Efforts like the Women’s Jazz Festival, hosted in Arlington Heights for the second consecutive year last month, and drummer Terri Lynne Carrington’s Next Jazz Legacy apprenticeship program continue to push for gender parity in jazz, however maddeningly elusive. On any given month, though, Chicago hosts, or is home to, some of the most innovative female bandleaders on the circuit.
Here are three to see this February.
Sheila Jordan at the Green Mill, Feb. 9 and 10
The pioneering 95-year-old vocalist shared stages with Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach; popularized scat singing with only upright bass accompaniment; and rebounded her career after making ends meet as a single mom. Any local appearance is precious—get there early to ensure a seat. Two sets each day, 8:30 and 10:30 p.m.; $25 cover. Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway.
Mai Sugimoto at Constellation, Feb. 9
The Japanese-born, Chicago-based saxophonist marks the recent release of Sunlight Filtering Through Leaves, her first fully improvised album as a leader. The project was inspired by Sugimoto’s first time playing with others after the pandemic shutdown, for a July 2020 tribute to legendary late Chicago saxophonist Fred Anderson. 8:30 p.m.; tickets $15. Constellation, 3111 N. Western Ave.
Petra’s Recession Seven at Andy’s Jazz Club, Feb. 23 and 24
In fall 2008, during the nadir of the financial crisis, Petra van Nuis lifted spirits for lucky audiences at Green Mill with a septet of stalwart Chicago players. They stuck together, and the rest is history. Nostalgists welcome: the band specializes in 1920s/30s Chicago-style hot jazz through 1940s big-band swing. Two sets each day, 6 and 8:15 p.m.; $15 cover. Andy’s Jazz Club, 11 E. Hubbard St.
This month the spotlight will also shine on jazz foremothers Lil Hardin Armstrong, Nina Simone and Mary Lou Williams. On Feb. 10 at the Kehrein Center for the Arts, the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic premieres Women Out of Time, by bandleader and composer Orbert Davis, who pays homage to the compositional prowess of the three.
Hannah Edgar is a Chicago-based culture writer. Their work appears regularly in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Reader, Musical America and Downbeat.