In the first line of his pre-festival assessment, Chicago Tribune critic Howard Reich threw down the gauntlet, writing, "For its 10th anniversary, the Hyde Park Jazz Festival has put together its most dynamic lineup yet, at least on paper." On Sunday, Reich waited until the third line to deliver the punch line, writing, "Following is one listener's diary of a now-indispensable event that ends Sunday." After reading Reich's review, it was clear that he loved everything, and well he should have. We both saw Willie Pickens, Dee Alexander, Miguel Zenon and the Spectral Quartet, the tap dancing Supreme Love ensemble, and Randy Weston. I missed Thaddeus Tukes/Isiah Collier Duo and Garden of Souls. But Reich missed Sammy Miller and the Congregation, Wayfaring with Katie Ernst and James Falzone, Greg Ward & 10 Tongues, Matt Ulery's Loom, Amir ElSaffer Two Rivers Ensemble, and Bobby Lewis. To be accurate, Reich might have attended one or more of those performances, but he did not review them. For Reich, the day's highlight was Zenon and the Spektral Quartet's world premiere of Yo Soy La Tradition, with Reich advising Zenon to submit the work for Pulitzer Prize consideration. Reich, an Emmy winner, should know: He has been on the Pulitzer Prize music awards jury four times.
Reich and I are in total agreement. For me, the HPJF is the most important jazz event on the calendar. The festival has come into its own, commissioning pieces, mixing avant grade with dance music, and featuring international-recognized performers, which included Weston, Zenon, Harrell, and Amr ElSaffar. Most importantly, the festival showcases the wide array of local talent that we are blessed with in Chicago, and many of these folks are well on their way to international acclaim--Marquis Hill, Victor Goines, and many of the younger players, who one by one leave Chicago, but seem to return. Of note were those who were missing in action, like Tomeka Reid, Josh Berman, the Fat Babies, Ernest Dawkins, Mawata Bowden, and Marelene Rosenberg. HPJF does an excellent job of showcasing Chicago jazz, but they can't have everyone every year, so that rotate. Another testament to the depth of the bench.
For me, the highlight performance was Amir ElSaffar Two Rivers Ensemble, which presented what I assume is an Iranian take on jazz. Interesting instrumentation and mesmerizing music. Gotta pick up a few their CDs.
Also of note was Sammy Miller & the Congregation--a crowd pleaser. Its good old time jazz, with a neurotic Jewish teenager schtick. Sammy Miller, is the good looking drummer, who does a 10-minute riff on Liza, the cute girl he met on the plane today that he plans to merry. She is his guest, supposedly seated in the audience. When he asks her to stand, there is no one, so he heads into the audience to find her. Stood up again and broken-hearted. The band rocks, leaping into the audience, lying on the ground, and just having an infectious good time. I saw them earlier this year at Dizzy's Coca-Cola Club in New York, with tuba, but no tuba today because it requires an extra seat on the plane. Got some great photos at the earlier date, but all were ruined because the camera sensor was out of phase with the flourescent lights in the club--Sony 7RII in silent mode.
Randy Weston is another story. After the tap dancing spectacle at the Logan Center (which I loved), we headed over to the Rockefeller Chapel for Randy Weston's solo performance. On the way, we passed our car, which was no longer on the street. Surrounded by three squad cars with blue lights flashing, we learned to my bemusement that a drunk driver had come barreling down the street playing pinball with parked cars. Ours was first, and then the one across the street. Totaled. Evelyn called the tow truck company, and being the great wife that she is, said "Go," get the shots. I must admit, I was distracted, so I didn't really focus on the performance, but I did get the shots, as the photographs demonstrate.
Even though we essentially missed the performance, our good friend Judith Stein, one of the forces behind the festival, invited us to have an early breakfast at Mellow Yellow. She kindly gave us a ride, and I soon found myself at a table with the master himself, Randy Weston. When someone asked him who is favorite modern player was, he said, "Earl Hines, that's as far as I have gotten [Paraphrased]" I told him he was in for a treat, because there were quite a few excellent players that have come along since Hines. Weston is a very nice person, with an engaging smile. We heard some stories about his early days in the Berkshires, Mahalia Jackson, and Nat King Cole.
Unfortunately, I did not return on Sunday. No car, flummoxed, and exhausted.
Kudos to everyone at the festival. It was the best ever. Can't wait to see what 2017 brings.
[Still working through my stash of photographs, so there will be a few more, but I need a break from editing.]