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Top 5 must-see performances at 2011 Chicago Jazz Fest

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Chicago becomes the center of the international jazz universe this weekend as thousands of people converge on Grant Park and Millennium Park for the annual Chicago Jazz Festival.

This year mark's the fest 33rd year - and features more than 45 acts on five different stages.

With so many choices, it can be hard even for the most die-hard jazz purist to find his groove.

So, to help you out, here's a quick list of 'can't miss' performances that'll be sure to swing:



Randy Weston and the Chicago Jazz Ensemble
There’s something very special about being part of an audience when a classic performer performs classic works.  And that's exactly what to expect when pianist/composer Randy Weston takes the stage at the Pritzker Pavilion on Thursday evening. He’s going perform his much admired African Sunrise, which was first commissioned by the Festival in 1984. Weston is also in the midst of celebrating his 85th birthday - and he’s playing better than ever.

Latin Inspiration
Chicago has always been home to some great Latin bands - and Latin Inspiration is one of them. Led by Chicago trombonist Johnny Rodriguez, I got hip to them in a rather unorthodox way: A few years back they released a Christmas album and as a jazz radio host, I played it during my show. It was smoking! Latin Inspiration really takes salsa to the next level. They’ll be lighting it up at 3:30 on Saturday at the Jazz and Heritage Stage. So put your dancing shoes on.

Orbert Davis (Flickr/Marc Monaghan)
Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble
The Saturday evening performance of Orbert Davis’s 18 piece Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble is definitely one “not to miss”. In addition to premiering a commissioned piece, he’ll have three amazing special guests, including a female Polish percussionist, a stand-out violinist, and a classical pianist who also plays jazz. Add to that, an exciting rendition of the Miles Davis/Gil Evans classic Sketches of Spain - and nobody should miss this one. That’s Saturday evening at the Petrillo Music Shell.     

Occidental Brothers Dance Band International
If you’re looking for a good party, then join me on Sunday afternoon at the Jazz on Jackson Stage for West African dance music by The Occidental Brothers Dance Band International, led by Nathaniel Braddock. He’s a guitar player from Michigan who lived and studied in Ghana, where he fell in love with Ghanaian Highlife and Congolese Soukous music. The band he put together will be sure to keep us dancing in the isles.        

Joan Collaso (Photo courtesy of Chicago Jazz Festival)


Joan Collaso Quintet
Joan Collaso does Nancy Wilson, Shirley Horn and Lena Horne. But along with her vocal tributes to these legends, what she really does best is JOAN COLLASO. She happens to be one of the finest jazz vocalists in Chicago. Joan is ably assisted by her music director/husband, Larry Hanks. She may even do a little Billie Holiday for us. That’s Sunday at 3:30 on the Jazz and Heritage Stage.         


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