We're certainly not implying that jazz music ever stopped being a staple in Chicago but with two new venues opened in the last year and a half (Constellation in Roscoe Village and The Promontory in Hyde Park) and more jazz series popping up every summer, we are in the middle of a strong resurgence. The city's lifelong love affair with the genre culminates every Labor Day weekend in Millennium Park at the Chicago Jazz Festival.
The festival, which is free to attend, kicks off Thursday night, August 29, with what's sure to be a moving tribute to Nelson Mandela and a performance of Chicago composer Ernest Dawkins' Afro Jazz Opera at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion.
The real star power starts Friday with performances from former member of The Roots and experimental bassist Joshua Abrams (1:10 p.m. at the Von Freeman Pavilion) and a taste of Latin Jazz from Grammy-winning trombonist Wayne Wallace's quintet (3:30 p.m. at the Jazz and Heritage Pavilion). The first night concludes when trumpeter and noted film composer Terence Blanchard (who has scored film classics like Jungle Fever, Malcolm X and Primal Fear) takes the stage with saxophonist Ravi Coltrane (son of jazz legends John and Alice Coltrane) and electric guitarist Lionel Loueke (8:30 p.m. at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion).
Saturday features a whole day's worth of local high school jazz ensembles on the Chicago Community Trust young Jazz Lions Stage (full schedule here). You also won't want to miss vibraphone virtuoso Gary Burton (6 p.m. at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion), Tom Harrell's Color of a Dream (with vocals from the universally respected Esperanza Spalding; 7:10 p.m. at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion) and a headlining spot from the star-studded fusion band Prism (8:30 p.m. at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion). The lineup features pianist Craig Taborn, guitarist Kevin Eubanks and drummer Eric Harland.
Sunday might be the busiest day yet. Prepare to send the weekend out with a bang while you watch shows from breezy guitar player Neal Alger (and his Blue Note band; noon on the Von Freeman Pavilion), modern vibraphone collective Sun Rooms (2 p.m. on the Jazz and Heritage Pavilion), rising star singer Cecile McLorin Salvant (7:10 p.m. at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion) and the spiritual sounds of Sun Ra Arkestra (8:30 p.m. at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion).
Looking to get to know more about the Chicago area jazz clubs that foster the scene year round? In town for the festival a few days early? The Jazz Institute of Chicago's 2014 Jazz Club Tour is taking you all over town and introducing you to some of the classics like Jazz Showcase, Green Mill and The Drake Hotel. Catch a ride on the tour Wednesday, August 27, at 6 p.m. Ticket sales info is available here.
The Chicago Jazz Festival runs August 28-31 in Millennium Park. Admission is free. For a full schedule, click here!
Photo Courtesy of Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events