Drummer Jack DeJohnette, trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, pianists Jason Moran and Robert Glasper and saxophonists Donald Harrison, Charles Lloyd, Jimmy Heath and Rudresh Mahanthappa will headline the 35th annual Chicago Jazz Festival, running Aug. 29 through Sept. 1.
But the biggest attraction may be the setting, with the festival for this time abandoning the abysmal Petrillo Music Shell in Grant Park and setting up stakes in Millennium Park, near Randolph Drive and Michigan Avenue.
A move of this scope — first announced in January but now further fleshed out by the city's Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) — should have been made years ago, considering long-standing complaints about the terrible acoustics and poor production values at Petrillo.
But defenders of the status quo fought mightily against change that the festival has sorely needed.
Michelle Boone, commissioner of DCASE (which produces the festival), recognized the problem: “We wanted to give some thought to how to inject some new life into an event that has been around for decades,” she told me in January.
To revive the festival, she and her colleagues have designed an event that will open Aug. 29 at the Chicago Cultural Center and Roosevelt University's Ganz Hall (returning venues), then continue that evening at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.
For the next three days, Aug. 30 through Sept. 1, concerts will unfold in the newly named Von Freeman Pavilion at Millennium Park's south promenade and a Jazz and Heritage Pavilion in the park's north promenade; each of these tents will be on either side of the Cloud Gate sculpture.
Evening performances will continue at the Pritzker Pavilion the evenings of Aug. 30 through Sept. 1. And the Chicago Community Trust Young Jazz Lions Pavilion will feature student musicians from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 on the rooftop of Millennium Park's Harris Theater for Music and Dance; bands will be selected from results of the upcoming All City Jazz Band Competition.
Naming one of the festival stages the Von Freeman Pavilion is a fitting tribute to the late Chicago saxophonist. Why not rename the Jazz and Heritage Pavilion — an inelegant title at best — for Louis Armstrong, a far more effective way of pointing to Chicago's deep jazz heritage? Similarly, the ponderously dubbed Chicago Community Trust Young Jazz Lions Pavilion could be renamed for Fred Anderson, the late Chicago jazz saxophonist who trained generations of young jazz lions.
At the very least, though, change finally has come to the city's most archaic, anachronistic music festival.
“I think it's going to feel different,” says Jennifer Johnson Washington, program director of the Chicago Jazz Festival, which is programmed along with the nonprofit Jazz Institute of Chicago. “Being in Millennium Park, it's going to feel more intimate.”
Locations are still being determined for vendors, a wine garden, a performance venue operated by Chicago Jazz Magazine and possible additional small jazz groups.
See the list above for the current festival lineup Percussionist Hamid Drake is the artist-in-residence. Admission is free.
For more information, visit chicagojazzfestival.us.
Jazz Fest lineup
Thursday, AUG. 29
Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St.: Randolph Cafe — Corylus, noon; Fat Babies, 1:30 p.m. Claudia Cassidy Theater — Larry Gray Trio, 12:15 p.m.; Harrison Bankhead Sextet, 1:45 p.m. Preston Bradley Hall — Hinda Hoffman Trio, 12:30 p.m.; TBA, 2 p.m.
Roosevelt University's Ganz Hall, 430 S. Michigan Ave., seventh floor: Hamid Drake's Chicago Trio, 5 p.m.
Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park: Jack DeJohnette: Special Legends Edition with Muhal Richard Abrams, Larry Gray, Roscoe Mitchell and Henry Threadgill; 6:30 p.m.
Friday, AUG. 30
Von Freeman Pavilion in Millennium Park: Christopher McBride Quartet, 2:20 p.m. Ben Paterson Organ Quartet, 3:30 p.m. Miguel de la Cerna Quartet, 4:40 p.m.
Jazz and Heritage Pavilion in Millennium Park: Mike Smith Quartet, 2 p.m.; Hamid Drake with Michael Zerang, Eigen Aoki and Tsukasa Taiko drummers directed by Tatsu Aoki, 3:30 p.m. “A Tribute to Ken Chaney,” 5 p.m.
Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park: Geof Bradfield's “Melba!” at 6:30 p.m. Excerpt from Wadada Leo Smith's “Ten Freedom Summers,” 7:40 p.m. Charles Lloyd Quartet with Bill Frisell, 9 p.m.
Saturday, AUG. 31
Von Freeman Pavilion in Millennium Park: Frank Russell Band, noon. Hamid Drake Quartet with Kidd Jordan, William Parker and Cooper Moore, 1:10 p.m. Ernie Krivda Quartet, 2:20 p.m. Satoko Fujii's Orchestra Chicago, 3:30 p.m.
Jazz and Heritage Pavilion in Millennium Park: Nick Mazzarella Trio, 12:30 p.m. Erin McDougald Quartet, 2 p.m. Chevere de Chicago, 3:30 p.m.
Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park: Stafford James String and Percussion Ensemble featuring M'BOOM, 5 p.m. Gregory Porter, 6:10 p.m. Rudresh Mahanthappa's Gamak, 7:25 p.m. Jason Moran's “Fats Waller Dance Party,” 8:45 p.m.
Sunday, SEPT. 1
Von Freeman Pavilion in Millennium Park: Fast Citizens, noon. Juli Wood Quintet, 1:10 p.m. Evan Christopher, 2:20 p.m. Atomic, 3:30 p.m.
Jazz and Heritage Pavilion in Millennium Park: The Engines, 12:30 p.m. Fareed Haque and Tony Monaco, 2 p.m. Papo Vazquez Mighty Pirates Troubadours, 3:30 p.m.
Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park: Jimmy Heath Quartet with Jeb Patton, 5 p.m. Hamid Drake & Bindu: Reggaeology, 6:10 p.m. Robert Glasper Trio, 7:25 p.m. Donald Harrison and the Congo Square Nation with Willie Pickens, 8:45 p.m.
DePaul students hit the road
The jazz students at DePaul University are about to learn some new lessons, for they'll be celebrating the School of Music's 100th anniversary, as well as this year's Woody Herman centennial, with a good old-fashioned grueling bus tour.
On Wednesday night, the band will take the stage of the Jazz Showcase to kick off its “Time Passes On” tour, named for its recent recording with drummer Jeff Hamilton.
He'll be joining the students at the Showcase and on the bus as they roll to play dates from Chicago to New York and back, with alto saxophone titan Phil Woods joining them at the famed Deer Head Inn, in Delaware Water Gap, Pa., on Saturday.
“They're going to see what it's like to play night after night after night, as opposed to preparing simply for one concert,” says Bob Lark, professor and director of jazz studies at DePaul.
“Most of these students want to be professional performers. If you want to do that, you should see what it's like to be at the top of your game (under travel duress). The people in the audience are not coming to hear a college band. They're coming to hear great music and icons like Jeff Hamilton and Phil Woods.
“There are no excuses.”
Despite the challenges, or perhaps because of them, the students also will have the rare opportunity to sharpen their skills in a way that no classroom, no rehearsal space and no
one-night-only concert can match.
To underwrite the tour, Lark will draw on approximately $21,000 the band has saved up since 1990 from recording royalties, donations and the like. Revenue from this tour and support from the School of Music will make up any additional costs.
And though $21,000 seems like a lot when it has taken 23 years to earn, the expense is minor in relation to the experience the students will receive. Surely an annual tour by the DePaul University Jazz Ensemble would be a welcome development.
“I can't agree more,” Lark says. “If the funds were available, I would love to come up with an excuse to play Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City. ... There's a wonderful jazz club in Indianapolis (the Jazz Kitchen) and Detroit has a long jazz history.”
If this tour proves successful, can a follow-up really be far off?
The DePaul University Jazz Ensemble launches its tour with drummer Jeff Hamilton, plus guest soloists Thomas Matta and Mark Colby, at 8 and 10 p.m. Wednesday at the Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Court; $15-$25; 312-360-0234 or jazzshowcase.com. For details, visit music.depaul.edu/ensembles.
To read more from Howard Reich on jazz, go to chicagotribune.com/reich
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