since 2007, the ratchet series has actively presented creative improvised music in the pilsen neighborhood of chicago. we aim to provide musicians of diverse styles and approaches within the genres of free jazz, improvised and experimental music with a weekly performance opportunity and to foster a community that supports musicians on chicago's south side.

the performances are scheduled on monday nights at 10pm. there is a suggested donation of 5 dollars, all of which goes to the performers.

recently, we have added a ratchet house series for a visiting musician to pair up with a local musician to play in an intimate, acoustic setting.

we are also starting our brand new ratchet series composer's residency! twice a year we will feature a chicago composer in a month-long residency at our weekly 'ratchet series at the skylark'. in may, 2012, we began our composer's series with a very exciting residency featuring saxophonist, cameron pfiffner. in the april 2013 we will be featuring the work of devin hoff. visit our composer's residency page to learn more.

thank you for visiting our site!


To date, we've featured:

matt schneider, tony malaby, cameron pfiffner, jeff parker, michael attias, jason ajemian, marc riordan, fred lonberg-holm, mars williams, jeb bishop, nate mcbride, tony barba, mike reed, bill mackay, david boykin, johnny herndon, keefe jackson, jim baker, toby summerfield, josh abrams, jaimie branch, jeff kimmel, anton hatwich, ben boye, jason roebke, brian sandstrom, damon short, ryan shultz, paul hartsaw, paul gialorenzo, jacob wick, peter hanson, nick mazzarella, owen stewart-robertson, charles rumback, frank rosaly, health and beauty, dan thatcher, tim daisy, jason steele, james davis, patrick mulcahy, andre beasley, quin kirchner, robin bourdreaux, matt ulery, josh berman, kyle hernandez, larry kohut, mitch paliga, jason stein, sharif zaben, jon deitermyer, nate lepine, dan delorenzo, joe admik, tyler beach, justin purtill, jeff greene, dave miller, caroline davis, cory healey, mike pride, ritwik banerji, rob frye, satya gummuluri, steve ptacek, rob denty, tim mulvenna, shane perlowin, james falzone, jake vinsel, hans-peter pfammater, nathan kawaller, tony do rosario, brian sulpizio, nick morrison, jeff albert, ray moore, tommy sciple, dave cappello, todd hill, steve horne, rob haight, ted hogarth, alejandro urzagaste, dave mcdonnell, mitch strafer, isa wiss, ben macdonald, joshua manchester, kevin nabors, greg spero, jeff padras, isaiah spencer, matt golombisky, tim haldeman, ben brown and the make-out machine, 28 god, hudson harrington berry, alex wing, ingebrigt haker-flaten, dave rempis, greg ward, steve hunt, mikel avery, word and number, dylan ryan, sean mccluskey, john goldman, scott hesse, dave fink, rob mazurek, matt lux, dan effland, mark van zeigler, dan bitney, steve dawson devin hoff, avreeayl ra, eduardo marraffa, alberto braida, joost buis, charlie kohlhase, john niekrasz, lucas gillian, john tate, dennis carroll, ron perillo, joachim badenhorst, john butcher, katherine young, toby summerfield, steve lugerner, russ johnson, michael sarin and many others!


chicago reader's peter margasak:

Drummer Frank Rosaly and trumpeter Jaimie Branch have played some extended Monday-night engagements at Pilsen’s Skylark this past year, and starting tonight they’re hosting a bona fide series there, with different acts each week. The Ratchet Series kicks off with a quartet featuring guitarist Matt Schneider, phenomenal saxophonist Tim Haldeman, bassist Anton Hatwich, and drummer Dylan Ryan (Herculaneum, Bronze). The music starts at 10 PM and there's no cover--though of course the musicians won’t turn up their noses at donations. This past summer, when I caught a Skylark gig by Princess, Princess, Rosaly’s trio with Branch, the group had to compete with the yammering of diners and drinkers--with any luck the bar and the music will evolve a compromise.


newcity chicago:

Sky(lark) is the Limit
Looking to inspire musical creativity in Chicago, musicians Frank Rosaly and Jaimie Branch have started up the Ratchet Series, a string of weekly jazz shows at the Skylark in Pilsen. “Chicago has such a long, deep tradition of creative jazz music, and in the twenty-first century you sometimes have to remind people of that,” says Rosaly, noting that he saw Pilsen as a perfect base for his idea because of the lack of live music. “The tradition continues in bars like the Skylark, and all we can do is present it, pass around a hat for donations and try to help the music move forward by making the venue balanced with all the social pluses, as well as presenting this great musical tradition—while also paying the musicians for their work.” Rosaly sees the series expanding past jazz in the future. “I would love to start blurring the lines by having the likes of Pillars and Tongues one week, then Cameron Pfiffner Quintet the following week, then Rob A.A. Lowe, then Jeff Parker, The Eternals... A lot of work has come from organizers, venues, musicians and fans alike so there is some quality joint you can go every night of the week and see great jazz and other creative music. We're hoping to contribute to that lineage.”

from gapersblock.com:

Ratchet: Pushing Jazz Forward

Sure you know about Chicago jazz venues like the Green Mill, Andy's and Fred Anderson's Velvet Lounge, but what about Hungry Brain, Hideout, or even Skylark? Chicago has a rich history of jazz, from the speakeasies of the '20s, to a thriving community of innovators that exists today. Ratchet, taking place Monday nights at the Skylark in Pilsen, is a jazz series in the vein of Umbrella Music, Immediate Sound, and Elastic Arts, which are collectives and series in this small, but visionary creative music community.
The name Ratchet is a reference to a "machine or mechanism that can only move forward, relentlessly — like the tradition of creative music and art in general," says Ratchet founder Frank Rosaly. The tradition of jazz has always been to push the line. While traditional standards from the "jazz age" of the twenties may sound like tame oldies to us now, at the time it certainly pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable, both musically and socially. Jazz in those days was widely considered immoral and vulgar due in part to the fact that most jazz clubs doubled as speakeasies, not to mention its connotations with sex.

But you won't hear straight-ahead standards here. The idea is to showcase "music with improvisational roots," says Rosaly. "We're trying to book people that interpret jazz with foresight and balls." A lot of creative music series require that performers present completely improvised or original material, but Ratchet is more lax in that they just ask that musicians put their own personal spin on whatever they play. For example, Keefe Jackson recently played a night of jazz standards, but "he's such an individualistic player, he really treats them in such a special way," Rosaly says. "Keefe does something with the tunes it makes sense for what we're trying to present. It's still reaching."
Although Rosaly spearheaded the inception of the series, he has since brought on several other musicians who now join him in the role of curator which include Marc Riordan, Jeff Kimmel, Ben Boye and Nick Mazzarella. How they came together is representative of just how connected the creative music community in Chicago really is. Everyone for the most part knows everyone, and they all support one another and the work they are doing. "There are [only] a handful of venues that host weekly creative music events, so we all encounter each other sooner or later," says Boye.
Ratchet originally began as a bi-weekly gig in the summer of '07 for the avant garde trio Princess Princess, with Rosaly on drums, Jaimie Branch on trumpet and Toby Summerfield on bass. The band was a rather challenging listen, especially in an unforgiving bar scene, and the group was eventually fired. But during the process, Rosaly took the reins and somehow convinced the management to let them try a weekly series, this time with different bands each week. "As long as it ain't Princess Princess every week, we'll try it out." They gave Ratchet six months—and that was almost three years ago.
But those three years haven't been without struggle. The first, most obvious obstacle is the room. At most improvised music events, the work being presented is regarded as art and it is considered rude to talk during the performance. Skylark is first and foremost a bar, not a listening room, which poses a challenge when booking. They have to cater to the room by not booking a group that would be too soft, too loud, or challenging. Booking so far has mostly been free jazz and some free improvisation, with some experimental stuff, but "we try not to overload the joint with super loud freakers," says Rosaly. That said, diversity in the lineup has been a bit of a challenge. While it hasn't been particularly difficult to book artists each week; "there are a lot of musicians who just want an opportunity to play," but "a lot of the bands we want to present and who would draw a crowd consistently aren't ok with playing a room where people aren't cool to talk rather than yell," says Rosaly.
One thing that has helped immensely was moving the performance area from the stage at the front to the back of the room. It used to feel forced, people would have to walk right in front of the band to go to the bar or to go outside and grab a smoke. Now the bar is separated into two distinct sections. You can sit and listen to music if you want, or you can hang at the bar. Plus, there are outlets in the ceiling suggesting that once upon a time the back area was meant to be a stage, and they have plans to take advantage of that by adding lighting.
Another issue has been promotion. Although they list the schedule on their blog and Facebook page, and get some promotion through the website All About Jazz, it's still tough to get the word out. They have recently made another addition to the group, Christine Ciarleglio, to help with just that. A visual artist with experience in promotions, Ciarleglio will design handbills and posters announcing the monthly lineup, among other plans (see May's poster below).

On the plus side, the series has gained a reputation with age, and the culture of the bar on Monday nights has started to change. They get more and more regulars coming out specifically for the music, and patrons have shown interest and asked questions about the series. And as the name suggests, Ratchet continues to move forward. There are plans in the works to hold a two-day festival in December that would celebrate the series' third anniversary. While just a seed right now, the idea is to largely feature bands that frequently play the series, plus (without naming names) some out of town guests. There is also a little something in the works for a monthly event at new dining spot Longman & Eagle.
All of which Rosaly (who recently released a record of his own titled Milkwork on the Contraphonic label) can be proud of. He told me he looks at Ratchet as his way of giving back to the community that cultivated him when he first arrived in Chicago in 2001 as a fresh out of school jazz musician, not knowing much at all about improvised music. On the Monday that I attended, I was struck by the excitement of everyone involved, from the curators (who are in attendance every week) to the performing musicians. It was an especially slow night, but the band didn't seem to mind. At the end of the night as they were loading out their gear, Frank apologized for not being able to offer a larger payment, but they shrugged it off; "I'm just happy to play," said one, "I love doing this gig," said another.
This feature is supported in part by a Community News Matters grant from The Chicago Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. More information.
Michelle Meywes