Muhal Richard Abrams
Muhal Richard Abrams Credit: Michael Jackson

Friday | Saturday | Sunday | Afterfest Shows

For its 30th birthday last year the Chicago Jazz Festival threw one hell of a party, opening with Sonny Rollins, closing with Ornette Coleman, and presenting commissioned work along the way from four undisputed heavyweights—pianist Vijay Iyer, trumpeter Dave Douglas, bandleader Gerald Wilson, and trombonist T.S. Galloway. After such a spectacular blowout—and especially given the brutal economic crisis—I wasn’t expecting to be impressed by this year’s incarnation. But the 2009 lineup is nothing to sneeze at—though none of the artists are legends on par with Rollins or Coleman, the Jazz Institute of Chicago has assembled an impressive slate of talent that broadens the traditional aesthetic scope of the festival. And even though the official schedule is only three days long this year, there’s an unaffiliated Thursday-night jazz show in Millennium Park that might as well be part of the fest—clarinetist Buddy DeFranco will join the Chicago Jazz Ensemble for a tribute to Benny Goodman at the Pritzker Pavilion.

I’ve always appreciated the JIC’s hard-core devotion to straight-up jazz, but I’m also happy to see its programming reflect the changes in the music over the past decade. Nods in that direction on this year’s bill include bassist and singer Esperanza Spalding, a rising star who hybridizes jazz and R & B; the Chicago Afro-Latin Jazz Ensemble and Cuban polymath Gonzalo Rubalcaba, who’ll provide two very different iterations of Afro-Caribbean music; and folk-jazz singer Madeleine Peyroux, who sounds a bit like a more mannered Norah Jones.

This year’s artist in residence is Chicago native Muhal Richard Abrams, a brilliant pianist and composer as well as a cofounder and leading light of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. On Sunday night he leads a big band assembled by veteran trumpeter Art Hoyle in Spiralview, a new composition dedicated to President Barack Obama, with soloists George Lewis, Ari Brown, Harrison Bankhead, and Roscoe Mitchell; on Friday night he plays in a trio with fellow AACM titans Lewis (trombone and electronics) and Mitchell (winds).

Another development this year is the addition of the Young Jazz Lions Stage, which will feature ensembles from area high schools and colleges. The festival is also debuting the Chicago Creative Music Workshop, two days of master classes, rehearsals, lectures, and performances at Roosevelt University on Wednesday and Thursday, September 2 and 3. The CCMW is directed by flutist and AACM president Nicole Mitchell and violinist Renee Baker, and other faculty members include Roscoe Mitchell, bassist William Parker, percussionist Michael Zerang, flutist Ellen Waterman, and saxophonist David Boykin. It’s too late to get in now, but you can check out the application form at if you’d like to get a jump on next year.

The festival is in Grant Park, and as always the music is free. Afternoon sets are at the Jazz on Jackson stage (on Jackson near Lake Shore Drive), the Jazz & Heritage Stage (south of Jackson near the Rose Garden), and the Young Jazz Lions Stage (east of the Heritage stage and south of the Jackson stage). Chicago Jazz Magazine also presents live music at its booth on Jackson east of Columbus; for the lineup see The Petrillo Music Shell, which hosts each evening’s headliners, is at Columbus and Jackson—and after the music ends at the lakefront, there’s more on offer around town every night. —PM

Friday | Saturday | Sunday | Afterfest Shows