Several of Chicago's most admired jazz musicians won't be spending Thanksgiving at home – they'll be converging in Poland, instead.
For the seventh year straight, the city of Poznan – a vibrant cultural hub – will present its Made in Chicago Festival, this year featuring such Chicago stars as vibist Jason Adasiewicz's Sun Rooms Trio, with drummer Mike Reed and bassist Nate McBride; saxophonist Dave Rempis' trio, with cellist Tomeka Reid and bassist Joshua Abrams; Reed's groundbreaking Living by Lanterns group; a "Blowin' in From Chicago" session featuring tenor saxophonist masters Ari Brown and Edward Wilkerson, Jr.; plus sessions headed by bassist Harrison Bankhead and pianist Ken Chaney.
That's a lot of Chicago firepower, and the city of Poznan – which will hear the music Thursday through Sunday – apparently can't get enough of it.
"People every year are waiting for the new festival, calling us, asking who is coming this year?" says Wojciech Juszczak, speaking from his office in Poznan, where he organizes the event in conjunction with the non-profit Jazz Institute of Chicago.
"People come outside Poznan and also outside of Poland. People from Germany, from Finland, from Italy, from France."
Like his fellow Europeans, Juszczak long has been smitten by Chicago jazz: its stylistic range, its vibrancy, its raw expressive power. Since its origins, the festival has focused on cutting-edge facets of music made in Chicago, while also including more traditional players, such as blues-and-boogie pianist Erwin Helfer. Through the years, the fest's bookings have captured the dynamism of Chicago jazz in microcosm, with a mostly new lineup of musicians traveling east each November.
"In Chicago, jazz is a very living music," says Juszczak, who has become something of an expert in the subject.
"Jazz music is a very social music, so it cannot exist without roots in the community. And there is a real community of musicians in Chicago … and there is a beautiful mix of tradition and avant-garde, plus blues music: Everything that is the best of Afro-American culture. Plus, of course, there's the rich history of Chicago jazz."
All of which is true, but the Made in Chicago Festival wouldn't have taken root in Poznan if it hadn't been for a personality quirk of Juszczak's: He doesn't like jetting across the Atlantic.
"Wojchiech was a student of Chicago jazz, but he's afraid to fly," says Lauren Deutsch, executive director of the Jazz Institute of Chicago, which helps Juszczak zero in on Chicago talent.
"So we figured out that the only way that he was going to hear (Chicago musicians) live was to bring them to Poland."
That first year, in 2006, Deutsch and Juszczak pulled together a remarkable list of performers: flutist Nicole Mitchell, saxophonists Mwata Bowden and David Boykin, trumpeter Corey Wilkes, bassist-bandleader Tatsu Aoki, pianist Helfer and others. What's more, Mitchell was commissioned to compose a suite for all the musicians, the avant-gardists riffing alongside the traditionalists, while Aoki's taiko drummers made the town rumble.
"People were stunned," recalls Deutsch. "The piece ended with the musicians making a procession through the aisles in these brightly colored costumes – ethnic clothing. The audience had never seen anything like that. … Since then, people can't wait to hear what's coming next."
Equally important, the Made in Chicago Festival has helped launch and/or nurture the European careers of many of the Chicagoans, most notably singer Dee Alexander, trumpeter Wilkes and bassist Aoki. The Asian-American facet of Chicago jazz so captivated listeners that Aoki and Juszczak for a few years collaborated on a separate festival exploring that subset of the Chicago scene.
In 2009, trumpeter Orbert Davis brought core players from his Chicago Jazz Philharmonic to the fest and expanded it in Poznan with conservatory students who found themselves playing Third Stream jazz for the first time in their lives.
Some might ask why the Jazz Institute, which stokes the flames of the music here in Chicago, treks all the way to Central Europe for a few days' worth of concerts.
"For the Jazz Institute, it has been the door for us to have some international visibility," says Deutsch. "It also expanded the nature of our mission, which had been really focusing on Chicago and making sure that there will always be places where the music could be heard here.
"So it really opened the door for us to be able to offer a different sort of opportunity for the musicians."
So where is the Made in Chicago Festival headed? Both Juszczak and Deutsch have plenty of plans, though they realize the financial crunch in Europe is not making matters easier.
"We would love to present bigger events, like Chicago Jazz Philharmonic concerts, and maybe Nicole Mitchell with the (Poznan) Philharmonic," says Juszczak.
"We'd like to show some avant-rock music from Chicago … show something interest from Umbrella," adds Juszczak, referring to the Umbrella Music collective of Chicago experimenters.
"But sometimes it's not good to make a festival too big, because we will lose our relationship with the audience. … If we extend (the festival), we'll extend in terms of the music, to show more music, but not to show the music in bigger spaces."
Deutsch envisions packaging the Made in Chicago Festival shows for other European destinations and perhaps selling recordings and broadcast rights.
For now, though, the festival appears to be humming along nicely, notwithstanding global economic pressures – quite a feat for an event that emphasizes the newest expressions in jazz.
As for Juszczak, he says he would like to convey a message to the city where Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong – and generations after that – launched their global careers.
"I would like to say: 'Thank you, Chicago, for the beautiful music.'"
For further information, visit estrada.poznan.pl.
To read more from Howard Reich on jazz, go to chicagotribune.com/reich.