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Along came a Spider

Acclaimed jazz vocalist Spider Saloff headlines a cabaret-style concert as a McLean Autism benefit Saturday night in Illinois Wesleyan University's Memorial Center.


Spider Saloff: Not your typical très chic jazz singer handle.

"It's a college nickname that would't go away," confesses the former New Yorker who switched home bases to Chicago in 1993. 

It came about, and stuck, because ... well, because "I have very long legs and arms, very long hands, and a very short torso."

Just like that certain member of the arachnid family.

Lo these many years later, she calls the nickname "one of the best things that ever happened to me ... I love it, love it."

For fans of Gershwin, Berlin, Porter and all the other Great American Songbook providers, the same could be said for what's in store for us Saturday night in Illinois Wesleyan University's Memorial Center.

When she comes along, we'll definitely want to sit down beside her, Miss Muffet-style.

The occasion: Saloff in an intimate, cabaret-style concert that is serving as a fundraiser for Autism McLean, which this year is celebrating its 15th anniversary supporting McLean County individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

"She has a wicked way with a  lyric, and a glint of self-controlled mischief," wrote a New York Times critic, happily ensnared in her web.

"She's slyly sophisticated, easily accessible," observed her hometown Chicago Tribune, also ensnared, willingly. "One of the finest jazz singers working in this or any other city." 

In addition to Saloff's center-stage performance, the evening will also include a silent art auction featuring 70 items from local and nationally recognized artists.

Among those items are film actor Val Kilmer's laser-cut steel piece, "Love Forever"; a piece from digital painter Leigh Barbier, who has worked for Lucasfilm Ltd.  on several "Star Wars" sequels; and local sculptor Rick Harney's Abraham Lincoln bas-relief sculpture in cast resin.

"I'm delighted to be coming back," says Saloff, who has passed our way in grand style several times over the past two decades, including, most memorably, as the star of an all-Gershwin concert with the Illinois Symphony Orchestra.

This time, she's bringing with her "two of my favorites from Chicago — Jeremy Kahn on piano and Jim Cox on bass. Both of these guys are fantastic, and have toured internationally with me as well."

Between Spider's vocals and the instrumental support, she promises a complete transportation to what could pass for one of the top jazz/cabaret rooms in Chicago, New York or Paris. 

Saloff herself has long been ranked as one of the world's premier Gershwin interpreters, as well as one of its finest jazz vocalists ... period.

For starters, she was handpicked by the Gershwin family as one of the sanctioned performers on the Gershwin Centennial Tour, which began in 1996 with the 100th anniversary of Ira Gershwin's birth and gained momentum in 1998 with the 100th anniversary of brother George's arrival.

During this period, she headlined the biggest Gershwin festival in the world: the St. Petersburg Gershwin Festival in Russia (the family's ancestral birthplace).

"They were a really wild audience there ... they were standing on their chairs screaming," she recalled in an earlier GO! interview.

Today, Spider Saloff still a Gershwin cheerleader, as well as one of the country's most vocal boosters of the Great American Songbook in general ... a passion that led to her co-creating and co-hosting the internationally syndicated NPR series, "Words and Music" (no longer aired ..,. but succeeded by her own current weekly podcast, "Spider's Web" at

She calls her interpretative approach as the aforementioned songbook "presented in a very contemporary way, with jazzy stylings and some stories behind the songs."

In her New York days, Saloff was a regular at such landmark venues as Michael's Pub, the Russian Tea Room, the Algonquin, Feinstein's and Birdland. After the Chicago transplant in 1993, you could find her anywhere with an ear for good music, from the legendary Green Mill to the Fairmont Hotel.

These days, you'll likely find her at new and/or currently happening venues like Winter's Jazz Club on the Chicago Riverwalk (April 10); the famous downtown seafood restaurant Catch 35 (April 14); and "the beautiful and spectacular and glamorous and very, very chic" PianoForte on Michigan Avenue, where she'll be doing her new one-woman Peggy Lee tribute show in its Chicago debut (April 8).

For her trek downstate this weekend, Spider assures us she'll be spinning a musical web guaranteed to make us her willing prey.

BYO curds and whey?

No, she says.

"Just come prepared to have a whole lot of fun."


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