Visiting the Hyde Park Jazz Festival’s Iconic Venues
Since its inception in 2007, the Hyde Park Jazz Festival has seemed to be as much about the neighborhood’s architecture as it is about the music. Festival director Kate Dumbleton — who previously directed the Chicago Jazz Ensemble — claims that this is no accident. “The original idea was to animate these cultural spaces with music that has a significance on the South Side,” she explains.
Dumbleton works with music director Carolyn Albritton to fill the festival’s bill with local artists who represent the richness of the city’s jazz scene. From percussionist Dana Hall to trumpeter Corey Wilkes, many of this year’s headliners hail from the Windy City. “We have a pretty particular artistic scope,” Dumbleton says. “[This year], we wanted to expand the scope to represent what’s happening in Chicago [right now].”
Because most of the festival’s budget is dedicated to talent, its organizers must depend on the Hyde Park community when it comes to booking local venues. “There’s no renting,” Dumbleton says. “We just collaborate with the community.”
As a result, a day at the festival doubles as a tour of some of Hyde Park’s most historic buildings. Complete with a live soundtrack of renowned jazz musicians, it’s arguably the best way to explore the neighborhood. Although each of the 11 venues offers something special, the following four should anchor any tour of the jazz festival’s architectural heritage:
The jazz festival is likely your only chance to hear live music at this National Historic Landmark. Thankfully, the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust knows how to make the most of an iconic space. “They open all the windows, and the music carries outside,” Dumbleton says. This allows visitors to gaze upon the house’s Prairie-style exterior as they listen.
This year, the Robie House will host just one carefully selected act: Douglas R. Ewart & Tri-Quasar. Ewart was given this honor thanks in part to his association with the South Side’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. He will draw on his virtuosity to explore the cultural landmark’s acoustic potential. “He makes his own instruments [and] has done a lot of work thinking about natural space … and how it affects music,” Dumbleton says.
Like the Robie House, the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute is not normally used as a music venue. For most of the year, the institute displays artifacts from the ancient Middle East, such as the Persian Gallery’s collection of glazed ceramics and polished sculptures from the ruins of Persepolis. Among these rare relics, James Falzone will unleash his improvised solo set. But that’s not the only way the renowned clarinetist plans to illuminate the space. “He has a strong background in Asian culture, so I’m interested to see how he’ll bring that to the performance,” Dumbleton says.
With vaulted windows to go along with its massive vault, the opulent Hyde Park Bank make the process of taking out a loan a little more glamorous. Thanks to a large-scale restoration project in 2004, the lobby has caught the attention of the American Institute of Architects and the Chicago Architecture Foundation. “[It] has a lot of marble and the ceilings are high, so with the groups we put in there, we think about who can handle the dynamics,” Dumbleton explains. This year, the Bernard Scavella Quartet and the Caroline Davis Quartet have been selected to take on the reverberating space.
The neo-Gothic Rockefeller Memorial Chapel is no stranger to music, but it typically hosts the choral and organ variety. As the University of Chicago’s spiritual hub, the secular chapel serves as a space of prayer and meditation for people of all religious backgrounds. For Dumbleton, however, it can be a source of considerable stress. “It’s very acoustically challenging,” she admits, even while pausing to note the magnificent stone walls, vaulted mosaic ceiling, and stained-glass windows.
The chapel is especially significant because it hosts one of Saturday night’s final performances. People are still talking about last year’s thrilling conclusion, in which saxophonist Miguel Zenón channeled the chapel’s spiritual energy into a stirring solo set. Dumbleton hopes that this year will be just as memorable, with world-famous Israeli clarinetist Anat Cohen and Brazilian guitarist Douglas Lora slated to perform.
The Hyde Park Jazz Festival runs from Saturday, September 28, to Sunday, September 29. Admission to the festival is free, though donations are accepted. See the full list of performance venues.
Photo: © Timothy Burkhart, Groupon
Courtney Ryan is a Chicago-based writer and Derrick Rose fan. She spends almost 100% of her time making or eating popcorn.