Back Alley Jazz Festival Brings Music To The Street And A Neighborhood Together

Block Club Chicago

by Pat Nabong

Miles Hardemon plays the trumpet at Back Alley Jazz Festival in South Shore.

Miles Hardemon plays the trumpet at Back Alley Jazz Festival in South Shore.

South Shore residents and people from around Chicago gathered for Back Alley Jazz Festival, which is reviving a tradition that started in the ‘60s.

SOUTH SHORE — A Chicago tradition continued to evolve Saturday as jazz reverberated through the 7300 block of South Paxton Street — from the middle of the street, not from the alleys.

South Shore residents and people from around Chicago gathered for Back Alley Jazz Festival, which is reviving a tradition on the South Side that started in the ‘60s. 

This year, musicians didn’t perform in residents’ garages like they did last year and in the ‘70s. 

The jazz fans on hand like Eve Clemmer said they liked the new layout.

“I kind of like this setup better. Get yourself a chair and you just enjoy the views. It’s just great,” said Clemmer, who remembers watching jazz in back alleys when she was a kid.

“It’s a part of my history. It’s a part of my community. It’s a good part. … Nobody’s hollering, nobody’s fighting. Everybody’s enjoying and that’s how this city should be.”

More than a music event, it is something that brings people together, fosters a sense of community and educates young folks about a vital piece of South Side history, said the organizers. 

The Young Leaders perform during the 2019 Back Alley Jazz Fest in South Shore.

The Young Leaders perform during the 2019 Back Alley Jazz Fest in South Shore.

Attendees dance to jazz music in the middle of the Paxton Street, which was closed to vehicles during Back Alley Jazz Fest in South Shore.

Attendees dance to jazz music in the middle of the Paxton Street, which was closed to vehicles during Back Alley Jazz Fest in South Shore.

Devin Shaw plays the keyboard at Back Alley Jazz Festival in South Shore.

Devin Shaw plays the keyboard at Back Alley Jazz Festival in South Shore.

Jimmy Ellis, grand marshal of Back Alley Jazz, listens to music with his wife, Joan. Jimmy Ellis, who worked with legends like Nat King Cole, Sun Ra and other big names in the jazz scene, was one of the people who started live jazz in back alleys.

Jimmy Ellis, grand marshal of Back Alley Jazz, listens to music with his wife, Joan. Jimmy Ellis, who worked with legends like Nat King Cole, Sun Ra and other big names in the jazz scene, was one of the people who started live jazz in back alleys.

Two generations of Clemmers witnessed jazz in the alley in the ’70s and today. “It’s a part of my history. It’s a part of my community,” said Eve Clemmer, center, who is in between her mom and sister.

Two generations of Clemmers witnessed jazz in the alley in the ’70s and today. “It’s a part of my history. It’s a part of my community,” said Eve Clemmer, center, who is in between her mom and sister.

Marcus Hammonds and his daughter, Memphis, serve lemonade to a customer. Local vendors from the neighborhood were at the Back Alley Jazz Festival.

Marcus Hammonds and his daughter, Memphis, serve lemonade to a customer. Local vendors from the neighborhood were at the Back Alley Jazz Festival.

Melanie and Memphis Hammonds and their mom get ready to set up their lemonade stand.

Melanie and Memphis Hammonds and their mom get ready to set up their lemonade stand.

Friends greet each other at Back Alley Jazz Fest in South Shore.

Friends greet each other at Back Alley Jazz Fest in South Shore.

Organizers say that bringing the community together is one of the goals of Back Alley Jazz Fest.

Organizers say that bringing the community together is one of the goals of Back Alley Jazz Fest.

Joan Ellis, wife of famed Jimmy Ellis, listens to music with her husband during Back Alley Jazz Fest in South Shore.

Joan Ellis, wife of famed Jimmy Ellis, listens to music with her husband during Back Alley Jazz Fest in South Shore.

An attendee of Back Alley Jazz Fest sits in the sun while listening to the live performance.

An attendee of Back Alley Jazz Fest sits in the sun while listening to the live performance.

Jazz-related art was installed on a South Shore resident’s front yard during Back Alley Jazz Fest.

Jazz-related art was installed on a South Shore resident’s front yard during Back Alley Jazz Fest.

Shirley Crossley listens to music during the Back Alley Jazz Festival in South Shore.

Shirley Crossley listens to music during the Back Alley Jazz Festival in South Shore.

A kid does cartwheels while a band plays in the middle of the street, which was closed to vehicles during Back Alley Jazz Fest.

A kid does cartwheels while a band plays in the middle of the street, which was closed to vehicles during Back Alley Jazz Fest.

Musicians play their instruments during the Back Alley Jazz fest in South Shore.

Musicians play their instruments during the Back Alley Jazz fest in South Shore.

People dressed up for Back Alley Jazz Fest.

People dressed up for Back Alley Jazz Fest.

Ella ParkerComment