The stage lights went out during Orbert Davis’ symphonic performance at the Chicago Jazz Festival last weekend.
The sound went haywire when Cassandra Wilson appeared with her band at the acoustically challenged Petrillo Music Shell, drowning out the vocalist during much of her truncated set.
Members of the audience talked incessantly – and loudly – during shows at the Jazz on Jackson stage.
And smokers blithely puffed on cigars, cigarettes and what-not throughout the festival, ushers ignoring many listeners’ requests for relief.
Any one of these unfortunate events could have occurred during even the best-produced outdoor concert. But at the Chicago Jazz Festival, alas, they are the norm, and have been for a long time.
Which is why I wrote in my Wednesday column that the time has come to reinvent the fest. Oh, there’s another reason: The city has a $635.7 million deficit, and the status quo of free outdoor festivals bankrolled by city government is not likely to survive long.
Rather than wait for the ax to fall, I’ve argued that the Chicago Jazz Festival ought to become an independent, self-sufficient institution working with city government but not necessarily supported by it. And that the Chicago Jazz Festival would serve Chicagoans better if it more closely resembled the World Music Festival, which stages high-profile concerts in the parks but also first-rate events in acoustically superb clubs and concert halls across the city.
Trib Nation manager James Janega recently asked me: When should a critic become an advocate?
I say a critic is always an advocate: for his or her point of view. But that perspective ought to be based on deep experience. In my case, I’ve attended jazz shows in Chicago since 1970 and covered music for the Tribune since 1977.
In that time, I have marveled at the ever-sinking production standards of the formulaic Chicago Jazz Festival, which needs bright new ideas for tough new realities.
-- Howard Reich
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