A whole new vibe at the Chicago Jazz Festival

The 35th annual Chicago Jazz Festival will look, feel and sound different from its predecessors, which should be good news for anyone who loves this music.

Specifically, fest-goers will be liberated from Grant Park, where the dreadful acoustics of the Petrillo Music Shell, the poor accommodations at all the stages and the generally inferior production of the entire event often demeaned the music, rather than celebrated it.

Instead, most of this year's performances will unfold in Millennium Park, at the Pritzker Pavilion and in three close-by stages: the Von Freeman Pavilion (near the Cloud Gate sculpture, on the South Promenade); the Jazz and Heritage Pavilion (near Cloud Gate on the North Promenade), and the Harris Theater Rooftop. Daytime performances on Thursday will take place at the Chicago Cultural Center, just across Michigan Avenue.

In addition, preliminary events will stretch the four days of the Chicago Jazz Festival, running Thursday through September 1, into a full week of activities, with performances Monday through Wednesday at various locations.

Will sound-bleed be an issue among the Millennium Park stages? Will foot traffic flow well among performance venues and at Millennium Park's Art Fair & Marketplace, Jazz Oasis Wine Garden and Goose Island Pavilion?

We'll know soon.

Following is a guide to highlights of the best jazz week of the year. The Chicago Jazz Festival is produced by the city's Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events in partnership with the non-profit Jazz Institute of Chicago. All Millennium Park events are free. For further details, visit chicagojazzfestival.us or phone 312-744-3316; or visit jazzinchicago.org or phone 312-427-1676; additional contact information is listed below.


PianoForte Sessions: Jim Baker: The Chicago keyboardist kicks off a series of solo performances presented by the PianoForte Foundation, which champions pianism of various genres, most notably classical and jazz. Baker long has long explored the outer reaches of electronic sound production. 5:30 p.m. Monday at PianoForte Salon, 410 S. Michigan Ave., Studio 825; free, but reservations required; 312-291-0291 or pianofortefoundation.org

"Dexter @ 90": Bertrand Tavernier's "'Round Midnight" stands as the greatest jazz feature film ever made, in part due to tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon's performance as the film's fictional lead character, a musician undone by the vices and pressures of the jazz life. Saxophonist Gordon's widow, Maxine Gordon, will speak about Gordon's life and music. 6 p.m. Monday at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St.; free


PianoForte Sessions: Justin Dillard: A younger generation of jazz musicians is coming on strong in Chicago, as in the case of pianist Dillard. Equally at home in mainstream, avant-garde and pop settings, Dillard here states his case unaccompanied. 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at PianoForte Salon, 410 S. Michigan Ave., Studio 825; free, but reservations required; 312-291-0291 or pianofortefoundation.org

"Tribute to Walter Dyett": Capt. Dyett holds an outsized position in the history of jazz, having taught some of the world's greatest musicians at Chicago's DuSable High School, including Nat "King" Cole, Johnny Griffin, Von Freeman, Dorothy Donegan and Johnny Hartman. Reedist Mwata Bowden has conceived a program inspired by Dyett's philosophies, with original scores by Bowden and T.S. Galloway. Drummer Jack DeJohnette, who will headline opening night of the Chicago Jazz Festival on Thursday, will participate. 6 p.m. Tuesday at DuSable High School, 4934 S. Wabash Ave.; free; contact the Jazz Institute of Chicago at 312-427-1676 or jazzinchicago.org


PianoForte Sessions: Erwin Helfer: The Chicago pianist has dedicated his life to preserving and nurturing historic blues and boogie-woogie repertoire, which he plays with relish and scholarly aplomb. 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at PianoForte Salon, 410 S. Michigan Ave., Studio 825; free, but reservations required; 312-291-0291 or pianofortefoundation.org

Jazz Club Tour: This annual event offers a comparatively low-cost, low-risk way to sample various Chicago music venues. But it's not a good listening experience, with hordes of people marching into and out of performances, thereby interrupting and diminishing them. Trolleys take listeners to the participating clubs: Andy's, at 11 E. Hubbard St.; Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Ct.; CloseUp 2, 416 S. Clark St.; Reggies, 2105 S. State St.; Marmon Grand, 2230 S. Michigan Ave.; M Lounge, 1520 S. Wabash Ave.; Red Peppers Masquerade Lounge, 428 E. 87th St.; City Life, 712 E. 83d St.; Mayne Stage, 1328 W. Morse Ave.; Drake Hotel, 140 E. Walton St.; Norman's/Room 43, 1043 E. 43d St.; South Side Community Arts Center, 3831 S. Michigan Ave.; The 50 Yard Line, 69 E. 75th St.; $20-$35; 312-427-1676 or jazzinchicago.org


Chicago Cultural Center: The 35th annual Chicago Jazz Festival will launch at the Chicago Cultural Center, across Michigan Avenue from Millennium Park, where most of the performances will take place. The Cultural Center lineup will start at noon, the most promising attractions including the Larry Gray Trio, 12:15 to 1:15 p.m. in the Claudia Cassidy Theater; Fat Babies, an exceptional ensemble reviving pre-bebop jazz of the 1920s and '30s, 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. in the Randolph Café; Harrison Bankhead Sextet, which leans toward experimental idioms, 1:45 to 2:45 p.m. in the Claudia Cassidy Theater; and pianist Randy Weston, solo from 2 to 3 p.m. in Preston Bradley Hall; free

Hamid Drake: The artist-in-residence at this year's Chicago Jazz Festival will open his tenure leading the Chicago Trio, with saxophonist Ernest Dawkins and bassist Harrison Bankhead. 5 to 6 p.m. Thursday at Roosevelt University's Ganz Hall, 430 S. Michigan Ave; free

Jack DeJohnette: Asked how he would like to mark his 70th birthday in his hometown, the now-71-year-old drummer DeJohnette chose to honor the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). Thus he has enlisted several AACM legends to join him: pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, reedist Roscoe Mitchell and multi-instrumentalist Henry Threadgill, with superb bassist Larry Gray playing a position that might have been held by Malachi Favors, had he lived. 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, near Randolph Drive and Michigan Avenue; free

Aug. 30

Von Freeman Pavilion dedication: The inauguration of the newly named Von Freeman Pavilion, honoring the revered Chicago tenor saxophonist who died last year at age 88, will be marked by a few words from his son, Mark Freeman, and a brief solo performance by his brother, guitarist George Freeman. 2 p.m. Aug. 30 at the Von Freeman Pavilion

"A Tribute to Ken Chaney": The death of pianist-bandleader-educator Chaney last December at age 73 left a void in Chicago jazz. To honor Chaney's multi-faceted contributions, T.S. Galloway – who played alongside Chaney – will offer big-band arrangements of Chaney's compositions. 5 p.m. Aug. 30 at the Jazz and Heritage Pavilion

Geof Bradfield's "Melba!": A gifted saxophonist and inventive composer-arranger, Bradfield dug deeply into the archives at Columbia College's Center for Black Music Research to study the life, times and music of trombonist-composer Melba Liston. He came up with a radiant, multi-movement suite celebrating Liston's achievements, including her work with pianist Randy Weston, who will collaborate with Bradfield and colleagues. 6:30 p.m. Aug. 30 at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park

Wadada Leo Smith's "Ten Freedom Summers": Trumpeter Smith considers "Ten Freedom Summers" a pinnacle of his life in music, as well as an exploration of the battle for civil rights in America. The collection of free-standing compositions spans several hours, so listeners will hear just excerpts of the work, which contains pages of high inspiration. Earlier this year, Smith's opus was selected as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Music (I served on the jury).

Aug. 31

Whitney Young Magnet High School Jazz Combo: In past years, the festival's young people's stage had been shunted off to a far corner of Grant Park in inhospitable circumstances. This year, the Chicago Community Trust Young Jazz Lions Pavilion will feature high school ensembles in Millennium Park on the Harris Theater Rooftop. The Whitney Young band will kick off a string of student sets running from 11:30 a.m. to 4:25 p.m. Aug. 31 and 11:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Sept. 1 at the Harris Theater Rooftop

Hamid Drake Quartet: The festival's artist-in-residence leads a powerhouse quartet featuring saxophonist Kidd Jordan, bassist William Parker and drummer Cooper-Moore, each a jazz searcher. 1:10 p.m. Aug. 31 at the Von Freeman Pavilion

Gregory Porter: Male jazz singers have been in desperately short supply for at least the past couple of decades, which makes Porter's emergence on the scene encouraging. 6:10 p.m. Aug. 31 at the Pritzker Pavilion

Jason Moran: Pianist Moran reprises his "Fats Waller Dance Party," which played to considerable success at Symphony Center last year.

Sept. 1

Jimmy Heath Quartet with Jeb Patton: At 86, irrepressible saxophonist Heath carries forth the legacy of his brothers, bassist Percy Heath and drummer Albert "Tootie" Heath. 5 p.m. Sept. 1 at the Pritzker Pavilion

Robert Glasper Trio: An invitingly enigmatic pianist, Glasper has achieved considerable attention for his ventures into hip-hop and R&B, but jazz listeners likely will prefer the work of this group, which comes closer to jazz vocabularies. 7:25 p.m. Sept. 1 at the Pritzker Pavilion

Donald Harrison and the Congo Square Nation: Jazz and Mardi Gras Indian traditions will converge – or collide – in this set, featuring brilliant New Orleans alto saxophonist Harrison and venerable Chicago pianist Willie Pickens, among others.

To read more from Howard Reich on jazz, go to chicagotribune.com/reich.


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