JAMES ON JAZZ By Robin James—Early September is the time for Midwest jazz festivals

It wasn’t that long ago around this time of year when I put down the laundry basket, packed a bag, hopped in my car, opened the sunroof, hit the open road and headed for Chicago’s Jazz Festival. And it was just last year when I wrote about bassist Gerald Weasley headlining the Selby Ave. JazzFest in St. Paul. Time flies, and here we are again.

The artist line-ups may have changed, but the level of anticipation for both free festivals hasn’t. Why not wrap up your summer with a trip to Chi-Town, and then bring it on back home to St. Paul to kick-off a fall season of jazz in the Twin Cities. Get ready to open your mind and your ears.

The 33rd Annual Chicago Jazz Festival comes alive at Grant Park, Sept. 1-4, 2011. Free admission remains, and the festival continues to expand beyond Grant Park. My thanks to Cindy Gatziolis for continuing to keep us up to date on the happenings with press releases year after year.

The 33rd Annual Chicago Jazz Festival produced by the City of Chicago and programmed by the Jazz Institute of Chicago is the longest running free jazz festival and will take place in four locations: the Chicago Cultural Center, Millennium Park’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Ganz Hall at Roosevelt University and in Grant Park on Sept. 3-4. Again, the festival is produced in cooperation with the Chicago Jazz Partnership.

The festival welcomes Artist-in-Residence Orbert Davis (returning for the first time since the debut of his Chicago Jazz Philharmonic in 2004), and headliners Saxophone Summit featuring Joe Lovano, David Liebman and Ravi Coltrane, vocalist Cassandra Wilson and trumpeter Roy Hargrove.

Following up on last year’s expansion into new venues, the festival opens at the Chicago Cultural Center on Thursday, Sept. 1 with performances representing an array of local talent in the Randolph Café, Claudia Cassidy Theater and Preston Bradley Hall.

Later that night, festival-goers will have the chance to enjoy the final concert of the Made in Chicago: World Class Jazz series at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, which is also opening night of the Chicago Jazz Festival. Concert highlight includes Randy Weston and the Chicago Jazz Ensemble featuring the arrangements of Melba Liston.

Other festival highlights include a Friday evening performance at the Pritzker Pavilion headlined by the Saxophone Summit, which includes Lovano, Liebman and Coltrane, all among the top saxophone influences of their generation. Joining them will be the outstanding rhythm section: pianist Phil Markowitz, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Billy Hart.

But first, the opening starts with Chicago guitarist Bobby Broom and the Deep Blue Organ Trio with special guest saxophonist Bobby Watson. You don’t want to miss a second of this.

On Saturday, the festival moves to Grant Park, expanding to four stages. Artist-in-Residence Davis takes to the stage (Petrillo Music Shell) with his 18-piece Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble. The program includes the premiere of a new composition by Davis, as well as a re-visitation of Miles Davis’ “Sketches of Spain” and other new arrangements. The chamber ensemble features special guests violinist Zachary Brock and pianist Brandon McCune.

For the finale that evening, welcome Grammy Award-winning artist Cassandra Wilson. Wilson’s career spans work ranging from the blues to funk and jazz. Wilson won her first Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Performance in 1996 with now legendary New Moon Daughter album, and most recently she earned Best Jazz Vocal Album Grammy honors. She also recently toured and performed with Prince.
Then on Sunday, what has become a festival tradition of marking milestone birthdays continues with a celebration of Ira Sullivan’s 80th birthday. Special guests scheduled to appear along with Sullivan is his long-time friend, pianist Willie Pickens, who also turned 80 this year.

Also on Sunday, Grammy Award-winning saxophonist David Sanchez performs with special guest Stefon Harris on Vibraphone. And the festival finale belongs to trumpeter Roy Hargrove. Whether he’s playing with strings, hip-hop, or Latin jazz, he swings. Sanchez, Stefon and Hargrove are among jazz’s most admired and respected artists.

Jazz and R&B artist Gerald Albright headlines the 10th Annual Selby Ave. JazzFest. This festival also offers free admission. The 2011 Selby Avenue JazzFest will take place on Saturday, September 10 at the intersection of Milton and Selby from 11 am until 8 pm.

The two-time Grammy nominee will perform with his own band and most likely feature tunes from Pushing the Envelope (Heads Up), which features special guest appearances by trombonist Fred Wesley, acoustic guitarist Earl Klugh, and keyboard master George Duke. Albright’s band on most of the album includes keyboardists Tracy Carter and Luther “Mano” Hanes, guitarist Ricky Watford and drummer Ricky Lawson.

The album was produced and arranged by Albright. He plays soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones, flutes, bass guitar and keyboards, and also handles synthesizer, EWI and drum programming. Maceo Parker and Julian “Cannonball” Adderly are two of his early influences. The Los Angeles-based musician has toured with Phil Collins, Jeff Lorber, Quincy Jones and Whitney Houston.
Here is this year’s Selby Ave. JazzFest line-up:

Dick and Jane’s Big Brass Band (back again for their 10th year) — The band will kick off the day with a New Orleans-style procession throughout the festival grounds.

Lex Ham Community Band — Described as one of the Twin Cities’ best community bands, the group returns for its second JazzFest appearance.

Public Newsense — Formed about two years ago following an invitation from the director of the Freedom Jazz Festival, this group of middle school-college students play a wide repertoire including standards and reggae and hip hop-influenced arrangements.

Walker West Music Academy Legends of Jazz — 2011 marks this collection of Walker West faculty’s 10th year at the Selby Ave. JazzFest, playing a set of classics from Ellington to Basie.

Salsa del Soul — This Twin Cities-based, nine-piece orchestra performs various styles of dance music from the Spanish-speaking regions of the Caribbean.

Jazz Heritage Showcase — This is a collection of Penumbra Theatre regulars who get together to bring back the genre’s golden age: Vaughn, Holliday, Eckstein, Cole and others. Each entertainer is dressed in period-specific outfits. This year marks the Jazz Heritage Showcase’s fourth JazzFest appearance.

“We’re really pleased with the diverse line-up of entertainers that will be gracing the JazzFest stage this year,” says Mychael Wright, the “Father of the Fest” and noted Selby Avenue community leader. “Our musical line-up this year certainly has something for everyone. There will be plenty of other things to do including a kids’ play area and food and art vendors — all surrounded by a wonderful spirit of community.”

For more information, visit www.chicagojazzfestival.us and www.selbyavejazzfest.com.
Robin James welcomes reader responses to jamesonjazz@spokesman-recorder.com.