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Hyde Park Jazz Festival roars into its sixth season

Howard Reich

10:58 AM CDT, September 27, 2012

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Of all the jazz soirees that crowd the calendar in Chicago each year, none uses the urban environment as creatively as the Hyde Park Jazz Festival, which runs Saturday and Sunday in multiple locations.

At what other time of the year, after all, are you likely to hear jazz improvisation in Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House, late-night music at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, dance beats out on the Midway and formal concert presentations – as well as jazz films and conversations – at the University of Chicago's new Logan Center for the Arts? That all the proceedings are free only add to the enticement.

The sixth annual festival will feel a bit different than past editions, in part because the newly opened Logan Center will serve as a kind of anchor, with jazz performances unfolding throughout the complex from 1:15 to 10 p.m. Saturday. Never before has the Hyde Park Jazz Festival – an event created and run mostly by volunteers – enjoyed the use of a full-fledged arts center.

"The addition of the Logan is wonderful … because now a world-class performing arts hall is involved," says Kate Dumbleton, director of the festival.

"What we've been thinking a lot about is … integrating those formal events into a festival that's really pretty free form."

The Hyde Park event, in other words, always has encouraged audiences to stroll the neighborhood and discover unexpected performance venues on practically every block. For the first time, though, a great deal of activity will be focused on one location – the Logan – but that could enhance the festival, not detract from it.

For starters, the Logan adds several inviting performance spaces to the mix, from the legit Performance Hall (which feels very much like a classical recital auditorium) to the scenic Performance Penthouse, with its panoramic views of the city. Better still, the Logan will feature such major attractions as Jason Adasiewicz's Sun Rooms, leonine pianist Willie Pickens and jazz conversations moderated by Downbeat publisher Frank Alkyer and journalist Rahsaan Clark Morris.

The scene on the Midway also will reflect the constantly changing nature of this festival, with musical performances on two stages (as opposed to just one in previous years), plus the addition of an area for dance.

"The Midway is now really a festival grounds, with two stages, picnic areas," says Dumbleton. "The dance floor means that there are difference experiences for each stage, that the Midway has is its own presenting world, and it's programmatically more sophisticated than in the past."

On paper at least, Dumbleton's seems correct, considering the lineup at the Midway, which will feature Chicago vocal powerhouse Tammy McCann and the Chicago Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble (among others) on Saturday; trombone star Wycliffe Gordon and Chicago tenor saxophonist giants Ari Brown and Eric Schneider on Sunday.

Looking ahead, this could be a turning point for the Hyde Park Jazz Festival. With Dumbleton on contract as its director this year, the festival has at its helm an arts visionary who could help build the event into a year-round presenting organization. The immense popularity of the festival since its inception certainly suggests that the audience is hungry for more; it will fall to Dumbleton and her colleagues to try to transform a mostly volunteer organization into a bona fide arts institution that could energize jazz on the South Side of Chicago.

"We need to build a sustainable organizational structure that will make it possible to continue this," says Dumbleton. "That means we work year-round, make some collaborative partnerships, keep adding (events), so that the festival doesn't loom as a giant monster that comes out once a year, and then people collapse in a heap and do it again six months down the road."

The emergence of the Logan Center could give the Hyde Park Jazz Festival precisely the state-of-the-art home it needs for activities and audience-building throughout the year.

First up, though, is the festival itself, which will run from 1 p.m. to 11:45 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 8 p.m. Sunday; all performances are free; a $125 Jazz Pass provides preferred seating at certain indoor performances. For more information, visit hydeparkjazzfestival.org or phone 773-324-6926.

Following is a guide to the most promising performances:

Saturday

Greg Ward Phonic Juggernaut: The restlessly creative alto saxophonist collaborates with bassist Zack Lober and drummer Damion Reid. 2:30 p.m. at Little Black Pearl, 1060 E. 47th St.

Fareed Haque Quartet: A guitarist who transcends categorization, Haque embraces jazz, classical, pop, world, funk – you-name-it. 3:30 p.m. at Hyde Park Union Church, 5600 S. Woodlawn Ave.

Tammy McCann & The Reunion Jazz Orchestra: The mighty Chicago vocalist makes a rare appearance with a big band. 4:30 p.m. at the Wagner Stage at the Midway, 1130 Midway Plaisance West.

Zach Brock Trio: A former Chicagoan, Brock stands at the forefront of jazz violin playing. 5, 6 and 7 p.m. sets; limited space, so early arrival suggested; at Robie House, 5757 S. Woodlawn Ave.

Dee Alexander Evolution Arkestra: One of Chicago's most adventurous jazz singers meets up with like-minded instrumentalists. 7 p.m. at the Logan Center Performance Hall, 915 E. 60th St.

Jason Adasiewicz's Sun Rooms: The most daring young vibist in jazz leads his celebrated group, with bassist Nate McBride and drummer Mike Reed. 9 p.m. at the Logan Center Performance Penthouse, 915 E. 60th St.

Dana Hall Quartet: A brilliant drummer-composer-bandleader, Hall takes on music of Andrew Hill. 9 p.m. at the Logan Center Performance Hall, 915 E. 60th St.

Miguel Zenon: The MacArthur "genius grant" recipient has been steadily deepening his art, and here he dares to play solo. 11 p.m. at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, 5850 S. Woodlawn Ave.

Sunday

Wycliffe Gordon Quintet: Many listeners know him from his work from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and the Wynton Marsalis Septet, but Gordon also stands as a formidable soloist-bandleader in his own right. 1 p.m. at the James Wagner Stage on the Midway, 1130 Midway Plaisance West.

Eric Schneider Quintet: The formidable Chicago tenor man has been enjoying belated but richly deserved prominence. 4 p.m. at the James Wagner Stage on the Midway, 1130 Midway Plaisance West.

Ari Brown Quintet: Another Chicago tenor lion, Brown closes the festival. 7 p.m. at the James Wagner Stage on the Midway, 1130 Midway Plaisance West.

hreich@tribune.com

Twitter @howardreich