Ravi Coltrane, Jason Moran to headline Hyde Park Jazz Festival
By Howard Reich
At first glance, the lineup for the 12th annual Hyde Park Jazz Festival suggests a bulging array of styles and musical idioms.
For any event that features singer Dee Alexander and saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, vibraphonist Thaddeus Tukes and the Kenwood Academy Jazz Band, harpist Brandee Younger and pianist and MacArthur Fellow Jason Moran clearly encompasses a wide swath of artistic territory.
But as always with this intelligently programmed festival – which will run Sept. 29-30 at multiple Hyde Park locations – underlying themes and messages will drive the proceedings.
“With this year’s festival, I continued to think about young people,” says Kate Dumbleton, the event’s artistic director, who with her colleagues on the festival’s programming committee indeed has cast a spotlight on rising musicians from Chicago and beyond.
Tukes with pianist Alexis Lombre, bassist Hannah Marks’ Heartland Trio, saxophonist Lenard Simpson’s Trio, saxophonist Jenna Przybysz’s Quartet and pianist Julius Tucker’s Trio (all on Sept. 29) are up-and-coming artists stepping to the fore.
In addition, “We’re featuring women bandleaders,” adds Dumbleton, as the festival did last year. “There’s a woman bandleader on every stage, other than the Oriental Institute, (where) we only have one show.”
In a jazz world dominated to this day by men, then, Chicagoans will be able to hear sets featuring drummer Allison Miller leading her Boom Tic Boom ensemble, singer Joan Collaso and the Larry Hanks Ensemble, pianist Jo Ann Daugherty & Friends, and singer Maggie Brown’s new Vision Ensemble (all on Sept. 29), among many others.
The festival also will honor three major Chicago pianists who died last year: John Wright (with a jam session led by Chicago pianist Miguel de la Cerna on Sept. 30) and Willie Pickens and Muhal Richard Abrams (with a solo performance by pianist Jason Moran on Sept. 30).
Of special note: saxophonist Ravi Coltrane will lead a quartet including harpist Younger in a reflection on music of his mother, Alice Coltrane.
That booking seemed appropriate, says Dumbleton, because we live in “a really complicated time. There is something about the transcendence of this music, the musicians who take things higher, that brings us out of the trenches a little bit.”
All of this made possible by support from several institutions, none more integral to the proceedings than the University of Chicago and its Logan Center for the Arts, says Dumbleton.
Following is an annotated guide to the fest, with commentary from Dumbleton and me. All events are free, except for the Jason Moran performance on Sept. 30; for the complete schedule, visit www.hydeparkjazzfestival.org.
Isaiah Collier & The Chosen Few, 1:30 p.m., Wagner Stage on the Midway. The action on the Midway begins by celebrating youth, in the form of Chicago saxophonist Collier. He has been making a deep impression on listeners since his mid-teens, playing the Hyde Park Jazz Festival and other forums to striking effect.
Thaddeus Tukes & Alexis Lombre Duo, 3 p.m., Augustana Lutheran Church of Hyde Park. A new venue has joined the festival’s lineup, taking the place of the DuSable Museum of African American History, “which is not able to join us this year,” says Dumbleton. Augustana’s 200-seat sanctuary will host the youthful duo of vibraphonist Tukes and pianist Lombre.
Brandee Younger, 4:30 p.m., Hyde Park Union Church. Harpist-scholar Younger may become the MVP of this year’s festival, appearing in several contexts, including a talk on “Transcendence: A Glimpse into the Life and Legacy of Alice Coltrane” (1 p.m. Sept. 29 at the Logan Center Screening Room) and an appearance with Ravi Coltrane (11 p.m. at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel). For the Hyde Park Union Church performance, she’ll lead a trio.
Kris Davis, 5 p.m., Logan Center Penthouse. Pianist Davis has been a dynamic force at the keyboard, a prolific figure in the recording studio and a much-admired collaborator with innovators such as John Zorn, Craig Taborn, Tyshawn Sorey, Eric Revis and Mary Halvorson, among others.
Ryan Cohan’s “Originations,” 5:30 p.m., Logan Center Performance Hall. Pianist Cohan stands as one of this city’s most accomplished jazz composers, especially in long-form works. His “Originations,” commissioned by Chamber Music America, is scored for a 10-piece chamber jazz ensemble, explores Middle Eastern influences and embraces compositional and improvisational techniques.
Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom, 6:15 p.m., Wagner Stage. Drummer Miller presided over an edgy. charismatic set during last year’s Chicago Jazz Festival, the music notable for the ingenuity of the band’s arrangements, the explosive quality of Myra Melford’s pianism and the warm lyricism of clarinetist Ben Goldberg’s solos. A torrential downpour, however, left Dumbleton and others “heartbroken when it was effectively rained out.” So Miller’s Boom Tic Boom will have another shot at the great outdoors.
Mike Reed’s “The City Was Yellow: The Chicago Suite,” 7:30 p.m., Logan Performance Hall. Reed’s work as drummer, bandleader, owner of the Constellation arts center and champion of innovative musicians has been a boon to the city’s arts scene. In his latest venture, “He’s been working on different arrangements of (music by) Chicago composers: Nicole Mitchell, Fred Anderson, Ari Brown, Jeff Parker,” says Dumbleton. “And he’s putting it together in this context for a septet.” This will mark the first time Reed will perform the emerging suite in Chicago.
Ravi Coltrane with Brandee Younger, 11 p.m., Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. Saxophonist Coltrane never has traded on the legend of his parents – saxophonist John Coltrane and pianist/harpist Alice Coltrane – and only occasionally has addressed their work directly. That makes this occasion significant, for he will lead a quartet (with harpist Younger) in a reflection on Alice Coltrane’s esthetic.
John “Poppy” Wright’s Pool Party Jam, 2 p.m., Wagner Stage. Beloved Chicago pianist Wright, who died last December at age 83, famously held an annual soiree at his home as a way of thanking fans and friends for their support. Chicago pianist Miguel de la Cerna will convene Chicago musicians to recall that tradition and remember Wright’s contributions.
Kenwood Academy Jazz Band, 3 p.m., Wagner Stage. The pride of the Hyde Park/Kenwood community – and all of Chicago, really – will draw from its extensive repertoire and, one hopes, from its celebrated collaboration with pianist Jason Moran, “Looks of a Lot.”
Dee Alexander Presents “What Color Is Love? The Music of Terry Callier,” 6 p.m., Wagner Stage. Chicago singer-conceptualist Alexander will present her latest venture, an homage to Chicago singer-songwriter Terry Callier, who died in 2012 at age 67. Callier intertwined African chant, jazz improvisation, blues-inspired melody and folk-like instrumentation in singular ways. Few Chicago performers are better positioned to honor his cross-genre methods than Alexander.
Jason Moran Celebrating Willie Pickens and Muhal Richard Abrams, 8:15 p.m., Logan Center Performance Hall; $15 ticket required. Over the years, pianist Moran has developed profound ties with music in Chicago, thanks in part to his long-running – and ongoing – collaboration with the Kenwood Academy Jazz Band (commissioned by Symphony Center). So when the festival decided to honor Chicago piano giants who died last year, Moran was the top choice. “He has such a deep and extraordinarily beautiful reverence for senior musicians,” says Dumbleton. “And he had a real relationship with Muhal and a real relationship with Willie.” The $15 ticket price helps defray the cost of an event “that we frankly don’t have the budget for,” adds Dumbleton, who nonetheless was determined to honor two giants in a most fitting way.
Howard Reich is a Tribune critic.