A world premiere by Chicago drummer-bandleader Dana Hall, a solo concert by the innovative pianist Craig Taborn and a high-profile engagement by genre-defying Chicago cellist Tomeka Reid will play the eighth annual Hyde Park Jazz Festival, running Sept. 27 to 28 in multiple locations.
In addition, the lineup will feature Orbert Davis' Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble kicking off its 10th anniversary season; the quartet of saxophonist J.D. Allen, who has turned in impressive work as sideman to trumpeter Jeremy Pelt; and an appearance by veteran tenor saxophonist Houston Person.
Many of these bookings underscore the festival's recent tendency to lean forward toward adventurous, often unexpected facets of 21st century jazz. At the same time, judging by previous seasons, mainstream and other aspects of the music also will turn up when the full schedule is announced in July.
But there are bigger, broader currents at work here than covering stylistic bases.
"We've been thinking a lot about ways we might expand the festival into a year-round organization, though of course the festival itself is the core thing – the main event, if you will," says Kate Dumbleton, the organization's executive and artistic director.
"So there are a couple of things in this year's festival that are a part of that. One of them is this idea of working with local artists so that they could develop new ideas and potentially bring in artists from other places to work with them and present a special project.
"We'd like to support individual artists in Chicago – I think it's important for the city think about that broadly. I don't think we do enough of it. That means some of the best artists are struggling to stay here."
As part of the festival's ongoing efforts to give leading Chicago musicians a forum for some of their most ambitious ideas, this year's event will launch Dana Hall's Black Ark Movement, which will reflect upon the historic collaboration of reedist John Carter and trumpeter Bobby Bradford. Both launched their careers in Texas, migrated to California and famously collaborated with each other and with jazz visionary Ornette Coleman in various contexts.
But drummer Hall sees the Carter-Bradford model as a starting point for the Black Ark Movement project.
"There's been this large contingent of migration of musicians throughout the South to the West Coast, (but) often times a lot of the important movements in music – particularly post-World War II movements – have been situated and discussed with regard to New York and the East Coast," says Hall.
"Well, a lot of those musicians that went East – the primary mover would be Ornette – really started incubating those ideas in Los Angeles, and his close collaborators were there.
"There's always this misconception that Charlie Parker and Dizzy (Gillespie) went from New York to the West, to L.A., and were Messiahs and brought music and record players and electricity," adds Hall, exaggerating only slightly.
"The reality is that there were people making this (innovative) music in California. They had their own ideas. … So this project (explores) these marginalized cities in the history of jazz. And L.A. is one of them."
Moreover, Hall sees his Black Ark Movement as a gateway for him to explore other sounds, such as the music of the colossal pianist-bandleader-adventurer Horace Tapscott. Like Coleman, Bradford, Carter and others, Tapscott left Texas to go to Los Angeles, becoming an organizer of a music-community movement along the lines of Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM).
That sense of movement of people and ideas inspired the "Ark" term in the name of Hall's project, which also obviously evokes Sun Ra's Arkestra.
What's important to note in terms of the Hyde Park Jazz Festival is that this growing institution is giving Hall the budget and resources to launch his Black Ark Movement, which will bring in noted San Francisco Bay Area clarinetist Ben Goldberg and will feature trumpeter Russ Johnson, reedist John Wojciechowski and a bassist to be named.
"That's one of the things I really like about the Hyde Park festival – I started Black Fire there a few years ago," says Hall, referring to a venture that builds upon music of pianist Andrew Hill and blossomed into a major engagement in Millennium Park and an ongoing run at Andy's Jazz Club.
"I've been able to incubate new music and new projects. It's like a home for me to be able to do those kinds of things."
Along these lines, the festival this year will give cellist Tomeka Reid, one of the most promising musician-bandleaders in Chicago, an opportunity to develop her Hear in Now trio. When she led this group at the Chicago Jazz Festival in 2010, it offered luminous scores that embraced jazz, classical and experimental techniques.
"The times I've heard it, it was a pretty nascent group that I admired right away," says Dumbleton of an ensemble that features Reid with violinist Mazz Swift and bassist Silvia Bolognesi.
"All three are wonderful composers. Silvia is a great bassist – she has to come from Italy for this. It's taken Tomeka and me two years to make (this engagement) work. Tomeka spent a month-and-a-half in Italy this spring … just developing their ensemble work."
And pianist Taborn will play one of the most appealing settings of the festival, offering a solo set at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel.
But unusual – and unusually inviting – venues are part of what distinguish the Hyde Park Jazz Festival from more generic events. Concerts unfold in Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House, the courtyard of the Smart Museum of Art, Hyde Park Union Church and multi-room complexes such as the University of Chicago's International House and Logan Center for the Arts, most within walking distance of each other. Like last year, music will unfold outdoors on two stages along the Midway Plaisance.
In effect, Hyde Park itself becomes the backdrop for the festival, making this event a national leader in using its environment as part of the proceedings.
That Dumbelton, who's also an assistant professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and colleagues do all this on a budget of just under $300,000 represents a feat in itself. Support comes from the University of Chicago's Office of Civic Engagement and Southwest Airlines, among others. And an annual benefit – which this year will present the Chicago premiere of the WRW Trio featuring Steve Wilson, Renee Rosnes and Peter Washington on June 26 – generates about a third of the budget, says Dumbleton.
Whether the festival succeeds in becoming a year-round force remains to be seen, but it already has been presenting events in partnership with the Logan Center, and Dumbleton hopes to do more.
Which would be welcome.
The WRW Trio – staffed by saxophonist Steve Wilson, pianist Renee Rosnes and bassist Peter Washington – will play the 8th Annual Hyde Park Jazz Festival Benefit Reception and Concert, with reception at 6 p.m. and performance at 7:30 p.m. June 26 at the new Promontory Restaurant, 1539 E. 53d St.; concert only tickets are $60; tables range from $1,200 and up; visit hydeparkjazzfestival.org.
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