This year's Chicago Jazz Festival showcases international jazz legends and local powerhouses alike. If you plan to go but don't know where to start, check out these suggested picks to help you enjoy the free, late-summer, four-day extravaganza.
Thursday, August 28
Sonny Rollins 6:30 p.m., Jay Pritzker Pavilion (Millennium Park)
There's only one performance on Thursday, but it begins the celebration in exemplary fashion. Rollins, one of America's jazz giants, performs more than 50 years after the release of Saxophone Colossus
, one of his most heralded albums, and he does so in Millennium Park's beautiful Pritzker Pavilion (the rest of the fest goes down in Grant Park
). Still going strong, the septuagenarian saxophonist will play with his group in advance of Road Shows
, an album of unreleased live recordings due out this fall.
Friday, August 29
Noon, Jazz on Jackson Stage
In the mid-'90s, a collection of talented locals experimented with electro-acoustic improvisations at Rainbo Club. The group was comprised of powerhouse players such as cornet player and composer Rob Mazurek, trombonist Sara P. Smith and three members of jazzy post-rockers Tortoise. Local indie label Thrill Jockey released three of the group's albums, but performances have been rare this decade. If you enjoy overlapping genres, make sure to catch Isotope's melodic compositions and non-harmonic improv.
Kenwood Academy Jazz Band with Nicole Mitchell
12:30 p.m., Jazz & Heritage Stage
Kenwood Academy's bustling music program garners another honor, having its jazz band chosen to perform on the festival's interactive Jazz & Heritage Stage. Nicole Mitchell, a flutist and creator of exceptional skill and an instructor at Wheaton College, acts as the group's resident composer.
Jazz Guitar Summit
1:10 p.m., Jazz on Jackson Stage
Are you a jazz-guitar enthusiast? Take a brief walk after the Kenwood performance and spend an hour with guitarists Buddy Fambro, Jeff Parker, John Moulder and Curtis Robinson. Bassist Josh Abrams and percussionists Ernie Adams and Robert Shy will join the foursome for a load of six-string action.
Eddie Palmieri Latin Jazz Band
8:30 p.m., Petrillo Music Shell
True to its name, the Eddie Palmieri Latin Jazz Band plays a vivacious mixture of Latin-flavored jazz. The New York-born pianist and bandleader, dubbed "The Sun of Latin Music," grew to prominence in the early 1960s after forming Conjunto La Perfecta, which featured trombonists in place of trumpeters. Palmieri's 2005 album, Listen Here!, featured originals and takes on jazz classics, and its opener, "In Flight," is infused with a beautiful, untamed violin solo.
Saturday, August 30
Remembering Franz Jackson
4:30 p.m., Petrillo Music Shell
Pre-swing saxophone great Franz Jackson remained an active musician into his tenth decade of life (he passed away in May at the age of 95). On Saturday, the fest will honor his remarkable run, which included the origins of Chicago jazz, countless compositions and gigs and arrangements for bigger names like Benny Goodman and Cab Calloway.
Vijay Iyer Quintet 6 p.m., Petrillo Music Shell
Influenced by post-bop and cool jazz, New York pianist Vijay Iyer brings his quintet and melodic ivory tinkling to Chicago during a string of summer festival dates. His resume includes a collaboration earlier this century with experimental hip-hop MC and producer Mike Ladd.
Dave Douglas' Brass Ecstasy
7:10 p.m., Petrillo Music Shell
Trumpeter Dave Douglas made himself known among avant-garde circles in the '90s through performances with adventurous composer John Zorn. He has since led a number of his own ensembles, and here Douglas plays in homage to Lester Bowie, the avant-garde composer and cofounder of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Bowie used his Brass Fantasy nonet to link jazz and pop music, and like Bowie, Douglas and his Brass Ecstasy will perform original compositions as well as brassed-up versions of pop songs.
Gerald Wilson Orchestra with Kenny Burrell
8:30 p.m., Petrillo Music Shell
Los Angeles big-band leader and composer Gerald Wilson may present the most massive and synchronized sounds of the festival. Joined by jazz- and blues-guitar great Kenny Burrell, Wilson's Orchestra should close out Saturday night with enough juice to keep audience members buzzing.
Sunday, August 31
Josh Berman and His Gang
2:20 p.m., Jazz on Jackson Stage
Prolific free-jazz cornet player Josh Berman performs in no fewer than ten local groups. Here he leads a bevy of Chicago heavyweights paying tribute to the Austin High Gang, a West Side group of students that is credited with the origins of 1920s Chicago-style jazz.
Instant Composers Pool (Netherlands)
6 p.m., Petrillo Music Shell
Established more than 40 years ago, the Netherlands' Instant Composers Pool is a shifting assortment of improvisational jazz players such as cofounder/pianist Misha Mengelberg, cofounder/drummer Han Bennink, clarinetist/saxophonist Michael Moore, reed player Ab Baars and many more. This modern incarnation runs the stylistic gamut, often fusing elements of structured jazz, free jazz and classical music.
Ornette Coleman 8:30 p.m., Petrillo Music Shell
What can be said about Ornette Coleman that hasn't been said already? The free-jazz icon and progenitor grew out of bebop and R&B and helped create a sound of freeform expression. His improvised quasi-vocalizations, often over unorthodox chord progressions, separated him from convention despite employing compositional elements. Two of his landmark albums, The Shape of Jazz to Come
(1959) and Free Jazz
(1960), are approaching 50 years of age, but Coleman remains an active performer. Even if you have to work early Monday morning, make sure to catch the legendary saxophonist closing out the fest.