By Nick Metzger
|HPJF Crowd: Day, by Marc Monaghan|
Sept. 26 th - The second day of the festival was marked by Chicago’s famous windy weather, though in a pleasant early Fall kind of way. We made our way back down to Hyde Park and walked the campus a bit, then headed for the Wagner Stage where we planned to camp out for the day. I want to remark that since the festival is free (donation boxes were the order of the day) the crowd was a really a unique, harmonious, and diverse lot that included seasoned jazz heads as well as university students and/or people who were just enjoying the park who, upon hearing the ruckus, would walk over and cheerful linger before either wandering off again or taking a seat (mainly the latter). There were lots of people laying and picnicking on the Midway, taking in the sun and sounds, again just a really terrific scene to behold, some light at the end of the tunnel. After a welcome and announcements from the co-organizer Norman Teague the Celebration of Jimmy Ellis kicked off in earnest. Ellis, the Chicago saxophonist and educator that the 2021 Hyde Park festival was dedicated to and who worked with artists as diverse as Nat “King” Cole and Sun Ra, was honored for his life in music as well as his long history of mentorship and community organization. Ellis was the host of many of the original jam sessions that evolved into the Back Alley Jazz events that continue today. He ran the Jimmy Ellis Workshop Band for almost 30 years which was open to all musicians, regardless of age of ability, and so it stands to reason that his death this past July affected a multitude of musicians both far and wide. The concert was organized by pianist and longtime friend and collaborator Miguel de la Cerna and hosted by the Emmy award winning vocalist Joan Collaso, who was mentored by Ellis. Bluesman George Wells and Jazz Me Blues Band leader Yoko Noge (both Chicago residents) played the first portion of the set and Collaso played the second half. Many touching songs and sentiments mixed in with some really funny ones bought Ellis’ humanity and good nature to the forefront of the remembrance.
|Yoko Noge, by Marc Monaghan|
The next act on the Wagner stage was Ethan Philion’s Meditations on Mingus, a tentet conducted by the band’s namesake that is comprised of saxophonists Rajiv Halim, Geof Bradfield, and Max Bessesen trumpet players Russ Johnson and Victor Garcia, trombonists Norman Palm and Brendan Whalen, pianist Alexis Lombre, drummer Dana Hall, and of course Philion himself on bass. The set started with the low profile bass thrum of Pithecanthropus Erectus, Mingus’ meditation on the arc of mankind and our unfailing mistreatment of one another, the subtle dynamics of which the group honored spot-on. This performance set the tone, with the rest of the set built around compositions that detailed Mingus’ outspoken criticism of power structures and his distress at the human rights abuses perpetuated against the weak and helpless. The band played Don't Let It Happen Here, Remember Rockefeller at Attica, a composition written in response to the Attica Prison riot of 1971,Meditations on a Pair of Wire Cutters (akaMeditations on Integration, aka Meditations, aka Praying with Eric) one of his most famous works; the working title taken from his distress at the condition of imprisonment, Haitian Fight Song which Mingus wrote in homage to the Haitian Revolution and to the triumph of freedom (and which seemed again relevant considering the state of Haiti and the refugee crisis stewing at the southern US border). I’m not sure I can capture just how terrific hearing these songs in the open air was made me feel, other than to say that as someone who is picky about Mingus covers this band delivers. All in all the arrangements and performances of these classics from the maestro’s oeuvre where terrific, played by a wonderful band with an extraordinary bandleader.
|Ethan Philion’s Meditations on Mingus, by Besflores Nievera Jr|
After the excellent set by the Philion’s group Mike Reed’s People, Places, and Things was next to play on the Wagner stage. I’m a fan of most everything Mr. Reed has put out, exemplified by his excellent duo set with Roscoe Mitchell earlier this year that sure to be on my year-end short list. For those who might not know, PP&T is one of Reed’s projects dedicated to dusting off the under-recognized jazz, blues, and improvised music of their Chicago forbearers, which they’ve been doing in various formations since 2009’s Proliferation. On this afternoon PP&T was comprised of the base quartet of Reed, alto saxophonist Greg Ward, tenor saxophonist Tim Haldeman, and bassist Jason Roebke. They began their set with the One Bar, a stunning avant-post-bop arrangement by Guus Janssen that appeared on their album Second Cities: Volume 1. Next was another song from the same album, this time by Eric Boeren who played cornet, called What Happened at Conway Hall 1938 which has a loose structure that blooms into something much more interesting. The group played high energy renditions of Greg Ward’s composition VS II and Jason Roebke’s It’s Enough which both appear on PP&T’s 2009 album About Us. The band then covered Chicago saxophonist Tommy “Madman” Jones’ ballad FA from their their debut, and it was a nice moment of reflection hearing the classic played in the city of its birth with the cool breeze blowing through the crowd and then on out towards the lake. Surreal. The group closed their set with two compositions by reedist Michael Moore, Shotgun Wedding which was on Second Cities and Kwela for Taylor from their 2015 album A New Kind of Dance which capped off a fantastic set from one of the real treasures of the Chicago scene.
|Mike Reed’s PP&T (l to r, Time Haldeman, Jason Roebke, Mike Reed, and Greg Ward)|
So it was with a deep satisfaction that we strolled back along the midway, on through Jackson Park to 57th Street Beach and the shore of Lake Michigan where we hailed our final cab. All-in-all the Hyde Park Jazz Festival of 2021 was magical in all the best ways that makes these events and music worthwhile. It’s unique, in that it is truly a neighborhood festival that prides itself on providing its community with opportunities for cultural enrichment and self-expression through the arts. From the multi-generational 1 Foot In, 1 Foot Out to the pairing of Tomeka Reid and Junius Paul with Regina Carter, to Isaiah Collier playing with JD Allen, to the Celebration of Jimmy Ellis, the 2021 Hyde Park Jazz Festival emphasized that it is (still) archetypical of the community from which it sprang: one built on the dedication, participation, and mentorship of both its denizens and its supporters. Special thanks to the organizers, especially Sofia Del Callejo for all her help with passes and pictures as well as Marc Monaghan and Besflores Nievera Jr for allowing us to use their photography.
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Read part 1