Updated: Oct 18, 2022
Story and Photos by Greg Turner
After two years of pandemic related absences the Chicago Jazz Festival returned to Labor Day weekend. Produced by Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events and programmed by the Jazz Institute of Chicago the festival has always featured a mix of local and international performers, but, except for a few exceptions, all of the side stage performers were local. But Chicago has a very active jazz scene, with lots of players who would be better known if they toured. More on that later.
The festival began on Thursday afternoon but due to work schedules and family business we didn’t arrive in Chicago until Friday afternoon and got to the Pritkzer Pavilion, which is the main stage, in time to see tenor saxophonist J.D. Allen. The former Cincinnati resident and his group played one tune after another. I don’t remember him announcing any tunes, but it was well received. Next was rising star vocalist Jazzmeia Horn and her trio.
She sang and scatted her way through a mixture of originals and jazz standards, including a stunning rendition of the standard “Willow Weep For Me”. Although her trio was different than what was listed in the program, pianist Sean Mason, bassist Amina Scott, and drummer Chris Beck represented themselves well, earning the group a standing ovation. Friday evening closed with a mellow set by guitarist Bill Frisell and his trio.
Saturday afternoon, I was looking forward to seeing and hearing Chicago trumpeter Marques Carroll and his quintet, with special guest Sharon Irving on vocals. I was sent a copy of his debut CD “The Ancestors Call” to review and liked it so much I bought a couple of copies.
Playing mostly music from that recording, it was a powerful, spirit filled performance, and the packed Von Freeman Pavilion felt it too, rewarding them with a standing ovation. The others in in the quintet were alto saxophonist Brent Griffin, pianist Richard Johnson, bassist Christian Dillingham and drummer Greg Artry, a frequent visitor to Cincinnati who always brings the fire to whatever group he plays with. Hopefully they be able to tour in the future.
Carmen Lundy is rare as a jazz vocalist because she performs nothing but original songs.
Carmen Lundy stated that she had waited a long time to be invited to play this festival and it was worth the wait. Backed by guitarist Andrew Renfroe, pianist Julius Rodriguez, bassist Kenny Davis and drummer Kendrick Scott, their exceptional performance earned yet another standing ovation. Saturday evening closed with bassist William Parker and his Organ Quartet, which was actually a quintet. It gave me an opportunity to see and hear a critically acclaimed young tenor saxophonist in James Brandon Lewis.
Upon the advice of a fellow Cincinnatian, guitarist Greg Chako, I went to a packed Harris Rooftop Theatre Sunday afternoon to see and hear Chicago vocalist Denise Thimes, with whom he had played with when they both lived in Asia years ago. She proved to be a very capable song stylist. I only heard the last half of her hour long set then I rushed to Pritzker Pavillion to see and hear bassist Linda May Han Oh and her band, but when I got there I was told that Oh wanted no photos be taken during her set. As a photographer I was looking forward to shooting her because she shows different facial expressions when she plays. Well known drummer Teri Lyne Carrington was special guest of pianist Kris Davis whose group also employed Val Jeanty on turntables and electronics. Let’s just say it was interesting.
The festival closed with an outstanding performance by alto saxophonist Donald Harrison and his quintet.
As part of his “Nouveau Swing “ concept, Harrison literally played the history of jazz and mixed it with some blues and funk, even singing and dancing like James Brown. And the audience loved every minute of it. dancing with great joy, And yes, they got a standing ovation to close the festival. It was a great time and I’m looking forward to next year.