Smooth jazz, rough jazz, something in between. It’s summer in Chicago, which means you won’t have to go far to hear your favorite style of jazz being played live under the stars.
The big one for fans of traditional jazz is the City of Chicago’s annual jazz festival. This year’s event is the 35th, and for the first time ever will be held in Millennium Park. As usual, the headliners represent a solid core of area talent (including Willie Pickens, Henry Johnson and Larry Gray) complemented by national acts such as Donald Harrison. The festival runs August 29 through September 1, and admission is free.
Sadly, the annual South Shore Jazz Festival ended a remarkable run with the announcement that this year’s event was canceled. The news was better, however, for the Hyde Park Jazz Festival which, for the sixth consecutive year, will boast a lineup of some of Chicago’s most adventurous jazz musicians. Familiar names include Corey Wilkes, Dee Alexander and the Willie Pickens Trio. They will be performing at various south side venues on and around the University of Chicago campus September 28 and 29.
Midweek after work sets have been a popular attraction for many years at two non-traditional venues. The Shedd Aquarium presents live music in a remarkable one-of-a-kind location. With the lake on one side and the magnificent downtown skyline on the other, their patio is home to “Jazzin’ at the Shedd” Wednesday evenings, 5:00 to 10:00pm. Admission is free to members, $18 for adults and $16 for children. Certain aquarium exhibits will be open extended hours on Wednesdays and included in the admission charge. Get there early if you want to beat the crowd.
At the same time, Chicago State University at King Drive and 95th hosts its own Wednesday night series, “Jazz in the Grazz” on the city’s south side. Running through September 4, free performances in their open-air amphitheater include Chicago favorites Ray Silkman, Joan Collaso and Terisa Griffin. There is a nominal charge ($5) for parking.
Get on I-94 and travel north for ninety minutes, definitely a doable drive on a summer afternoon, and you’ll reach the Racine Wisconsin Zoo. They’re the surprising locale for a couple of notable shows next month. As part of the Zoo's Wednesday night “Animals Crackers” series, Jeff Lorber, Chuck Loeb and Everette Harp perform on Jazz-Funk-Soul night, August 7, and saxophonist/flautist/world class whistler Nelson Rangell brings his triple-threat talent to the Zoo August 21. Admission is $25. And David Benoit headlines at the annual HarborPark Jazz and Blues Festival in Kenosha Saturday, August 17. Tickets start at $30.
Finally, if you prefer your superheated jazz solos in air conditioned comfort, the area’s most popular clubs—Andy’s, Pop’s for Champagne, the Jazz Showcase, Close Up 2 and Katerina’s—will keep the music flowing with no letup throughout the summer.
Sure, the days may be getting shorter and the dog days nearing their halfway point, but there’s plenty of summer jazz left. Plan an evening out and enjoy some!
~Rick O’Dell (FmAm1@aol.com)
Our Smooth Video of the Day: New Orleans’ saxman Donald Harrison, who’ll close out the 2013 Chicago Jazz Festival in Millennium Park September 1.