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Jeff Cebulski's Chicago Jazz Festival Plan

I was a Labor Day weekend Chicago Jazz Festival attendee for many years. Last year, for the first time, I was able to hang at the Festival for four straight days. I must tell you that, by Sunday, I was a goner. Oh, I could manage Friday through Sunday alright, but this extra day thing kept me away on Sunday until the evening.

I’m in a bit better shape these days, so the sumptuous offerings of this year’s festival won’t be as daunting. I think. But since I can’t be everywhere, here’s what my (current) plan is. Yes, I know I’ll be missing some cool stuff, but…

Note: I realize that one of the main features of the CJF is The “Tribute”. I get the idea of honoring people however I am generally not too excited by these concerts (exceptions exist: see below). I also am not enticed, too much, by the appearance of old, heralded favorites, unless they are Ornette Coleman or people whom I have never seen before, but that’s just me. Exceptions exist, of course, and you will find them below.

Wednesday: I expect Orbert Davis and the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic’s trip down Chicago memory lane at the Pritzker Pavilion to be a satisfying start, so long as the weather cooperates.


The Cultural Center offerings look engaging, in both venues. I will start at the Cassidy, where, at 11, the Mindeman/Hall/Sommers Trio (playing classic Chick Corea) will hold sway, followed by the Great Black Music Ensemble, the beginning of several ACCM-connected performances throughout the Festival. Then I will move over to Bradley Hall at 2, where Paul Giallorenzo and his trio will play. Those who read my review of their latest album will understand why. (Paul Giallorenzo Trio - Flow)

After a break, I’ll head down to the Pritzker, where the red hot Geof Bradfield will lead his Nonet, followed by another AACM-associated artist, flautist Nicole Mitchell and Mandorla Awakening, and then homeboy Kurt Elling, featuring Marquis Hill and Jeff "Tain" Watts.


As the weekend’s events get started, I will more than likely hole up at the Von Freeman Pavilion (south). This day, I expect to be completely entertained by, in order, the Junius Paul Quartet, the rising drummer Quin Kirchner and his Group, the terrific Chris Speed Trio (whose album Platinum on Tap was among the best of 2017), and Greg Ward’s scintillating Chicago-area ensemble, 10 Tongues.

While I am not usually excited by the “Tribute” concerts, the one at the Pritzker honoring Muhal Richard Abrams will get my attention. The Sabertooth Organ Quartet’s 25th Anniversary concert should swing, and, because I am a sucker for Things Horace Silver, I will stick around for Louis Hayes’ “Serenade for Horace,” with a stellar cast for him to support. Now, I have no real problems with the wondrous Dianne Reeves, but I might skip her just to get some rest.


At the Von Freeman stage again, and I expect a challenging but enlightening progressive, ACCM-influenced afternoon with Black Diamond, Dustin Laurenzi and Natural Language, Matthew Shipp and Ivo Perelman, and the Amina Claudine Myers Trio.

This night, after a repast, I plan to be around at the Pritzker for the Kenny Barron Quintet (full of some of the best) and Darcy James Argue's eclectic Secret Society.


Impossible to avoid the Freeman stage this day—a tolerable, maybe even necessary, tribute to the late pianist John Wright, with a host of singers; the musically peripatetic postmodern trumpeter Jaimie Branch's Fly or Die; the Tristano/Marsh-influenced Jason Stein Quartet; and the bassist Eric Revis’ Quartet featuring Ken Vandermark. I mean, really—how does one leave this stage?

Later at the Pritzker, I will finish with bassist Matt Ulery’s Loom Large and the Arturo O'Farrill Sextet.

Just to recap my "Can't Miss" list includes:

  • The Mindeman/Hall/Sommers Trio

  • The Paul Giallorenzo Trio

  • The Geof Bradfield Nonet

  • Kurt Elling

  • Louis Hayes

  • Kenny Barron

  • Von Freeman Stage programs on Friday and Sunday afternoons.

You’re invited to find me and say hi, if you are so inclined. I will probably be wearing my red Blackhawks cap and have a portable, padded, seat with me. Enjoy everything you choose on another Labor Day jazz weekend in Chicago!

You can contact Jeff at

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