All That Jazz: The first Hyde Park Jazz Festival counts off

Of all the musical genres, jazz more than any other has the quality of transforming itself through the decades. Coming from the shadows of the early Prohibition era to the ’80s nu-electronic, jazz songs have thrived on a vital improvisational energy that best adds to its appeal and distinction. This Saturday, the first-ever Hyde Park Jazz Festival celebrates the diverse spectrum of jazz with fifteen hours of world-renowned jazz musicians hand-in-hand with rising South Side cultural groups. The festival was organized by the Hyde Park Cultural Alliance, the University of Chicago, and the Hyde Park Jazz Society as well as the DuSable Museum of African American History.

So what to expect from the day’s festivities? A late morning workshop for young musicians with master trumpeter-composer-conductor Orbert Davis kicks off a massive program of jam sessions, concerts, and dance performances. Muntu Dance Theatre will make an appearance with its vivid, multi-hued spectacle combining both ancient African dances and a contemporary flare. One of the most celebrated dance companies south of Madison Avenue, Muntu, meaning “essence of life” in Bantu, strives to create a legitimate understanding of African roots by its original fusion of dance, rhythm, and song.

In the evening, a historical Jazz Fête at the Hyde Park Art Center includes legends Willie Pickens on piano, singer Maggie Brown, trumpeter Corey Wilkes, vocalist Dee Alexander and Jimmy Ellis. Pickens just happens to have the reputation of being one of Chicago’s greatest jazz marvels. Being an arts leader in Hyde Park, Pickens, alongside Jimmy Ellis, has worked with the best of the best (think Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis, Jr., Duke Ellington, and Clark Terry for starters.) Besides being immensely talented in their own respective fields, all the artists featured at the Jazz Fête share their creativity and musical aptitudes with their neighborhoods, whether it’s serving on a board of a youth program or directing a fundraiser in their local parish. As a testament to their dedication, the Hyde Park Jazz Festival seeks to honor these pioneers of jazz in an intimate setting, free of pretense and with the direct honesty of pouring out their hearts for the crowd.

Among these revered American jazz musicians comes a South American spin with the Brazilian band Two for Brazil, appropriately comprised of the duo of acoustic guitarist Paulinho Garcia and saxophonist Greg Fishman. Dubbed the “Best Jazz Entertainers” in 2003 by the North Sea Jazz Festival, the group bases their sound on the rich notes of a Spanish guitar combined with Fishman’s flute or saxophone. Their Latin jazz is more understandable for jazz newcomers due to its medley of the rich tradition of jazz and the enthusiasm of Latin pop. Although Two for Brazil’s sound may not be conventional, Garcia hopes that an interest in their music will lead music aficionados to explore more classic jazz.

With fifteen hours of back-to-back jazz, concerts in most of the neighborhood’s museums, and even a free trolley to transport music lovers to and from various venues, it truly will be hard to miss this jazz festival extravaganza in Hyde Park. Jazz-ophiles and newcomers alike can enjoy all these shows and workshops for free on top of the free parking, trolley services, and provided refreshments. For a better understanding of the culture of both jazz and Hyde Park, catch a show at the Smart Museum or the Hyde Park Art Center. With the immense selection of events, you really have no reason not to.

A detailed schedule of all events is available at, or call (773) 834-4122 for more information. Pre-festival concert and reception with Clark Terry and the Willie Pickens Trio, Hyde Park Union Church, 5600 S. Woodlawn Ave. September 28. Friday, 7pm. (773)363-6063.