Chicago stories will unfold at 13th Hyde Park Jazz Festival
by Howard Reich
Why does groundbreaking jazz thrive in Chicago?
The great performers who live and tour here of course set the standard, but there’s another key factor at play: the audience.
Chicago listeners have been encountering jazz innovations for well over a century and long ago developed a taste for the avant-garde. Ragtime music first reached the wider public during the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893; jazz progenitor Jelly Roll Morton came here as early as 1910 and settled in during the Roaring Twenties; improvisational genius Louis Armstrong made his greatest, groundbreaking recordings in Chicago at the same time; the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) reinvented the music starting in 1965; and so forth.
Though these artists experienced varying degrees of financial reward (or deprivation), they found in Chicago a public willing to entertain revolutionary concepts.
And that happens to be an important theme of the 13th annual Hyde Park Jazz Festival, which will run Sept. 28-29 in venues throughout the historic neighborhood.
“When I was at Tim Black’s centennial, one of the guests during the symposium said that he was interested in celebrating the great history of Chicago listeners,” recalls festival executive and artistic director Kate Dumbleton, referring to a celebration of Chicago historian Timuel Black’s 100th birthday last year.
“That idea really resonated with me: that one of the reasons the music is so rich in Chicago is because people know how to listen. So I just stared thinking about the listening aspect of the festival, and I started thinking about all the different ways that we listen to jazz, and what jazz does to inspire listening.
“And included in that are all the histories that generate the music: the neighborhood histories, the informal gatherings that have involved jazz for generations and the ways in which jazz has continued to emerge into new trajectories and to create new stories.”
Meaning that jazz isn’t simply abstract sound. It’s deeply tied to the communities that create and nurture it. Thus many of the events at this year’s festival will convey narratives about the music, its social history and the communities that embraced it.
“Overall, the umbrella is thinking about deepening the neighborhood storytelling aspect of the festival, and included in that are some of the ways that we commission music, and the projects that we’re including in the festival itself.”
For starters, the festival’s central concert venue – the University of Chicago’s Logan Center – will launch its lineup 1 p.m. Sept. 28 with Angel Bat Dawid’s “Requiem for Jazz.” Dumbleton describes this as “a jazz Mass which celebrates the history and the origins of the music, what aspects of that have gone away or evolved into other musical forms, and celebrates the resilience and rebirth of jazz over time continually. That project will be absolutely huge. It will have visual elements and movement elements, as well as musicians.”
The Logan Center’s last act will begin 9:30 p.m. Sept. 28 with Chicago saxophonist Isaiah Collier & The Chosen Few in another commissioned work, “The Story of 400 Years.”
“He’s exploring the history of the African diaspora and its relationship to jazz as a creative force,” says Dumbleton. “At this point, it’s a 15-piece project.”
Then there’s Chicago trumpeter Orbert Davis’ homage to one of the South Side’s most revered past masters, pianist Willie Pickens. At 2:30 p.m. Sept. 28, Davis’ sextet will perform “In the Spirit” at Hyde Park Union Church, “which is where Willie played so many Sundays,” says Dumbleton.
Chicago saxophonist Greg Ward’s brilliant recent recording, “Stomping Off from Greenwood,” specifically references the streets of the South Side. He’ll perform at 4 p.m. Sept. 29 on the Wagner Stage on the Midway.
And though trumpeter Roy Hargrove, who died last November at age 49, wasn’t a Chicagoan, he played here so often over many years as to become virtually a part of the scene. His end-of-year engagement at the Jazz Showcase was a Chicago tradition, Hargrove often stating how much Chicago audiences meant to him. The Willie Jones III Sextet, featuring Renee Neufville, will perform a specially conceived tribute at 5 p.m. Sept. 28 at the Logan Center Performance Hall.
“It’s a celebrating a great story – the life of Roy Hargrove,” says Dumbleton. “I’m glad Willie Jones was willing to put this together. It’s kind of nice for me personally, because Roy was the first national musician I ever really booked. I have a fond remembrance of the day his manager said ‘yes.’”
Also of interest to anyone who appreciates the luminous scores of former Chicago trumpeter-composer Amir ElSaffar: “Ahwaal,” a collaboration with the Lutoslawski Quartet and other Polish musicians, 11 p.m. Sept. 28 at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel.
“I heard this piece in November, when I went to Poland for the Jazztopad Festival in Wroclaw, and I cried all the way through it, it was so beautiful,” says Dumbleton.
“I saw Amir there, we talked a little about it, I met the festival producer, we got to chatting about it, and he told me they were bringing it to New York guess when? The week before the Hyde Park Jazz Festival!”
What is the piece about?
“‘Ahwaal,’ meaning ‘states of consciousness,’ is an important concept in Sufism, describing a human being’s spiritual progression toward the divine,” writes ElSaffar in an email. “The states are said to arise and vanish quickly, as flashes of lightning. The various ‘Ahwaal’ include joy/fear, ecstasy, intoxication, intimacy, eventually ending the transcendence of ego-self. Intended as a reflection on these and other ‘Ahwaal,’ the composition meditative, with repeating rhythmic cycles and a slow development. Each section is a kind of immersion.”
If this music approaches the sensuousness and genre-bending character of the Rivers of Sound Orchestra Project ElSaffar brought to Orchestra Hall last year, there will be fascinating listening ahead.
Also of note at the festival: experimenters Sylvia Courvoisier & Mary Halvorson Duo, 7 p.m. Sept. 28 at the Logan Center Performance Hall; a new Ambrose Akinmusire Trio, with Kris Davis and Nasheet Waits, 8 and 9:30 p.m. Sept. 28 at the Logan Center Performance Penthouse; Karuna, staffed by percussionists Hamid Drake and Adam Rudolph, 3 p.m. Sept. 28 at Augustana Lutheran Church; and Juan Pastor’s Chinchano, 5 p.m. Sept. 29 at the West Stage on the Midway.
As always, admission is free.
Says Dumbleton, “I like the idea of the festival being open to artists creating new projects, not always having the groups they’re always touring with.”
An approach Chicagoans long have applauded.
A benefit concert and reception for the Hyde Park Jazz Festival will run from 6 to 9 p.m. June 20 and feature the Etienne Charles Sextet at Haven, 932 E. 43d St.; for details and the complete festival schedule, visit www.hydeparkjazzfestival.org.