By Jeff Cebulski
Over the past decade, The Hyde Park Jazz Festival has slowly built its reputation as a not-quite-second-fiddle to the city’s Labor Day weekend festival. For 2019, Hyde Park has taken a cue from the newly expanded Chicago festival—for one day, at least.
While the South Side festival continues its two-day format, a significant majority of its acts will play on Saturday, Sept. 28, in fourteen different venues scattered near and within the University of Chicago area. Veteran attendees will still find plenty to listen to at the two Midway Plaisance stages, the Logan Center, Rockefeller Chapel, and the Hyde Park Union Church. This year, more music will be provided at the Oriental Institute, the Little Black Pearl, the Smart Museum, the International House, Hyde Park Bank, Augustana Lutheran Church, and the Sweet Water Foundation. All this makes even a weather-affected day worth a visit.
But perhaps the most important thing to know is that the depth, width, and breadth of the festival has significantly expanded, making a plan to hear the musicians harder (on Saturday, at least,) but ultimately more pleasurable. The festival’s mix of world-class and local talent is hard to beat.
So—how to schedule? Depending on your ability to get around, finding ways to hear a proper selection of some fine acts may be difficult. One sure bet on Saturday will be to stick around at the Wagner Stage, where four formidable ensembles will play: the Ari Brown Quintet at 1:30 p.m.; rising saxophonist Irvin Pierce and his quartet at 3:45 p.m.; the estimable Dana Hall’s Spring at 6:15 p.m.; and national saxophone star Tia Fuller and group, Diamond Cut, at 8:15 p.m.
Of course, with over an hour between each event, one could sneak around to grab some tunes within the vicinity. At 2:30 p.m., esteemed trumpeter Orbert Davis and his sextet will play a program titled “In the Spirit” at Hyde Park Union Church. At 5:00 p.m., drummer Willie Jones III will lead a sextet including singer Renée Neufville at the Logan Center Performance Hall. After Dana Hall, one could make a quick jaunt back to the Logan to hear a compelling duo, guitarist Mary Halvorson and pianist Sylvie Courvoisier.
Then it gets really hard. Do you go to the Logan Center Penthouse to hear a world-class trio consisting of trumpet star Ambrose Akinmusire, pianist Kris Davis, and drummer Nasheet Waits, or run back to hear Fuller? Or, after Akinmusire and friends, stay at the Logan to take in saxophonist Isaiah Collier and The Chosen Few’s The Story of 400 Years?
And I haven’t mentioned these enticing acts: Greg Artry Quartet at the Smart Museum at 1 p.m. and Dee Alexander and John McLean at the International House at 7 p.m. AND . . . if you are seeking something more modernly urban, you couldn’t go wrong checking out two concerts at Little Black Pearl: trumpeter David Boykin’s Abeeku at 3:30 p.m. and trumpeter Sam Trump’s quartet at 5 p.m.
And there’s more. If you want to stay late, at 11 p.m. trumpeter/vocalist Amir ElSaffar’s Ahwaal will commence at the Rockefeller Chapel, featuring a Polish lineup of double-bassist Ksawery Wojcinski, clarinetist Waclaw Zimpel, and the Lutoslawski String Quartet.
I guess the big truth on Saturday is that, this year, you really can’t lose, which is the most significant development within the Hyde Park Festival.
Sunday the 29th is much less packed but still offers fine fare. It begins at 1 p.m., when the official University of Chicago carillonneur, Joey Brink, will perform at the Rockefeller Chapel Carillon.
This day, the Wagner Stage, again, may be a place to camp. At 2 p.m., Chicago’s Maggie Brown will gather a nice collection of musicians to sing in front of, including Miguel de la Cerna on piano, Ivan Taylor on bass, Kenari Allison on drums, Sam Mosching on guitar, and Isaiah Collier on sax. At 4 p.m., saxophonist Greg Ward will present his most recent ensemble, Rogue Parade: guitarists Matt Gold and Dave Miller, bassist Matt Ulery, and drummer Quin Kirchner. Then at 6 p.m., a local favorite, trumpeter Pharez Whitted, will lead his band.
On the other side of the Plaisance, the West Stage will provide intriguing go-between fare, with the seven-person-still-big-sound Chicago Horns, led by trombonist Bill McFarland, playing at 3 p.m., and percussionist Juan Pastor’s star-laden Chinchano performing at 5 p.m.
For something more cerebral, if your Sunday relaxation includes literary/cultural discussion, head over to the Logan Center Screening Room at 3 p.m. to hear writer Natalie Y. Moore, author of The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation (2016) discuss the book and its narratives with her mother Yvonne Moore and contributing friend Brandi Kenner-Bell.
The Hyde Park Jazz Festival has held its head high through various ups and downs. The quality of its offerings this year proves that plenty of people care about maintaining high standards—and that Chicago jazz is in a good spot right now.
For more information on the 2019 Hyde Park Jazz Festival, click here.