Your comprehensive guide to the 37th annual Chicago Jazz Festival | Music Feature | Chicago Reader

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Your comprehensive guide to the 37th annual Chicago Jazz Festival

Previews of every act in Millennium Park and beyond, including Fred Hersch in his overdue festival debut and AACM cofounder Muhal Richard Abrams leading a historic reunion of the Experimental Band

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Sunday, September 6

Young Jazz Lions Pavilion

11:30 AM | Taft Jazz Combo

12:15 PM | Northside College Prep Jazz Combo

1 PM | Pritzker High School Jazz Ensemble

1:55 PM | Thornridge High School Jazz Ensemble

2:50 PM | Northern Illinois University Jazz Ensemble

3:45 PM | Kenwood Academy Jazz Ensemble celebrates the AACM's 50th Anniversary with Tomeka Reid

Von Freeman Pavilion

Noon | Jordan Baskin Trio

Pianist and Chicago native Jordan Baskin is a fixture on the local mainstream jazz scene (especially at Andy's), both as a bandleader and as a sideman. He's a superb accompanist, in part due to his restraint—a quality he also brings to his own bands. His congenial themes work well as improvisational frameworks, and his solos are thoughtfully constructed. Peter Margasak

The Chicago Jazz Festival

Thu 9/3 12:15-9 PM, Chicago Cultural Center (78 E. Washington) and Millennium Park (201 E. Randolph)

Fri 9/4-Sun 9/6 12:30 PM-9:30 PM, Millennium Park (201 E. Randolph)

Millennium Park stages: Pritzker Pavilion, the Von Freeman Pavilion (on the south promenade), the Jazz & Heritage Pavilion (on the north promenade), and the Young Jazz Lions Pavilion (on the roof of the Harris Theater).

All shows are free and open to all ages. More details at

Thursday, September 3

Friday, September 4

Saturday, September 5


1:10 PM | Elaine Dame

Elaine Dame sings standards with old-school insouciance, bringing plenty of rhythmic oomph to the swing she generates with her band (pianist Dennis Luxion, bassist Jake Vinsel, drummer Jon Dietemyer, and guitarist Andy Brown). But her devotion to classic jazz aesthetics doesn't prevent her from mining gold from more contemporary sources—she makes agile vehicles of songs by the likes of Richard Thompson and Joni Mitchell. Peter Margasak

2:20 PM | Ryan Shultz Quartet

Bass trumpeter Shultz has maintained a long-game presence on the Chicago scene for decades, notably in the excellent multi­directional ensembles led by drummer Damon Short. Shultz stepped out as a leader on last year's Hair Dryers (Origin), showing off his coat of many colors—among them a bright, fusiony late-Miles orientation that displays his prodigious skill on his rare instrument particularly well. John Corbett

3:30 PM | Robert Irving III Generations

Chicago keyboardist Robert Irving III worked in one of Miles Davis's last bands, and he shares the legendary trumpeter's ability to develop talent—over the past decade or so, many of the city's finest musicians have worked in his groups, which blend postbop, fusion, and funk. Today's lineup includes guitarist Scott Hesse, saxophonists Rajiv Halim and Irvin Pierce, bassist and singer Emmy Dayhuff, and drummer Charles "Rick" Heath IV. Peter Margasak

Jazz & Heritage Pavilion

12:30 PM | Bob Dogan Quintet

Stalwart Chicago pianist Bob Dogan is easy to take for granted, but that'd be a mistake. He's a rigorous bandleader who deftly mixes past and present, playing an old-fashioned repertoire with a contemporary sense of harmony. His terrific band features bass trumpeter Ryan Shultz, saxophonist Juli Wood, bassist Dan DeLorenzo, and drummer Joe Adamik. Peter Margasak

2 PM | Bill McFarland Chicago Horns

Trombonist Bill McFarland, tenor saxophonist Hank Ford, and alto saxophonist Kenny Anderson have long been first-call session cats on blues and R&B dates, and as the Chicago Horns they dole out sturdy hard bop that makes room for soul melodies, flourishes of New Orleans groove, and quiet-storm chill. The band's rhythm section consists of pianist Kirk Brown, bassist Yosef Ben Israel, and drummer Ben Johnson. Peter Margasak

Steve & Iqua Colson - COAL-SUN PRODUCTIONS
  • Coal-Sun Productions
  • Steve & Iqua Colson

3:30 PM | Steve & Iqua Colson: 40 Years in the Movement

Steve and Iqua Colson were affiliated with the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians starting in the early 1970s. The husband-and-wife team left Chicago for New Jersey a decade later, but their spiritual connection to the AACM remains. Steve's piano has graced many outstanding recordings of the creative-music diaspora, among them Baikida Carroll's Door of the Cage (1995) and David Murray's New Life (1985), and he's about to release his first solo record, Tones For (Silver Sphinx). But the work he's done with Iqua, a versatile singer, is perhaps their most indelible. John Corbett

Jay Pritzker Pavilion

  • Michael Jackson
  • Jeff Parker

[Recommended] 5 PM | Jeff Parker Trio

One of the most important (and most self-­effacing) musicians to emerge from Chicago in the past 20 years, guitarist Jeff Parker has worked in a wide variety of settings—including with organist Charles Earland, in drummer Brian Blade's Fellowship, and as a longtime member of dub-rock ensemble Tortoise. A tireless experimenter with a radarlike sense of harmony, a gentle cooperative vibe, and an eviscerating fifth gear, he's arguably best heard in his own trio, with Chris Lopes on bass and Chad Taylor on drums. Their most recent record, 2012's Bright Light in Winter (Delmark), shows the band's progress over the course of a decade (it's their third album if you count 2005's The Relatives, with Sam Barsheshet on electric piano) as well as all the ways Parker has continued to hone his own sound, integrating gnashing metal, free improvisation, and the influence of Jim Hall into a euphoric mix. John Corbett

Jane Bunnett & Maqueque - COURTESY THE ARTIST
  • Courtesy the artist
  • Jane Bunnett & Maqueque

6 PM | Jane Bunnett & Maqueque

Canadian soprano saxophonist and flutist Jane Bunnett is committed to collaborating with musicians from Cuba, and her latest project looks toward the island's musical future. The sextet Maqueque provides a lush, seductively sashaying polyrhythmic foundation for Bunnett's melodically probing solos, and the five young Cuban women joining her in the group—three percussionists, a pianist, and a bassist and tres player—add lovely chants, vocal harmonies, and countermelodic exposition, revealing musical knowledge that extends well beyond Cuban traditions. Peter Margasak

Cyrille Aimee - COURTESY DCASE
  • Courtesy DCASE
  • Cyrille Aimee

7:10 PM | Cyrille Aimee

French-born singer Cyrille Aimee keeps her music fun and playful, combining the jazz manouche of her homeland with a pop-savvy approach­—she sings plenty of standards, but she's also recorded "Stand by Me" and Michael Jackson's "Off the Wall." Aimee is a member of the style-hopping Hot Club of Detroit, and her own band is even more eclectic. It consists of bassist Shawn Conley, drummer Rajiv Jayaweera, and two guitarists, Michael Valeanu and Adrien Moignard, who draw from Django Reinhardt. Peter Margasak

Muhal Richard Abrams - COURTESY THE ARTIST
  • Courtesy the artist
  • Muhal Richard Abrams

[Recommended] 8:30 PM | Muhal Richard Abrams's Experimental Band with Roscoe Mitchell, Henry Threadgill, Wadada Leo Smith, Amina Claudine Myers, George Lewis, Leonard Jones, Thurman Barker, LaRoy Wallace McMillan, and Reggie Nicholson

If you go to the MCA's joyous exhibition "The Freedom Principle," as well you should, you'll see a 1994 painting by Wadsworth Jarrell depicting five venerable members of the AACM—among them pianist Muhal Richard Abrams at the helm and Roscoe Mitchell and Henry Threadgill manning the horns. All three will perform as part of this much-anticipated festival congress, but you're unlikely to hear any of the AACM's "greatest hits," because the modus operandi of the association has always been exploratory rather than nostalgic. Abrams, who's graced the festival's stage several times in recent years, leads a large ensemble in celebration of the AACM's half-century mark, drawing on some of the same players from his original Experimental Band, which rehearsed on the south side in the mid-1960s. More than an all-star assembly, this is a conference of the intrepid, featuring reedists Mitchell, Threadgill, and LaRoy Wallace McMillan, trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, trombonist and AACM chronicler George Lewis, and percussionists Thurman Barker and Reggie Nicholson (a younger member). Special mention goes to bassist Leonard Jones, an early AACMer who moved to Germany in 1969; he's also a fine photographer, and his wonderful vintage images of AACM members can be seen in "The Freedom Principle." John Corbett

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