The Chicago Jazz Festival, the oldest of the city’s big lakefront music fests, looks likely to survive the political and economic upheavals that have eliminated the Latin and Celtic festivals, totally remade (and relocated) the Gospel Music Festival, and cut the Taste of Chicago in half. Only the Blues Festival is comparably unscathed.
For the past few years most of the Jazz Fest’s marquee names have played on Saturday and Sunday—that is, the remaining Grant Park days—and that’s the case in 2012 as well. But the music on Thursday and Friday, hosted by the Cultural Center, Roosevelt University, and Millennium Park, is nothing to sneeze at—Friday at the Pritzker Pavilion, octogenarian drummer Roy Haynes leads a band that would be a major attraction on any stage and any day of the week. The sight lines and sound quality are much better at the Pritzker Pavilion than in Grant Park, and as you might expect, the indoor shows tend to be more intimate than the outdoor concerts.
The fest’s bookings do a pretty good job representing Chicago’s diverse and bustling jazz community, where there’s a world of styles on display all year long. (Full disclosure: this year I served as a volunteer on the committee that programmed the festival.) The headliners at the Petrillo Music Shell cover a wide range, and include vanguard postbop percussionist Billy Hart (leading a quartet that features Bad Plus pianist Ethan Iverson), mainstream jazz singer Dianne Reeves, Afro-Cuban/flamenco syncretist Jerry Gonzalez, New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint, and M-Base founder Steve Coleman. For the fourth consecutive year, the Young Jazz Lions stage hosts area high school and university bands. And beloved Chicago tenor saxophonist Von Freeman, who died August 11 at age 88, will be celebrated with two brief tributes during the festival—at press time, details were still falling into place.
This year’s artist in residence is reedist and composer Ken Vandermark, one of Chicago’s hardest-working musicians. In fact, he works so hard that he’s hardly ever home these days—his large role in the festival affords locals a rare chance to hear him in four different contexts, with national and international collaborators, in the space of three days. He’ll duet with Poughkeepsie horn man Joe McPhee and Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, play with a new quartet called Made to Break with Austrian electronicist Christof Kurzmann, and lead his latest transcontinental large group, the Resonance Ensemble.
As always, all music is free. On Thursday and Friday the shows are mostly at Pritzker and in different halls at the Cultural Center, but on Friday there’s an early-evening set in Roosevelt University’s Ganz Hall (430 S. Michigan, seventh floor). On Saturday and Sunday everything is in Grant Park. Afternoon sets are at the Jazz on Jackson Stage (on Jackson near Lake Shore Drive), the Jazz & Heritage Stage (south of Jackson near Columbus), and the Young Jazz Lions Stage (east of the Heritage stage and south of the Jackson stage). The Petrillo Music Shell, which hosts each evening’s headliners, is at Columbus and Jackson. And after the lakefront stages go quiet, there’s more jazz around town every night.