The big news about this year’s Chicago Jazz Festival is that it’s movin’ on up—that is, it’s heading several blocks north from Grant Park to Millennium Park. The switch has required some logistical wizardry, since the new grounds are smaller than the fest’s longtime digs—the Millennium Park layout locates its four stages closer together, which could easily mean more sound bleed (a problem that plagued some of the smaller stages even in Grant Park). The organizers seem confident they’ve addressed this potential problem, though, and Millennium Park offers some big upsides: it’ll be quicker to walk from stage to stage, and Pritzker Pavilion trounces the Petrillo Music Shell when it comes to sight lines and sound quality.
Along with the move comes more music, namely Friday daytime concerts, which have been absent from the schedule since 1997. Thursday features a full slate of daytime music in the Chicago Cultural Center and an early-evening set from this year’s artist in residence, drummer Hamid Drake, at Roosevelt University. At Pritzker Pavilion on Thursday is the final concert in the Made in Chicago: World Class Jazz series, which doubles as something of a festival kickoff. This year it’s a doozy: a one-and-done dream band led by drummer and 2012 NEA Jazz Master Jack DeJohnette that includes three of the most important musicians Chicago has produced, AACM greats Muhal Richard Abrams, Roscoe Mitchell, and Henry Threadgill.
The rest of the bookings capture much of the variety of what counts as jazz in 2013. (Full disclosure: I volunteered on the committee that programmed the festival.) Drake, best known as a top-flight improviser (a skill he’ll show off in several freewheeling ensembles, including an exciting quartet with bassist William Parker, New Orleans saxophonist Edward “Kidd” Jordan, and pianist Cooper-Moore), will roll out some compositions with his Bindu project. Other Pritzker acts include veteran reedist Charles Lloyd celebrating his 75th birthday (with guitarist Bill Frisell) and another AACM great, trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, playing music from his Pulitzer-nominated Ten Freedom Summers. Pianist and MacArthur fellow Jason Moran presents his raucous Fats Waller Dance Party, saxophonist and onetime Chicagoan Rudresh Mahanthappa fronts the bruising Gamak, vocalist Gregory Porter sings material from his forthcoming Blue Note debut, and New Orleans saxophonist Donald Harrison leads a wild celebration of his hometown.
As always, the festival is all-ages and all music is free. Thursday and Friday’s shows are at Pritzker, in the Cultural Center, and in Roosevelt University’s Ganz Hall (430 S. Michigan, seventh floor). On Saturday and Sunday almost everything is in Millennium Park. Afternoon sets are at the newly minted Von Freeman Pavilion (on the south promenade), the Jazz & Heritage Pavilion (on the north promenade), and the Young Jazz Lions Pavilion (on the roof of the Harris Theater). The Pritzker Pavilion hosts each evening’s headliners, and after the lakefront stages go quiet, there’s more jazz around town every night. —Peter Margasak