Dee Alexander in Chicago Magazine

September 20, 2014

Get to Know Dee Alexander

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On the road: Catch a groove at Hyde Park Jazz Fest

September 19, 2014

Daily Herald

by Jacky Runice

Dig it, Daddy-O

The South Side neighborhood plays host to two days and nights of dazzling grooves and improvised tunes during the eighth annual Hyde Park Jazz Festival. Nearly 40 jazz acts, including world-class headliners and local emerging artists, converge upon 15 traditional and unexpected indoor and outdoor cultural venues such as the DuSable Museum, Kenwood Academy, Hyde Park Bank, Oriental Institute and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House. Highlights include a world premiere by pianist Craig Taborn and performances by the Art Hoyle Quintet and cellist Tomeka Reid.

Tomeka Reid is among 40 jazz acts performing at this year's Hyde Park Jazz Fest on Sept. 27-28.

1 p.m. to midnight Saturday, Sept. 27, and 1 to 8 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 28, at various venues in Hyde Park. The fest is free, but a $5 donation is requested. Get a schedule at or call (312) 745-2470 for more information.


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Your guide to a rich fall season in jazz

September 17, 2014

Chicago Tribune

by Howard Reich

Dee Alexander
Dee Alexander performs songs from her newest recording, ‘Songs My Mother Loves,’ at University of Chicago’s Logan Center for the Arts. (Taylor Glascock, Chicago Tribune)

Highlights in a rich fall jazz season:

Hyde Park Jazz Festival: Craig Taborn, Etienne Charles, Dana Hall, Orbert Davis’ Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble, Dee Alexander with Oliver Lake, Willie Pickens, Josh Berman and many more play multiple stages. 1 p.m. to midnight Sept. 27 and 1 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. Sept. 28 in venues across Hyde Park; 773-324-6926 or



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Tune in to WHPK Sunday, Sept 14 for HPJF features & J.D. Allen

September 13, 2014

Tune in to WHPK Jazz Format Chief Richton Thomas’ Sunday morning jazz radio program on September 14 to hear a few of the artists performing at the 2014 Hyde Park Jazz Festival. Additionally Thomas will have a very special guest, saxophonist and composer JD Allen. Allen will play at the Festival Saturday, September 27, 9:30-10:30pm at the Logan Performance Hall. For more information click here.


You can listen to WHPK at 88.5 fm or online at

Thomas’ show runs from 8-10am CST


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Hyde Park Jazz Festival to return with more visiting musicians than ever

September 12, 2014

By Jeffrey Bishku-Aykul
Staff Writer

The Hyde Park Jazz Festival is returning to the neighborhood later this month. The eighth annual festival, slated to take place on Saturday, Sept. 27 and Sunday, Sept. 28, will feature performances at 12 venues by 35 acts — including a growing number of musicians from outside Chicago.

“We have more visiting artists from out of town than ever before,” said festival executive director Kate Dumbleton, who expects attendance to range from 15,000-20,000, a figure in line with previous years.

Several collaborations between local artists and visiting musicians distinguish this year’s programming from that of previous years’, according to Dumbleton. They include Here in Now, Chicago-based cellist Tomeka Reid’s long-distance trio with New York City-based violinist Mazz Swift and bassist Silvia Bolognesi of Italy, as well as Chicago-based vocalist Dee Alexander and her quartet featuring New Jersey-based saxophonist Oliver Lake.

This year’s lineup stands in stark contrast to the festival’s first, whose budget according to festival co-founder Judith Stein only allowed for local artists to perform. But Stein stressed the abundance of homegrown world-class talent that performs at the festival.

“These are people who when they go out of the city and travel, they are widely admired and are widely sought after,” Stein said.

And this year’s festival will feature mostly local acts, including veterans such as trumpeter Marquis Hill and saxophonists Juli Wood and Ari Brown. Among them will also be vocalist Maggie Brown, who has performed in every festival since the first in 2007.

“It’s home. It’s like being able to go back to your old school and perform,” said Brown, who will perform for her second time at the Hyde Park Union Church, 5600 S. Woodlawn Ave.

“Since I am in a church, I’ll feel a little freer to take a spiritual approach,” added Brown, who pointed to simultaneous performances at multiple venues as one of the festival’s highlights.

This year’s venues remain mostly the same as in previous years, except for the omission of the DuSable Museum, 740 E. 56th Pl., due to a scheduling conflict, and the addition of Hyde Park Union Church and Kenwood Academy High School, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave., where the school’s jazz band will perform. Like last year’s headline performer, pianist Craig Taiborn will play Saturday night at Rockefeller Chapel, 5850 S. Woodlawn Ave.

“I think what happens when you take the same music and put it in a tent or on a traditional stage is it feels like every other festival,” Stein said. “In our case, our location is very much part of the music.”

In addition to music, history and cinema will be a part of the festival this year. Jazz-related films will be screened at the Logan Center, 915 E. 60th St., in partnership with the Black Cinema House in Greater Grand Crossing, and festival organizers will once again collect visitors’ oral histories of jazz in the area, supported by a grant from the Joyce Foundation.

Entry to the Hyde Park Jazz Festival is free, although visitors may donate or buy $125 tickets for preferred seating online. For more information, visit




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Hyde Park Jazz Fest is a Chicago Magazine Critic’s Pick

September 11, 2014

The Best Things to Do in Chicago in September

Chicago Magazine

By Tomi Obaro, Catey Sullivan, Zac Thompson, Graham Meyer, Matt Pollock, Jason Foumberg, and Harrison Smith

Our monthly roundup of the best theatre, comedy, music, and more to go see now.

Hyde Park Jazz Festival
9/27–28 Count on some unexpected sounds at the sprawling South Side fest, including a world premiere by pianist Craig Taborn, performances by cellist Tomeka Reid, vocalist Dee Alexander, the Art Hoyle Quintet, and much more. Various times and locations.

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The Ultimate Summer Jazz Festivals Guide: September 2014

August 26, 2014

The Jazz Spotlight

Yannick Ilunga

Jazz Festivals Guide: September

Even though summer is getting to an end, the list of jazz festivals that take place around the world is not getting shorter…quite the opposite, actually!

The Ultimate Summer Jazz Festivals Guide for September 2014 features over 60 jazz events from all over the world, including the 57th annual Monterey Jazz Festival, the 13th edition of Tokyo Jazz Festival, Tanjazz and Jazz au Chellah in Morocco, and Noosa Jazz Fest in Australia. And don’t forget about some of Europe’s coolest jazz happenings such as Jazz à la Villette, the Smooth Jazz Festival in Augsburg, Herts Jazz and Lancaster JazzFest in the UK.

Ah, did I mention that the Maui Jazz & Blues Festival, Canada’s Guelph Jazz and Brantford International Jazz Festival, Angel City Jazz Fest, Berklee Beantown Jazz, OutBeat Jazz and Las Vegas Jazz Festival all take place in September too?

Jazz festivals in North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia, and the cruise Dave Koz & Friends at Sea… this month’s jazz festivals guide really has it all (so don’t forget to tweet it)!

**See the full list online here.

Hyde Park Jazz FestivalHyde Park Jazz Festival

Where & When: Chicago, IL (U.S.), 27-28 September

Performers: Craig Taborn, Dee Alexander Quartet feat. Oliver Lake, J. D. Allen Quartet, Etienne Charles & Creole Soul, Art Hoyle Quintet




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Chicago’s Hyde Park Jazz Festival Announces Lineup

August 18, 2014

Jazz Times

by Jeff Tamarkin

Craig Taborn solo, JD Allen, Dee Alexander & more

The free 8th annual Hyde Park Jazz Festival will take place September 27-28 throughout Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, featuring 30 bands on 14 stages. In addition to the live performances, for the second year, a community-wide oral histories project will take place, at which festival-goers can share their experiences with jazz.

This year’s performing artists include Craig Taborn performing solo; the JD Allen Quartet; Etienne Charles and Creole Soul; the Dee Alexander Quartet featuring Oliver Lake; the Art Hoyle Quintet; Dana Hall’s Black Ark Movement; Orbert Davis’ Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble; Tomeka Reid “Hear in Now” and the Houston Person Quartet.

The full schedule is available at Hyde Park Jazz Festival.



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Chicago’s Hyde Park Jazz Fest: 18 Hours of Free Music

August 15, 2014

USA Today’s 10 Best

Megy Karydes, Chicago Local Expert

Family friendly event attracts world-class musicians to the stage over two days

New Orleans may be considered the birthplace of jazz, but Chicago holds this musical genre dear to its heart. Want proof? The Hyde Park Jazz Festival features two full days of FREE, non-stop jazz music in the historic center of Chicago’s jazz community: Hyde Park.

This year’s Hyde Park Jazz Festival will include over 150 jazz musicians performing for 18 hours in 13 different venues throughout the Hyde Park neighborhood, including Chicago’s own drummer/bandleader Dana Hall, who will be making his world premiere. Dates for the 2014 event include Saturday, Sept. 27, and Sunday, Sept. 28.

The popular two-day festival is a unique collaboration between academic, cultural and community institutions, as well as local businesses, which work together to present free live jazz performances in a variety of indoor and outdoor settings.

The Eighth Annual Hyde Park Jazz Festival will be held on Saturday, Sept. 27, and Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014, with two full days of free non-stop jazz music in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood. Photo courtesy of the Hyde Park Jazz Festival

The Eighth Annual Hyde Park Jazz Festival will be held on Saturday, Sept. 27, and Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014, with two full days of free non-stop jazz music in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. Photo courtesy of Hyde Park Jazz Festival

Pianist Craig Taborn will be performing a much anticipated solo concert on Saturday evening at 11 p.m. at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. Vocalist Dee Alexander – honored as “Jazz Entertainer of the Year” in 2008 and 2010 by the Chicago Music Awards and as the city’s best singer by Chicago Magazine in 2009 – will be performing alongside Oliver Lake, a composer, saxophonist, flautist and bandleader.

Just as impressive as the lineup of performers are the performance venues themselves. Alexander and Lake will be performing on Saturday afternoon on the Midway Plaisance, a one-mile-long park that extends along 59th and 60th Streets, connecting Washington Park and Jackson Park. Other performance venues include Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House and the stunning Rockefeller Memorial Chapel.

Chicago’s Hyde Park is only seven miles south of the Loop, and it’s accessible by car, train, bus or bike. Free shuttle transportation between venues is available before, during and after all performances, and bicycling is encouraged. Parking is available in the Ellis Avenue Parking Garage (southeast corner of 55th Street and Ellis Avenue), but it’s highly advised to take alternative modes of transportation if possible.

Food and beverage vendors will be available on-site along the Midway, but there are also plenty of great restaurants throughout the area. For fine dining, make reservations ahead of time at La Petite Folie, or try Medici for a more casual atmosphere.

What began in the fall of 2007 with 5,000 jazz fans enjoying 12 free non-stop hours of live jazz performances has grown to 20,000 fans and 18 hours. Chicagoans can’t get enough of live musical performances, and this one is shaping up to be one you don’t want to miss.



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Hyde Park Jazz fest 2014 goes back to the future

May 21, 2014

Howard Reich

9:46 a.m. CDT, May 20, 2014

Tomeka Reid
Cellist Tomeka Reid performs with the Tomeka Reid Quartet during the 2013 Hyde Park Jazz Festival. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune / September 28, 2013)


A world premiere by Chicago drummer-bandleader Dana Hall, a solo concert by the innovative pianist Craig Taborn and a high-profile engagement by genre-defying Chicago cellist Tomeka Reid will play the eighth annual Hyde Park Jazz Festival, running Sept. 27 to 28 in multiple locations.

In addition, the lineup will feature Orbert Davis’ Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble kicking off its 10th anniversary season; the quartet of saxophonist J.D. Allen, who has turned in impressive work as sideman to trumpeter Jeremy Pelt; and an appearance by veteran tenor saxophonist Houston Person.

Many of these bookings underscore the festival’s recent tendency to lean forward toward adventurous, often unexpected facets of 21st century jazz. At the same time, judging by previous seasons, mainstream and other aspects of the music also will turn up when the full schedule is announced in July.

But there are bigger, broader currents at work here than covering stylistic bases.

“We’ve been thinking a lot about ways we might expand the festival into a year-round organization, though of course the festival itself is the core thing – the main event, if you will,” says Kate Dumbleton, the organization’s executive and artistic director.

“So there are a couple of things in this year’s festival that are a part of that. One of them is this idea of working with local artists so that they could develop new ideas and potentially bring in artists from other places to work with them and present a special project.

“We’d like to support individual artists in Chicago – I think it’s important for the city think about that broadly. I don’t think we do enough of it. That means some of the best artists are struggling to stay here.”

As part of the festival’s ongoing efforts to give leading Chicago musicians a forum for some of their most ambitious ideas, this year’s event will launch Dana Hall’s Black Ark Movement, which will reflect upon the historic collaboration of reedist John Carter and trumpeter Bobby Bradford. Both launched their careers in Texas, migrated to California and famously collaborated with each other and with jazz visionary Ornette Coleman in various contexts.

But drummer Hall sees the Carter-Bradford model as a starting point for the Black Ark Movement project.

“There’s been this large contingent of migration of musicians throughout the South to the West Coast, (but) often times a lot of the important movements in music – particularly post-World War II movements – have been situated and discussed with regard to New York and the East Coast,” says Hall.

“Well, a lot of those musicians that went East – the primary mover would be Ornette – really started incubating those ideas in Los Angeles, and his close collaborators were there.

“There’s always this misconception that Charlie Parker and Dizzy (Gillespie) went from New York to the West, to L.A., and were Messiahs and brought music and record players and electricity,” adds Hall, exaggerating only slightly.

“The reality is that there were people making this (innovative) music in California. They had their own ideas. … So this project (explores) these marginalized cities in the history of jazz. And L.A. is one of them.”

Moreover, Hall sees his Black Ark Movement as a gateway for him to explore other sounds, such as the music of the colossal pianist-bandleader-adventurer Horace Tapscott. Like Coleman, Bradford, Carter and others, Tapscott left Texas to go to Los Angeles, becoming an organizer of a music-community movement along the lines of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM).

That sense of movement of people and ideas inspired the “Ark” term in the name of Hall’s project, which also obviously evokes Sun Ra’s Arkestra.

What’s important to note in terms of the Hyde Park Jazz Festival is that this growing institution is giving Hall the budget and resources to launch his Black Ark Movement, which will bring in noted San Francisco Bay Area clarinetist Ben Goldberg and will feature trumpeter Russ Johnson, reedist John Wojciechowski and a bassist to be named.

“That’s one of the things I really like about the Hyde Park festival – I started Black Fire there a few years ago,” says Hall, referring to a venture that builds upon music of pianist Andrew Hill and blossomed into a major engagement in Millennium Park and an ongoing run at Andy’s Jazz Club.

“I’ve been able to incubate new music and new projects. It’s like a home for me to be able to do those kinds of things.”

Along these lines, the festival this year will give cellist Tomeka Reid, one of the most promising musician-bandleaders in Chicago, an opportunity to develop her Hear in Now trio. When she led this group at the Chicago Jazz Festival in 2010, it offered luminous scores that embraced jazz, classical and experimental techniques.

“The times I’ve heard it, it was a pretty nascent group that I admired right away,” says Dumbleton of an ensemble that features Reid with violinist Mazz Swift and bassist Silvia Bolognesi.

“All three are wonderful composers. Silvia is a great bassist – she has to come from Italy for this. It’s taken Tomeka and me two years to make (this engagement) work. Tomeka spent a month-and-a-half in Italy this spring … just developing their ensemble work.”

And pianist Taborn will play one of the most appealing settings of the festival, offering a solo set at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel.

But unusual – and unusually inviting – venues are part of what distinguish the Hyde Park Jazz Festival from more generic events. Concerts unfold in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, the courtyard of the Smart Museum of Art, Hyde Park Union Church and multi-room complexes such as the University of Chicago’s International House and Logan Center for the Arts, most within walking distance of each other. Like last year, music will unfold outdoors on two stages along the Midway Plaisance.

In effect, Hyde Park itself becomes the backdrop for the festival, making this event a national leader in using its environment as part of the proceedings.

That Dumbelton, who’s also an assistant professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and colleagues do all this on a budget of just under $300,000 represents a feat in itself. Support comes from the University of Chicago’s Office of Civic Engagement and Southwest Airlines, among others. And an annual benefit – which this year will present the Chicago premiere of the WRW Trio featuring Steve Wilson, Renee Rosnes and Peter Washington on June 26 – generates about a third of the budget, says Dumbleton.

Whether the festival succeeds in becoming a year-round force remains to be seen, but it already has been presenting events in partnership with the Logan Center, and Dumbleton hopes to do more.

Which would be welcome.

The WRW Trio – staffed by saxophonist Steve Wilson, pianist Renee Rosnes and bassist Peter Washington – will play the 8th Annual Hyde Park Jazz Festival Benefit Reception and Concert, with reception at 6 p.m. and performance at 7:30 p.m. June 26 at the new Promontory Restaurant, 1539 E. 53d St.; concert only tickets are $60; tables range from $1,200 and up; visit

To read more from Howard Reich on jazz, go to

Twitter @howardreich

Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC

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Hyde Park becomes swing city in 7th annual fest

September 30, 2013

Howard Reich

9:51 a.m. CDT, September 29, 2013

Seven years ago, an ad hoc group of South Siders decided to stage a neighborhood jazz festival unlike anything else in the city.

Instead of herding musicians and listeners into a one-size-fits-all downtown park, the Hyde Park Jazz Festival would present artists in unconventional spaces neatly suited to their work. Locations such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House and the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, among others, were transformed into jazz dens where listeners could hear the music under nearly ideal acoustical circumstances.

The festival became an instant hit, and over the weekend we were reminded why, with listeners packing venues large and small, indoors and out. All at once, the neighborhood became a kind of jazz village, as audiences strolled from one spot to the next to hear innovative Chicago musicians, as well as national and international figures.

Clarinetist Anat Cohen and guitarist Douglas Lora perform during the Hyde Park Jazz Festival at the Rockefeller Chapel on the University of Chicago campus Saturday. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune / September 29, 2013)

Clarinetist Anat Cohen and guitarist Douglas Lora perform during the Hyde Park Jazz Festival at the Rockefeller Chapel on the University of Chicago campus Saturday. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune / September 29, 2013)

Following is a diary of Saturday’s marathon of music-making at Chicago’s most appealing jazz festival, which ends on Sunday night:

1:30 p.m.: Pharez Whitted at the James Wagner Stage on the Midway. Chicago trumpeter Whitted may be nationally known for the heft of his sound and the stratospheric reach of his high notes, but on this afternoon he leads his quintet in a surprisingly – and seductively – low-key performance (at least by his standards). In “Watusi Boogaloo,” Whitted plays phrases that slyly dance around the band’s buoyant but unhurried backbeat. In “Another Kinda Blues,” he dips into a bit of funk, hitting offbeats with sharp accents but soft tones. And in “The Unbroken Promise,” Whitted and the band build a crescendo so slowly and meticulously that you barely know it’s happening. Of course, it’s tough to miss when you have Eddie Bayard sharing the front line on tenor saxophone, Ron Perrillo yielding copious ideas on piano, Greg Artry churning rhythms on drums and Dennis Carroll providing a foundation for it all on bass.

2:45 p.m.: John Wojciechowski at the Smart Museum of Art. Chicago saxophonist Wojciechowski plays in so many other people’s bands – when he’s not busy teaching high school – that we rarely get to hear him fronting his own. That situation is remedied this afternoon, with Wojo (as everyone in Chicago jazz calls him) leading a sterling band featuring pianist Ryan Cohan, bassist Clark Sommers and drummer Dana Hall. Finally, listeners get a chance to hear Wojciechowski and Hall in a space big enough to hold all the sound they can produce: the great outdoors. Serenading an uncommonly hushed and attentive audience in the Smart Museum’s courtyard, Wojciechowski takes his music to exotic harmonic realms in his “Lexicon” and rigorously develops ideas in his whimsically titled “Title.” Wojciechowski also offers an excerpt from bandmate Cohan’s suite “The River,” the tune “Kampala Moon” unfolding as a sensuous jazz nocturne. As in previous years, though, more chairs are needed at the Smart Museum courtyard.

5 p.m.: Frank Rosaly’s Green and Gold in the Performance Penthouse at the University of Chicago’s Logan Center for the Arts. Drummer Rosaly leads one of his most attractive and promising ventures, an unconventional ensemble devoted to exploring the nearly forgotten repertoire of Prince Lasha and Sonny Simmons. Driven by Rosaly’s light, lithe and dexterous approach to the drums, the band captures much of the flavor of the 1960s jazz avant-garde without sounding quaint or nostalgic. The nimble front-line work of saxophonist-flutist Cameron Pfiffner and alto saxophonist Nick Mazzarella is central to this venture, Pfiffner’s ultra-dry tone counterbalanced by Mazzarella’s uncommonly lustrous sound. The sinewy quality of their unison passages finds empathetic support from Tomeka Reid’s warm timbre on cello, Anton Hatwich’s spry bass lines and, of course, Rosaly’s hyper-sensitive, hyper-active drum work. There’s no mistaking the potential of this project.

7 p.m. Jeff Parker at the University of Chicago’s International House. Guitarist Parker was a mainstay in a variety of Chicago bands before his recent move to California, so this performance amounts to a welcome homecoming. At first glance, he appears to be playing at something of a disadvantage, because his trio’s bassist, Chris Lopes, cannot make this engagement. Chicago bassist Joshua Abrams steps into the breach, however, acquitting himself handsomely in scores he has had to learn in short order. The trio, with longtime Parker collaborator Chad Taylor on drums, reaches a high point in Taylor’s “Mainz” from Parker’s “Bright Light in Winter” album. Here Parker produces other-worldly electric-guitar effects punctuated by Abrams’ bowed phrases down low and Taylor’s crisp percussion. Parker reaches into jazz standards, as well, his version of “Body and Soul” melodically creative yet with nary a wasted note.

9:30 p.m. Tomeka Reid Quartet at International House. The miking is a problem here, Reid’s amber-toned cello lines not adequately amplified and, therefore, not fully projecting to a crowded house. Even so, the originality of Reid’s work is unmistakable, thanks to the regality of her sound in legato phrases, the exuberance of her rhythm in swing sections and the precision of her pizzicato work in uptempo passages. In all, a model of what contemporary jazz cello playing can be. If the sound imbalance makes it impossible to adequately assess the band, guitarist Jeff Parker, bassist Joshua Abrams and drummer Frank Rosaly certainly reflect Reid’s aesthetic in bracingly fresh repertoire, including originals by Reid, Abrams and Fred Lonberg-Holm.

11:15 p.m. Anat Cohen and Douglas Lora Duo at the University of Chicago’s Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. Every great jazz festival needs a world premiere, and the Hyde Park gathering has an unforgettable one in this engagement by Israeli clarinetist Cohen and Brazilian guitarist Lora. Though the two had collaborated before in various settings, this performance marks their first duo concert, and judging by its lyrical urgency and technical finesse, there should be many more to come. Cohen stands as one of the world’s great clarinetists, the rounded beauty of her tone matched by the joyousness of her phrasings. Long a student of choro and other Brazilian idioms, Cohen dispatches its relentless syncopations idiomatically but also brings to bear the soulfulness that marks all her work. She hardly could have a more empathetic partner than Lora, who draws lush harmony and a vast array of colors from his seven-string guitar. A splendid new duo is born.

The Hyde Park Jazz Festival runs from 1 to 8 p.m. Sunday at the Midway Plaisance, between Woodlawn and Ellis Avenues; admission is free; visit


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Who to See at the Hyde Park Jazz Festival

September 30, 2013

Every year, the headlines leading up to the Hyde Park Jazz Festival seem to be the same: bigger, better, grander than the last year. It’d be easy to chalk it up to hyperbole, were it not actually true.

In addition to featuring a broader spread of local jazz talents—innovative improvisers like Mike Reed alongside stalwarts like Corey Wilkes and the effervescent Dee Alexander—the Hyde Park Jazz Festival boasts several more events that emphasize the ‘festival’ aspect of the two-day affair.

Here are some highlights, chosen with the help of the festival’s executive director, Kate Dumbleton:
 Damon Locks

Last year, for the first time in the festival’s seven year history, organizers rolled out a dance floor on the Midway. But as Dumbleton found out, “Having a jazz DJ for dance is a little tricky.” So she’s brought on former-punk-rock-frontman-turned-DJ Damon Locks to man the dance floor this year. “What I love about Damon is that he is so broadly knowledgeable about music. He’ll play records with an understanding of the trajectory of jazz. It keeps people moving.”
Saturday, September 28, West Side at the Main Stage on Midway Plaisance, 731 E 60th St. 
Sun Ra panel + DownBeat Magazine

In lieu of short films this year, festivalgoers can attend a panel on seminal jazz composer and philosopher Sun Ra. They can also watch the Reader’s Peter Margasak quiz guitarist Jeff Parker on his jazz knowledge in a blindfold test. Dumbleton explains the rationale behind these two new features:  “Sun Ra’s an incredible artist who spent a lot of time on the South Side and DownBeat has been asking these musicians stump the expert questions for a while now. I’ve been wanting to do it with Jeff Parker more than anyone, he’s an encyclopedia.”
Sun Ra: Saturday, September 28, 1–2pm.
Downbeat: Saturday, September 28, 4:15pm Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E 60th St.

Anat Cohen and Douglas Lora 

Israeli reedist and Brazilian guitarist Douglas Lora close Saturday with a duet at the Rockefeller Chapel. “The Rockefeller Chapel is my challenge every year,” says Dumbleton. “It seats 1,400 people and it’s meant to be a peak performance, but at the same time it’s really challenging acoustically. Last year trumpeter Miguel Zenon was tasked with the charge. “Anat is equally skilled at thinking through environments and space.” says Dumbleton.
Saturday, September 28, 11–midnight. Rockefeller Chapel, 5850 S Woodlawn Ave.
Oral histories

New this year, attendees can share their memories of listening to live jazz in Hyde Park and other South Side neighborhoods in a booth on the Midway. “You sign up to tell whatever story you want about a jazz or cultural experience on the South Side,” says Dumbleton. “[It’s] an idea that came out of some thinking I’d been doing with my students at the Art Institute. I would talk to [members of] the Hyde Park Jazz Society and kept thinking, why don’t we try documenting this?”
Saturday, September 28, Midway Plaisance, 731 E 60th St. 

Photo: MARC MONAGHAN Dee Alexander will close out the Hyde Park Jazz Festival on Sunday, September 29.

Dee Alexander will close out the Hyde Park Jazz Festival on Sunday, September 29.

The Hyde Park Jazz Festival runs from Saturday, September 28 to Sunday, September 29.

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Neil Tesser’s Not-to-miss Performances at the 2013 HPJF

September 27, 2013

Neil Tesser

My colleague Bill Meyer has already tipped his choices for Saturday’s schedule at the Seventh annual Hyde Park Jazz Festival, which takes place this weekend at various venues in and around the University of Chicago. Bill’s picks center on the new-music performances taking place – which make up a greater proportion of the festival lineup than in years past – and I second his recommendations; I hope to hear most if not all of those artists myself. But the HPJF also boasts a superb roster of more straight-ahead and even mainstream bands, several of them making their festival debut. Here are a few (but certainly not the only ones) I’d try not to miss.

At 1:30 on the James Wagner Stage, trumpet ace Pharez Whittedleads the sextet heard on his last two albums – a band of brothers with enough high-powered sparkle to match Whitted’s own blistering horn work, starring his fellow native Hoosier Eddie Bayard on tenor, and fellow current Chicagoan Bobby Broom on guitar. Growing up in Indianapolis, Whitted developed a keen appreciation for the music and spirit of Freddie Hubbard (that city’s other noteworthy trumpeter), and modeled his style after Hubbard’s – no easy task, considering the extravagant but elegant virtuosity that Hubbard imparted to both the avant-garde and the mainstream in the 1960s and early 70s. But Whitted neither imitates nor parodies the Hubbard style; instead, he builds upon it to create a powerful 21st -century correlative, which has made him a formidable presence on the Chicago scene. The unassailable Chicago rhythm team of pianist Ron Perrillo and bassist Dennis Carroll bolster the front-line soloists, while another Indianapolitan – the fierce and soulful Greg Artry (an increasingly frequent presence on Chicago bandstands) – handles the drums.

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Bill Meyer’s Picks for the 2013 HPJF

September 27, 2013

Bill Meyer

Founded in 2007, the Hyde Park Jazz Festival is quickly developing into a major contender that could proudly wear the name of a whole city, not just a neighborhood. This year it spans two days and takes place in ten different venues, ranging from intimate indoor spaces to a large stage set up on the Midway Plaisance. The booking is similarly impressive, bringing in international stars like Anat Cohen, enduring local favorites like Alfonso Ponticelli & Swing Gitan, and an impressive representation of the city’s cutting-edge talent. The five ensembles profiled here constitute a short, but by no means inclusive, list of the festival’s cutting-edge acts.


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The Hyde Park Jazz Festival paints a portrait of the Chicago scene

September 26, 2013

Thirty-two acts at 11 venues, including Dee Alexander, Anat Cohen, Ken Vandermark, and Gerald Clayton

By  @pmarg


The Hyde Park Jazz Festival celebrates its seventh anniversary this Saturday and Sunday, September 28 and 29, with the boldest, biggest, most comprehensive program in its history. Kate Dumbleton signed on as the festival’s executive director in spring 2012, giving her only a few months to put together her first effort, and this year’s event has clearly benefited from the extra planning time—no other fest showcases the breadth of Chicago jazz better. Thirty-two acts perform at 11 venues, all but two of which fit into a square of Hyde Park less than five blocks on a side. The 30 local groups cover such a dazzling array of styles and approaches that you’d never notice the absence of out-of-town acts, but a couple visitors sweeten the pot anyway, both playing Saturday—a trio led by New York-based pianist Gerald Clayton (7 PM, Logan Center) and a duo of agile Israeli reedist Anat Cohen and Brazilian guitarist Douglas Lora (11 PM, Rockefeller Chapel). The majority of the festival’s sets fall on Saturday, and other highlights that day include a trio set from pianist Willie Pickens (2 PM, DuSable Museum), a rare performance by the Jeff Parker Trio (7 PM, International House), Ken Vandermark’s powerful Music of the Midwest School (9:30 PM, Logan Center), and the inventive quartet led by cellist Tomeka Reid (9:30 PM, International House). Sunday’s program takes place all over the Midway Plaisance and wraps up at 7 PM with a concert by power­house singer Dee Alexander. This year’s schedule also includes a handful of events that aren’t jazz performances: a Sun Ra panel, a DownBeat magazine “blindfold test” with Jeff Parker (conducted by yours truly), and DJ sets from Eternals front man Damon Locks. All shows are free and all-ages, though some small venues will likely hit capacity and turn people away. Admission is first come, first served (the sets by Clayton’s trio and Frank Rosaly’s Green and Gold are ticketed, but the free tickets, available at the Logan Center box office, are also first come, first served). Donations of any size are gladly accepted, of course, and for $125 you can get a Jazz Pass that guarantees you preferred seating for indoor shows. The festival provides free shuttles between shows; for a complete schedule and a list of venues, visit

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The stars gather for Hyde Park Jazz Festival

September 26, 2013

Howard Reich - 10:48 a.m.CDT, September 26, 2013

CT  CT jazz25.jpg

It started out as a seemingly quixotic attempt by a group of South Side jazz lovers to celebrate the music – and it has become one of Chicago’s most ingeniously presented jazz gatherings.

The seventh annual Hyde Park Jazz Festival, running Saturday and Sunday, as always will encompass such unconventional settings as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House and Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, as well as the University of Chicago’s mighty Logan Center for the Arts and other locales.

All events are free, but some performances require tickets that will be available at the box office of the University of Chicago’s Logan Center, 915 E. 60th St., starting at particular times noted below.

Following is an annotated guide to the most promising concerts. For more information, visit,0,2862877.column

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Year Seven for Jazz Festival

September 25, 2013


By Jeffrey Bishku-Aykul
Assistant to the Editor, Hyde Park Herald

This weekend’s seventh annual Hyde Park Jazz Festival will feature a healthy mix of veteran and newcomer performers,according to organizers.

More than 30 acts will perform at 10 venues spanning the neighborhood, from 1 p.m. to midnight on Saturday, Sept. 28, and between 1 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 29. The lineup comprises Chicagoans, such as cellist Tomeka Reid and saxophonist Ari Brown, as well as out-of-towners.

“We have some musicians returning every year, because we think they’re wonderful, they have a big audience and they’ve been with us since the beginning,” said festival co-founder Judith Stein, who started helping to put the lineup together in late 2012. She cited pianist Willie Pickens and vocalist Dee Alexander as examples.

Stein added that the lineup featured “young and up-and-coming” performers such as saxophonist Caroline Davis and organist Ben Paterson, as well as edgier ones, including composer-saxophonist Ken Vandermark, a MacArthur Fellow: “He’s certainly more avant garde than some other musicians we’ve had,” Stein said. She called the 12-member supergroup, Chicago Yestet, a “who’s-who of Chicago musicians.”

Read more:

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NewCity Previews 2013 Hyde Park Jazz Festival

September 24, 2013


DeeAlexander1-JimNewberry-magnum High expectations for a festival in the neighborhood where the current President of the United States makes his home is a given. That the festival actually delivers on these expectations is quite remarkable, especially since there are no truly big names scheduled to perform. Instead, the focus is sharply attuned to the local free jazz scene. Perhaps the support of the festival’s lead and founding sponsor, the University of Chicago’s Office of Civic Engagement, had an impact on the amount of research done to cater such an excellent set of Chicago musicians. Now in their seventh year, the festival opens with a panel devoted to the legendary Sun Ra, whose earliest Chicago performances often took place in the now defunct Club DeLisa nestled in the far less affluent, adjacent Washington Park neighborhood. To be sure, the University has done much to market to a broad range of Chicagoans, hence the importance of the inclusion of the DuSable Museum, and Little Black Pearl in Kenwood as venues for performances. The performers themselves are equally diverse, with Saturday stacked with everyone from Willie Pickens heading a gospel trio, to booking extraordinaire Mike Reed surfacing for a rare performance as band leader with outfit People, Places & Things. …

(Kenneth Preski) September 28 at eleven different Hyde Park venues, September 29 at James W. Wagner Stage at the Midway, 1130 Midway Plaisance West, also at the West Stage near Ellis. Festivities begin at 1pm. Free.

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Chicago Magazine: Top Jazz Shows in September

September 3, 2013

The Top Jazz Shows in Chicago in September

Posted Friday at 12:00 p.m.
By Mark Loehrke

9/28–29 at 1 The seventh edition of the city’s best music festival once again spreads over two days. Venues include the DuSable Museum, the Logan Center of the Arts, Robie House, the Rockefeller Chapel, and two main stages on the Midway Plaisance. Locations and details:

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Jazz Times Article

September 3, 2013

Chicago’s Hyde Park Jazz Festival Set for Sept. 28-29

Gerald Clayton, Anat Cohen among the headliners

By Jeff Tamarkin

The seventh annual Hyde Park Jazz Festival will take place in Chicago on Sept. 28-29. More than 30 bands are scheduled, on 13 stages. The free festival, which runs from 1p.m.-midnight on Saturday and 1 p.m.-8 p.m. Sunday, also features youth programming, an outdoor dance floor, and artisan vendors.

Gerald Clayton By Dragan Tasic

Anat Cohen By Atael Weissman


This full artist lineup is: Gerald Clayton Trio; Anat Cohen and Douglas Lora; Dana Hall Quintet; Ken Vandermark Ensemble: Music of the Midwest School; Mike Reed’s People, Places & Things; Dee Alexander Quartet; Miguel de la Cerna Trio; Douglas Ewart Trio; Mwata Bowden and the University of Chicago Jazz Xtet; Jeff Parker Trio; Tomeka Reid Quartet; Frank Rosaly’s Green and Gold; and the Chicago Jazz Orchestra with Tammy McCann.

The full schedule is available at Hyde park Jazz Festival.

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Fresh Takes: Jazz Travel and 2013 Summer Festivals

July 30, 2013

by zervelaura on July 26, 2013

Even though we are halfway through summer festival season, there is still plenty of time to get out there and hear some great live music! And if you’re a jazz lover, well, you’re in luck: a number of festivals throughout the U.S. promise musical sizzle from summer well into fall.

As a bonus, we’ve scored some advice from jazz experts to help you improvise a truly memorable encounter with four of America’s most musical cities, whether you are making a jazz pilgrimage or are a local looking to amp up your jazz experience.

3. Chicago Jazz

“The Great Migration” of the South’s African American population to the industrial cities of the North brought the roots of jazz with it. Musical pioneers such as “Jelly Roll” Morton and Bix Beiderbecke, the first white jazz master, proved that when it comes to jazz, Chicago plays by its own rules.

Chicago Jazz Festival: August 29- September 1, 2013: This year, the free two-day festival celebrates its 35th birthday with a swinging party in Millennium Park.  Local favorites perform alongside renowned national and international acts.

Hyde Park Jazz Festival: September 28-29, 2013: Local darlings of the Chicago jazzscene mix with well-known headliners for this free two-day festival. Be sure to take advantage of the dancefloor and picnic area when you’re not perusing the offerings of artisan vendors.

Made In Chicago: World Class Jazz: Weekly Series July 25th- August 29th, 2013: Millennium Park is filled with the sounds of Chicago’s leading jazz artists. A series of tribute concerts and retrospectives explores sonic connections to the music of Africa, Latin America and the jazz of Chicago’s South Side.

Expert Extras:

Rick O’Dell, Broadcaster and Founder at, talks truly unique jazz experiences in the Chicago area:

“Midweek after-work sets have been a popular attraction for many years at two non-traditional venues. The Shedd Aquarium presents live music in a remarkable one-of-a-kind location. With the lake on one side and the magnificent downtown skyline on the other, their patio is home to “Jazzin’ at the Shedd” Wednesday evenings, 5:00 to 10:00pm. Get there early if you want to beat the crowd.

Get on I-94 and travel north for ninety minutes (definitely a doable drive on a summer afternoon) and you’ll reach the Racine Wisconsin Zoo. They’re the surprising locale for a couple of notable shows next month. As part of the Zoo’s Wednesday night “Animals Crackers” series, Jeff Lorber, Chuck Loeb and Everette Harp perform on Jazz-Funk-Soul night, August 7, and saxophonist/flautist/world class whistler Nelson Rangell brings his triple-threat talent to the Zoo August 21. And David Benoit headlines at the annual HarborPark Jazz and Blues Festival in Kenosha Saturday, August 17.”

For the complete article, please visit

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Hyde Park Jazz Festival picks up the tempo

July 9, 2013


by Howard Reich, Arts critic

12:43 PM CDT, July 9, 2013

Several of the most intriguing bands in Chicago jazz, as well as national and international artists, will converge on the city’s South Side for the seventh annual Hyde Park Jazz Festival, running Sept. 28-29 in superb venues across the neighborhood.

Israeli clarinet master Anat Cohen will duet with Brazilian guitarist Douglas Lora at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. Gerald Clayton, a distinctive pianist of the under-30 generation, will front a trio at the University of Chicago’s Logan Center for the Arts. And bands led by such widely admired Chicago innovators as MacArthur “genius grant” winner Ken Vandermark, drummer-impresario Mike Reed, explosive percussionist Dana Hall, multi-instrumentalist Douglas Ewart and vocal virtuosos Dee Alexander and Tammy McCann will reflect the vastness of 21st century Chicago jazz.

But this festival has a problem, albeit one that most young arts organizations would covet: It has grown so quickly that it barely can keep up with its audience. From the outset, the Hyde Park Jazz Festival has attracted crowds in the thousands, but, remarkably, it remains a mostly volunteer-driven affair. Created in 2007 by an ad hoc group of South Side jazz lovers who gleaned support from the University of Chicago and other neighborhood institutions, the fest rapidly became a cultural rite and a force in Chicago jazz, yet to this day it has zero full-time employees.

“We have a six-year history, but we’re effectively a start-up,” says Kate Dumbleton, who last year became festival director, while the 2012 event was already well into the planning stages.

“We don’t have a printer, we don’t have stamps, we don’t have the basics.”

What they do have is something most other festivals lack: an unusually appealing format that ingeniously embraces its environment. Intimate chamber concerts at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, formal sets in the University of Chicago’s Logan Center for the Arts, dance-band sessions on the Midway Plaisance – each booking is tailored to a signature Hyde Park venue.

Yet all of this is produced with the barest of resources. Dumbleton, who teaches full-time at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, works for the festival under contract, as does music administrator Carolyn Albritton, and they’ve contracted with various parties to provide support for marketing and venue operations. A University of Chicago intern, a hands-on board and roughly 300 volunteers do everything else.

But an event as increasingly complex as this cannot run on a wing and a prayer forever, which is why the Hyde Park Jazz Festival now stands at a crossroads.

In January, the fest became a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, no longer operating under the auspices of the now-disbanded Hyde Park Alliance for Arts and Culture. And this year is the first in which Dumbleton has been involved in programming from the first day of planning. In effect, she and the jazz aficionados who work with her have been dealing with two demanding tasks at once: building this year’s fest while starting to strategize for the future.

In a way, Dumbleton and friends are following the model of SFJAZZ, which started out in 1982 as the two-day San Francisco Jazz Festival and has become one of the most ambitious, year-round jazz presenters in the country.

“It’s an interesting thing when the community just comes together and makes an audience … and then you think: ‘Oh, we better build an infrastructure’ ” to support it, says Dumbleton.

At this point, Dumbleton does not know what form that organizational structure might take. In the next few months, she and her cohorts will see how much funding they can raise to transform the Hyde Park Jazz Festival from a once-a-year event that appears and quickly disappears, like Brigadoon, into an arts institution that can nurture jazz in Hyde Park throughout the year. Dumbleton envisions the Hyde Park Jazz Festival staging events in partnership with organizations such as University of Chicago Presents and the Jazz Institute of Chicago and collaborating with artists to create interdisciplinary works that encompass jazz, dance, theater and what-not.

Surely the intense public support the festival has enjoyed from the beginning shows that there’s an audience hungry for this kind of programming on the South Side, an ancestral home for jazz in America.

The programming for this year’s festival – which, like last year, has a budget of $300,000 – suggests that Dumbleton and friends are enhancing an already smartly conceived soiree.

For starters, this year’s fest will feature more experimental bands than ever, including Mike Reed’s People, Places & Things; Ken Vandermark’s Midwest School; Frank Rosaly’s Green and Gold; plus ensembles led by visionaries Douglas Ewart, Jeff Parker and Tomeka Reid. For slightly less daring tastes, the fest will present pianist Willie Pickens, saxophonist Ari Brown, singer Maggie Brown (no relation) and trumpeter Corey Wilkes, among others, though one hastens to add that these artists, too, routinely push beyond jazz convention.

Moreover, the festival scheduling has changed a bit this time around.

“One of the things we heard last year is that there was so much, that people couldn’t get to what they wanted to see,” says Dumbleton, acknowledging that stylistically related ensembles were playing at the same time at various venues.

So Dumbleton has tried to program similar attractions in sequence, so listeners who want to hear all the experimental artists, for instance, can catch one after another in different settings.

Two venues from previous years – the Hyde Park Art Center and Hyde Park Union Church – will not be part of the festival this time: They were already booked and could not participate. Dumbleton expects they’ll be back in 2014.

As always, the University of Chicago has been central to presenting the festival, says Dumbleton.

One other point: Rather than simply booking noted headliners who quickly assemble a band for the occasion, the festival has invited many artists to bring specific projects they’ve been nurturing. Thus Vandermark will feature his eloquent Midwest School, an illuminating ensemble that explores and re-conceives music of Roscoe Mitchell, Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill and Julius Hemphill. And drummer Rosaly will lead Green and Gold, a unit that plays music of Prince Lasha and Sonny Simmons.

If the Hyde Park Jazz Festival can generate this much creative programming during a single weekend, one hardly can imagine what it could achieve if it transformed itself into the larger producing organization it deserves to be.

Following is the complete performance lineup for the seventh annual Hyde Park Jazz Festival. Film events, panel discussions and other related programming will be announced later. For details, visit

To read more from Howard Reich on jazz, go to Twitter @howardreich

Download the complete 2013 Hyde Park Jazz Festival Schedule.

Copyright © 2013 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC,0,4244857.column


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Etienne Charles: “Creole Soul”

June 26, 2013

By Peter Margasak

Trinidadian trumpeter and bandleader Etienne Charles, who studied in Florida and lives in New York, puts a lot of thought into his albums, and the forthcoming Creole Soul (due July 23 from Culture Shock) is no exception. On his previous album, Kaiso, Charles transformed Trinidad’s best-loved export, calypso, with sturdy small-group jazz arrangements, fusing two traditions in which he’s completely fluent. His “creole soul” has a broader reach, sweeping up various strains of 20th-century Caribbean folk and pop (not just from Trinidad but also from Martinique, Haiti, and Jamaica) and feeding them into the ever-widening maw of modern jazz, in the process creating a multivalent hybrid that underlines the soulfulness of all its parts. The album opens with guest vocals by inventive Haitian roots singer Erol Josué (in the Haitian creole Kweyol) and includes deft interpretations of Bob Marley’s “Turn Your Lights Down Low” and Willie Cobbs’s Bo Diddley-inspired blues “You Don’t Love Me (No No No),” which was later transformed into a rocksteady classic by Jamaican singer Dawn Penn. The band also does a gorgeous version of the Mighty Sparrow calypso ballad “Memories” and accentuates the calypso feel of the melody in Thelonious Monk’s “Green Chimneys.” Charles fronts the same strong band from Kaiso, including French saxophonist Jacques Schwartz-Bart, bassist Ben Williams, and drummer Obed Calvaire, but this time out the arrangements are much slicker, veering dangerously close to glossy fusion—particularly on the three tracks that feature the antiseptic contributions of guitarist Alex Wintz. Tonight that shouldn’t be as big a problem, though: Charles plays a fund-raiser for the Hyde Park Jazz Festival with Schwartz-Bart, pianist Christian Sands, bassist Rodney Whitaker, drummer Dana Hall, and percussionist Zach Himmelhoch.

When: Thu., June 27, 7:30 p.m.
Price: $50, $100 VIP, $10 students

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Etienne Charles’ brass forged from steel

June 21, 2013


Staff Reporter/

The trumpet has been a vessel of adventure for Etienne Charles.


The native of Port of Spain, Trinidad, divides his time between Long Island and Lansing, Mich., where he is an assistant professor of jazz trumpet at Michigan State University. His new album “Creole Soul” (Culture Shock Music) is framed by Haitian creole rhythms while featuring the reggae of Dawn Penn’s “You Don’t Love Me (no, no, no)” and the traditional calypso of Winsford Devine’s “Memories.”

Charles performs with his quintet Thursday in a Hyde Park Jazz Festival benefit concert at Chicago’s Logan Center for the Arts.

He is only 29 years old.

Charles moved to the United States at age 19 to study jazz under piano player Marcus Roberts at Florida State University. Charles also holds a master’s from the Juilliard School.

From an early age, Charles played with steel drum crews in Port of Spain. “One of the steel bands in Woodbrook [neighborhood] was Phase II, which probably still is one of the most progressive experimental steel bands in Trinidad,” Charles said in a call from Long Island.

The sextet meshes contemporary instrumentation with traditional steel pan. Charles was absorbed by the forward motion of the sound.

“It is jazz-infusion influences,” he explained. “They took a lot of musical risks. Boogsie [Len Sharpe, arranger and founder] was a member of Monty Alexander’s group in the 1970. Monty is one of my mentors.”

Alexander is another story. He began his career as a reggae sideman with the Skatalites and Joe Higgs in his native Kingston, Jamaica, before becoming the house piano player in the early 1960s at the historic Jilly’s on 52nd Street in New York City. Jilly’s regular Frank Sinatra loved Alexander’s swinging mento (calypso-folk). Alexander had picked up jazz chops from late Skatalite trombonist Roland Alphanso, who was a fan of Lester Young.

So Charles’ jazz influences spin cycle through Alexander and Phase II.

“Then I like the seasonal music called parang which we play at Christmas in Trinidad,” Charles continued. “There’s cuatros and guitars and chac-chacs [maracas]. There’s a box bass, and they sing in Spanish,” he said. The parang was brought to the Island of Trinidad by Venezuelan farmers.

Charles’ mother Victoria was an urban planner. His father Francis was a land surveyor.

“He was one of the few people trained in land surveying and hydrography,” Charles said. “He now represents Trinidad on the United Nations Commission on the Law of the Sea and Continental Shelf. My mother got a call from the ambassador to Nigeria. So they moved to Nigeria from 2007 to 2010.”

She became Trinidadan High Commissioner to Nigeria, where the embryonic trumpet player would visit the Slave Coast of Nigeria and in Ghana.

Francis Charles played in a steel band when Charles was young and was a DJ before he was born. By the age of 10 Charles was hearing Bob Marley around the house; he covers Marley’s “Turn Your Lights Down Low” with a slow New Orleans funk twist on “Creole Soul.”

When Charles was 5, his sister bought home a recorder from school. He learned to play the recorder. “Not long after that I started noodlin’ on steel pan because my dad had one at home,” he said. “My uncle gave me a trumpet when I was 10. He was in Toronto and he used to play the saxophone.”

The new track “Memories” is informed by Charles’ rich roots.

The song was inspired by the 2011 passing of steel pan percussionist Ralph MacDonald, a sideman to Harry Belafonte, Jimmy Buffett and John Lennon.

“I met Ralph on Carnival Tuesday [in Port of Spain] in 1998,” Charles said. “I was playing on-the-road [in street parades] on Carnival Monday. I used to be one of those kids playing on-the-road. I moved around in different bands. Somebody might get tired so you’d pick up iron sticks and play the iron, or play the congas. I ended up on the congas. This gentleman climbs up on the truck and starts playing the congas. It was Ralph MacDonald [whose father was from Trinidad]. We just rubbed shoulders. Fast forward to November 2005, and I was playing my first gig with Roberta Flack’s band.”

The Flack tour stopped in Stamford, Conn., where MacDonald lived with his family. MacDonald came to the sound check. Charles and MacDonald talked about Carnival 1998. They reunited when they were seatmates on a 2006 flight to the Barbados Jazz Festival. The relationship was solidified.

“I learned so much from him,” Charles said. “Understanding how to establish a groove. How to connect with a melodic level on the song. Keeping your improvisation and phrases clear. I learned how to handle time in the studio. Maintaining a connection to your roots and your music is the same thing I learned from Marcus Roberts. He is on all my records except for this one.”

MacDonald was a regular member of the touring band for Buffett, who is town at the same time as Charles. MacDonald was diagnosed with cancer in 2010 and suffered a stroke in March 2011.

Charles visited MacDonald on a regular basis,

“It came to the point where he couldn’t feed himself,” he said. “So we would feed him ice cream flat in bed. It was humbling. That’s where ‘Memories’ came from. Every July 4, Ralph would have this huge barbecue at his house. He was a family man, and all the musicians he played with for years would come to the house. Will Lee [bassist on Paul Shaffer’s CBS Orchestra]. Buddy Williams [jazz drummer]. The session guys like Bones Malone, Hugh McCracken, who just died.

“Ralph couldn’t do his last July 4. But everybody still came over to spend time with him. In September I went to visit him, and the next weekend I had a gig in Ann Arbor. I had a half hour at the piano before the show and that [deliberate intro] arrangement came over me. It was a popular song [Trinidadians] use when people pass away. It’s an old [Mighty] Sparrow calypso hit.”

Charles has been teaching at Michigan State since 2009. He also conducts a jazz orchestra there.

“I just finished four years of running a jazz outreach program in Detroit,” he said. “We had about 40 students from late elementary through high school. There was a concert each semester. I would take MSU students as my mentors. It was a weekly program part of the Community Music School.”

And world music percolates in the spirit of community, from pan yards to Chicago’s Hyde Park.

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Why Chicago’s Jazz Scene Is On Fire

June 4, 2013

Chicago Magazine’s profile on Hyde Park Jazz Festival Director, Kate Dumbleton


The absence of significant jazz figures on Chicago’s Power List is a sad reality for the music industry. Despite its continued

vibrancy and inventiveness, the city’s jazz scene has long suffered the same fate as the music itself in the overall public consciousness—that of a once-great historical art form now shoved to the periphery of pop culture as a niche genre at best.


But the tired old “jazz is dead” debate seems particularly specious, especially in Chicago when someone like Kate Dumbleton is taking charge. Originally from the Bay, the veteran jazz advocate and former executive director of the Chicago Jazz Ensemble became director of Hyde Park Jazz Festival last fall. “The level of musicianship and co-creative energy is like nothing I have seen anywhere else, and genre categories are continually blurring in the most interesting of ways,” Dumbleton says. “From a creative standpoint, Chicago is on fire.”

Built by volunteers as a free, locally-focused event in 2007, the Hyde Park Jazz Festival immediately set itself apart from the typical stage-on-hot-asphalt aesthetic by placing concerts within well-known Hyde Park institutions like the University of Chicago and the DuSable Museum of African American History. Those differences have made an impact, too. At a time when city-sponsored festivals are getting cut, the Hyde Park Jazz Fest expanded from one day to two and boasted more than 25,000 visitors. Not a bad time for Dumbleton to jump on board.

While Dumbleton says it’s important to uphold tradition, she also plans to propel the fest forward. “Growth for the sake ofgrowth makes little sense to me,” she says. “It takes time to develop organization in a smart and organic way.” But that’s not an easy sell in a world where there’s a desire to supersize everything. When Lollapalooza attracts over a quarter million people in July, it’s hard for a small festival to compare. But Dumbleton isn’t worried. “My greatest hope is that whatever we do in the future comes from a constant dialog with our ever-diversifying audience and from a fundamental commitment to the music. If can do that, the future will always be bright.”

Mark Loehrke is a contributing music critic for Chicago magazine.


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Hyde Park Jazz Festival innovates as it enthralls

October 8, 2012


The eighth Hyde Park Jazz Festival was Kate Dumbleton’s first as its director, and she faced some headaches Saturday.

Traffic foiled vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz from making it for a Downbeat panel discussion alongside Dee Alexander, saxist Melvin Butler and trumpeter Marquis Hill at the University of Chicago’s brand new Logan Center for the Arts. Meanwhile, Damion Reid and Zack Lober of saxist Greg Ward’s ancipated “Phonic Juggernaut” didn’t make it in from New York. Ward rallied immediately, calling on local drummer Marcus Evans and bassist Michael Lough for his set at Little Black Pearl on East 47th Street.

With first-come-first-served ticketing (though all events were free), crushes of people were avoided for concerts in the Logan’s ninth-floor Performance Penthouse, where cellist Tomeka Reid presented her new chamber trio with bassist Josh Abrams and guitarist Matt Schneider. It was good to hear Reid, often in larger contexts amidst rafts of horns, in a more intimate environment focusing on her compositions, which included a dedication to the late violinist Billy Bang as well as a cover of Bang’s “Rainbow Gladiator.”

The setting in the penthouse resembled a smaller version of the Allen Room at Lincoln Center, with fine views of the University of Chicago’s Gothic buildings visible through side windows. Another superb trio, Sun Rooms, later graced the space, featuring drummer Mike Reed, bassist Nate McBride and Adasiewicz, that intense virtuoso of the vibraphone.

Notwithstanding crowd-pleasing shows from saxophonist Jarrard Harris’ Quintet and the Chicago Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble on the twin stages on Midway Plaisance (the West Stage with dance floor, another addition this year), two more were particularly memorable for musical substance as well as stunning location. Violinist Zach Brock, like Ward a stellar Chicago musician who made the move to New York, dazzled three consecutive houses in the tiny upstairs room at Frank Lloyd Wright’s storied Robie House. Bunched in an alcove with bassist Matt Ulery and drummer Jon Deitemyer in the low-ceiling, Prairie-style room, Brock started with a Sonny Rollins-inspired “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” as folks peered through the stained glass windows from the outside balcony. An idiomatic shift from jazz to a more countrified vein heralded Brock’s poignant “Almost Never Was” with Ulery delicately ghosting notes over Deitemyer’s brushwork. After a nod to jazz violin hero Jean Luc Ponty’s 70th birthday, the trio finished with “Man of the Light” by Zbigniew Seifert, an all but forgotten Polish violinist Brock has continued to champion.

Thanks to an inspired idea by Dumbleton, Saturday’s events climaxed with a breathtaking solo recital in Rockefeller Chapel from Puerto Rican saxophonist Miguel Zenon. Zenon proved why his honoring as both a MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellow is wholly justified. With composure and humility he faultlessly mined deep internalizations of Puerto Rico’s folkloric traditions including Sylvia Rexach’s “Alma Adentro,” Pablo Milanes’ “Son de Cuba a Puerto Rico” and “Impromptu” by Luis Miranda. Zenon commenced with an obscure tribute to his home country originally played by Sidney Bechet, ending with an almost archaeological survey of Zequinha de Abreu’s “Tico Tico,” made famous in the jazz world by Charlie Parker. Despite the absence of accompaniment, Zenon maintained a danceable rhythm throughout his Rococo yet never unduly repetitive extrapolations of basic material, sending his gorgeous alto tone (honed by classical studies in San Juan as well as jazz) reverberating 80 feet up into the nave of the sacred space. In short, unmissable.

Michael Jackson is a Chicago free-lance writer and photographer.

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Chicago Tribune: Hyde Park Jazz Festival transforms a neighborhood – with music

October 8, 2012

Read More Hyde Park Jazz Fest: Bop (and swing, and rock out) till you drop

September 28, 2012

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Shore Magazine: Hyde Park opens its doors to jazz

September 27, 2012

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Hyde Park opens its doors to jazz

September 26, 2012

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Timeout Chicago: Critic’s Pick

September 25, 2012

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Daily Herald: On the road: Move and groove at Hyde Park Jazz Fest

September 18, 2012

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Chicago Tribune: Victor Garcia trumpets a new septet at emerging Logan Center

September 13, 2012

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Chicago Tribune: Judith Stein is the hardest-working woman in jazz

September 10, 2012

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Chicago Tribune Fall Music Preview: Chicago jazz greats coming home

September 7, 2012

Chicago always has produced jazz giants, larger-than-life figures whose art towers over that of mere mortals. Who are today’s Chicago jazz giants? Following is an annotated guide to some of the titans who will be performing during the fall season.

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Chicago Tribune: Hyde Park Jazz Festival unfolds anew

August 8, 2012

Six years ago, it was a neighborhood soiree that — to everyone’s surprise — attracted turn-away crowds. Today, the Hyde Park Jazz Festival stands as a cultural force in its own right, an ever-expanding event that’s evolving into a bona fide artistic institution.

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Chicago Tribune: Miguel Zenon to headline Hyde Park Jazz Festival

July 16, 2012

Miguel Zenon, a MacArthur “genius grant” winner and one of the most admired young musicians in jazz, will headline the 6th annual Hyde Park Jazz Festival, a free event running Sept. 29 and 30 in various Hyde Park locations.
Zenon will play a rare solo show 10:45 p.m. Sept. 29 at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, 5850 S. Woodlawn Ave.

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Chicago Tribune: Hyde Park celebrates jazz in every corner

October 10, 2011

What makes a great jazz festival? Certainly you need top musicians, superb venues, creative presentations, engaged audiences and a sense of constant reinvention and surprise.

By those criteria, the fifth annual Hyde Park Jazz Festival – which ended Sunday – qualified as the most artistically satisfying fest on Chicago’s jazz calendar. That all the performances were free and open to everyone, yet not dependent on City Hall largesse, only underscored the miracle of this independently produced event.

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The Chicago Reader

September 23, 2011

Corey Wilkes

For its fifth YEAR the Hyde Park Jazz Festival expands to two days and features 16 venues hosting more than 40 shows this Saturday and Sunday (9/24-9/25). Saturday’s performances begin at 1 PM and culminate in a midnight jam session at the U. of C.’s Mandel Hall (1414 E. 59th).

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Two women swinging through the mostly male world of jazz

September 22, 2011

The 5th annual Hyde Park Jazz Festival will take place over the weekend. Among the many performers are two instrumentalists and composers – Diane Ellis and Tomeka Reid. Ellis’ saxophone and Reid’s cello are miles apart musically but the two share a passion for their craft. They also share another trait – they are women in a predominantly male profession. WBEZ’s Richard Steele spoke with the ladies about their influences and experiences as female jazz musicians. Click here to listen to the interview.

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A great jazz festival takes root in Hyde Park

September 20, 2011

Rarely has a Chicago musical institution grown as dramatically and impressively as the Hyde Park Jazz Festival. What started as a one-day event five years ago will double in duration this weekend, bringing top-notch musicians to first-rate venues across the neighborhood. But that’s just part of the story of this festival’s blossoming.

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