The Hyde Park Jazz Festival gets new leadership and big ambitions

September 28, 2012

This is the sixth season of the Hyde Park Jazz Festival, but it's the first outing for new Festival Director Kate Dumbleton. She resigned from the Chicago Jazz Ensemble at Columbia College this past May.

The free event results from the work of many, including co-founder Judith Stein, musical director Carolyn Albritton, and the army of volunteers who show up each year to stage a first-rate, professional music festival.

Dumbleton says she was drawn to the jazz festival by that grassroots energy: "I was completely blown away by the number of people of people who come out, the sense of community, and just the way people organize gatherings around music." 

Dumbleton is herself bringing new energy to the Festival, which takes place in and around the campus of the University of Chicago.

There are now two outdoor stages on the Midway, including one with a dance floor. If you've never been, part of the joy of attending is the chance to hear music in a variety of untraditional settings, from the gorgeous lobby of the Hyde Park Bank to the low-slung rooms of Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House.

But thanks to a new partnership with the University of Chicago’s Logan Arts Center, shows will also take place in proper performance venues, including the "Performance Penthouse" on the 9th floor. I have no idea what the acoustics are like, but the view is incredible: Floor-to-ceiling windows afford an unusual, expansive, from-on-high view of Hyde Park and other South Side neighborhoods.

Most importantly, there are also more performers this year! Saturday is the big day at the festival: The shows run from early afternoon until late in the evening. Musically the festival is all over the map: big band swing, Afro-Latin rhythms, steel pan sounds and a variety of ensembles who play straight-ahead or more experimental jazz. The late-night solo show by saxophonist and MacArthur fellow Miguel Zenón, taking place at 10 p.m. in Rockefeller Chapel, is sure to be a stunner.

But Dumbleton thinks the festival’s sweet spot is local talent.

"The breadth of what Chicago offers within the scope of jazz and improvised music is stunning," she says. "And perhaps wider than any other city in this country."

Here's the full line-up for the Hyde Park Jazz Festival, which takes place this Saturday and Sunday.