by Howard Reich
What will the ninth annual Hyde Park Jazz Festival bring to the city’s stages?
Rare duos featuring visionary Henry Threadgill with rising young pianist David Virelles and MacArthur Fellowship winner Regina Carter with pianist Xavier Davis.
World premieres by innovative trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and admired Chicago musicians Tomeka Reid and Mikel Patrick Avery.
Pairings of dynamic Chicago drummer Dana Hall with alto saxophone experimenter Nick Mazzarella and Chicago saxophonist Geof Bradfield with former Chicago guitarist Jeff Parker in music of Thelonious Monk.
Those are highlights of the event, which this year, more than any previous, will be taking listeners into a broad range of unfamiliar sounds.
The event will unfold Sept. 26 and 27 across Hyde Park, including the University of Chicago’s Rockefeller Memorial Chapel and Logan Center for the Arts, with the Willie Pickens Quartet closing the festival.
Following is an annotated tour of the festival’s top events, with commentary from Kate Dumbleton, artistic and executive director. The complete lineup for the festival will be released in early July.
As always, all the performances are free; for more information, visit hydeparkjazzfestival.org.
Regina Carter with Xavier Davis.
One of the anchors of each year’s event is the performance that takes place ’round midnight on the first evening of the festival, featuring a leading jazz musician in an extraordinary space: Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. For all the visual and architectural wonders of the setting, however, its cavernous dimensions can cause unwelcome echoes and distortions of sound. Because of this, the Hyde Park Jazz Festival has tended to focus on solo and duo performances here, this time featuring violinist Carter with pianist Davis.
“The Rockefeller Chapel is always for me a place where I start when I think about the artistic direction of the festival,” says Dumbleton, who builds the programming with a committee of jazz aficionados.
“Regina came to mind for a number of reasons. First, we thought it would sound absolutely beautiful. And, also, because Chicago audiences love her.
“I’m really touched that she said yes. We’re not a big festival, we don’t have tons of money,” adds Dumbleton, who notes that festival is budgeted at just under $300,000. Support comes from the University of Chicago’s Office of Civic Engagement, the Joyce Foundation, Chicago Community Trust and others.
“What I find happens sometimes,” adds Dumbleton, “is that I’ve learned to use the constraints of our budget to get creative.”
Henry Threadgill with David Virelles.
The Hyde Park Jazz Festival clearly needed to celebrate this year’s 50th anniversary of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), for the revered organization emerged in and around that neighborhood, with key early events at the University of Chicago’s Mandel Hall. Signing Threadgill represents a major coup for the festival, if only because of how infrequently the multi-instrumentalist has returned to Chicago from his global travels and residencies.
That Threadgill will be playing with Cuban pianist Virelles only heightens interest in this performance, the two having performed together often in ensemble settings but rarely as a duo.
“I wanted to have Henry Threadgill … and I love David – I was blown away by his first recording” on the Pi label, says Dumbleton, referencing Virelles’ 2012 release “Continuum.”
“So I just wrote to him (Virelles), because I didn’t really think I could get directly to Henry myself. … And they said yes. It was a long process to pull together.”
Anyone who has spent any time listening to jazz in San Francisco has encountered the wonders of singer Stallings, who tends to be more beloved in the Bay Area than she is known nationally.
Randall Kline, executive and artistic director of SFJAZZ, “calls her the most under-recognized jazz singer in the country,” says Dumbleton.
In past seasons, Dumbleton has turned to the great Chicago singer Dee Alexander to provide vocal pyrotechnics, because “with Dee around, she’s so spectacular, it’s hard to do anything else. But this year Dee will be in South Africa, so for the first time she’ll miss the festival. I knew I had to do something good for a vocalist.”
She’ll perform with pianist Bruce Barth.
Tomeka Reid and Mikel Patrick Avery world premieres.
Cellist Reid has been a steadily rising figure in Chicago jazz, equally vital as soloist, composer, bandleader, ensemble musician and jazz advocate. Like flutist Nicole Mitchell before her, she’s emerging as a center of gravity in her own right, and for this occasion she will create a composition inspired by the festival’s ongoing Story Share project, which has been compiling tales of music and life in Hyde Park.
“For the last couple of years, we’ve been collecting stories on the Midway during the festival, and we’ve been thinking about this on a number of levels: What do we want to do with these stories?” explains Dumbleton.
“On the one hand, we’re going to build a web platform that will have an archive of the stories, so people can listen to them in podcasts, etc. … But one of the things I wanted to do was to give stories back to the community, not only on web platform or audio, which is great, but actually have artists respond to the stories and make new work.”
Reid will compose a piece for double string quartet with bass and drums, featuring two musicians with whom she has collaborated poetically in the past: violinist Mazz Swift and bassist Silvia Bolognesi.
Drummer Avery, says Dumbleton, is inventing a piece that will open in the form of a parade and likely culminate with a stage performance.
“What he came up with is exactly why I wanted to pick him” for a commission, says Dumbleton. “He’s going to have this crazy parade – really connected to the neighborhood a lot of fun. …
“Mikel really has a social practice – he’s very interested in education,” says Dumbleton. “And his work is really organic: It’s based on where he lives. He’s a chronicler. He makes films, he’s really an observer of where he is.
“Tomeka, with her real interest in the politics of the South Side and what’s happening there … cares a lot about the neighborhood,” and will articulate that in her composition.
Ambrose Akinmusire world premiere.
The brilliant trumpeter-bandleader has been enjoying a banner year, having won a Doris Duke Artist Award and a commission by the Kennedy Center for a forthcoming work.
For the Hyde Park Jazz Festival he’s creating a piece titled “banyan,” exploring the role of mentorship in jazz and in society. He plans to interview noted jazz figures such as Jack DeJohnette, Archie Shepp, Geri Allen and others, folding their thoughts into an hour-long composition commissioned by the festival.
This venture, too, reflects the Story Share theme of the festival, says Dumbleton.
“He’s going around and interviewing some of the people who have influenced his work,” says Dumbleton, “with the idea of (exploring) original history and mentorship and these informal learning environments that jazz historically has been so much about.”
Exactly how Akinmusire will use his recorded material remains to be heard.
Why is the art of storytelling to so important to Dumbleton?
“I think sometimes jazz can get stuck in this loop of trying to define itself,” says Dumbleton, alluding to the endless arguments over what is and what isn’t jazz.
“For me, what the storytelling does is it allows (jazz) to belong to everyone in its own way. … Sometimes I think we let the formal infrastructure and all the formal stuff take over what the music actually means to people.
“So when we have the storytelling booth and people come back and laugh or cry or remember hearing Johnny Griffin for the first time or remember listening to the music from outside the window of a club, these are really beautiful memories.
“To me, part of sustaining jazz is allowing it to just be these stories.”
And that’s a large part of the narrative that the Hyde Park Jazz Festival will tell this year.
The Victor Goines Quintet will play the Hyde Park Jazz Festival Benefit from 6 to 8:30 p.m. June 25 at The Promontory, 5311 S. Lake Park Ave.;