by Howard Reich
Who should you see at the Hyde Park Jazz Festival? Here’s a guide.
It’s the most magical weekend of the year, venues large and small, familiar and novel lighting up a single Chicago neighborhood.
No jazz soiree in Chicago, and perhaps none in the country, embraces its environment as effectively as the Hyde Park Jazz Festival, which unfolds on the campus of the University of Chicago and its environs. With most of the concert spaces within walking distance of each other, listeners can amble from one spot to the next, enjoying the scenery and conversing with fellow music lovers along the way.
The 8th annual festival runs from 1 p.m. to midnight Saturday and 1 to 5:45 p.m. Sunday, plus a post-fest jam session that evening. It’s all free. For more information, visit hydeparkjazzfestival.org.
Following are some of the most enticing attractions:
Ari Brown: 1:30 p.m., Wagner Stage at the Midway Plaisance, south of Woodlawn Avenue. The Chicago tenor saxophonist is as magisterial onstage as he is self-effacing off. His music builds on the breakthroughs of John Coltrane and on the Chicago tenor tradition, as well. There’s also a lyrical core to Brown’s work that distinguishes him from peers. He’ll lead a quintet.
Eric Schneider: 2:30 p.m., Smart Museum of Art, 5550 S. Greenwood Ave. Though the Hyde Park Jazz Festival presents plenty of of innovative and experimental music, it also has made room for vibrant, straight-ahead, all-American swing. Few represent the mainstream tradition better than Chicago saxophonist Schneider, who will lead a quartet staffed by pianist Dennis Luxion, bassist Larry Kohut and drummer George Fludas.
Geof Bradfield: 3 p.m., Kenwood Academy Auditorium, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave. Like drummer Dana Hall, a frequent collaborator, Bradfield excels at creating unusual, ambitious projects exploring particular historical themes. This time Bradfield will bring his latest: “Our Roots: The Music of Clifford Jordan and Leady Belly.” Bradfield will be joined by trumpeter Marquis Hill, trombonist Joel Adams, bassist Clark Sommers and, of course, Hall.
Dee Alexander: 3:30 p.m., Wagner Stage at the Midway Plaisance, south of Woodlawn Avenue. Alexander recently scored a personal best with her newest album, “Songs My Mother Loves,” featuring her re-imagining of standards but some lesser-known fare, as well. For this performance, she’ll be joined by her quartet and guest saxophonist Oliver Lake, who’s bound to up the intensity level.
Josh Berman Trio: 4 p.m., Logan Center Penthouse, 915 E. 60th St. Chicago cornetist Berman absorbs the lessons of our musical past while looking unflinchingly to the future, which makes provocatively appealing as soloist and bandleader. He’ll partner with like-minded adventurers: bassist Jason Roebke and drummer Frank Rosaly.
Laurenzi/Ernst/Green: 4 p.m., Hyde Park Bank, 1525 E. 53d St. Chicago never stops generating new waves of creative young musicians. Three of them converge here, with Dustin Laurenzi on tenor saxophone, Katie Ernst singing and playing bass and Andrew Green on drums.
Art Hoyle Quintet: 4 p.m., Hyde Park Union Church, 5600 S. Woodlawn Ave. The octogenarian Chicago trumpeter has played with everyone from Sun Ra to Lionel Hampton, Ella Fitzgerald to Tony Bennett, Henry Mancini to Gene Ammons. That depth of experience radiates from his horn and also his voice, a deep-and-craggy bass-baritone.
Willie Pickens Trio: 4:30 p.m., Kenwood Academy Auditorium, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave. Any chance to hear Pickens, a titan of the keyboard, is worth seizing. This one will have particular resonance, since Pickens started the famed band program at Kenwood Academy. He’ll share the stage with bassist Larry Gray and drummer Greg Artry.
Tomeka Reid’s Hear in Now: 5:15 p.m., Logan Center for the Arts Performance Hall, 915 E. 60th St. An accomplished cellist, distinctive composer and ncommonly protean musical figure, Reid ignores conventional boundaries of genre, style and musical language. She’ll lead one of her characteristically free-thinking projects, with violinist Mazz Swift and bassist Silvia Bolognesi.
Maggie Brown Group: 6:15 p.m., Hyde Park Union Church, 5600 S. Woodlawn Ave. Singer Brown carries forth the legacy of her father, the great Chicago singer-songwriter-activist Oscar Brown, Jr. But she also pushes beyond his enormous footprint, exploring little known, contemporary songwriting that deserves to be heard.
Nicole Mitchell’s Ice Crystal: 6:45 p.m., International House, 1414 E. 59th St. The former Chicago flutist remains deeply rooted in this city’s new music scene, and for her return here she’ll lead the premiere of her “Water Walker,” a suite with a social message. Mitchell’s Ice Crystal band features vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, bassist Joshua Abrams and drummer Frank Rosaly.
Dana Hall’s Black Ark Movement: 7:30 p.m., Logan Center for the Arts Performance Hall, 915 E. 60th St. Drummer Hall, an apparently inexhaustible progenitor of fresh ideas, will unveil his latest project, which builds upon the legacy of reedist John Carter’s collaboration with trumpeter Bobby Bradford. Hall has assembled a remarkable lineup: clarinetist Ben Goldberg, trumpeter Russ Johnson, reedist John Wojciechowski and bassist Robert Hurst.
Craig Taborn: 11 p.m., Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, 5850 S. Woodlawn Ave. One of the highlights of each year’s festival unfolds late at night, with previous sets by saxophonist Miguel Zenon and clarinetist Anat Cohen setting a high standard. This year it’s Taborn’s turn. The singularity and boldness of his keyboard conception make this a significant event, in part becase he’ll be playing solo.
Victor Garcia Septet: 4:45 p.m., West Stage on the Midway Plaisance, south of Ellis Avenue. Trumpeter Garcia doesn’t get as many opportunities to lead his large group as one might hope, but its repertoire and performance panache make it well worth hearing. Garcia shares the bandstand with alto saxophonist Greg Ward, tenor saxophonist Rocky Yera, organist Dan Trudell, guitarist Scott Hesse, trombonist Tom Garling and drummer Charles Heath.
Orbert Davis’ Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble: 6 p.m., Wagner Stage on the Midway Plaisance, south of Woodlawn Avenue. Chicago trumpeter Davis closes the festival and kicks off the Philharmonic’s 10th anniversary season with this set. There’s no ensemble quite like it in America, the CJP bridging the jazz-classical divide as if it never were there in the first place.
The festival’s official post-fest jam session will be led by Ernest Dawkins and will run from 8 to 11 p.m. Sunday at Norman’s Bistro, 1101 E. 43d St.; free.