Chicago Jazz Festival
Grant Park; Thu 28–Sun 31
When jazz fans scan this year’s lineup, two names will jump off the page: Sonny and Ornette. Sonny Rollins (Pritzker Pavilion), who kicks off the fest Thursday night, may be the exemplar of bebop’s thorny relationship to its past. At 78, Rollins remains a mercurial and thrilling live performer, refusing to fit his unpredictable solos into the neat box jazz historians have assigned him. (Aging jazz musicians, take note.) And Ornette Coleman (Petrillo Music Shell)? Ditto what Ken Vandermark said.
But what’s truly exciting about this year’s fest isn’t these New York–based, megawatt headliners—the lesser-known names are just as brilliant. In one of the more thorough lineups in recent memory, the fest features some of the city’s most celebrated frequent visitors—many of whom should be honorary Chicagoans—along with some rarely heard local ensembles.
First among the visitors, salsa legend Eddie Palmieri (Petrillo), who easily can convince audiences he’s playing piano with three hands, headlines Friday 29 following the elegant jazz vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater (Petrillo). And on Saturday 30, Kenny Burrell (Jazz on Jackson Stage), one of the most sophisticated and soulful practitioners of bebop guitar, plays behind an all-star local trio, including the magnificent Larry Gray on bass and pianist Willie Pickens.
Sunday 31 offers another set of guests we’re lucky to see often: the Netherlands’ Instant Composers Pool Orchestra (Petrillo). The ICP represents the happiest, most whimsical fringes of free jazz and, in many ways, may be the truest disciples of Coleman’s legacy working today.
The Jazz Institute of Chicago, which curates the fest, commissioned three back-to-back don’t-miss events on Saturday 30: Pianist Vijay Iyer (Petrillo), one of the avant-garde’s most intellectual representatives (and not just because of his Ph.D. in physics) leads a new quintet; frequent Chicago visitor, co-owner of the excellent local jazz label Greenleaf Music and trumpeter Dave Douglas brings out his Brass Ecstasy ensemble, a tribute to the late, great polystylist horn man of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Lester Bowie; and Gerald Wilson, the elder bandleader who transformed big-band music into its funky and lush modern sound, headlines with his own new work.
This year the fest also honors several local jazz icons with creative tributes: Veteran bebop legend and saxophonist Franz Jackson, who passed away in May (Petrillo); the late Capt. Walter Dyett (Petrillo), the Lois Weisberg of early Chicago jazz; the still-thriving Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) (Petrillo); and the Austin High Gang of the early-’20s scene, which gets a tribute from the young, composerly cornetist Josh Berman (Jazz on Jackson Stage).
For a taste of the local scene, two rare gatherings of the city’s best jazz and guitar players will be held: Rob Mazurek’s postmodern jazz fusion ensemble Isotope 217 (Jazz on Jackson) and Ed Wilkerson’s fantastic brass band, 8 Bold Souls (Petrillo). In a season rife with expensive music festivals, jazz fans—for once—can count themselves the lucky ones.