Tuesday, October 16, 2012

2012 Chicago Jazz Festival

2012 Chicago Jazz Festival Review
article and photos by Greg Turner

Dear Ron;

In case you were wondering, I did not go to the Detroit Jazz Festival this year even though I was asked several times. With their larger budget and “more-big-names” booking policy. Detroit’s has become the most anticipated Labor Day Weekend jazz festival for area music fans. But having attended every Chicago Jazz Festival except one since 1985 my heart still belongs to the Windy City and its active jazz and improvised music scene.

Friday evening at Millenium Park began with a late addition, a tribute to Chicago tenor saxophonist Von Freeman, who died in August. Von’s son, saxophonist Chico Freeman,  an old favorite of mine,  was one of the musicians who played the tribute, but not knowing about it, I arrived at the park just as the last note sounded. In a bizarre end to the evening the legendary drummer Roy Haynes, still working regularly at 87, spent too much of his 90 minute set tap dancing, talking to the audience, and letting audience members speak on mike, instead of driving his band of 20-and-30-somethings. Guess he was pacing himself.

Saturday at Grant Park began for me with memorable performances from the groups of young trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and another veteran drummer, Billy Hart, playing originals from their latest releases on Blue Note and ECM respectively. Akinmusire is one to watch, possessing impressive technique, an aggressive attack, and excellent interplay with his saxophonist, Walter Smith III. Through his his relentless drive and impeccable touch..Hart once again proved himself as one of the best living practicioners of the drumset. I don’t remember any particular songs that vocalist Dianne Reeves sang, a couple of them seemed to be  conversations with the audience, but so powerful was her voice and so commanding was her stage presence, it provided a joyous conclusion to a great day of music.. 
Sunday began early at the annual breakfast at Jazz Record Mart, with pastries, coffee and sounds from a group of Delmark recording artists led by saxophonists Ernest Dawkins and Ira Sullivan. Energized by such physical and spiritual “food”, I walked to Grant Park for the first Festival set of the day from the Milton Suggs Philosophy. Suggs, a Chicago vocalist, and several members of his group have actually visited our area via the Loft Society. His “philosophy’ is to write and perform his own lyrics to  jazz classics by artists such as Wayne Shorter, Lee Morgan, and Benny Golson, and it worked. The rest of Sunday afternoon I went from stage to state trying to check out a little bit of everything and wore myself out, although I did enjoy what I caught from the groups of former Chicagoans Jeff Newell and Tito Carillo.

Sunday’s headliner was  New Orleans pianist Allen Toussaint, playing music from his Bright Mississipi project. With such a title plus guest musicians clarinetist Don Byron and guitarist Marc Ribot. I was expecting to hear a Monk tribute, but they played a variety of music, including several of the R&B hits that Touissant played on or produced and more Ellington than Monk. Toussant is not a jazz pianist per se, but he can seemingly play anything and play it well.

Despite their limited budget, The Jazz Institute of Chicago and city Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events do a great job of programming this festival. I hope they can keep doing what they are doing. And, as always, here are some pictures…

Greg Turner