In a less imperfect world, Millennium Park would be hosting the 44th annual Chicago Jazz Festival right about now. As of 2019, the festival had been held in downtown parks for an unbroken string of 41 years. Thanks to COVID-19, though, it was canceled in 2020 and 2021. The first summer of the pandemic, the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) sponsored online jazz programming over Labor Day weekend, including specially recorded new concerts by local musicians and videos of highlights from previous fests. And last year Chicago in Tune, a broad celebration of the city’s musical heritage, included an evening of jazz at Pritzker Pavilion on Saturday, September 4. But this weekend’s event is the first complete Jazz Festival in three years.

Pritzker Pavilion from the lawn during the 2018 Chicago Jazz Festival
Pritzker Pavilion as seen from the lawn during the 2018 Chicago Jazz Festival Credit: Michael Jackson

Reassuringly, the fest’s main events will once more take place in the evenings at Pritzker Pavilion on the Thursday through Sunday before Labor Day. On Thursday afternoon, the Chicago Cultural Center will host film and music. In the afternoons on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, concerts will be held on the Harris Theater rooftop (many of them student bands) and at the Von Freeman Pavilion on Millennium Park’s North Promenade. The festival is shrinking a little for 2022—unlike previous years, there won’t be a stage on the South Promenade—but admission remains free, as always. 

Chicago Jazz Festival
Thu 9/1, 11 AM-9 PM, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, and Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park, 201 E. Randolph; Fri 9/2-Sat 9/3, 11:30 AM-9 PM, Millennium Park, 201 E. Randolph; Sun 9/4, 11 AM-9 PM, Maxwell Street Market, 800 S. Desplaines, and Millennium Park, 201 E. Randolph; free, all ages

The neighborhood concerts organized by DCASE in partnership with local presenters run from Tuesday, August 23, through Wednesday, August 31, so most of them will be over by press time. But throughout the festival, many of the city’s jazz clubs will step up their game with special bookings—I’ve collected some of the best.

The Jazz Institute of Chicago’s festival programming reaffirms the organization’s commitment to presenting a variety of jazz by local, national, and international artists. Main-stage sets by Jazzmeia Horn and Carmen Lundy should please fans of vocal jazz, while straight-ahead modern jazz is represented by Adam O’Farrill’s Stranger Days. The Nick Mazzarella Quintet bridge soul jazz and the avant-garde, and Aurora Nealand & the Royal Roses celebrate the sounds of New Orleans. Saturday at Pritzker Pavilion, MacArthur winner Miguel Zenón will share his nuanced, bicontinental vision of American music.

The Jazz Festival program distributes the chance-takers and crowd-pleasers pretty evenly, so no matter when you show up, you can feast on comfort food as well as challenging new dishes.