It’s not easy to stand out in a talent-packed place like Chicago, but Jason Adasiewicz has made a name for himself as a strong, unique voice in the city’s rich underground jazz and improvisational scene. He has lent his gorgeous, melodic vibraphone playing to literally dozens of ensembles and recordings, weaving his way through the highly collaborative network of progressive improvisers that has established itself in the clubs and practice spaces of Adasiewicz’s home city.
It’s a busy, burgeoning community, where each musician carries responsibilities for upwards of a dozen bands, supporting one another live and on record, developing their skills and a familiarity with each other’s musical styles and tendencies.
“It’s a family,” Adasiewicz says. “The reason why the bands are sounding better and better is that we’re growing together. We play an insane number of projects with one another, and the bands are cohesive and evolving.” This camaraderie can be heard in large ensembles like Rob Mazurek’s Exploding Star Orchestra, of which Adasiewicz is a crucial member, and smaller groups like Rolldown, the vibe player’s personal project.
As a young musician growing up in Crystal Lake, a suburb of Chicago, Adasiewicz found himself torn between his interest in jazz and love of rock. He discovered the vibraphone in junior high, and though it piqued his interest, his primary focus was on the drums. “My drum teacher had a vibraphone nestled away in the studio,” he explains, “and when I heard it for the first time, it was like, ‘Oh, wow.’ I didn’t know something like that existed. [It was] always on the side, though. Drums were in the forefront.”
He entered DePaul University to study jazz but was disinterested in the rigid, academic approach to music he found there. Ironically, it was only when he entered the Chicago indie-rock scene as drummer for the band Pinetop 7 that he discovered the deep, rewarding jazz music that he had been looking for. Mixing with notables like Fred Lonberg-Holm and Jeff Parker, who managed to pursue their improvisational inclinations while also moonlighting for rock bands, gave Adasiewicz the confidence and motivation to try new things.
He credits his true education in jazz to Chicago’s renowned Jazz Record Mart, where he found new sounds, new ideas, and new friends who would serve as his collaborators for many years. “The Jazz Record Mart is a really amazing record store that specializes in jazz and blues,” he says. “It’s a classic downtown environment with an insane amount of records. It’s for serious record dorks.”
It’s also where he met cornet player Josh Berman, his one-time roommate and current collaborator in Rolldown. “We lived in this house together,” Adasiewicz says, “fiddling around with compositions, writing, trying to figure it out, and we looked up to people like Rob Mazurek, Fred Anderson, and Ken Vandermark.” It wasn’t long before Adasiewicz was playing with his idols, learning from them and using his newfound knowledge to develop his songwriting and guide his own groups.