Jazz saxophonist Isaiah Collier often takes walks when he is in Hyde Park; on one of those walks earlier this summer he came upon Jackson Park’s Woman’s Garden.

The garden’s sunken circular lawn is deep green and bordered by yellow and red day lilies planted behind a knee-high stone retaining wall. Trees shade the garden. An afternoon lake breeze often provides some relief to the summer heat.

“Man, this is dope,” Collier said to himself as he wandered into the garden.

Collier came back another day, saxophone in hand, and practiced.

“It just hit me over the head,” said Collier. “This could be a place to activate something.”

Collier called his friend, jazz vocalist and clarinetist, Angel Bat Dawid, and told her about the garden.

“I was like, ‘What if we get a space, we’re not closed, you know, and we just come here and do us.” And they did. Together, Collier and Dawid started the “The Royal Sessions.”

A “Royal Session,” is an informal gathering of musicians, dancers and artists who create, improvise and perform.

During a recent session, a group of about 20 people sat on the lawn in the shade. At the far edge of the circle, Collier leaned forward and directed a trio of young musicians. The three lifted their horns and started to play. Dawid stood, tilted her head and sang a soft lament. The sounds moved together; they embraced. The afternoon sun filtered through the leaves; its rays painted the grass with a soft dancing dapple.

“Some magical things have been [happening here] in the time period that we have been playing music,” said Dawid. “When I come here, all-of-a-sudden, I feel like I am transported into another realm. And then we start playing music, and things start moving in ways I cannot really explain.”

“We are the most segregated city in the country,” Collier said. “We had to find a way to agree on something. Just something.  

“And the last time I checked, we are all using the same twelve notes, all of us are using cameras, all of us are using the same 12 colors on the primary color wheel. So, let’s create, together.

“Now is the chance for us to actually think outside the box that we call quarantine and do something collective and positive.

“Cause it’s bigger than us. You know, what we need more than ever is unity and organization, mentally, spiritually and emotionally.”

At 18, Jayden Ziah Berkman, a 2020 graduate of the Chicago Academy for the Arts, is one of the youngest musicians who have joined Dawid and Collier during a Royal Session. 

“I went to the Chicago High School for the Arts since freshman year,” says Berkman, “and that’s where I met Isaiah and his brother Jeremiah. They just kinda took me under their wings.

“In order to heal, you’ve got to understand that, it isn’t just like the notes and it isn’t just the sound, it’s the sonics. Which I am talking about, you know, like the healing frequencies. And that speaks to what’s going on now.”

“We need to get out here and play some music to heal the world,” adds Dawid. “I know it sounds cliché, but we really believe that our sound can make a difference.”

The first “Royal Session” took place July 8. Maggie Brown, Ben Lamar Gay and other musicians joined Collier and Dawid at that session.  The second session took place July 14. At that session, Dawid and Collier were joined by dancers Izaiah Harris, Kennedy Banks, singer Julian Otis and many others.

Future Royal Sessions will be announced on Facebook and Instagram through a page Collier manages. Collier hopes that they will take place Wednesdays, weather and other schedules permitting, throughout the summer.

(1) comment

Ross Petersen

The Women's Garden is a beautiful spot. If you need to expand, I'd suggest the stairs, on the South side of the MSI, on the Columbia Basin. The acoustics, over the water, are quite good. The banks of the basin give room to spread out, lay out a blanket.

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