Jazz Festival returns to Chicago's front yard
Grant Park groove
08/31/2011 10:00 PM
The Chicago Jazz Festival will be turning 33 this year, and while it was born as a way to remember the dead, this year its performers are celebrating some milestone birthdays.
The festival was sparked by the death of New York composer and bandleader Duke Ellington in 1975 inspired a memorial festival a few weeks after in Grant Park. Several dozen Chicago musicians came together to honor him in a bandshell at the south end of the park, drawing a crowd of 10,000. With that kind of success, it became a yearly event.
In 1978, a John Coltrane memorial festival was organized, which was also met with success, and the next year a third summer jazz festival was organized by the Jazz Institute of Chicago. The Mayor’s Office of Special Events stepped in when all three were planning to perform in August and helped the organizers create the first Chicago Jazz Festival, featuring Ellington and Coltrane memorial stages. The event is now Chicago’s longest running city-produced music festival.
The festival will run from September 1 through 4, showcasing some of the best that Chicago has to offer. The festival will feature 44 musical acts performing between stages in the Chicago Cultural Center, Roosevelt University, Millennium Park,and Grant Park.
This year, the festival will begin with baritone saxophonist and clarinetist Mwata Bowden giving a lecture in the Chicago Cultural Center’s Claudia Cassidy Theater before a high noon performance of “The Maze Factor,” featuring his son Khani B. on vocals and the acclaimed Kidd Jordan on saxophone. The first night closes out with Brooklyn-born pianist and composer Randy Weston, as he celebrates his recent 85th birthday by performing in Millennium Park at 6:30.
The second day starts at 5:00 pm with a performance in Roosevelt University’s Ganz Hall by Chicago Jazz Festival artist-in-residence Orbert Davis and his 18-piece Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble. This will be Davis’s first performance at the festival in seven years. After a show by Chicago’s own Deep Blue Organ Trio in the Jay Pritzker Pavillion, the Saxophone Summit commences at 8 p.m. with Joe Lovano, David Liebman and Ravi Coltrane, son of one of the legends this festival was created to commemorate.
On Saturday the festival moves back to its ancestral home of Grant Park, where the music will go from noon to 9:30 on four stages. While three stages will feature performances of established musicians, the Chicago Community Trust Young Jazz Lions Stage will showcase talent from high school and college ensembles. Orbert Davis and his chamber ensemble returns to the stage at the Petrillo Music Shell at 7:10 before singer Cassandra Wilson takes the spotlight at 8:30.
The festival’s set to go out with a bang on its last day. Starting off with a partnership between Chicago veteran saxophonist Pat Mallinger and Minneapolis-native pianist Bill Carrothers, who has been known to record Civil War and World War I tunes up in his current home of Michigan, the day is packed with talent.
That evening at the Petrillo Music Shell, the finale begins with a performance by Chicago’s own Mike Reed based on Experimental Sound Studio’s vast archive of Sun Ra recordings at 5. This is followed by another birthday celebration, with Ira Sullivan and Willie Pickens teaming up to ring in their 80th year in style. After a performance by Dizzy Gillespie’s protege David Sanchez, the festival will end with Roy Hargrove, who in recent years has kept busy collaborating with the likes of D’Angelo, Common, and Erykah Badu.
Admission to the festival is free. Food can be purchased with cash or credit at Millenium Park; tickets for food are available for $8 dollars for 12 at Grant Park.