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2014 Chicago Jazz Festival Preview

Alex Marianyi
Staff Writer
alex.marianyi[at] / @alexmarianyi

The crowds at the Chicago Jazz Festival are always the best. The central location at the beautiful Millennium Park and free admission make for a wonderfully diverse crowd coming from all racial backgrounds, age groups, and neighborhoods, all sorts of Chicagoans (and others just visiting for the festival) spending Labor Day weekend together for almost four decades.

The music reflects that diversity by having new groups such as Prism and Colors of a Dream which each feature a wide spectrum of jazz musicians. Started by Dave Holland, Prism features a group of musicians you might not imagine together including guitarist Kevin Eubanks (formerly of The Tonight Show Band) and Craig Taborn on piano. Colors of a Dream, lead by composer Tom Harrell on trumpet, bridges a strange gap by pulling Esperanza Spalding into his elaborate musical world. Both groups perform at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion Saturday night, Colors of a Dream at 7:10 and Prism closing out the evening at 8:30.

The Chicago Cultural Center, a beautiful building with free admission where the Mayor of Chicago has welcomed dignitaries from around the world, will host the bulk of Thursday’s performances. I’m looking forward to sneaking out of work for my lunch hour (or two) and checking out the Paulinho Garcia Quintet at 12:30pm in the Preston Bradley Hall. Later that evening, the festival moves over to Millennium Park for an homage to Nelson Mandela.

Friday is when things get going full steam over at Millennium Park with Xavier Breaker’s Coalition and Clark Sommers (Ba)SH highlighting the Von Freeman Pavilion. A rising name on the Chicago jazz scene, Xavier Breaker’s Coalition will be bringing the heat, and (Ba)SH will be playing music from their most recent album. Rufus Reid’s Out Front and Terence Blanchard with Ravi Coltrane and Lionel Loueke will be playing over at the Pritzker Pavilion to close out the night.

Saturday is when I'll start to run into that inevitable festival sticking point: two groups I want to see playing at the same time on different stages. After checking out Laurenzi/Ernst/Green followed by the John Wojciechowski Quartet, some of my favorite Chicago musicians, I’ll have to decide who to see at the 3:30pm slot. With their brand of forward reaching jazz enveloped in the aesthetic of hip-hop, the Corey Wilkes Quartet will be at the Von Freeman Pavilion, and the Kurt Rosenwinkel New Quartet will be at the Jazz and Heritage Pavilion, featuring some of the top players in the game like Aaron Parks.

Though there’s a lot to be excited about on Sunday, the highlight for me is certainly going to be the Tootie Heath Trio, featuring Ben Street on bass and Ethan Iverson on piano. It’s been a long time since I’ve been so struck by a piano trio. On the heels of his album of standards My Shining Hour, guitarist Bobby Broom will be getting things rolling over at the Pritzker Pavilion for the final night, accompanied by two of my favorite Chicago musicians, Dennis Carroll on bass and Makaya McCraven on drums. Closing out the festival this year will be the Sun Ra Arkestra celebrating the 100th anniversary of their founder’s arrival from Saturn.

Though this will be my seventh time going to the Chicago Jazz Festival, it will be my first year covering it. And that’s pretty exciting. This will also be my first year going to the festival since it moved to Millennium Park last year. That’s pretty exciting, too; though, I’m sure I’ll miss sitting in goose poop over in Grant Park with the setting sun roasting me alive. Okay… maybe not.

Alex Marianyi does electronic music sitting in his living room. You can follow him on Twitter, and he won’t even file a restraining order.