Originally published in Third Coast Review
Paying an overdue visit back to one of my favorite venues, Schubas Tavern, on Tuesday night was just the thing I needed. But my trip back to one of my beloved music homes for the last two years was deliberate. It was prompted by a guy named Bruno Major, of whose songs I had only heard two.
And that was on a short red line commute to work Monday morning. I needed my biweekly live music fix, and when I felt those chills I only periodically feel upon first listening to a song, I knew halfway through hearing “Just the Same,” that I’d have a lot to say about him.
Bruno Major stepped onto the small, homey stage, seemingly not ready to look his audience in the face. He would let his music initiate conversation. Major kicked off his debut Chicago appearance with “Wouldn’t Mean a Thing,” obviously a fan favorite in this city where his music is ubiquitous.
The show was sold out, and while I thought I was original for wearing an embroidered Levi’s denim jacket, I was greeted by a sea of exactly those, donned by a majority of smart 19-year-olds.
Felix, 19, is a Philadelphia transplant, attending Moody Bible Institute near Old Town, who plays the guitar, and who attended for just that reason: to feel the vibrations of Bruno Major’s natural jazz guitar prowess. Felix called Major’s guitar skills “ideal.” You didn’t have to be a die-hard fan of John Coltrane and Chet Baker to have connected to this performance.
My conversation with Felix played into an important mental note I made just five minutes into my arrival, which was that the Bruno Major Chicago audience was talkative and friendly. And friendliness is a motif throughout Major’s performance; it is its own production element, from “Wouldn’t Mean A Thing” to the time he’d be boarding his bus to Toronto an hour after the show.
Major spent about five minutes with every group of fans who stayed for photo ops and answered their burning questions. He even answered more than one fans’ questions on Snapchat. The distance these social media platforms have infamously created is broken down by such opportunities as this one, though.
Chicago emanates the epitome of community, and it’s been said to do so time and again by groups originating here, and those whose members move here for that experience. Bruno Major is no exception, as he succeeds at bringing people together in a natural way.
Annie, 25, met Cris, 24, while studying at Creighton University in Nebraska, but graduation and new jobs separated the two. Annie bought two tickets before embarking on an independent seven-hour drive to Chicago just for Bruno Major, where she would see Cris for the first time in four years. It was the right opportunity to reconnect with an old friend. And like me, Cris wasn’t quite as familiar with the music, but she was a Coltrane and Fitzgerald fan.
Major’s interludes were anecdotal and introductory to most songs. Toward the middle of the set list, I questioned Major’s decision to break down the fourth wall so often. But, it became clear that, unlike acts who have more international stage seniority, Major discourages distance between himself and his fans.
One of those introductions involved the story of his grandfather who passed away just before Major’s first live performance of “Places We Won’t Walk,” for which Major puts down the guitar to devote himself to the keys.
The keyboard has a strong presence throughout Major’s set, most often performed by band member Eloise, but this time, she stands for a vocal duet with Major, as he laments what was originally meant to convey the feeling after a break-up. The passing of his grandfather brought the song to a different and sole meaning: losing him.
Of course, the audience reaction to Major’s telling of that inspirational morph developed from a collective (and predictable) “Aww!” to the dramatic fanning of their faces.
In some ways, I related this experience to the one Eliot Sumner gave when she performed at Schubas almost exactly two years ago. She is bright, personable and she made you feel like you were friends who were catching up throughout the performance. Like Bruno Major, she has a relatable story in her music and in her stage presence.