I spent pretty much all day Saturday and Sunday at the Chicago Jazz Festival. The weather was very cooperative; though rain was predicted for Sunday, it never came. Temps were mid-'70s during the day, dropping to the '60s in the evening, so I just threw a shawl or light jacket in my bag and was good to go. (In Chicago, you learn to layer!)Saturday
The first "absolute must" on my list was Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Strings, a smaller group drawn from her Black Earth Ensemble. After their performance, I stayed at the "Jazz on Jackson" stage to hear the Chicago Afro-Latin Jazz Ensemble, whom I had not heard before. I was glad I stayed! They were smokin'. People got up and danced in front of the stage, and the Event Support folks didn't stop them. And one of their vocalists gets the "Best Shoes at Jazz Fest" award:
The evening mainstage concerts were fantastic! The night kicked off with the Fred Anderson Trio. Fred is one of the mainstays of the Chicago jazz scene. In this, his 80th year, he is still running the Velvet Lounge and mentoring young folks. He was followed by the Amina Figarova Sextet. She's an Azerbaijan-born pianist, now based in Rotterdam. Though not the last concert of the evening (I was a bit tired, so didn't stay all night), I was glad I stayed for William Parker's The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield. Whoa! Amiri Baraka performed new poetry, sometimes accompanying, sometimes replacing, Mayfield's lyrics. Leena Conquest sang the house down. Here's a clip (from a performance last year at NYC's Vision Fest; the sound quality isn't the best, it's hard to understand Baraka, but you'll get a flavor):Sunday
Plan was to get down to hear Ben Paterson and Yoko Noge at "Jazz on Jackson", but I realized that Corey Wilkes was playing with the Kevin Nabors Quintet over at the Jazz and Heritage Stage, so went there first. Since the sets overlapped, I was able to hear that, the tail end of Paterson, and all of Yoko Noge. She's an interesting woman - reporter for Japan's financial paper, Nikkei
, by day, blues/jazz performer by night - she's currently working on a project called "Japanesque", blending traditional Japanese music and Chicago blues.
"Jazz on Jackson" was definitely the place to be yesterday. The next group up was James Falzone's KLANG, presenting "The Benny Goodman Project". This being Goodman's centennial year, there were several programs paying him homage, and this one was really fine. The group "rethought" some of Goodman's best-known pieces and played some new compositions inspired by him as well.
And then it was Vonski time! Von Freeman, another grand old man of Chicago jazz (he'll be 87 next month) took the stage with New Apartment Jam (the New Apartment Lounge being the club where he holds forth). His group played a while, and then the University of Vonski opened. That is, two participants in the Jazz Institute of Chicago's Jazz Links program
joined him (he's another who encourages and mentors young musicians):
The evening began with the Archie Shepp Quartet, paying tribute to tenor sax great, Ben Webster. They were followed by Buddy DeFranco in a tribute to Art Tatum. (This is the centennial year for both Webster and Tatum.) DeFranco's pianist was Johnny O'Neal, who actually played Tatum in a biopic of Ray Charles.
Then the woman I came to hear - Dee Alexander. This was her first time headlining at the Fest, but, I hope, not her last. Of course, she's performed at the Hyde Park Jazz Festival and is a frequent performer for the Hyde Park Jazz Society's Sunday night programs. Fantastic, as always.
I skipped the final act, and got home in time for Mad Men
Now to rest up for the Hyde Park Jazz Festival three weeks from now!