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Chicago Jazz Festival sees big turnout at Millennium Park


It’s funny how the quietest parts echo the loudest after four days of back-to-back performances.

Every corner of Millennium Park was filled with music because of the Chicago Jazz Festival last weekend, and as usual starring stars at the Pritzker Pavilion – bass titan Ron Carter and McCraven can handle this among them – and plenty of local talent taking over the more intimate scenes.

It would not be wrong to say that the majority of those who go to the Jazz Festival, which is held as a free festival in the city’s most visited park, are not jazz enthusiasts. But it was remarkable that such a large number of attendees to the weekend attracted the attention of a superfan. A standing crowd on Saturday instinctively hushed to hear the saxophonist’s bass solos and drum-brushed outros. Roy McGrath’s quartet, on a stage hosted by radio station WDCB 90.9-FM. of the harpist Brandee Young Alice Coltrane’s blues song “Turiya and Ramakrishna” tickles her top notes. And again on the trumpeter during “You Don’t Know What Love Is” by Pharez Whitted It was set on Sunday.

Chicago is a city that takes jazz seriously. It’s kind of our job. That’s why the last-minute presentation of this festival (just a month and a half before the start) inspired a lot of righteous grumbles among jazz fans. It’s still puzzling why the city expects to release the entire series instead of announcing the main titles of the Pavilion, at least as soon as it’s completed in May.

However, according to an estimate by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, attendance is as follows: Despite the “well over 100,000” over the weekend, the late announcement clearly did not have a high impact on attendance. For most people, we’re talking about a free festival on a holiday weekend in Millennium Park. What’s not to love?

Maybe something can happen.

“All I want to know is: Who ordered this weather?” Whitted joked on set summing up how many artists felt over the sunny weekend. After wiping his eyebrow, he went back to the hour-long sprint set. What was the temperature again?

Rising temperatures over the weekend never deterred Janet Walker of Aurora and James Jackson of Oak Park, who attended all four days of the festival. The couple is easily spotted on the Millennium Park Lawn in their luxurious arrangement: a table adorned with a floral centerpiece and two seductively soft inflatable chairs.

Walker says they’ve been attending the Chicago Jazz Festival for 12 years; Next up are the Englewood and Hyde Park Jazz Festivals.

James Jackson and Janet Walker relaxing on the grass at the opening night of the Chicago Jazz Festival at Millennium Park's Pritzker Pavilion on August 31, 2023.

“I’ve lived in six different states. Walker, I come from New York; You can’t walk anywhere for free, he says. “The Chicago Jazz Festival is absolutely phenomenal. It’s a free festival and you have excellent musicians. I tell this to everyone.”

The first evening of the festival honored the living history of jazz, starting with the band brought together by the tenor saxophonist. Chico Freeman to commemorate his father Von’s 100th birthday. (A fuller celebration is planned at the Green Mill for Von’s actual birthday weekend in October.) Guitarist George Freeman – Von’s brother, now 96 years old – joined the band on stage for Von’s “Brother George”, a very fitting number. When the thoughtful opening solo seemed to be coming to an end, Freeman replied arrogantly, to the delight of both the crowd and his bandmates.

Bassist Ron Carter and his quartet Foursight perform on the opening night of the Chicago Jazz Festival on August 31, 2023.

Ron Carter and his quartet four opinionsThe concert that played right after was remarkable with every bit of the festival they promised. Tall, competent, and playing with the serene thoughtfulness that seems to guide another world, Carter seems unlikely to be 86 years old. least 86 years spanning thousands of recording credits (Guinness World Record holder) and career awards for the bassist. The climax of his nonstop set was “You Are My Sunshine” and a breathtaking solo that quotes Bach’s first cello suite, before slyly leading us to “You, the Night and the Music.”

On the other side of the Pritzker Pavilion’s stainless steel crown, dozens of young artists have tested their materials in front of a curious audience. Of all the young lead actors I’ve heard at Harris Theater Rooftop, the thing I’m most impressed with mxmrys (pronounced “memories”) is a lively, witty, creative four-track and an upcoming EP. The day before, a young singer had aroused a crowd of hundreds with a powerful performance of “Feeling Good.” Kenwood Academy Jazz Band.

“Did you catch your name?” A volunteer working at the produce desk asked me, gasping.

Her Courtney Penn – To remember this. The young 16-year-old Kenwood is in the school’s concert choir, as well as the St. Joseph Missionary Baptist Church choir. It was her first time performing at the Chicago Jazz Festival, and she admits it was “a little frustrating.”

What about when Phinn gets a unanimous standing ovation? “I said, ‘OK, I did something right,'” she says with a grin.

Guitarist George Freeman performs with his nephew, tenor saxophonist Chico Freeman (not pictured), on the opening night of the Chicago Jazz Festival on August 31, 2023.

In just an hour, Chicago itself Tammy McCann He sang the same song on the Pritzker Pavilion set. Phinn’s interpretation takes on the virtuosity of youth, while McCann’s version – sparse, expressive and introspective, with solo bass accompaniment. John Sutton – seemed to be looking at the same material with the wisdom of age.

Much of McCann’s set was taken from his new album “Do I Move You?”, making him one of many artists promoting their new album at the festival. Two of my favorite artists of the festival have also built their sets from records released this spring: the saxophonist. Walter SmithIIIWith “Return to Casual” and songwriter Billy Valentine’s Dayreintroduces himself as a jazz singer with “Billy Valentine and the Universal Truth”. Smith wins my best group award for an illuminating quartet of bassists Harish Raghavandrummer Kendrick Scott and piano wisdom Sullivan Fortner; Fridays were equally provocative and profound, often both.

And if we’re giving out imaginary prizes, Valentine was easily the “most touching” one. After years of working behind the scenes as a songwriter in Los Angeles, 73-year-old Valentine – half of the Valentine Brothers, is behind the Reagan-era hit “Money’s Too Tight (To Be Mentioned)” – but only recently back to its roots as the main stage vocalist. Better stay there: His deeply felt set deleted Nat King Cole’s grossly underrated “Funny (Not So)” and ended with one of the strongest renditions of “A Change Is Gonna Come” I’ve ever heard. .

The cries were mutual: Valentine wiped his eyes as the Pritzker Pavilion’s fanbase stood up at the end of the set.

Springfield native Ahmed Benbayla rests in Millennium Park's Pritzker Pavilion as he attends the Chicago Jazz Festival on August 31, 2023.

Another recent album, bassist by Christian Dillingham His debut album “Cascades” was released two days before the quartet’s performance at the Von Freeman Pavilion. But as Dillingham told the audience, his week had not been so celebratory: After set he was leaving to visit his dying father.

“He’s the one who kept me in control of the press from the very beginning,” Dillingham said. Then the set dedicated to his father blazed like an eternal flame. The quartet approached everything with consuming intensity, even in faithful numbers; as if filled with gasoline by the inexhaustible drummer. Greg Arthur. It was a powerful monument, as raw and real as can be.

The biggest disappointment of the weekend was the singer’s cancellation Dianne Reeveshe himself offered personal reasons for withdrawing from the Friday night show. But support Kurt EllingThe SuperBlue band slid in from Australia to replace him. Their high-energy sets featured some of the same key pieces that were sampled at the band’s concert. Green Mill’s appearance last year, this time for a vibrant audience of thousands. You have to hand this over to Elling, no matter how stale: He knows how to get the crowd moving.

“Stand up and wiggle your dingle-shake!” she cried, with cheers and laughter.

Later in the weekend, Jose “Pepito” Gomez between Afro-Cuban All Stars – closing this year’s festival with an irresistibly flamboyant set – he offered more explicit advice.

“Up up up!” The singer shouted into the microphone. Later, the big band sang the song “El cuarto de Tula”, made famous by Buena Vista Social Club’s debut album. Most people in the park did not need such a directive, they had already turned the narrow rows of the Pavilion into dance floors. So is the band – the band leader is on “Amor Verdadero” Juan de Marcos Gonzalez He invited his wife, Gliceria Abreu, to dance, and at the end of the set Orlando Cardoso He tumbled backstage, breaking out of his ecstatic solemnity behind the piano.

I’m smiling as I write this. I guess that means that the loud parts of the Chicago Jazz Festival resonate strongly with my memory.

Hannah Edgar is a freelance critic.

The Rubin Institute for Music Criticism helps finance our classical music publication. The Chicago Tribune retains editorial control over assignments and content.


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