The Chicago Jazz Festival is a Labor Day weekend tradition with a reputation as one of the best yearly displays of jazz music's finest performers. It's a four-day festival that's been drawing fans from the Midwest and beyond since 1979, showing no signs of letting up. This year, the free festival runs Thursday, August 29, through Sunday, September 1, throughout the downtown area.
If you want to maximize your fun times at Jazz Fest this year, Chicago Like A Local has a few tips for you:
Millennium Park Performers
There are plenty of highlights on the lineup this summer. World class drummer and composer (and Chicago native) Jack DeJohnette kicks things off at the Pritzker Pavilion on Thursday night, leading a tribute to Chicago jazz music with other locally-based artists like Muhal Richard Abrams, Larry Gray, Roscoe Mitchell and Henry Threadgill.
If you're an avid jazz follower, you might remember saxophonist Charles Lloyd and pianist Jason Moran from their critically acclaimed join album Hagar's Song. Both will perform at the Pritzker this weekend, Lloyd closing out the night on Friday and Moran performing a tribute to Fats Wallace on Saturday.
The talent doesn't stop at the headliners either. Singer Gregory Porter (performing at 6:10pm on Saturday at the Pritzker) has been called a "rising star" by Downbeat Magazine and it's no stretch to call saxophonist Jimmy Heath (performing at 5pm on Sunday at the Pritzker) a jazz legend.
For an experimental take on jazz, check out Hamid Drake & Bindu (performing at 6:10pm on Sunday at the Pritzker) whose show highlights jazz's influence on the reggae genre and Rudresh Mahanthappa who combines traditional Indian music with modern jazz (performing at 7:25pm on Saturday at the Pritzker). Sunday's headliner Donald Harrison and The Congo Square Nation is an Afro-New Orleans collective that pays tribute to all African American music from jazz to blues to soul.
One of the coolest things the Jazz Festival is doing this summer is showcasing jazz ensembles from a dozen local high schools. Young musicians from high schools including Whitney Young Magnet High School, Pritzker College Prep and Lincoln Park High School High School will perform Saturday and Sunday from 11:30am to 4:15pm on the Harris Theater's rooftop. As the daughter of a high school jazz band director, I can assure you that you'll be shocked at how great these ensembles will sound. For a full schedule check the festival's website.
Beyond the Festival
In addition to music, the Jazz Festival also brings art to Millennium Park this weekend. An art fair "headlined" by Charlie Black -- whose paintings illustrate his experiences growing up with jazz music in Chicago and Mississippi -- with be held at the corners of Randolph and Michigan.
Once your time at Jazz Fest wraps up, that doesn't mean your day is over. Stop by the Jazz Record Mart a skim the aisles for releases from your favorite festival performer. Or, if you still need more music, check out legendary jazz joints Andy's Jazz Club within walking distance of the park or Jazz Showcase, just a 5 minute cab ride away.