Music » Music Feature

Seven portraits of the Chicago Jazz Festival

The compelling characters on this year’s lineup include avant-garde elder Roscoe Mitchell, indefatigable experimenter Mary Halvorson, and defiantly joyful South African survivor Louis Moholo-Moholo.

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The music starts at the Cultural Center early on Thursday and then moves to Millennium Park that night. - SCOTT STEWART
  • Scott Stewart
  • The music starts at the Cultural Center early on Thursday and then moves to Millennium Park that night.

This year's Chicago Jazz Festival doesn't have a single theme, but rather celebrates the centennials of three of the music's greats: trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, pianist and composer Thelonious Monk, and singer Ella Fitzgerald. Each artist transformed the trajectory of the tradition in different ways, and their tribute sets are radically different from one another too.

On Thursday night, Gillespie's most famous protege, Jon Faddis (a Chicago favorite thanks to his involvement in the Chicago Jazz Ensemble), leads a strong orchestra to honor his mentor's storied, multifaceted career. The next night, Jason Moran—arguably the most important pianist in jazz today—presents an idiosyncratic adaptation of Monk's famous 1959 Town Hall Concert, augmenting his ten-piece band with multimedia elements that use material from the Jazz Loft Project archives of photographer W. Eugene Smith. Finally, on Saturday evening, several sterling Chicago singers join master postbop vocalist Sheila Jordan to tackle songs associated with Ella Fitzgerald.

The Reader's preview coverage of the festival focuses on seven of the many compelling characters in the lineup: cornetist Josh Berman, guitarists Tim Fitzgerald and Mary Halvorson, reedist Roscoe Mitchell, and drummers Allison Miller, Louis Moholo-Moholo, and Matt Wilson. Other highlights include saxophonist Donny McCaslin on Friday evening, performing with the same group he led on David Bowie's final album, Blackstar; Chicago trombonist Ray Anderson on Saturday, returning to his hometown with the trio BassDrumBone; and beloved New Orleans party starters the Rebirth Brass Band on Sunday night. (Full disclosure: I volunteer on the committee that programs the fest.)


Chicago Jazz Festival
Thu 8/31, 11 AM-9:30 PM, Chicago Cultural Center, Millennium Park
Fri 9/1, 12 PM-9:30 PM, Millennium Park
Sat-Sun 9/2-3, 11:30 AM-9:30 PM, Millennium Park


The festival kicks off at 11 AM on Thursday morning (earlier than in recent years) with the Jazz Village, an all-day trade fair at the Chicago Cultural Center that gathers record labels, presenters, and other jazz-centric organizations. After a slate of Cultural Center concerts that begins at noon, the music moves to Millennium Park that evening.

The Jazz Festival is also hitting the airwaves again, for the first time since 2001. Public radio station WDCB 90.9 FM, operated by the College of DuPage, will partner with the WFMT Radio Network to simulcast three sets: the George Freeman/Mike Allemana Quartet on Thursday, the Dr. Lonnie Smith Trio on Friday, and the Ella Fitzgerald celebration on Saturday. The rooftop programming at the Harris Theater returns, but the stage is no longer called Young Jazz Lions—high school and college bands perform under that rubric on Saturday, and Sunday's lineup features relatively advanced players from the Jazz Institute of Chicago's NextGen program.  v

Tim Fitzgerald's Full House - THOMAS MOHR
  • Thomas Mohr
  • Tim Fitzgerald's Full House

Chicago guitarist Tim Fitzgerald summons the joy and grace of Wes Montgomery

Fitzgerald makes his Jazz Festival debut leading the seven-piece band Full House.

By John Corbett


Mary Halvorson Octet - KELLY JENSEN
  • Kelly Jensen
  • Mary Halvorson Octet

Mary Halvorson’s band keeps getting bigger—and better

The New York guitarist brings her daring but sophisticated octet to Chicago for the first time.

By Peter Margasak


Allison Miller - SHERVIN LAINEZ
  • Shervin Lainez
  • Allison Miller

Drummer Allison Miller animates her ambitious jazz with crowd-pleasing groove

Her sextet Boom Tic Boom reached new heights last year on Otis Was a Polar Bear.

By Peter Margasak


Josh Berman - COURTESY THE ARTIST
  • Courtesy the artist
  • Josh Berman

Chicago cornetist Josh Berman shakes up his refined practice

He’s historically worked slowly and carefully, but he’s playing the Jazz Festival with an untested new quartet.

By Peter Margasak


Louis Moholo-Moholo - MAARIT KYTÖHARJU
  • Maarit Kytöharju
  • Louis Moholo-Moholo

South African drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo fans the spark of resistance into the flame of liberated jazz

The last survivor of legendary 60s group the Blue Notes introduces his current band to Chicago..

By John Corbett


Roscoe Mitchell - OLAF VEIT
  • Olaf Veit
  • Roscoe Mitchell

Avant-garde elder Roscoe Mitchell celebrates 50 years of Nessa Records

When the AACM and the Art Ensemble of Chicago were still young, Chuck Nessa’s label helped raise them up.

By Bill Meyer


Matt Wilson - COURTESY THE ARTIST
  • Courtesy the artist
  • Matt Wilson

Drummer Matt Wilson weds light-footed jazz to Carl Sandburg’s humane and homely poetry

His new album, Honey and Salt, gives a mature voice to a love he learned as a teenager.

By Peter Margasak


The Rebirth Brass Band plays Sunday at 8:30 PM at Pritzker Pavilion. - COURTESY THE ARTIST
  • Courtesy the artist
  • The Rebirth Brass Band plays Sunday at 8:30 PM at Pritzker Pavilion.

The complete schedule for the 39th annual Chicago Jazz Festival

Every set from Thursday morning till Sunday night, at the Cultural Center and in Millennium Park


New Orleans saxophonist Edward "Kidd" Jordan makes his traditional festival-time visit, playing three shows this weekend in a quartet with Alvin Fielder, Joshua Abrams, and Jim Baker. - COURTESY THE ARTIST
  • Courtesy the artist
  • New Orleans saxophonist Edward "Kidd" Jordan makes his traditional festival-time visit, playing three shows this weekend in a quartet with Alvin Fielder, Joshua Abrams, and Jim Baker.

The jazz after the fest

The city’s usual bounty of shows gets a big bump this weekend.

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