37th Annual Chicago Jazz Festival Announces Top Headliners

March 17, 2015

AACM at 50: The Muhal Richard Abrams’ Experimental Band; Chicago Jazz Orchestra Celebrates Billy Strayhorn; José James; Dee Dee Bridgewater; Butler, Bernstein & The Hot 9 & Many More

The Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) is pleased to announce the 37th Annual Chicago Jazz Festival. The favorite Labor Day Weekend tradition will take place in Millennium Park and at the Chicago Cultural Center (78 E. Washington Street), September 3-6, showcasing the very best of jazz music from noon to 9:30pm daily. The FREE admission Chicago Jazz Festival is produced by DCASE and programmed by the Jazz Institute of Chicago (JIC).

A favorite Labor Day Weekend tradition celebrating both the mainstream of the national jazz scene as well as Chicago’s unique contributions to the art form, the Chicago Jazz Festival has historically made a special point of placing its own local artistic stamp on the musical proceedings. Fittingly this year’s local programming takes on an especially unique local flair.

One of the most important contributions the city of Chicago made to 20th century American music was the formation of an organization called the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), founded on principles of creativity, collective organization, unyielding creativity and not beholden to any one style of music. The year 2015 is the 50th anniversary of the AACM. Thus throughout the year, a number of celebrations of this milestone will go on in Chicago and beyond. During the 37th Chicago Jazz Festival and the months leading up to it, the AACM will be particularly highlighted.

Fittingly, one of the most notable headliners of the 37th Annual Chicago Jazz Festival is a very special reunion of pianist and composer Muhal Richard Abrams’ Experimental Band, the band that is commonly thought of as one of the first, if not the first, AACM ensembles. Says Abrams, “I am honored to have been asked to perform at the 37th Annual Chicago Jazz Festival. Performing on the Chicago Jazz Festival on previous occasions and presently, is, and always was important to me. Also, the AACM 50th Anniversary Celebration makes this occasion very special.”

This special lineup will feature Abrams on piano; alto saxophonist, composer and Mills College professor, Roscoe Mitchell; saxophonist, flutist and composer Henry Threadgill; baritone saxophonist, flutist and composer Wallace McMillan; trumpeter, composer and former California Institute of the Arts professor Wadada Leo Smith; pianist, organist and composer Amina Claudine Myers; trombonist, composer, MacArthur Fellow, AACM historian and Columbia University professor George Lewis; bassist and composer Leonard Jones; drummer, vibraphonist, percussionist and composer Thurman Barker; and drummer and composer Reggie Nicholson. Several of these musicians were present at the founding of the AACM in 1965.

Additionally, festival organizers will honor the centenary of the late composer and arranger William Thomas ‘Billy’ Strayhorn with new arrangements of his iconic repertoire, made famous predominantly by the Duke Ellington Orchestra, here performed by The Chicago Jazz Orchestra under the direction Jeff Lindberg. Featured guest arrangers interpreting Strayhorn's music will include Chicagoan Edward Wilkerson, drummer and composer John Hollenbeck, trumpeter and arranger Steven Bernstein, trombonist, composer and arranger Tom Garling and others.

Strayhorn family member and Billy Strayhorn Songs President, Alyce Claerbaut states “We the members of Billy Strayhorn's family are honored that the Chicago Jazz Festival will salute the Strayhorn legacy on the occasion of his centenary. Chicago holds a special place in Billy Strayhorn's life and career as he served as musical director for the 1963 presentation of Duke Ellington's 'My People' at McCormick Place. Chicago was one of his favorite cities and he often spoke of his great respect for Chicago musicians."

Rising star vocalist José James (a Minneapolis native) who has been noted for melding R&B, singer-songwriter sensibilities with his core jazz training, brings his I Had the Blues Project, celebrating the 100th birthday of the iconic and tragic Billie Holiday. Also noted vocalist, public radio host of NPR’s JazzSet, Dee Dee Bridgewater will perform. Bridgewater has previously paid her own tribute to Holiday on the 2011 GRAMMY-winning album Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie with Love. Bridgewater also portrayed the late singer on Broadway in the acclaimed musical biography Lady Day.

This year also marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and CJF, DCASE and JIC are proud to recognize this civil rights milestone and promote full inclusion of people with disabilities by partnering with ADA 25 Chicago to present New Orleanian pianist Henry Butler with slide trumpeter Steven Bernstein and The Hot 9. The debut recording by this frolicking bluesy New Orleans second line band, Viper's Drag, recently revived the legendary Impulse! Records label, which had been dormant for at least a decade.

The Chicago Jazz Festival is sponsored in part by ADA 25 Chicago, American Airlines, Aquafina, Chicago Jazz Magazine, Chicago Transit Authority, Chicago Tribune, CLTV-ChicagoLand’s Television, Communications Direct, Downbeat Magazine, LaGROU Distribution System, Pepsi, Stella Artois and WGN-TV.

For the latest information on the Chicago Jazz Festival, visit www.chicagojazzfestival.us, like us on Facebook at Chicago Jazz Festival and follow us on Twitter (@ChicagoDCASE, @ChiJazzFest, #ChiJazzFest).


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Media seeking credentials to review or photograph performances at the festival must submit their request in writing on media letterhead to dcase@cityofchicago.org. Requests must include whether credential is regular press or photo, indicate the date or dates and provide phone and email contacts. Note: Some artists require approval, and some dictate how many songs may be photographed.


About Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs And Special Events:

The Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) is dedicated to enriching Chicago’s artistic vitality and cultural vibrancy. This includes fostering the development of Chicago’s non-profit arts sector, independent working artists and for-profit arts businesses; providing a framework to guide the City’s future cultural and economic growth, via the 2012 Chicago Cultural Plan; marketing the City’s cultural assets to a worldwide audience; and presenting high-quality, free and affordable cultural programs for residents and visitors.


About Jazz Institute of Chicago:

Founded in 1969, the not for profit Jazz Institute of Chicago has programmed the Chicago Jazz Festival in partnership with the City of Chicago since the festival began in 1979. The organization’s mission to promote and nurture jazz in Chicago is carried out by providing jazz education for youth and adults, supporting the creation of new work by Chicago jazz musicians; growing the audience for jazz by presenting programs that are free and available for all and fostering a thriving jazz community.



9/3 The Experimental Band in Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the AACM:

  • Muhal Richard Abrams - piano
  • Henry Threadgill - alto saxophone and flute
  • Roscoe Mitchell - alto & soprano saxophone
  • Wallace McMillan, baritone saxophone and flute
  • Wadada Leo Smith - trumpet
  • Amina Claudine Myers - piano
  • George Lewis - trombone
  • Leonard Jones - bass
  • Thurman Barker - vibes, percussion
  • Reggie Nicholson - drums


9/4 - A Tribute to Billy Strayhorn by The Chicago Jazz Orchestra

featuring guest arrangers interpreting Strayhorn’s music

(Edward Wilkerson, John Hollenbeck, Tom Garling, Steven Bernstein & More)


9/4 - Celebrating the 100th Birthday of Billie Holiday

featuring Jose James' Yesterday I Had the Blues Project


9/5 - Dee Dee Bridgewater


9/6 - Butler, Bernstein and The Hot 9

presented by ADA 25 Chicago