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Chicago Jazz Festival Preview

By Alexander Hough in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 3, 2009 7:40PM

Photo of Muhal Richard Abrams provided by the Mayor's Office of Special Events
This weekend brings the 31st installment of the Chicago Jazz Festival, packing Grant Park with its usual solid mix of local, national, and international acts. The Festival is broadly split into daytime and nighttime slates, with the afternoon performances spread over three stages: Jazz on Jackson, the Jazz Heritage Stage, and the first new stage added in a decade, the Young Jazz Lions stage, which will feature high school and college groups from the metropolitan area. Once the clock strikes 5:00 p.m., things will switch over to the Petrillo Music Shell for the headliners. Check out this map for help with navigation. The full schedule is available on the websites of the City of Chicago and the Jazz Institute of Chicago, but make sure to check out the handy-dandy grid that the City provides for the best sense of what's happening where.

This year's festival may be a touch light on the megastars, but there are still plenty of reasons to swing by. Here are some of this year's highlights:

  • The Dave Holland Big Band

    The British bassist brings his large ensemble to headline Saturday. O.K., good news and sort of bad news. The sort of bad: Holland and his bandmates are eerily in sync with one another with both their improvisation and their sense of rhythm and time, but the talented musicians play a ton of notes which, while great with his quintet, can get lost in the big band muddle. The good: Technical prowess and top-notch ensemble work is awfully fun to listen to, even if you can't hear every last note.

  • Muhal Richard Abrams

    The co-founder of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians is all over the place this weekend. On Friday, Abrams will play a solo show at the Cultural Center in the afternoon and then a main stage performance with fellow AACM members Roscoe Mitchell (sax) and George Lewis (trombone) that evening. Abrams will also be the Sunday headliner, leading the Arthur Hoyle Orchestra in the world premiere of his own "Spiralview," a piece dedicated to President Obama. This continues this year's Jazz Week trend of hometown hero worship, following the premiere of Nicole Mitchell's piece honoring the First Lady at the Jazz Institute's gala this past Tuesday. In addition, Chicagoist staff members are currently hard at work on an hour-long rhapsody that will pay homage to Bo, the chimerical public health care option, and Michelle Obama's shorts. And speaking of tributes...

  • Tributes!

    Fred Anderson, veteran of the first Jazz Festival in 1979, celebrated his 80th birthday earlier this year and will be featured in a celebratory jam session on Saturday night. 2009 also marks the 100th birthday of both Benny Goodman and Art Tatum, and the Festival has programmed accordingly. Goodman, a Chicago native and headliner of the first Festival, gets two tributes, one on Saturday afternoon by saxophonist Eric Schneider and another on Sunday evening by clarinetist James Falzone and his ensemble, KLANG. Tatum's tribute comes Sunday night and will feature his former colleague, 86-year-old Buddy DeFranco. Finally, and perhaps most interesting of the tributes, bassist William Parker will play a Saturday night set of Curtis Mayfield songs from his 2004 album "The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield." Big jazz names, tributes...what could make the Festival better?

  • Women, that's what!

    The Jazz Festival has made a special effort to recognize that jazz isn't a boys club anymore, programming a bevy of female performers. Featured musicians include vocalist/bassist Esperanza Spalding, vocalist/guitarist Madeleine Peyroux, flutist Nicole Mitchell, pianist Amina Figarova, vocalist/pianist Yoko Noge, pianist Kelly Brand, and vocalist Dee Alexander.

Grant Park, Friday, September 4, through Sunday, September 6, Noon - 9:30 p.m., FREE