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Summer Street Music Series: Chicago

Chicago jazz man Mario Abney blows his horn on Wabash Street.
Cheryl Corley, NPR /
Chicago jazz man Mario Abney blows his horn on Wabash Street.

Say "street music" in Chicago, and much of the year, that means the screech of the city's elevated train as it makes its way around downtown. But when the weather gets warm, musicians set up under the El train tracks to make the cacophony more melodic.

In the final installment of All Things Considered's summer series on street musicians, NPR's Cheryl Corley stops to listen to a young trumpeter on Wabash Street.

On the day of Corley's visit, 25-year-old Mario Abney is playing with the Caravan of Unity, a collection of hornplayers, drummers and a bassist who hook up from time to time.

Caravan of Unity is songwriter and percussionist Jun Cameron's band. "We enjoy playing on the streets here and there," says Cameron. "You never know, you might get a break on the streets. You never know who might discover you. Plus, we can see how people feel about our music."

The other members -- Abney, Ogina Allen, Gregory Hartinson, Garrette Horne, Rhythm Burage, Dylan Schwartz and Kaliq Woods -- have their own bands, but join the Caravan when they can, performing on the streets about three or four times during the week.

They're an eclectic bunch and Mario, with his blue head rag and basketball jersey, could fit right in the rap scene, but his muse is decidedly different. A jazz studies student at Ohio's Central State University, he started out playing trumpet at Thornton Township High school in south suburban Chicago.

Abney says the streets are a training ground for music. "This is the way we can educate people about music," he says. "Everybody has to come out on the streets at sometime or another. For the people who don't go to jazz clubs, and have business downtown, they're going to hear us."

Steve Hawkins, also a trumpet player, has blown his horn on the streets for more than 20 years. He has praise for Abney: "He's fine, he's great, I've been trying to learn from him, he's one of my teachers."

Hearing this, Abney just laughs, picks up horn, looks up at the El and blows.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Cheryl Corley is a Chicago-based NPR correspondent who works for the National Desk. She primarily covers criminal justice issues as well as breaking news in the Midwest and across the country.