Chicago Jazz Festival

jazz fest
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A Chicago tradition each summer, Jazz Fest is a four-day music celebration held annually on Labor Day weekend (September 1-4 in 2011). FREE to the public, the festival is produced by the Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events and programmed by the Jazz Institute of Chicago. The location varies by day, starting at the Chicago Cultural Center and Millenium Park on the first two days and Grant Park on the last two.

The full schedule of events for 2011 will be released in early summer, and the headliners are currently listed on the Chicago Tourism website. Headlining this year will be vocalist, songwriter, and producer Cassandra Wilson on Saturday and trumpeter Roy Hargrove on Sunday.

The Chicago Jazz Festival emerged from a few different events in the 1970s. After legendary jazz musician Duke Ellington died in the summer of 1974, several Chicago musicians gathered in Grant Park to honor him and his music. This gathering turned into an annual memorial concert drawing larger crowds each year. In 1978, a group of musicians with Chicago’s Council of Fine Arts began a John Coltrane memorial concert in Grant Park. After Chicago’s Institute of Jazz began their own concert series in Grant Park the following year, the mayor’s office proposed merging the three concert series into one festival. The first Chicago Jazz Festival was born, drawing a crowd of over 125,000 people.

If you can’t check out the whole festival, then head down to Grant Park for Saturday or Sunday’s performances. This festival gets packed in the evenings, so show up earlier in the day to stake out the perfect spot to see your favorite performer. Pack a picnic and a blanket, and spread out on the grass in front of one of four stages: the Jazz on Jackson Stage, the Cricket Wireless Jazz and Heritage Stage, Chicago Community Trust Young Jazz Lions Stage, and the headliner’s stage at the Petrillo Music Shell. Remember to bring plenty of sunscreen and bug spray, lots of water, and a hat to protect you from the elements as you enjoy the music.

The festival officially ends at 9:30pm on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, but why stop the fun there? Check out our Loop Neighborhood Guide for some suggestions of restaurants and bars near the festival.

If you have a question about the Chicago Jazz Festival that we haven’t answered here, be sure to read the Chicago Jazz Festival FAQ page, which lists items that are prohibited from the venues.

The Essentials:

Admission: Free
Save the Dates: Labor Day weekend each year. 2011: September 1-4.
Location: Check out the schedule of events for locations. All events located in Chicago Cultural Center, Millenium Park, and Grant Park
Phone: 312.744.3316

Getting there:

L: Red Line Lake, Monroe, and Jackson stops; Brown, Purple, Green, Pink, and Orange Lines Randolph, Madison, and Adams stops; Blue Line Washington, Monroe, and Jackson stops
Bus: #1, #3, #4, #6, #7, #14, #26, #X28, #126, #143, #145, #146, #147, #148, #151
Car: Park in the Millenium Garages
Bike: Bike parking is available along the perimeter of Grant and Millenium Parks

About Molly Tranberg

Molly Tranberg loves discovering new things in Chicago–especially all of its wonderful food. She is a freelance writer and editor currently working from her very comfy couch on the Northside of Chicago. Her dream is to one day ride a segway around the city and heli-ski in Alaska.

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