But the biggest attraction may be the setting, with the festival for this time abandoning the abysmal Petrillo Music Shell in Grant Park and setting up stakes in Millennium Park, near Randolph Drive and Michigan Avenue.
A move of this scope — first announced in January but now further fleshed out by the city's Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) — should have been made years ago, considering long-standing complaints about the terrible acoustics and poor production values at Petrillo.
But defenders of the status quo fought mightily against change that the festival has sorely needed.
Michelle Boone, commissioner of DCASE (which produces the festival), recognized the problem: “We wanted to give some thought to how to inject some new life into an event that has been around for decades,” she told me in January.
To revive the festival, she and her colleagues have designed an event that will open Aug. 29 at the Chicago Cultural Center and Roosevelt University's Ganz Hall (returning venues), then continue that evening at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.
For the next three days, Aug. 30 through Sept. 1, concerts will unfold in the newly named Von Freeman Pavilion at Millennium Park's south promenade and a Jazz and Heritage Pavilion in the park's north promenade; each of these tents will be on either side of the Cloud Gate sculpture.
Evening performances will continue at the Pritzker Pavilion the evenings of Aug. 30 through Sept. 1. And the Chicago Community Trust Young Jazz Lions Pavilion will feature student musicians from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 on the rooftop of Millennium Park's Harris Theater for Music and Dance; bands will be selected from results of the upcoming All City Jazz Band Competition.
Naming one of the festival stages the Von Freeman Pavilion is a fitting tribute to the late Chicago saxophonist. Why not rename the Jazz and Heritage Pavilion — an inelegant title at best — for Louis Armstrong, a far more effective way of pointing to Chicago's deep jazz heritage? Similarly, the ponderously dubbed Chicago Community Trust Young Jazz Lions Pavilion could be renamed for Fred Anderson, the late Chicago jazz saxophonist who trained generations of young jazz lions.
At the very least, though, change finally has come to the city's most archaic, anachronistic music festival.
“I think it's going to feel different,” says Jennifer Johnson Washington, program director of the Chicago Jazz Festival, which is programmed along with the nonprofit Jazz Institute of Chicago. “Being in Millennium Park, it's going to feel more intimate.”
Locations are still being determined for vendors, a wine garden, a performance venue operated by Chicago Jazz Magazine and possible additional small jazz groups.
See the list above for the current festival lineup Percussionist Hamid Drake is the artist-in-residence. Admission is free.
For more information, visit chicagojazzfestival.us.
Jazz Fest lineup
Thursday, AUG. 29
Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St.: Randolph Cafe — Corylus, noon; Fat Babies, 1:30 p.m. Claudia Cassidy Theater — Larry Gray Trio, 12:15 p.m.; Harrison Bankhead Sextet, 1:45 p.m. Preston Bradley Hall — Hinda Hoffman Trio, 12:30 p.m.; TBA, 2 p.m.
Roosevelt University's Ganz Hall, 430 S. Michigan Ave., seventh floor: Hamid Drake's Chicago Trio, 5 p.m.
Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park: Jack DeJohnette: Special Legends Edition with Muhal Richard Abrams, Larry Gray, Roscoe Mitchell and Henry Threadgill; 6:30 p.m.
Friday, AUG. 30
Von Freeman Pavilion in Millennium Park: Christopher McBride Quartet, 2:20 p.m. Ben Paterson Organ Quartet, 3:30 p.m. Miguel de la Cerna Quartet, 4:40 p.m.
Jazz and Heritage Pavilion in Millennium Park: Mike Smith Quartet, 2 p.m.; Hamid Drake with Michael Zerang, Eigen Aoki and Tsukasa Taiko drummers directed by Tatsu Aoki, 3:30 p.m. “A Tribute to Ken Chaney,” 5 p.m.