Chicago Jazz Festival

The Chicago Jazz Festival is a popular and well-known four-day free celebration of jazz now based in Millennium Park located in the Loop area of downtown Chicago. It is run by the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events and programmed with the assistance of Jazz Institute of Chicago during Labor Day weekend, integrating both world-famous and local artists playing a wide variety of jazz music.


Shortly after Duke Ellington's death in 1974, a festival was organized to honor him in Grant Park. More than 10,000 jazz fans attended, and it became an annual event, attracting crowds of up to 30,000. In 1978, another group organized a Grant Park festival to honor John Coltrane. When, in 1979, the Jazz Institute of Chicago began preparations for its own Grant Park Festival, which would have resulted in three separate jazz festivals being held in Grant Park at the end of August, the Mayor's Office of Special Events stepped in and joined the three different festivals together into the Chicago Jazz Festival, which would present a week of free jazz performances. That first Chicago Jazz Festival included an Ellington Night, a Coltrane Night, and five other programs put together by the Jazz Institute of Chicago. Held at Grant Park's new Petrillo Music Shell, first season performers included: Von Freeman, Art Hodes, Benny Carter, McCoy Tyner, Billy Taylor, Mel Torme, and Benny Goodman; and the festival drew 125,000 festival-goers over its seven nights.[1][2]


Famous performers through the years have included Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Anthony Braxton, Betty Carter, Lionel Hampton, Chico O'Farrill's big band, Jimmy Dawkins, Johnny Frigo, Slide Hampton, Roy Haynes, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae, BB King, Count Basie, Sun Ra, Stan Getz, Jimmy Smith, Dexter Gordon, Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny Burrell, Ornette Coleman, and many, many others.[1]

For many years, the entire evening Festival performances were broadcast live, coast-to-coast on 180 Public Radio Stations. Later on, highlight shows were created for later broadcast, until WBEZ abandoned its long-time jazz broadcasting.[3]

Each year after the concerts are over, jam sessions, sometimes running late into the night and early morning, are hosted numerous prominent Chicago jazz musicians, including David Boykin, Fred Anderson, Dana Hall, Karl E. H. Seigfried, and Keefe Jackson.[4]

The festival is now part of a summer-long series of concerts and festivals sponsored by the city's Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events and including Taste of Chicago and the Chicago Blues Festival.[5]


In 2017, the festival moved from Grant Park's badly aging Petrillo Music Shell and its side stages, where it had been held for more than 30 years, across Monroe Street to Millennium Park, where artists appeared at several performance pavilions as well as at the nearby Chicago Cultural Center, Ganz Hall at Roosevelt University, and several other locations.[6] Though this provided better acoustics in the newer venue, some critics complained that the new arrangement unnecessarily scattered the performances, making it harder for attendees to hear some of the sessions because of the distance between the venues.

Featured Musicians by Year
Year Headliners
2018 Kurt Elling Sextet featuring Marquis Hill and Jeff "Tain" Watts

Dianne Reeves

Ramsey Lewis

Maceo Parker

2017 Dizzy Gillespie’s Centennial Celebration with Jon Faddis and the Chicago Jazz Festival Big Band

Jason Moran presents In My Mind: Monk at Town Hall 1959

Ellabration! 100 Years of Ella Fitzgerald featuring the Brad William Trio, Sheila Jordan, Dee Alexander, Frieda Lee, Spider Saloff and Paul Mariano

Matt Wilson’s Honey and Salt

2016 Orbert Davis

Charlie Haden’s politically-charged Liberation Music Orchestra

Benny Golson

Anat Cohen

John Scofield and Joe Lovano

Candido Camero

2015 Marquis Hill Blacktet

Henry Butler / Steven Bernstein & Hot 9

Billy Strayhorn Tribute w/ Chicago Jazz Orchestra playing Arrangements of Strayhorn Songs By Edward Wilkerson, John Hollenbeck, Steven Bernstein, Gordon Goodwin

Muhal Richard Abrams’ Experimental Band with Roscoe Mitchell, Henry Threadgill, Wadada Leo Smith, Amina Claudine Myers, Anthony Braxton, George Lewis, Leonard Jones, Wallace McMillan, Reggie Nicholson

2014 Homage to Nelson Mandela: Ernest Dawkins' Memory in the Center, an Afro Jazz Opera

Terence Blanchard with Ravi Coltrane & Lionel Loueke

Dave Holland, Kevin Eubanks, Craig Taborn and Eric Harland: PRISM

See also


  1. "History of the Chicago Jazz Festival". City of Chicago. Retrieved August 15, 2019.
  2. "Chicago Jazz Festival 1979-2004-updated (to 2008)" (PDF). Chicago Jazz Festival. Archived (PDF) from the original on June 14, 2019. Retrieved August 15, 2019.
  3. Reich, Howard (August 23, 2013). "Dear Jazz Fest: Nice move-- here are 10 more to make". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved August 15, 2019.
  4. Peter Margasak and John Corbett (August 31, 2007). "The Reader's Guide to the Chicago Jazz Festival". Chicago Reader. Archived from the original on May 16, 2008.
  5. "City of Chicago Home". City of Chicago.
  6. "Chicago Jazz Festival: August 29 – September 1, 2019". Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. City of Chicago. Retrieved August 15, 2019.
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