Hyde Park Jazz Festival to feature world premieres and 'Thelonious Monk at 100' tributes

Chicago Tribune

by Howard Reich

Flutist Nicole Mitchell performs at the MCA Chicago on Saturday, May 2, 2015. (Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune)

Flutist Nicole Mitchell performs at the MCA Chicago on Saturday, May 2, 2015. (Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune)

World premieres, unexpected collaborations, a spotlight on women bandleaders and an in-depth look at Thelonious Monk at 100 will top the 11th Hyde Park Jazz Festival, running Sept. 23-24.

As always, the free event will unfold in multiple indoor and outdoor venues — 13 stages, to be exact — across the historic neighborhood. No other jazz festival in the Chicago area, and few elsewhere in the country, embraces and celebrates its neighborhood as effectively as the Hyde Park event has since its inception.

Following is a first look at this year's lineup and its predominant themes, with commentary from Kate Dumbleton, the festival's executive and artistic director. For complete schedule, visit www.hydeparkjazzfestival.org.

World premieres

The most intensely anticipated performances will come from flutist Nicole Mitchell, a former Chicagoan who maintains a high profile here with frequent appearances in distinctive projects.

Supported in part by a $35,000 grant from Chicago-based MacArthur Foundation, the previously announced "Bamako*Chicago Sound System" will feature Mitchell in collaboration with Malian kora master Ballake Sissoko and colleagues Fassery Diabate on balafon and Fatim Kouyate on vocals. They'll perform shows at 3 and 5:45 p.m. Sept. 23 at the University of Chicago's Logan Center for the Arts.

Among the risks in conceiving such a project these days is obtaining visas for international artists to travel to the States.

"So far, we've gotten the OK with the visas — we seem to be fine," says Dumbleton of a venture co-sponsored by the World Music Festival Chicago.

In addition, the Hyde Park Jazz Festival will send Mitchell, Sissoko and friends into public schools, thanks to a collaboration with the Ravinia Festival's Guest Artists in the Classroom program.

Another world premiere will come from Chicago saxophonist-bandleader Geof Bradfield, who will lead his "Yes, and … Music for Nine Improvisers" at 7:15 p.m. Sept. 23 at the Logan Center.

"He's such an interesting musician … in a lot of different scenes," says Dumbleton, "bringing a lot of different musicians together in way that I think is important for Chicago."

Monk at 100

Dumbleton, like many jazz presenters, has faced the 1917 challenge: Several pioneering musicians were born that year, prompting uncounted centennial celebrations of titans such as Thelonious Monk, Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie (the list also includes Mongo Santamaria, Lena Horne and Buddy Rich).

"I felt like a lot of people were doing responses to that and taking on the three giants and doing all three people with one performance," says Dumbleton.

"And I wanted to do something different than that."

So she programmed four events zeroing in on pianist-bandleader Monk, whose compositions — such as "'Round Midnight," "Blue Monk," "Ruby, My Dear" and many more — stand among the most revered, studied and performed works in jazz.

The festival's multifaceted Monk homage will feature Dee Alexander: Monk and the Ladies (with Tomeka Reid, Marion Hayden and Gayellyn McKinney), 6:15 p.m. Sept. 23 at the Wagner Stage on the Midway; Ben Goldberg: Learned from Thelonious Monk (solo), 6:30 p.m. Sept. 23 at the Logan Center; Robin D.G. Kelley: "Monk at 100" lecture, 2:30 p.m. Sept. 23 at the Logan Center; and Double Monk, featuring pianists Jeremy Kahn and Steve Million with dancer Ariane Dolan, 7:15 p.m. Sept. 23 at the University of Chicago's International House.

Women bandleaders

Dumbleton knows full well that "the question of gender and jazz is obviously a very long conversation, and it continues to be a hot button for people," she says.

She hastens to add, however, that "I'm not at all interested in essentializing concepts, like women in jazz. I hope that we are past that. Sometimes I'm not sure we are. But I like the idea of supporting the work of emerging women artists as part of the overall narrative. And I hope that people pick out that that is happening (at the festival), rather than me always having to say it."

Certainly the festival will present a stylistic range of women bandleaders, including the Grazyna Auguscik Group, 4 p.m. Sept. 23 at the Logan Center; Jaimie Branch's "Fly or Die, " 1 p.m. Sept. 23 at the Smart Museum; Katie Ernst with the collective Twin Talk, 2:30 p.m. Sept. 23 at the Smart Museum; Alexis Lombre Quartet, 4:30 p.m. Sept. 23 at Little Black Pearl; Amina Claudine Myers, solo organ and piano, 5 p.m. Sept. 23 at Hyde Park Union Church; and Maggie and Africa Brown, 2 p.m. Sept. 24 at the Wagner Stage on the Midway (in addition to the aforementioned Nicole Mitchell and Dee Alexander).

Novel partnerships

"I also wanted to continue what we've done the last couple of years: Think about offering Chicago artists an opportunity to bring in a special guest," says Dumbleton.

This time, beloved Chicago saxophonist Ari Brown will lead his quartet, with guest saxophonist David Murray, 3:45 p.m. Sept. 23 at the Wagner Stage on the Midway.

Why did the festival invite Brown to suggest an out-of-town collaborator?

"Because of all the things he has contributed to Chicago, and his kind of quiet, steady hand, if you will," says Dumbleton. "His breadth of collaborations over the years, and his gentleness."

Which should make for a fascinating contrast with Murray's volcanic eruptions.

There will be another intriguing pairing: vibraphonists Joe Locke and Warren Wolf duetting at 11 p.m. Sept. 23 in the University of Chicago's Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. It will be interesting to see how these musicians tame — or confront — the heavily reverberant acoustics of the space.

Other attractions

Also of note: the Jeremy Pelt Quintet, 8:30 p.m. Sept. 23 at the Wagner Stage on the Midway; Willie and Bethany Pickens plus Friends, 9:30 p.m. Sept. 23 at the Logan Center; Dana Hall's Inner Dialogue: Sound and Semiosis (solo), 3 p.m. Sept. 23 at the DuSable Museum of African American History; Nick Mazzarella/Tomeka Reid Duo, 4:30 p.m. Sept. 23 at the DuSable Museum; Andrew Cyrille and Bill McHenry, 9:30 p.m. Sept. 23 at the International House; Fat Babies at 3 p.m. and CALJE at 5 p.m. Sept. 24 at the West Stage on the Midway; and Yes We Can: The Songs of New Orleans, 6 p.m. Sept. 24 at the Wagner Stage on the Midway.

Though it's true that this year's lineup doesn't feature marquee names that practically guarantee huge audiences, that seems insignificant in light of the sounds that await.

"We don't have a Randy Weston or a Regina Carter," says Dumbleton, citing two such past attractions.

"We do have the kinds of extraordinary artists and heroes that are less well known but that made extraordinary work — Andrew Cyrille, Amina Claudine Myers, David Murray.

"I feel like it's a really deep (lineup) — a lot of breadth, a lot of depth, and a lot of different considerations of the music and its history."

Which matters most.

The Christian Sands Trio will headline a benefit concert for the Hyde Park Jazz Festival, the reception and performance running from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday at the Promontory, 5311 S. Lake Park Ave.; for details, visit www.hydeparkjazzfestival.org.

Howard Reich is a Tribune critic.

hreich@chicagotribune.com