Buoyed by the popularity of small jazz performances in Hyde Park and by the South Side’s rich jazz heritage, representatives from cultural institutions in the community came up with a simple idea 15 years ago that they thought might achieve several worthy goals. The concept: staging a neighborhood jazz festival.
It worked, and continues to do so, for reasons based in the festival’s unique construction, robust support from the University of Chicago and extensive volunteer network.
“The university was absolutely fundamental to our doing this,” recalled longtime Hyde Park resident Judith Stein, AB’1962, AM’1964, who became co-founder of the Hyde Park Jazz Festival and serves on its board. “Without it, this couldn’t have happened.”
The 15th annual festival, set for Sept. 25-26, will be presented almost entirely at outdoor venues and is expected to reflect the event’s growing popularity. Attendance in each of the last few years—except for a 2020 version scaled back to accommodate COVID-19 safety measures—drew 15,000 to 20,000 people. Between 2,000 and 5,000 attended the inaugural fest in 2007.
This year’s slightly condensed format will feature 30 concerts performed in six diverse venues across Hyde Park. Festival attendees can catch Regina Carter, Junius Paul, and Tomeka Reid, for example, on the Midway Plaisance, and Thaddeus Tukes with Ashley Jackson in the Smart Museum Courtyard. The Mai Sugimoto Trio will play at the Augustana Church parking lot and the Jeremiah Collier Quartet is performing on the north terrace of the DuSable Museum. Two performances—Makaya McCraven and Ensemble Dal Niente & Ken Vandermark—are indoors, at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts.
All of it is free of charge.
Entry to diverse, cultural riches
The free admission and the venues underscore one objective organizers had in mind when conceiving the festival years ago. The group wanted to open institutions to local residents and others outside the area who may have been unaware, unable or reluctant to explore the abundant arts offerings at those institutions. The hope was that attendees would get to know all of Hyde Park better.
That objective was one reason UChicago enthusiastically supported the event.
“The festival resonated with our engagement mission in a number of ways,” said Derek Douglas, UChicago’s vice president for civic engagement and external affairs. He noted that, in addition to significant financial support that was vital in the festival’s early years, the University of Chicago provided marketing and related services, and offered several campus venues.
“The fact that it’s free was something the university pressed for because it opens access to everyone, which helps us create a bridge to community members,” Douglas added. “And utilizing all these wonderful venues—museums, performance halls, arts centers—at the university and throughout the community, invites people from around the corner and around the world to explore the diverse, cultural riches in Hyde Park.”