Petrillo Music Shell
6:00 pm Billy Taylor Trio
Even though Billy Taylor’s solid playing, which draws on both swing and bop, is not particularly compelling, it makes perfect sense for the pianist to open this year’s festival. Over the years he’s become much beloved for his ability to make the history of jazz both coherent and interesting as the host of various popular radio programs–and in a smart move for WBEZ, he’s part of this year’s broadcast team.
7:00 PM Havana
A popular and versatile local octet performing salsa and Afro-Cuban favorites.
7:55 PM Joe Henderson Quartet
Since signing with Verve at the beginning of the decade, 60-year-old tenor-sax genius Joe Henderson has enjoyed the sort of career development most musicians can only dream of. Even as the label has presented him in a wide variety of contexts–tributes to Billy Strayhorn, Miles Davis, and Antonio Carlos Jobim, as well as big band treatments of his own tunes–he’s demonstrated a protean flexibility without ever appearing to pander. His next album, a collection of songs from Porgy and Bess due out in October, confirms that Henderson can handle any “concept” the suits throw at him. No one would think to doubt his ability to interpret Gershwin–what’s truly impressive is how good he manages to sound despite horrifying vocal turns from Chaka Khan (for all her talents, not exactly a chanteuse) and Sting (for all his popularity, not exactly a talent). Henderson will be joined by his longtime rhythm section (drummer Al Foster and bassist George Mraz), trombonist Conrad Herwig, and guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel.
Under the watchful eye of Charles Mingus’s widow, Sue, who directs this thoroughly respectable repertoire company, his dynamic, multitiered compositions continue to breathe and grow. Soloists like established saxophonists Vincent Herring, John Stubblefield, and Seamus Blake keep the fire stoked.
Friday, August 29
Petrillo Music Shell
5:00 PM Juli Wood Quintet featuring mel Rhyne
Milwaukee transplant Juli Wood, a former member of Paul Cebar & the Milwaukeeans, interprets bebop both saxophonically and vocally, but the real ear-catcher in this quintet is the superb organist Mel Rhyne, a former sideman with Wes Montgomery.
5:55 PM Myra Melford Quintet
Pianist-composer Myra Melford, born and raised on the North Shore, studied with local boogie-woogie titan Erwin Helfer, but while traces of the blues linger in her evocative music, her work draws upon a whole wealth of invigorating sources. She’s now based in New York; the superb group she brings to Chicago–trumpeter Dave Douglas, cellist Erik Friedlander, drummer Michael Sarin, and reedist Chris Speed–navigates her labyrinthine compositions with fluid, sensitive precision. On the quintet’s amazingly cogent The Same River, Twice (Gramavision), through-composed sections merge seamlessly with duos and trios, and chamberlike passages fold into furious free-jazz splashing folds into jaunty unison parts. Melford’s played in Chicago with her trio before, but this is the debut of her larger group.
6:55 PM Ferre Brothers Quartet
French Gypsy guitarist sibs Boulou and Elios Ferre stay true to their ethnic and artistic pedigree: Django, Django, and more Django.
7:50 PM Jackie McLean Sextet
There’s no mistaking the beautifully acerbic tone and deft melodicism of alto saxophonist Jackie McLean. Over the last four decades he’s played with Charles Mingus and Art Blakey, and briefly with Ornette Coleman, but it’s his work as a leader (on the Blue Note label) that truly stands out. He was one of the select few straight-ahead 50s hard boppers who dared to push the music forward, and in groups in the 60s with vibist Bobby Hutcherson and trombonist Grachan Moncur III he managed to do it without ditching his foundation. McLean’s subsequent work has been a little less edgy but equally satisfying, and as the outfit he brings to the festival–trumpeter Raymond Williams, trombonist Steve Davis, pianist Allan Palmer, bassist Phil Bowler, and drummer Eric McPherson–proves, he continues to act as a champion of up-and-comers.
9:00 PM Illinois Jacquet
When it comes to strutting out the hard-swinging, almost ecstatic sax cries of the bebop era, few can match the grace, charisma, and power of Illinois Jacquet’s ensemble. Between the 75-year-old leader’s edgy, blues-inflected solos, which drove crowds wild during the heady days of Jazz at the Philharmonic, and the band’s driving riffs, there’s no better way to end the evening on a high.
Saturday, August 30
Jazz on Jackson
12:00 PM Ameen Muhammad’s Chicago 3-D
Best known as the clown prince of Ernest Dawkins’s New Horizons Ensemble, in his own quintet trumpeter Ameen Muhammad explores the African roots of jazz both rhythmically and vocally. Drummer Dushon Mosley, saxist Ari Brown, bassist Yosef Ben Israel, and vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Maia round out the group.
1:10 PM Allen Batts/ Earma Thompson
In 1993 the Jazz Fest began a tradition of asking local pianists to honor the work of important early jazz and blues pianists; previous honorees have been Art Hodes, Sunnyland Slim, Jimmy Yancey, and Little Brother Montgomery. This year Allen Batts and Earma Thompson, both accomplished keyboardists, fete the great and sadly underappreciated Lil Hardin Armstrong, wife of Louis and pianist in his legendary Hot Five and Hot Seven, as well as leader of her own 30s swing band.
2:20 PM Rich Corpolongo Quartet
Reedist Rich Corpolongo has spent almost four decades honing his craft, sometimes ignoring lucrative opportunities to concentrate on his own work. But if the success he’s found in the last few years is any indication, the strategy has paid off. His debut as a leader, Just Found Joy (released last year on Delmark), reveals him to be a distinctive composer and a resourceful improviser. Corpolongo is clearly a subscriber to Duke Ellington’s theory that music can be broken down into just two categories–good or bad; he refuses to lock himself into anything so narrow as a single idiom. He’ll be joined by his working band: pianist Larry Luchowski, bassist Eric Hochberg, and drummer Mike Raynor.
3:30 PM Jackie Cain & Roy Kral
Few jazz idioms divide a crowd like vocalese, and when it comes to acts like Lambert, Hendricks & Ross or the Manhattan Transfer, the thin line between love and hate becomes a gaping chasm. Husband and wife Jackie Cain and Roy Kral, elder statesmen of the style, tend to inspire one emotion or the other with their bubbly scatting, so pick your side and plan accordingly.
Saturday, August 30
Petrillo Music Shell
5:00 PM Marshall Vente Project 9+
Pianist-composer Marshall Vente studied with the great Gil Evans, an experience that helped transform him into one of Chicago’s most respected arrangers. He plays in a variety of contexts, but this nonet is the best known.
5:55 PM Steve Turre Sextet
You may vaguely remember Steve Turre as a Fu Manchu-ish presence in an old Saturday Night Live band, but in real life he’s one of the finest trombonists in jazz. Modernist bop mingles with Latin rhythms in his flavorful work–and he blows a mean conch shell, too. His group includes pianist Stephen Scott, bassist Buster Williams, drummer Lewis Nash, violinist Reginia Carter, and cellist Akua Dixon Turre.
6:55 PM Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown Big Band
On his new album, Gate Swings (Verve), bluesman Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown sets out to revisit the jump blues of his brilliant Peacock recordings of the 50s (with bits of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Louis Jordan as roadside attractions), but he never quite gets there. It’s not entirely his fault–though Brown’s voice has lost some of its range and his guitar playing lacks the slashing quality of his earlier work, he’s still in pretty good shape. But Wardell Quezergue’s big-band arrangements are so antiseptic you’d think you were on a cruise ship or something.
7:55 PM Nicholas Payton Quintet
On his recent, stylistically authentic tribute to the music of Louis Armstrong (a collaboration with the late Doc Cheatham, who, until his death this summer at 92, was scheduled to be part of this performance), New Orleans trumpeter Nicholas Payton displays an unusually firm grip on jazz’s beginnings–not just for a 23-year-old, but for any living jazzman. Here, however, backed by his fine working group of alto saxist Jesse Davis, pianist Anthony Wonsey, drummer Adonis Rose, and bassist Reuben Rogers, he’ll surely present Armstrong’s music in the more expansive, modernist light he prefers as a leader. He can instill traditionals like “Li’l Liza Jane” and Satchmo’s own “Weather Bird” with that infectious Crescent City exuberance, but his tone and phrasing owe as much to hard boppers Clifford Brown and Freddie Hubbard as they do to Armstrong.
Von Freeman stands for what’s best about jazz in Chicago: his focus has always been on the music above all else. Though he could have easily made a career for himself in New York, he’s remained a local treasure, hosting legendary jam sessions like his Tuesday parties at the New Apartment Lounge. Although rooted in the city’s great tenor-sax tradition–think Gene Ammons, Clifford Jordan, John Gilmore, Johnny Griffin–Vonski can take his music way out when he pleases, and this blowout of a jam session might just foster the desire. He’ll be flanked by regular compatriots like John Young, Jodie Christian, Mike Raynor, and Bettye Reynolds, plus brother George on guitar, son Chico on saxophone, and probably numerous other luminaries.
Sunday, August 31
Jazz on Jackson
12:00 PM Samana
The first all-female group in the 30-some-year history of the prestigious Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, Samana explores the African roots of jazz with an airy lattice of percussion, sweetly chanted vocals, and spare melodic accents on flute, clarinet, and traditional African instruments.
1:10 PM Willie Pickens Quintet
Legendary pianist Willie Pickens, a regular with drummer Elvin Jones, offers a clinic on hard-driving Chicago bop with trumpeter Tito Carillo, tenorist Todd Herbert, bassist Larry Gray, and drummer Robert Shy.
2:20 PM Roy Rubinstein’s Chicago Hot Six
Trombonist Roy Rubinstein isn’t from Chicago (he’s English), and playing jazz isn’t his main gig (he’s a nuclear physicist). His band plays the New Orleans-style jazz of King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, which featured singular trombonist Kid Ory and thrived in Chicago during the 20s and early 30s.
3:30 PM Mark Murphy with special guest Kurt Elling
The vanguard of “hip” vocal jazz meets its future; soul patches optional.
Sunday, August 31
Petrillo Music Shell
5:00 PM Chicago Underground Orchestra
A local hard-bop stalwart with a crisp tone and fervid lyricism a la Lee Morgan, cornetist Rob Mazurek has made some daring left turns in the last few years, the fruits of which are on this collective’s forthcoming debut for the local Delmark label. On Playground, he effortlessly channels highly intuitive and energetic free playing into inherently tuneful compositions by himself and guitarist Jeff Parker, with a band rounded out by some truly talented young players: bassist Chris Lopes, trombonist Sara P. Smith, and drummer Chad Taylor.
5:55 PM Ruby Braff Quintet
Settle that fat ass into the confines of your folding chair, spread some Velveeta on a cracker, slug some chilled wine, and dig the thoroughly middle-of-the-road melodic swing sounds of trumpeter Ruby Braff.
6:55 PM Bernie McGann Trio
Bernie who? Alto saxophonist Bernie McGann is likely to turn your thinking around when it comes to the oxymoron “Australian jazz.” Swinging like a motherfucker, McGann exhibits a fierce, infectious rhythmic drive, a perpetually fresh lyricism, and a sophisticated conception of phrasing on both hard-bop chestnuts and his solid originals alike. Bassist Lloyd Swanton and drummer John Pochee have worked with McGann since the 50s, and the trio’s alchemical intuition promises to be one of the most exciting imports at this year’s festival.
7:55 PM Betty Carter
Perhaps the most innovative jazz vocalist of all time, Betty Carter is truly an institution. She worked with Lionel Hampton, Gigi Gryce, and Ray Charles before retreating from music for a few years in the 60s to raise a family; when she returned in 1969 she took on the auxiliary role of talent scout, finding some of the finest pianists of the last few decades–John Hicks, Mulgrew Miller, Stephen Scott, Marc Cary, and Cyrus Chestnut, to name a few. Carter is a superb improviser, not just in her mind-boggling nonverbal runs but in how she boldly breaks apart phrases and lines and shades melodies in all sorts of unpredictable configurations. Her groups have always been able to bridge the gap between tradition and experimentation, in both standards and edgy originals; here she’ll be joined by bassist Curtis Lundy, drummer Eric Harland, and her latest piano protege, Bruce Flowers.
Ending this year’s festival with an impressive bang is a tribute to Detroit jazz. Guitarist Kenny Burrell, pianist Tommy Flanagan, tenor saxophonist Frank Foster, alto saxophonist Charles McPherson, and trumpeter Marcus Belgrave comprise one hell of a band (bassist Rodney Whittaker and drummer George Fludas fill out the rhythm section), and it won’t take much for them to transcend the all-star concept.