Don't believe the hype. Despite flagging record sales and a lack of commercial radio airplay, the death of jazz music has been greatly exaggerated. Evidence arrives once again this Labor Day weekend in Grant Park when The 27th Annual Chicago Jazz Festival rolls out a three-day aural smorgasbord designed to showcase the continued vitality of this great American music.
Among the dozens of acts hitting the fest's three stages, a handful in particular argue in favor of the genre's glorious past, current well-being and future promise. Check out our picks, and find a full schedule at metromix.com.
Denny Zeitlin Trio
This three-piece opens the festival's first night in proper style with a tribute to recently deceased Charlie Weeks, former president of the Jazz Institute of Chicago. A virtuoso pianist and practicing psychiatrist in the San Francisco area, Zeitlin scampers about the keyboard and the stylistic map with equal abandon, always delivering the most essential jazz element: unpredictability. Although a piano trio could easily get swallowed up in the expanse of Grant Park, Zeitlin's crew should be up to the task, with the melodic Buster Williams on bass and the restlessly creative Matt Wilson on drums.
Mark Loehrke is a metromix special contributor.Originally published August 30, 2005.
AACM 40th Anniversary Celebration
Born in 1965 on the city's South Side as a collective of musicians and artists dedicated to expanding the boundaries of modern music, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) stands today as one of Chicago's most significant contributions to the world of jazz. The roster of past and present members reads like a who's who of innovative and revolutionary players from the last half-century. Performers scheduled to help celebrate the venerated organization's 40th birthday include Mwata Bowden and the Great Black Music Ensemble.
Celebrating Tony Williams
The fusion era of the late '60s and early '70s stands among the most divisive periods in the history of jazz music; many die-hard Miles fans still refuse to acknowledge the trumpeter's electric period, and the mere sight of an amplifier onstage is enough to turn away some traditionalists like a bad odor. While the fusion debate rages on, a number of period players are nevertheless universally acknowledged by jazz lovers as true masters of the music. The all-star trio of organist Larry Goldings, guitarist John Scofield and drummer Jack DeJohnette convenes to honor one of the fusion era's transcendent talents, drummer Tony Williams.
Bobbi Wilsyn and SHE
The relatively intimate Jazz on Jackson stage is traditionally a great place to catch daytime performances by some of Chicago's finest players, and this year is no exception. Look for scheduled sets from the likes of saxophonist Von Freeman and trombonist Tom Garling, among others. The spot's also been a regular showcase for undeservingly neglected local singers, such as the soulful and refined Bobbi Wilsyn. A faculty member at Columbia College and longtime vocalist with the Chicago Jazz Ensemble, Wilsyn will front the all-female ensemble SHE, which features top-flight players like Kelly Brand, Marlene Rosenberg and Sarah Allen.
The Chicago Jazz Ensemble with Slide Hampton
Ideally, a jazz fest should be an opportunity for local listeners to hear high-profile out-of-towners, not just the same old ensembles who toil throughout the year in the city's clubs and concert halls. But given the sheer breadth and quality of the Chicago scene, many of the Jazz Fest's most anticipated sets feature our own considerable homegrown talent. One such performance helps wind down this year's final night: Jon Faddis leads the reinvigorated Chicago Jazz Ensemble, joined by 2005 artist in residence and trombone master Slide Hampton.