The Elventh Annual Hyde Park Jazz Festival is just three months away, which is why the annual benefit was held tonight.  About 175 people showed up at the Promontory Restaurant, Bar, and Performance Space to celebrate what has become one of the top jazz festivals in the country, and certainly the top one in Chicago.  It started out as a one-day festival when the University of Chicago asked three or four individuals if they would help plan the event.  One of those volunteers was Lauren Moltz, tonight's honoree.  Moltz is one of those faithful volunteers who does not crave the spotlight, preferring to silently make significant contributions.  Those who spoke about her emphasized that her contributions to the Hyde Park community go far beyond the festival.  She's been at it for 30+ years.  It is nice to see her publicly recognized.  I don't know her well, but she seems like a truly nice person.

Also on hand was Richard Steele, the golden voice of public radio and television in Chicago, although he now claims to be retired.  When you need to raise money, Steele is your man.  He used his engaging personality and sonorous voice to liberate thousands of dollars from attendees during the paddle raise.  He even went so far as to hold up his personal check:  The HPJF is a labor of love for him, as it is for so many others, including force of nature Judith Stein, the always smiling and lovely Almarie Wagner, and the capable and able Olivia Junell.  

Also on hand was Executive & Artistic Director Kate Dumbleton, who got emotional when she announced that the HPJF had received a grant from the National Endowment of Arts in the festival's first year of eligibility.  She also offered some teasers about this year's schedule, which was announced the day before.  For the complete schedule, see the list the festival's revamped and now striking website.

Personally, I am looking forward to David Murray teaming up with the Ari Brown Quartet.  Murray has long been on my list of Great White Whales.  I am also pleased to see Andrew Cyrille coming to town.  He is a drummer who is finally receiving the notoriety that he deserves.  Let's not forget Nicole Mitchell's collaboration with Malian kora player Ballake Sissoko.  Also on tap are Willie and Bethany Pickens, Dee Alexander and the Ladies doing Monk, and the Fat Babies. 

And last, but not least, the HPJF treated benefit attendees to a performance by five-time Grammy nominated pianist Christian Sands and his trio, consisting of  in-demand bassist Yasushi Nakamura and long time collaborator Jerome Jennings on drums.  Sands is a very interesting and capable pianist.  Most notable was his physical approach to the keyboard, which at times appeared to be akin to touch typing.  His long, thin fingers were spread wide, with one finger hitting a key at a time, or so it appeared.  Whatever he and the trio are doing, they have achieved a varied and energetic sound.  Theirs is not quiet cocktail lounge music.  Were Sands to add a trumpet or saxophone to the mix, the stage might levitate.  In the hour-plus set, Sands played a variety of songs, some from his new album entitled Reach, some pop favorites, like Prince's Let's Go Crazy and Billy Joel's Just the Way You Are, and some standards, like Miles Davis' So What.

And now we have three months to wait until the big weekend in September (the 23 and 24th)--Don't miss it.

Photographer's Note:  When it is a good session, I am in the moment.  As I capture images, the results flash in my camera's electronic view finder for about half a second each.  I always know when I snagged "the shot of the day," which was the case with the headline photograph of drummer Jerome Jennings.  Usually, I don't stop to look at the shot in detail ("No chimping").  I just make a mental note, and hope that it is in focus.  Sometimes I hear that little voice in the back of my head yell, "Pulled," but I keep moving forward.  Yes, photography is much like skeet shooting.  I can pull to the left, the right, up, or down.  Hopefully not that often, but it happens, and I usually know when it does.  It happens most often when photographing musicians because I tend to get into the groove as I anticipate their movements.

Click on a photograph to enlarge it.

Smartly Attired Pianist Christian Sands Leading His Trio

In Demand Bass Player Yasushi Nakaura Working With Christian Sands

Meditative Swing

Standing After Plucking the Strings

In a State

Looking at The Audience

Jerome Rides Again

Walking Off

Richard Steele Asks for a Show of Hands for $1,000 Donations

Gay Pride Parade

Gay Pride Parade

Henry Moore's Warning

Henry Moore's Warning