Orchestra Hall has presented jazz since the early days of the 20th century, but only in the past two decades has the music been championed as part of a bona fide series.
Major and emerging stars have been booked for the series' 21st annual season, with a strong lineup of pianists that includes Ahmad Jamal, Henry Butler, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, Eddie Palmieri and Jacky Terrasson. Also on the bill: singers Dianne Reeves and Cyrille Aimee and a world premiere commission from Chicago drummer-bandleader Dana Hall.
As always, the season has been curated by Jim Fahey, director of programming at Symphony Center Presents.
“In the midst of this process, I said I can't not do a commission,” says Fahey, who presented Orbert Davis' epic “The Chicago River” last year and will feature a new work by pianist Jason Moran next month. “I have to make this a part of what we do here."
Following is the complete lineup for the Symphony Center Presents jazz series, with observations from Fahey. Tickets for the series go on sale Wednesday; single-ticket sales start Aug. 8. All concerts are at 8 p.m., unless otherwise noted. Phone 312-294-3000 or visit cso.org.
Ahmad Jamal, Oct. 10. The irrepressibly inventive jazz pianist will be 84 when he returns to the city that launched his career. Born in Pittsburgh, Jamal moved to Chicago in the 1950s and quickly became a fixture here, his album “Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing: But Not for Me” capturing the mercurial wizardry of his pianism and attaining unexpected commercial success. Recent recordings have shown that his music remains modern, ephemeral and utterly unpredictable.
The Django Festival All-Stars, Oct. 24. Clarinet virtuoso Ken Peplowski will be guest soloist with an ensemble celebrating the gypsy jazz of Django Reinhardt; vocalist Cyrille Aimee will open the concert and join the larger group. “We haven't done traditional jazz in the building in a while,” says Fahey, and, indeed, pre-bebop jazz tends to get overlooked practically everywhere. This booking comes as a welcome corrective.
Kenny Barron and Dave Holland; Julian Lage and Chris Eldridge; Dec. 5. Jazz duos do not often appear in venues as large as Orchestra Hall, but Fahey believes that two of them can sustain musical interest. “I was trying to figure out a way to bring back (bassist) Dave Holland — he'll be at the Chicago Jazz Festival with Prism,” Fahey says. “And I wanted to bring back (pianist) Kenny Barron — it's been years since he was on the series. The fact that they are now working together made (this) perfect sense for us. And then I thought: ‘You know what would be great? Pair them with another duo.'”
Lage, one of the most accomplished and promising young guitarists in jazz, joins forces with guitarist Eldridge, of the bluegrass-tinged Punch Brothers (a band led by mandolinist Chris Thile, who also has played Symphony Center's jazz series).
Eddie Palmieri Latin Jazz Band; Carlos Henriquez Quintet; Jan. 16, 2015. Fahey had been hoping to do a Latin-jazz night for the series' 20th anniversary, but this was “another situation of not being (able) to fit everything in,” he says. This concert will address that tradition, septuagenarian Palmieri sharing the bill with bassist Henriquez, whom Symphony Center audiences know from his work in the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.
Dianne Reeves, Jan. 30. One of the few great jazz divas of our era, Reeves will sing music from her most recent album, “Beautiful Life,” backed by a large ensemble. On the roster: pianist Peter Martin, guitarist Romero Lubambo, bassist Reginald Veal and drummer Terreon Gully.
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, Feb. 13. Orchestra Hall has been a second home for Marsalis and the JALC band for more than two decades, and their return here is a key event in any season. This time the appearance will be part of a three-concert residency, with the second two as special concerts not on the subscription series (see below).
Butler, Bernstein & the Hot 9; Dee Alexander; Feb. 27. New Orleans pianist Henry Butler ranks among the most towering piano virtuosos working today, but Chicago has not yet heard his recent partnership with trumpeter Steven Bernstein and the Hot 9, which offers a contemporary perspective on Crescent City traditions. Chicago singer Alexander will open the program, thereby echoing what Fahey calls “a Chicago-New Orleans connection,” something the jazz series has been revisiting periodically.
Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, April 17. No one can predict what these two free thinkers will come up with, and that includes Fahey. One might have suspected a two-piano marathon, but anything can happen — and probably will.
Ibrahim Maalouf Quintet with guest Jacky Terrasson; Jean-Michel Pilc; May 15. This concert unfolds as part of a French theme that Symphony Center will be exploring next season, trumpeter Maalouf having emigrated from his native Beirut to Paris. He's joined by pianist Terrasson, whose deep ties to French culture are unmistakable in his music and discography. Pianist Pilc commands a superhuman technique and will open the evening with a solo performance.
“The Hypocrisy of Justice: Sights and Sounds from the Black Metropolis (Riffin' and Signifyin(g) on Richard Wright's Native Son)”, June 19. Symphony Center has commissioned one of Chicago's most engaging musician-thinkers, drummer Dana Hall, to create an evening-length work. Hall has opted to mark the 75th anniversary of Wright's “Native Son,” and Hall's quintet will be augmented by an actor, visual artist and guest soloists.
Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, Jack DeJohnette, Oct. 19. This long-running, widely beloved trio returns to Orchestra Hall three years after its last performance there.
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis: “Jazz for Young People,” 1 p.m. Feb. 14, 2015. The second concert in the JALC residency is tailored for youthful audiences; families flock to this event.
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis and special guest, 8 p.m. Feb. 14. No program has been announced for this final concert in the JALC residency, but considering the date — Valentine's Day — it's not difficult to predict the nature of the repertoire.