Jazz fest photo 1 (copy)

Isaiah Collier (left) performs with brother Jeremiah during a performance at last year's Hyde Park Jazz Festival. 

This weekend, the Hyde Park Jazz Festival returns to its home on the Midway Plaisance, bringing an eclectic mix of neighborhood sound to Hyde Park. The free festival runs Saturday, Sept. 25, from 1 p.m. - 10 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 26, from noon - 7 p.m.

In addition to its two large stages on the Midway strip, this year’s event will once again deploy multiple stages around the neighborhood — at the DuSable Museum of African American History, the Smart Museum, Augustana Lutheran Church and the Logan Center for the Arts.

All performances except for those at the Logan Center will be outdoors, some with full seating set-ups and others more suited for picnicking. The indoor shows require an RSVP in advance for attendance.

The event is scaled up from its 2020 counterpart, in which the festival hosted a number of pop-up concerts around Hyde Park. Putting the festival together has been an uphill battle, as organizers have juggled shifting city, state and university guidelines.

“The logistics were really complicated,” said Kate Dumbleton, Co-Artistic and Executive Director of the festival. “We were dealing with so many unknowns that we just decided what the best we could hope for was and we went toward that.” 

Alongside an expanded line-up, the festival is bringing back its commissioning program started in 2014. The genesis of the program, according to Dumbleton, was the lack of financial support for jazz musicians creating work.

“In a sense, we wanted to make visible the fact that jazz musicians have not historically had enough support to actually compose the work,” Dumbleton continued. “Not make a record or perform it, but actually make the work itself. So, we wanted to politically and substantively give money to artists to compose.” 

This year, the festival has commissioned Makaya McCraven to create a piece with an ensemble of Chicago musicians and New York harpist Brandee Younger. The suite will be performed twice, once indoors at the Logan Performance Hall and once on the Midway stages.

The festival is also sponsoring collaborations between Chicago musicians and artists from elsewhere. Some of the collaborations include Regina Carter with Junius Paul and Tomeika Reid, Miguel Zenon with the jazz group Chinchano, and Isaiah Collier with J.D. Allen.

“We wanted to put money into the local economy this year,” said Dumbleton. “Normally, we’d bring in 30-35 musicians from other places, and this year we took all that money and put it into Chicago, but we invited some Chicago musicians to bring a special guest, basically.”  

The festival originated out of a desire to preserve and support the music of the South Side, and has built a community of artists and listeners. Local performers like Dee Alexander and Maggie Brown have been participating since the first edition 15 years ago.

“A lot of the music is really emanating out of the history of the music on the South Side,” said Dumbleton. “So, it’s also really a celebration of jazz in that specific place.”

Historical legacy is front of mind, with the festival planning to honor late figures in the South Side jazz community like James Wagner, a founder of the Hyde Park Jazz Society who worked to restore the music infrastructure that disappeared during mid-century urban renewal, and Jimmy Ellis, a saxophonist and community organizer who was a key player in the alley jazz movement.

Above all, the festival is an opportunity for neighbors to gather and listen to live music.

“(The festival) was really started by the community so it has a very close-to-the-ground vibe,” Dumbleton said. “It feels like a neighborhood celebration even though it’s a huge festival. And that’s what people tell me when they come from other places. They say this is totally unique because it feels like you’re at a giant neighborhood hang with amazing music.”

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