Drummer Michael Raynor has been immersed in the Chicago jazz scene since moving there in 1988. After hearing tenor saxophone icon Von Freeman on the radio late one night, he found his way down to Von's weekly gig at the New Apartment Lounge on Chicago's south side and sat in with the band. Three days later Von asked him to the studio to record "Walkin' Tuff" (Southport Records), and Raynor has been his regular drummer ever since. A later recording with Von, "The Improviser" (Premonition Records), was included in Downbeat Magazine's "Best CDs of 2002."
His association with Von lead to numerous gigs with other Chicago greats including Eddie Johnson, John Young, Jodie Christian, Johnny Frigo, Bobby Broom, Charles Earland, Ryan Cohan, and Fareed Haque. Over the course of his career, he has also worked with a host of New York and Internationally based musicians such as Johnny Griffin, Freddie Hubbard, Sam Rivers, Ira Sullivan, Steve Coleman, Jon Faddis, Eric Alexander, Bob Sheppard, Rick Margitza, and Arturo Sandoval.
Raynor began working with vocalist Kurt Elling in 1996 with a weekly engagement at Chicago's Green Mill Lounge, and over the next four years the group toured extensively throughout North America, Europe, Scandinavia, and Australia. He can be heard on three of Elling's recordings for the Blue Note label, including "Live In Chicago," which features, among others, vocalese master Jon Hendricks.
In 2004, Raynor toured southeast Asia as a U.S. Jazz Ambassador with the Chicago Jazz Quartet. This program, co-sponsored by the U.S. State Department and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, included concerts, clinics, and collaborations with local musicians in Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.
He has also performed at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Holland, the Montreaux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, Jazzfest Berlin in Germany, the Umbria Jazz Festival in Italy, the Natt Jazz Fest in Norway, both the Montreal and Toronto Jazz Festivals in Canada, and has played several times at the Chicago Jazz Festival.
Raynor enjoys sharing what he has learned on the bandstand and offers lessons on a sliding scale to reach out to a variety of students. Past students include David Bloom, founder and director of The Bloom School of Jazz, and Mike Reed, who was distinguished as "Rising Jazz Star" in last years Downbeat Magazine Critic's Poll. He has also served as adjunct faculty for Roosevelt University, directing the graduate jazz combo, and spent three years working with children in Chicago area schools through Urban Gateways.
Current projects include gigs with pianist Anthony Molinaro, and a collaboration with pianist Dennis Luxion, with whom he is working on a new recording. He continues to play with, and be inspired by, Von Freeman, and enjoys playing a more active roll in the weekly jam session, encouraging young musicians who continue to come sit in at the club where he got his start.