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Story by James Walker, Jr., Brad Walseth and Phil Onofrio Copyright 2010
This year's Hyde Park Jazz Festival Benefit Gala on Oct. 23 was highlighted by a spectacular performance at the South Shore Cultural Center by vocalist Dee Alexander and her exceptional band mates of bassist Harrison Bankhead, drummer Ernie Adams and keyboardist Miguel de la Cerna.
As always Dee displayed her beautiful instrument on selections like "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise," "Surrender Your Love," "Long Road Ahead," "Rossignol," "Four Women," "Feeling Good" and "Butterfly." All of the above selection were taken from her award winning 2009 CD entitled Wild is the Wind.
This performance was certainly not a one woman show, as her colleagues were all very impressive on extended solos as Dee occasionally stepped to the side and encouraged these gentlemen to express themselves.
The Festival itself occurred two days later on Oct. 25 and although attendees experienced inclement weather for the first time this did not deter large throngs of jazz enthusiasts from experiencing fourteen hours of diverse musical programs. Performances were spread throughout Hyde Park at locations such as the DuSable Museum, the Oriental Institute Museum and Smart Museum, the Robie House, Hyde Park Union Church, Little Black Pearl, Hyde Park Art Center and Hyde Park Bank. We stayed primarily within the immediate area of the main "James Wagner" Stage at the Midway Plaisance, International House, Rockefeller Chapel and Quanrangle Club.
The Jim Wagner All Stars put on a memorable set at the Jim Wagner stage, with fine work from pianist Willie Pickens, saxophonists Jimmy Ellis and Ari Brown and rhythm section members Frank Russell on bass and Robert Shy on drums and a special appearance from Maggie Brown. It is always a pleasure to hear these highly-talented, veteran musicians perform.
Keyboardist Robert Irving's talented quintet included trumpeter Corey Wilkes, bassist Larry Gray, reedman Geof Bradfield, along with trombonist Edwin Vasquez, drummer Perry Wilson and spoken word artist Jeremiah Jae. Irving's close association with the master was apparent as the band performed a "suite" of Miles classics, such as Blue in Green that made for a truly compelling concert event at the International House.
One of Chicago's favorite sons - trumpeter Maurice "Mobetta" Brown returned and energized the Wagner Stage crowd with an exuberant set. Brown was relaxed and happy to be home and he and his fine group, including fellow former Chicagoan Chris Robb (on vocals and keys) brought some sunshine to an overcast day.
Perhaps the highlight of the entire day (and year even) was the Rhythms of Thunder drum summit that brought three of the city's finest drummers together on one stage. This exciting event featured drummers Charles "Rick" Heath, Ernie Adams and Dana Hall - who all looked like they were going to never stop smiling as they attempted to "cut" one another during their energy-filled exchanges. Rapper Khari B opening monologue over the thunderous drummers was simply electric, while saxophonist also Chris Neal deserves special mention for his stellar contribution.
There was standing room only for Orbert Davis' set that began as a quartet instead of a quintet. Drummer Ernie Adams was delayed playing at a prior jazz fest set that ran late. Orbert gave him a polite jab asking the audience to clap when he arrived. Fortunately, the first non drum accompanied songs seemed to fit the environment well. You could feel the trumpet almost breathe. The sound of Davis's trumpet in the spacious church setting was magnificent and the interplay with Ari Brown equally spectacular with stellar support by the band. Closing out the set was a piece composed by Davis called "Blues for Obama." When the piece ended, the entire audience stood and applauded for a work that spiritually moved them. Orbert never disappoints!
New to the festival this year included Jeff Lindberg's Chicago Jazz Orchestra's tribute to Ray Charles and the Raelettes. This set was certainly one of the many "Showcase" events of the day as it included three of Chicago's finest vocalist, Dee Alexander, Joan Collaso, and Tammy McCann as the Raelettes. Tammy earlier in her career actually toured with Ray as a Raelette. Terrian Jordan took on the role of Ray with uncanny skill.
The Business, led by trumpeter Hector Gonzales warmed up the frigid crowd at the James Wagner Stage with a torrid set that included "Latin-tinged jazz", R&B, and "Big Brassy Sounds" that allowed most in attendance to "dance the night away". It was a perfect sound that involved the crowd at a time that the temperature dropped into the 50s.
Columbia College Vocal Jazz Ensemble was a pleasant surprise. This group of young male and female vocalists, was led by Mimi Rohlfing and accompanied by pianist/vocalist Martez Rucker, bassist Dan Anderson , and drummer Dana Hall. Vocalist LaShera Moore stood out on several solos and is someone that Chicago should watch out for in the future.
The Midnight Jam Session at the International House was again hosted by Dee Alexander and as in the past was filled to capacity. Keyboardist Greg Spero kicked off this set accompanying Dee on "Softly as in the Morning Sunrise." The "who's who's" list of performers included Maurice Brown, Corey Wilkes, Frank Russell, Robert Irving III, Chris Rob, Kevin Nabors, Jon Taylor, Skinny Williams, Nanette Franks, Lorna Boston to only name a few but vocalists novice Sarah Young and Milton Suggs' duo nearly stole the show from their more seasoned veterans. Their improvised "scat" number was truly special and well received by this enthusiastic audience. By the way, Sarah was recently named a finalist for the Theolonious Monk Jazz Award for performers 30 and under.
After 14 hours of compelling music by Chicago's finest, another Hyde Park Jazz Festival had to come to an end. Had there not been a 2am curfew at the International House, that finale could still be going. Many musicians in the audience did not have an opportunity to perform, but all understood the circumstances.
Congratulations and thanks go out to many in the HyPa and Hyde Park Jazz Society who worked together to make this one of Chicago's highlights for the jazz season, but special mention must be given to Carolyn Albritton for coordinating the entertainment, and Judith Stein, Charlie Thomas and Almarie Wagner, HPJS officers, for their ongoing work to keep "jazz alive in Hyde Park."
Until next year, please support the Hyde Park Jazz Festival. Next year's event - the 5th annual fest is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011. Check their website at www.hydeparkjazzfestival.org. Also please support the Hyde Park Jazz Society weekly Sunday Jazz Sets at Room 43 on the South Side. For details, refer to their website at www.hydeparkjazzsociety.com .
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