Saxophonist and MacArthur Fellowship winner Miguel Zenon, veteran drummer Albert "Tootie" Heath, pianist Myra Melford and Chicago cellist Tomeka Reid will play the 36th annual Chicago Jazz Festival, running Aug. 28-31 in Millennium Park and the Chicago Cultural Center.
In addition, several noteworthy Chicagoans have been added to the lineup, including guitarists George Freeman, Mike Allemana and Bobby Broom, the Chicago Underground Duo, organist Chris Foreman, saxophonist John Wojciechowski, trumpeter Corey Wilkes and singers Paul Marinaro and Tammy McCann.
Noted Chicago saxophonist-composer Ernest Dawkins will launch the festival in Millennium Park's Pritzker Pavilion with a "Tribute to Nelson Mandela" featuring the world premiere of Dawkins' "Memory in the Center: Afro Jazz Opera."
These artist join a roster that includes already announced headliners, including trumpeter Terence Blanchard, saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, guitarist Lionel Loueke, bassist Dave Holland, singer Cecile McLorin Salvant, trumpeter Tom Harrell's Colors of a Dream (featuring bassist Esperanza Spalding), vibraphonist Gary Burton and the Sun Ra Arkestra led by Marshall Allen.
This will mark the second year that the festival will unfold not in Grant Park but in Millennium Park, and festival planners say the move – which many listeners had been urging for years – precipitated shifts in the nature of the event.
"The Jazz Festival has been looking to find a way of repositioning itself," says Mike Reed, chair of the festival's programming committee this year.
"It's been doing this for awhile. Unless you're in the inside of it, it's hard to see it, but the biggest notion of that was last year's move to Millennium Park. … Obviously, the Pritzker (Pavilion) is so much better of a venue (than the Petrillo Music Shell)."
In addition, festival planners hope to increase the event's profile internationally and online.
"We want to build a better way of keeping in contact with fans, so we're now about to launch into getting our whole social media and marketing (heightened)," says Reed.
"How do we keep in contact with people in October? Maybe (by posting online) an old performance from 1992. That makes sure we have fans throughout the (year).
"There are fans of the music and musicians (who) dream of coming to Chicago. They may come or may be coming only once, but they're fans. We really need to play to the world."
A central theme of this year's festival, which is programmed by the non-profit Jazz Institute of Chicago and produced by the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, will be the centennial of the birth of Sun Ra. The jazz originator's Arkestra expanded the meaning and definition of large-ensemble jazz and opened gateways to the avant-garde.
"Obviously, the Chicago connection is huge – this is really where he became Sun Ra," says Reed, pointing to a musician who transformed himself from swing bandleader Herman "Sonny" Blount into a jazz visionary leading his combustive Arkestra.
"There's still a good handful of musicians in town that were part of that time period," adds Reed, referring to the likes of octogenarian trumpeter Art Hoyle.
To underscore the Sun Ra centennial, this year's festival will feature film screenings on Aug. 25 and 26 (details and venue to be announced) and a panel discussion on Aug. 28 at Roosevelt University's Ganz Hall, on South Michigan Avenue.
Like last year, a series of concerts leading up to the festival will unfold at PianoForte Studios, on South Michigan Avenue, the lineup to be announced.
And the "Neighborhood Nights" series of summertime concerts preceding the festival returns, with a Chicago Latin Jazz Festival in Humboldt Park on July 18-19; Phil Cohran at Garfield Park Conservatory, July 26; Michael Zerang & The Blue Lights at the Logan Square Roundabout, Aug. 9; Willie Pickens at Woodson Regional Library, Aug. 16; and Margaret Murphy-Webb at a date and location to be named.
The Jazz Institute of Chicago's annual gala, which used to take place near the time of the Chicago Jazz Festival, is being shifted to Oct. 15 at the Drake Hotel.
"We moving to October because Jazz Festival week is full of so much music that we felt it would be nice to do something in the fall, when we could put more focus on our mission," says Lauren Deutsch, executive director of the Jazz Institute. This year's gala will celebrate the 45th anniversary of the Jazz Institute.
How all this plays out in real time remains to be heard