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Women’s jazz festival Hey Nonny comes to Arlington Heights

In the guide to jazz venues in the metro area, Hey Nonny is on several fans’ short lists. Heck, it might not even crack their long list.

But in two short years, the downtown Arlington Heights venue has transformed from a reliable, if unprolific, jazz performance host to the home of perhaps the largest women’s jazz festival, taking over the venue from January 4-7 this year. The Kennedy Center, the Schomburg Center in New York, and Palm Springs host jazz festivals focusing on female bandleaders; Hey Nonny now surpasses them in number of acts (14) and length (four days).

“We’re not a jazz club, but we listened to a lot of jazz at Hey Nonny. “We have a lot of women who play as linemen but don’t always get the chance to be leaders,” says Chip Brooks, owner of Hey Nonny.

Hey Nonny’s avowed Women’s Jazz Festival made its debut last year with a more modest version featuring local artists. The first time reception was outstanding with 80% occupancy. But Hey Nonny still had bigger ambitions, billing the festival even then as “to be the world’s leading festival celebrating women in jazz.”

“We were very passionate and jumped into the deep end… We wanted to do another bigger and better festival,” says festival co-producer Karuna Maddava.

To address their lack of knowledge about the jazz world, Brooks teamed up with Maddava, Hey Nonny’s devoted patron and lifelong jazz fan, to organize the festival. Where others might spend their post-retirement years traveling the world or taking up a new hobby, Maddava recently earned a master’s degree in jazz history from Rutgers University and interviewed contemporary female jazz musicians for her thesis.

“There are all these fascinating stories, but they are all about men. “I thought, ‘There must be someone other than Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald,'” Maddava said. “Where are all the female instrumentalists?”

Thanks to a $30,000 donation from the Live Music Society, scores of female musicians representing jazz’s many subgenres will soon be in Arlington Heights. Multi-instrumentalist Shanta Nurullah performs with East-West meeting ensemble Sitarsys on January 4. Reedites Juli Wood, Natalie Lande and Natalie Scharf (who call themselves Natalies Wood) pay tribute to Rahsaan Roland Kirk on January 5. Pianist Alexis Lombre and guitarist Mary Halvorson bring their successful band to the neighboring Metropolis Theater – Lombre, offering glimpses of a crossover-friendly project they’ll bring to New York’s Winter Jazz Festival with the same avant-garde jazz sextet at the Halvorson. 2022 album “Amaryllis”.

“It’s not in the middle of cocktail hour jazz. Some people definitely like it. But we’re trying to do interesting things. If we don’t provide an environment for that, then we’re not doing the right thing,” Brooks says.

Trumpeter Emily Kuhn, who plays a shortened version of her big band Helios on Jan. 5, is among the few returning from last year. As a young musician, she benefited from pedagogical spaces that prioritized girls and gender equality in jazz. But the professional world is still a different story.

“I think it’s harder as a woman to network and join bands like men… And especially in big band settings, it can be pretty lonely being the only woman in a room full of 20 musicians. “I got pretty tired of that cycle at various points,” says Kuhn. “It forced me to write my own music, write my own book shows, create my own bands and record my own album. “I’ve made a deliberate effort to play with more women and make sure I surround myself with people who are aware of these dynamics and working against them.”

Lombre’s own career was shaped by gender; waited until college to “come out” as a singer; She was cautious about how often female jazz artists are overlooked or assumed to be vocalists. But in recent years Lombre has abandoned this self-consciousness. The newly formed Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians member multitasks throughout the Hey Nonny set, sampling selections from her upcoming album and the “Synesthesia” suite she debuted at last year’s Englewood Jazz Festival.

Along with AACM colleagues Coco Elysses and JoVia Armstrong, Lombre is also a member of flautist Nicole Mitchell’s all-female quartet, Black Earth Sway. released an album 15 December. Drummer Armstrong brings his band Eunoia Society to the festival the day before Lombre’s set (January 6).

“We’re relaxed, down-to-earth, not too nervous. We are just ourselves and we have a common experience,” says Lombre. “I’m in my first few years playing with them, they have a lot of years left. But I fit right into the spirit.

With a lineup that is both heavy and sufficiently eclectic, the Women’s Jazz Festival is quite self-recommending. Still, Brooks and Maddava acknowledge the challenge of getting Hey Nonny on the jazz-heads’ radar. So far they’ve spread the word through partners like jazz station WDCB and the Chicago Jazz Institute.

But if last year’s festival is any indication, people can come for all kinds of reasons. Many clients told Brooks and Maddava they were less interested in jazz than the possibility of a female-led lineup. A friend of Maddava’s and another “self-proclaimed jazz hater” attended Yoko Noge’s Jazz Me Blues set last year as a favor to his friend. A spontaneous conga line formed in the middle of that enthusiastic set.

Noge is coming back this year. So is that friend, this time his whole family is with him.

“So yeah,” Maddava says with a smile, “there’s a real appeal here, even for people who wouldn’t describe themselves as jazz fans.”

Hey Nonny Women’s Jazz Festival, Jan. 4-7 at Hey Nonny, 10 South Vail Ave., Arlington Heights (unless noted). A four-day pass is $120 heynonny.com

  • Yoko Noge’s Jazz Me Blues, January 4, 16:00-18:00, tickets $1
  • Sitarsys & Joan Hickey Quartet with Alexa Tarantino, January 4, 7:30-9:30pm, tickets $15-$48
  • The Mary Halm Project and Emily Kuhn’s Helios Project, January 5, 4-6 p.m., tickets $1
  • Marlene Rosenberg Quintet and Natalies Wood (a tribute to Rashaan Roland Kirk), January 5, 7:30-9:30 p.m., tickets $15-$48
  • Pamela York with Alexander/McLean Project & Affinity Trio, January 6, 16:00-18:00, tickets $1
  • Heirloom & Eunoia Society, January 6, 19:30-21:30, tickets $15-48
  • Meghan Stagl and Friends, January 7, 10am-2pm, free with brunch purchase
  • Alexis Lombre and Mary Halvorson’s Amaryllis Project, Jan. 7, 3-5 p.m. Metropolis Theatre, 111 W. Campbell Rd., Arlington Heights, tickets $10-$60

Hannah Edgar is a freelance critic.

The Rubin Institute of Music Criticism helps fund our classical music coverage. The Chicago Tribune retains editorial control over assignments and content.

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