Five portraits of the 40th annual Chicago Jazz Festival | Music Feature | Chicago Reader

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Five portraits of the 40th annual Chicago Jazz Festival

This year’s extended lineup brims with compelling and adventurous artists—including Afrofuturist visionary Nicole Mitchell, avant-garde pillar Matthew Shipp, and tireless explorer Chris Speed.

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The 2015 Chicago Jazz Festival - PATRICK L. PYSZKA/CITY OF CHICAGO
  • Patrick L. Pyszka/City of Chicago
  • The 2015 Chicago Jazz Festival

For the 40th Chicago Jazz Festival, the theme seems to be "more." More days, more artists, and more interaction with the local jazz infrastructure. Several local venues and presenters that work regularly with jazz—including the Green Mill, Constellation, the Hungry Brain, the Old Town School of Folk Music, and Elastic—have received financial support from the festival to present free satellite shows beginning Friday, August 24, extending its reach into neighborhoods around Chicago and lengthening its schedule by nearly a week. For years the fest has officially begun on the Thursday before Labor Day, but this year's downtown action kicks off Wednesday at Pritzker Pavilion with Orbert Davis and his Chicago Jazz Philharmonic celebrating the history of jazz in the city.


Chicago Jazz Festival

Wed 8/29, 6:30-9 PM; Thu 8/30, 11 AM-9 PM; Fri 8/31, 11:30 AM-9 PM; Sat 9/1, 11 AM-9 PM; Sun 9/2, 11:15 AM-9 PM

Wed, Fri-Sun in Millennium Park, Michigan and Randolph; Thu in Millennium Park and the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, jazzinchicago.org, free, all-ages


That's not to say that quantity is the only remarkable thing about the 2018 Jazz Festival—as usual, the quality is worth talking about too. (Full disclosure: I volunteer on the committee that programs the fest.) A number of talented former Chicagoans return to reconnect with their roots, among them flutist Nicole Mitchell, who presents her widely acclaimed Mandorla Awakening suite on Thursday evening, and singer Kurt Elling, who follows her set with a sextet performance featuring high-powered guests Jeff "Tain" Watts on drums and Marquis Hill on trumpet. On Sunday at Von Freeman Pavilion, trumpeter and former Chicagoan Jaimie Branch leads her wide-ranging group Fly or Die.

On Saturday night, Chicago jazz royalty Ramsey Lewis makes a rare Jazz Festival appearance (for years he's been playing Ravinia early each summer, precluding a spot here), which will also be his final local performance before he retires from the stage later this year. And Friday's Pritzker Pavilion bookings begin with a multigenerational, multipart memorial tribute to pianist, composer, and AACM cofounder Muhal Richard Abrams, with performances by pianists Myra Melford and Amina Claudine Myers and an ensemble led by reedist Mwata Bowden.

The Reader's preview coverage of the festival focuses on five of the many compelling characters in the lineup: Mitchell, pianist Matthew Shipp, late-night Green Mill mainstays Sabertooth, bassist Eric Revis, and reedist Chris Speed. Other highlights include the working quintet of wonderful pianist Kenny Barron and the Chicago premiere of Darcy James Argue's forward-looking New York big band, Secret Society, both on Saturday evening. On Friday night, veteran drummer Louis Hayes mounts a spirited homage to his former employer, pianist and composer Horace Silver. A slew of current Chicagoans play too, of course—not just Sabertooth and all the others already mentioned but also the Jason Stein Quartet, Greg Ward & 10 Tongues, the Quin Kirchner Septet, the Geof Bradfield Nonet, and many more.  v


Flutist Nicole Mitchell uses music to map a possible paradise

She brings her Afrofuturist epic Mandorla Awakening back to Chicago for the Jazz Festival.

Update at Thu 8/30, 4:30 PM: Due to a family medical emergency, Nicole Mitchell will not perform at the Jazz Festival. The Black Earth Ensemble's set will go on, led by cellist Tomeka Reid.

by John Corbett


Chris Speed - BRADLEY BAMBARGER

Avant-garde reedist Chris Speed grows into tradition

With the trio he brings to the Jazz Festival, formed decades into his career, he treads the ground of the old masters without losing himself.

by Peter Margasak


Sabertooth celebrate 25 years of nocturnal renditions

The Jazz Festival honors the Green Mill’s resident wee-hours organ quartet in broad daylight.

by Bill Meyer


Pianist Matthew Shipp can make magic with the perfect partner

He’s released more than a dozen albums with Brazilian saxophonist Ivo Perelman just in the past two years, and their Jazz Festival set is the first time they’ve played together in Chicago.

by Peter Margasak


Bassist Eric Revis works at the conflux of the mainstream and its far-out tributaries

The quartet he brings to Jazz Fest is packed with inside-outside explorers: pianist Kris Davis, reedist Ken Vandermark, and drummer Chad Taylor.

by John Corbett


The complete schedule of the 2018 Chicago Jazz Festival

All 68 sets in Millennium Park and the Cultural Center, including Maceo Parker, Jaimie Branch, Jason Stein, Diane Reeves, Greg Ward & 10 Tongues, and Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society


The jazz doesn’t stop when the park goes dark

This year’s Jazz Festival aftershows include Mako Sica with Hamid Drake, Dee Alexander performing Nina Simone, and the traditional engagements by Ira Sullivan and Edward “Kidd” Jordan.

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