The Hyde Park Jazz Festival defied the pandemic with ingenious safety accommodations in 2020, presenting 18 brief pop-up concerts in parks, pedways, and sidewalks between 40th and 61st Streets, all announced at the last minute to minimize crowding. Last year the festival strived for a return to normalcy and almost got there, booking a slightly diminished lineup and leaving some restrictions and precautions in place. This year the HPJF triumphantly returned to full strength, with 37 concerts and presentations on 13 stages in ten venues.
As usual, national and international acts shared the bill with the best local talent, and everyone brought their A game or premiered new works—no coasting. The string-centered Hear in Now ensemble’s collaboration with Addis Ababa-based group Qwanqwa was a highlight. Fronted by impassioned singer and dancer Selamnesh Zemene, Qwanqwa brought instruments such as the one-string masinqo and the surprisingly deep-toned, lyre-like bass krar to the south side of Chicago.
Dutch pianist Oscar Jan Hoogland reminded us of the Amsterdam scene’s distinctive blend of parody, hilarity, and reverence, while shamanic singer Mankwe Ndosi cast a spell over the late-night crowd in the spectacular Logan Center Performance Penthouse. Young singer Samara Joy delivered a rendition of “’Round Midnight” at that precise hour in the vertiginous sanctuary of the Rockefeller Chapel.
Music demonstrated its power to magnetize the masses, attracting throngs of listeners young and old—dancers, students, retired academics, dog walkers, and even passersby who happened to cross Midway Plaisance, where trees and grass abound and parking is, surprisingly, readily available and free. Black- and Brown-owned businesses populated the thoroughfare of concession tents between the West and Wagner Stages—new vendors turn up every year—and folks toted bikes and books and just hung out in the capricious autumn air.
“Every year I am stunned by the professionalism and skill of the festival team and by the tenacity and passion of the performers,” says festival codirector Kate Dumbleton. “Producing live arts with outdoor stages is hard. Touring and travel are hard . . . several musicians traveled here from Ethiopia at a time when that is not easy!
“I heard more than a few people tell me they were moved to tears by a performance. To see and hear the scope of creative output, some of it beautiful work created during the dark time of the pandemic, was a source of healing and energy for me. It’s great to be back, and I am grateful for all the support and love the volunteers and the community extend to the festival every year!”
Jive dancers by the Wagner Stage on Sunday, during the Chicago Soul Jazz Collective’s set with Dee Alexander Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago ReaderWinds player, percussionist, and instrument maker Douglas R. Ewart, whose ensemble Black Bamboo Fire performed Saturday afternoon at Hyde Park Union Church Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago ReaderLewis Achenbach sketching Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago ReaderDr. Victoria Titus-Washington is a retired CPS educator and CEO of Power Packed Learning. What’s the tennis racket for? Victoria: “It’s for swatting yellow jackets.” There’s a jazz group called the Yellowjackets, but they’re not here today. Have you been bitten? “Yes, last year about this time. And it made me very uncomfortable.” Who did you come to check out today? “Maggie Brown. And I love Billy Branch.” Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago Reader
Conga player Johnny Blas leads his Afro Libre Sextet at the West Stage on Sunday afternoon. Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago ReaderHyde Park Jazz Festival codirector Samuel J. Lewis and son Noah, 17Great to have Noah here, eh? Samuel: “Yes, we’ve been palling around, done a 14-hour day. Working the press tent, selling T-shirts, covering announcements, planting bus-stop signs, soliciting donations, enjoying a few minutes of Qwanqwa—we haven’t stopped.”Are you a music fan, Noah? Noah: “Used to play a bit of trumpet—I’m a Miles [Davis] fan. It’s my first time at the fest with The Father.” Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago ReaderDJ Sadie Woods, who closed Saturday’s programming on the West Stage You’ve spun at the Hyde Park Jazz Festival before, haven’t you? Sadie: “Yes, Kate [Dumbleton] invited me back again, which is nice.” How did you find jazz? “I studied vocal jazz at Columbia College as an undergrad.” What are you bringing for us tonight? “I’m excited about spinning dance music as an extension and evolution of jazz music’s connection with house, electronica, and hip-hop.” What will be your deadly drop? “Top secret!” Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago ReaderThe Ida’s Artisan Ice Cream posse, with founder Ida Nelson at center in the pink shirt At $16 a tub, your mojito ice cream is not cheap, but it’s pretty special! Ida: “I taught myself how to make ice cream in July 2020 when I lost my job during the pandemic. Now we have 40 flavors and we’ve provided five scholarships, since we put some of the profit back into the Lawndale community. I’m an advocate for children’s rights, helping them stay true to their authentic selves without prejudice or interference.” Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago Reader
Singer Samara Joy (left) performed Saturday night in Rockefeller Chapel in a duo with guitarist Pasquale Grasso (right); they pose here with their manager, Matt Pierson (center). Matt, you’re a legend in the music business, aren’t you? Matt: “Well, I’ve worked with Warners, Blue Note, and Sony Masterworks, but with Pasquale and Samara has been my first time in management.” How was it singing in the Rockefeller Chapel? What was that last solo? Samara: “‘Love Lifted Me’—I just closed my eyes. I wish I could stay longer in Chicago—this is the most beautiful church I ever sang in.” Pasquale: “Being Italian, I’ve played in a lot of places like this.” Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago Reader
Lauren Dotson (20), Cameron Drake (20), and Jayda Hart (21) are students at the University of Chicago, where they’re respectively studying creative writing, history and critical race theory, and psychology and theater.You guys don’t look like typical jazz fans! Cameron: “I dig Sammy Davis Jr.” Lauren: “Esperanza Spalding for me.” Jayda: “Samara Joy was phenomenal last night.” Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago ReaderFestival volunteer Mashaune Hardy collects donations. Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago ReaderKeefe Jackson with These Things Happen at the Logan Center Performance Penthouse Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago ReaderMikel Patrick Avery drums with Keefe Jackson’s These Things Happen. Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago ReaderKeefe Jackson performs with his group These Things Happen at the Logan Center Performance Penthouse on Saturday evening. Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago ReaderOscar Jan Hoogland plays piano with Keefe Jackson’s These Things Happen. Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago ReaderAmelia Licavoli, Keefe Jackson, and Oscar Jan HooglandKeefe, your set at the Logan Center penthouse might have been the best of the day—a choice blend of the comedic, playful aspects of [Thelonious] Monk and Misha [Mengelberg] mixed with pause and sobriety. Anything to say about it? Keefe replies, referencing the name of his group and the title of one of the pieces they played: “These Things Happen. ‘You Won’t Even Notice.’”How do the jazz communities in Amsterdam connect? Oscar: “They’re both scenes where if one person visits, the whole town changes. It’s always an immediate pleasure to be here, and Chicago is always moving forward.” Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago ReaderDance king at the West Stage Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago ReaderPianist Ryan Cohan and saxophonist John Wojciechowski perform with Cohan’s quartet Saturday afternoon on the Wagner Stage. Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago ReaderRadio host Linda Hall (right) and friend Mary French It seems like you’re everywhere at once at the Hyde Park Jazz Festival each year. Linda: “That’s because I have an identical sister—we run a jazz radio show together. WHPK 88.5 FM, every other Sunday, two till four—Journey Into Jazz with the twins.” Who’s your favorite jazz performer, Mary? Mary: “Joey DeFrancesco. RIP.” Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago Reader
Pianist Lynn Sundfor-McPherson (left) and saxophonist Charles McPherson have been married since 1986. Lynn also works as Charles’s manager.How has it been with Charles for 36 years, Lynn? “A constant, incredible journey—musically, spiritually, socially. Every aspect!” Have you enjoyed playing in Hyde Park, Charles? “I think it is a very well-run festival, and it is the perfect size. It’s big enough to accommodate but small enough to have a kind of intimacy that sometimes is missing with really big festivals where the audience is half a mile away. It’s like old times in that regard.” Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago ReaderGeorge Fludas plays with the Charles McPherson Quintet on the Wagner Stage on Saturday night. Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago ReaderCharles McPherson and entourage Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago ReaderPicolina Zoo, Darren Hacker, Linde Rachel, and Eve LudwigPicolina: “The festival has a totally fun, super-chill vibe and folks. Orbert Davis and Dee Alexander—jazz magic!” Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago ReaderEve Ludwig (center) dances with her mom, Linde Rachel (left), and Picolina Zoo (right) on Sunday afternoon. Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago Reader
Nadine Smith and trumpeter Orbert Davis, who performed with his sextet on Sunday afternoon at the Wagner Stage Are you two related? You seem happy to see each other. Nadine: “I’ve known Orbert for decades. I’ve performed with him in the past. I teach at Walter Dyett High School for the Arts—I get the best performers to work with my kids!” Orbert: “There’s no place like home, and at the Hyde Park Jazz Festival you’ll not only see familiar faces—sometimes they’ll actually be family.” Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago ReaderDan Bindert, Besflores Nievera Jr., and Paul Abella in the tent for WDCB 90.9 FM What floated your boat? Dan: “Samara [Joy] was beautiful in the cathedral. Emma Dayhuff working it out with Corey Wilkes at Hyde Park Bank!” Besflores: “Mike Allemana’s lecture about the metaphysics of Von Freeman was easily the most moving moment ever.” Paul: “I just got here—I’ve been gigging in a grocery store and watching the Sox lose.” Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago ReaderNaiara Coimbra, a festival fan from Brazil Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago Reader
Shelly Berry, 58 Who have you enjoyed listening to today? Shelly: “I came for the Chicago Soul Jazz Collective.” Life has thrown you some challenges. “Yes, I recently had three strokes and two TIAs—I just came out of the hospital. I’m glad to be here!” Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago ReaderJune Sargent, community activist, born and raised in Bronzeville Who are you here to see today? June: “Maggie Brown. Have you seen the movie The Woman King?” What’s it about? “It relates to what women have got to go through to get on top, to overcome. We go through a lot.” Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago Reader
David Komanicki, 71 Are you transcending the music with your bookworming? David: “I’m interested in politics. I’m not trying to show any disrespect, but jazz helps me concentrate. Ask your supervisor at the Reader to bring back John Conroy, who wrote a good book about Northern Ireland [Belfast Diary: War as a Way of Life] and used to contribute. Steve Bogira too, who’s discussed issues of poverty and segregation.” Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago ReaderHear in Now and Qwanqwa play a collaborative set called “Weaving Strands of Sound” on Saturday evening at the Logan Center Performance Hall. Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago ReaderViolinist Kaethe Hostetter and bass krar player Bubu Teklemariam of Qwanqwa Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago Reader
Kebero player Misale Legesse of Qwanqwa Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago Reader
Norwood Robinson, 73, born and raised in Englewood Where are you coming from? Norwood: “A funeral, actually. I thought I could use some upbeat music. I’ve already missed Maggie Brown and Douglas Ewart!” Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago ReaderRapper Marc Leverett (28), manager and singer Jessica Hodge (25), and psychologist and dancer Dee Ewunes (“one thousand Earth years old”) How many times have you attended the Hyde Park Jazz Festival, and who did you come to see? Dee: “Too many times to mention. We came to see Dee [Alexander], that’s my soul sister!” Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago ReaderDee Alexander (center) and members of Chicago Soul Jazz Collective and the Victor Garcia Sextet Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago ReaderTrumpeter Victor Garcia and tenor saxophonist Rocky Yera close the festival with Garcia’s sextet Sunday evening on the Wagner Stage. Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago ReaderJill Katona and trumpeter Victor Garcia, celebrating their second anniversary shortly before Garcia’s Sunday-evening set What will you feature in your set today, Victor? Victor: “A tribute to timbalero Ralph Irizarry, one of my biggest influences. I transcribed his whole record Best Kept Secret one time. I’ll also pay homage to percussionist and trumpeter Jerry González.” Jill: “Surprisingly, Victor gets a little nervous when he’s performing new work.” How does it feel watching him play? “I usually faint after the first measure.” [Laughter.] Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago ReaderBassist Ivan Taylor plays with Clif Wallace + Five on the West Stage on Sunday evening. Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago Reader
Paris Finley, 37, born and raised in Bronzeville and now living in North Kenwood Nice moves! Nice tiara! Paris: “Why have a tiara and not wear it, right?” What have you enjoyed? “Oh my God, Etienne Charles & Creole Soul from yesterday were amazing!” When you’re not dancing, what are you doing? “I’m an ironworker from Local 63.” Credit: Michael Jackson for Chicago Reader