Chicago Jazz Festival 2022 in Review: From the Young Lions to the Royalty on the Jazz Tundra

I wonder if people consider the focus, isolation, and discipline required to become an artist of any genre. That was running through my mind as I sat in awe of the new generation of jazz musicians at the Harris Rooftop Stage. Five Chicago high school jazz ensembles presented their finest performances for an appreciative crowd. The youth ensembles are one of my favorite parts of the festival and once again, the Jazz Institute of Chicago nurtured some of this wonderful talent. The institute’s educational programs and mentoring have brought forth some players that now have their own bands and are gathering acclaim worldwide. These young people gave me hope that the arts are being nurtured in the schools and that Chicago will hold the title of best proving ground for jazz. The arts are thriving in Chicago and the Young Lions stage is the genesis of more to come.

Jones College Prep

Jones College Prep was first out of the gate with a quintet. They played the classic “Song for My Father” by Horace Silver, and “So What” by Miles Davis with that distinctive bass line and smooth horn entry. I was pleased to see young women playing the bass and drums in this quintet. There are more women taking up the rhythm section in jazz, following in the steps of Marlene Rosenberg and Esperanza Spaulding.

Lincoln Park High School

Lincoln Park’s band was more like an orchestra. These kids were having a lot of fun as well. They played Gus Kahn’s “Makin’ Whoopee” with a jaunty baritone trombone solo. The tune “Defibrillator” lived up to its name and got the place jumping followed by “Spain.” Again, young women were in this ensemble taking the lead on some saxophone solos and playing the vibraphone.

Kenwood Academy

Kenwood Academy dressed the part in insignia blazers, bowties, and bright red Chuck Taylor high tops. Their sound was reminiscent of the Count Basie Orchestra’s lush and full sound. They played “Besame Mucho” and Ellington’s “Almost Cried.” They brought the house down with a vocalist added to the mix, playing “I’m Feeling Good.” Kasiah Wells came out in her braids and braces but rocked that song to bring the crowd to its feet. I had chills listening to this young group of people put so much soul and feeling into that song.

Drawing by Sondra Pfeffer

Whitney Young

Whitney Young was next with a quintet of sax, piano, guitar, bass, and drums. They were a confident poised group of young men who leaned more into bop and hard bop jazz with the melodic swoops and uptempo rhythms. A cheeky “Raunchy Rita” by Elvin Jones and Richard Davis was followed by John Patton’s “Funky Mama.” The quintet’s improvisation was spot on and the musicians played off of each other well as in no one stepped on the other’s spotlight. The audience was on their feet after they played Eddie Harris’ “Cold Duck.”

Chi-Arts- Chicago Academy for the Arts

Chi-Arts was the final quartet and in my opinion, you will be hearing from these musicians. They played an original tune called “Circular Thinking” written by their instructor/mentor Anthony Bruno. It was hot out of the gate. This is a tight quartet playing an amazing blend of free jazz, and hard-driving bop. Each member of this quartet can be considered of professional caliber. Saxophone, vibraphone, bass, and drums would seem to be a simple grouping, but these young people tore the roof off. Chi-Arts Jazz ensemble plays at other festivals in the city. Catch them if you can and look for Leo Milano on sax, Wanye Williams on vibraphone, Chase Wilkins on drums, and Danny Perez on bass in the near future either leading their own gigs or being featured in other top acts.

The art featured in this post is by Sondra Pfeffer who sat next to me drawing and painting the groups as they played. Sondra said, “I get so much energy from these young people. I come to see it every time. I love it!” I felt like I was in an artist’s studio next to her with her watercolors and sketching with her micro pen.

Kathy D. Hey
Kathy D. Hey

Kathy D. Hey writes creative non-fiction essays. A lifelong Chicagoan, she is enjoying life with her husband, daughter and three dogs in the wilds of Edgewater. When she isn’t at her computer, she is in her garden growing vegetables and herbs for kitchen witchery.

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