by Howard Reich
Why does groundbreaking jazz thrive in Chicago?
The great performers who live and tour here of course set the standard, but there’s another key factor at play: the audience.
Chicago listeners have been encountering jazz innovations for well over a century and long ago developed a taste for the avant-garde. Ragtime music first reached the wider public during the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893; jazz progenitor Jelly Roll Morton came here as early as 1910 and settled in during the Roaring Twenties; improvisational genius Louis Armstrong made his greatest, groundbreaking recordings in Chicago at the same time; the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) reinvented the music starting in 1965; and so forth.
Though these artists experienced varying degrees of financial reward (or deprivation), they found in Chicago a public willing to entertain revolutionary concepts.
And that happens to be an important theme of the 13th annual Hyde Park Jazz Festival, which will run Sept. 28-29 in venues throughout the historic neighborhood.