings improvising dancers and jazz musicians onstage together.

Links Hall, in fact, will be moving into Constellation — located in the old Viaduct Theater at 3111 N. Western Ave. — and give the venue its debut performance with "Fraction: Dance in Progress" on Monday night. A few days later, the Instant Composers Pool Orchestra, a Dutch group of great renown and greater inventiveness, will launch the music offerings with a concert April 6.


From that point forth, music, dance, film and whatnot will rush into Constellation's three performance spaces: Studio A, with about 1,800 square feet and seating for 50 to 75; Studio B, with 2,800 square feet and seating for 100 to 150; and a lobby/bar area of about 1,000 square feet that will double as a performance space. Among the upcoming attractions will be the creative Chicago vocalist Dee Alexander on April 12; programming from the Chicago International Movies & Music Festival, April 18 to 20; a pairing of multi-instrumentalist Roscoe Mitchell with Reed on April 19; and venturesome pianist Craig Taborn on April 28.

An impressive first few weeks, at least on paper.

"I can't take credit for the bookings CIMM Fest is putting on," says Reed in an email, referring to the Chicago International Movies & Music Festival events. "I just happened to be lucky in the timing.

"The other bookings are a combination of timing and being proactive. ICP and Craig Taborn have been working on this particular routing through Chicago for over six months. I hoped that we would be open, but I had backup plans in case we weren't ready, or God forbid the deal (to transform the Viaduct into Constellation) would have fallen through.


"So what I'm saying is that I would have booked those anyway, and I have a deep relationship with all of those musicians."

And therein lies much of the promise of Constellation. Because of Reed's long-established skills as drummer-composer-bandleader-conceptualist, he brings instant artistic credibility to Constellation and can draw leading performers to it.

He goes out of his way to note, however, that many others have been — and will be — helping to shape what appears at Constellation.

"I also was fortunate to be in contact with (impresario) Kate Dumbleton, who is producing an exhibit and discussion at the Cultural Center ("Surround Sound: Prairie and Beyond" on April 18). She wanted to fill out the panel with someone who had dealt deeply in improvised music, and I suggested Roscoe Mitchell. Roscoe and I had talked about trying to do something when my new place opened, and this seemed like a great way to partner with Kate's project."

In addition, Reed has signed up Michael Slaboch to serve as program director for Constellation, freeing up Reed for his myriad other activities, such as producing the Pitchfork Music Festival in Union Park. A new music/new classical series at Constellation called Frequency will run on Sunday evenings but will have an open house April 27 and will be curated by Peter Margasak, says Reed.

"Don't forget Links Hall," he adds. "That's huge. While we get our thing together and find out how we grow, we have this great performing arts institution (that) will be the bedrock for the space. This wouldn't be possible without them and would have never entered my mind."

Indeed, Links Hall will be central to the operation of Constellation, guaranteeing not only an immediate influx of performances and audiences but also daytime and nighttime usage of the studios for rehearsal space.

"For Links Hall, in some ways, the sky is the limit here," Roell Schmidt, the organization's director, told me earlier this month. "We were often dark in July because there are so many Cubs games (in Links Hall's former Wrigleyville neighborhood). ... Now we can expand."


As for the music, "We're looking to build slowly and concentrate on weekends, being mindful of other established venues and programs and finding our own space in it," says Reed. "Everyone needs to remember that things grow, they don't come out fully formed."

And though Reed clearly is drawing on a wide range of curatorial expertise, he's still making some room for his own perspectives, with particular bookings designed to make specific points.

"Dee Alexander is one of Chicago's stars, and I wanted to make sure that people would recognize this new venue with stalwarts like herself," says Reed. "Additionally, I wanted to make sure that I made a statement about being inclusive to vocalists."

Finally, Reed draws a critical distinction between the arts activities that will be unfolding at Constellation and those at other kinds of venues across the city.

"One major thing to point out is that we're not promoters," says Reed, citing the precedent of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, a collective that blossomed in Chicago in the mid-1960s. "From the same goals that the AACM started on, in which they wanted to control their own abilities to govern their performances, we want to cover the costs of our staff (doorman, sound man) and then let the artists take the full amount of the proceeds. They also set their ticket price; in this case, it also puts the responsibility of making a successful event on them. We will do our best to promote the show with the tools they give us, but they also have to up their role in the event."

In all, a bold and fascinating experiment in bringing adventurous music and arts to Chicago audiences. Here's hoping listeners respond.

To read more from Howard Reich on jazz, go to

Twitter @howardreich

Coming to Constellation

The following shows are coming to Constellation, 3111 N. Western Ave.;

"Fraction: Dance in Progress": presented by Links Hall, 8 p.m. Monday; $5 suggested donation.

"Braiding Rivers: Stereotypes": presented by Links Hall, 7 p.m. April 5-7; $10-$15.

International Composers Pool Orchestra, 9:30 p.m. April 6; $12-$15.

Dee Alexander's Evolution Orchestra: 9:30 p.m. April 12; $10-$12.


Chicago Underground Duo: 9:30 p.m. April 13; $10-$12.

CIMM Fest: April 18-20; visit

Roscoe Mitchell and Mike Reed: 9:30 p.m. April 19; $15-$20.

Craig Taborn Trio: 8:30 p.m. April 28; $15.