John "Poppy" Wright's Pool Party Jam

Sunday, September 30, 4:00-5:00PM

Wagner Stage

 Photo by Ryan Lowry

Photo by Ryan Lowry

In late 2017 the venerable Chicago pianist JOHN WRIGHT made his transition. To honor Wright, Chicago pianist MIGUEL DE LA CERNA will host John “Poppy” Wright’s Pool Party Jam on Sunday, September 30th on the Wagner Stage on the Midway. The performance will include numerous venerable Chicago musicians in a celebration reminiscent of the many picnics and jam sessions Wright hosted at his home.

JOHN WRIGHT was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1934 and moved to Chicago with his family two years later. As a child, he was immersed in the gospel music of his mother’s church; he learned jazz piano while stationed in Germany in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, where he also met Dizzy Gillespie and Dexter Gordon. His first recording in 1960, with the John Wright Trio, was entitled South Side Soul, a phrase that became his nickname. Over a lengthy musical career, and work as a librarian in the Cook County Department of Corrections, he has also had many political involvements. In 2008, he was inducted into the Wendell Phillips High School Hall of Fame, and in 2009 he was awarded the Walter Dyett Lifetime Achievement Award by the Jazz Institute of Chicago. He served as the executive director of the Hyde Park Jazz Society. One of the many things John Wright was known for was his "pool party" pot luck picnics where he would gather friends and family to listen to jazz and celebrate community. The Hyde Park Jazz Festival is honored to commemorate these picnics, and John Wright, with this performance organized by Chicago pianist Miguel de la Cerna.

Read Jake Austin's interview with John Wright in 2014 here.


MIGUEL DE LA CERNA is a first-call music director and arranger, a prolific performer, and an influential educator recognized as one of the most versatile pianists working today. A Chicago native, de la Cerna represents the third generation in a distinguished lineage of Chicago piano jazz greats: his grandfather, pianist General Morgan, accompanied and recorded with both Billie Holliday and Henry “Red” Allen, and recording artist Gloria Morgan was de la Cerna’s aunt.

After studies at the American Conservatory of Music and Oberlin Conservatory, de la Cerna toured the U.S., Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia for more than a decade, as pianist and conductor for various ensembles and theatrical productions, before resettling in Chicago. His theater and conducting highlights include musical direction and arrangements for international tours and productions of Bubblin’ Brown Sugar, Blackbirds of Broadway, and From My Hometown.

Known especially for his sensitive work with singers, de la Cerna tours frequently and has recorded extensively in his role as music director and arranger for vocalists Dee Alexander, Bobbi Wilsyn, and Maggie Brown, among others. A frequent collaborator with some of the world’s most celebrated jazz masters, including Oscar Brown, Jr., Jon Hendricks, and Jimmy Heath, de la Cerna also reaches into classical and world music. An accomplished composer, he has twice been commissioned by Chicago’s innovative contemporary classical quintet, the Orion Ensemble.

As a faculty member at Columbia College Chicago, de la Cerna shapes a new generation of young musicians. He also serves as music director for the Jazz Institute of Chicago’s eclectic JazzCity concert series, bringing jazz and world music to concert venues and neighborhoods throughout Chicagoland.