Bop till you drop

It's Chicago Jazz Festival time, that most wonderful time of the year for Chicago Jazz aficionados as it brings a sonic bounty that all collects at Pritzker Pavilion. (Rockland L. Page / Tribune illustration / August 21, 2014)

For jazz lovers, it's the best week of the year: a riot of activity starting Monday, as a lead-up to the Chicago Jazz Festival, which runs Thursday through Aug. 31.

From a programming standpoint, the 36th annual Chicago Jazz Festival looks strong, with appearances by such leading figures as trumpeters Terence Blanchard and Tom Harrell, guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, saxophonist Miguel Zenon, pianist Myra Melford, bassist Dave Holland, singer Cecile McLorin Salvant and the Sun Ra Arkestra (celebrating the jazz visionary's centennial).

Chicago artists will bask in the spotlight, too, among them cellist Tomeka Reid, vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, saxophonists Ari Brown and John Wojciechowski, vocalists Tammy McCann and Paul Marinaro, and guitarists Bobby Broom, George Freeman and Mike Allemana. Then, too, there's the world premiere of an "Afro Jazz Opera" by saxophonist Ernest Dawkins.

All of this is programmed by the nonprofit Jazz Institute of Chicago and produced by the city's Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, with high-profile events at Millennium Park, near Randolph Street and Michigan Avenue, and the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St.

Will the sound at the Von Freeman Pavilion and the Jazz and Heritage Pavilion in Millennium Park be any better than last year? Will the images on the gargantuan LED screen continue to dwarf the musicians on the Pritzker Pavilion stage? Will the amateurish announcers still prattle on?

We soon will know.

Following is a critical guide to the most promising shows. For more information: 312-744-3316 or chicagojazzfestival.us.

Monday

Sam Grossner: A specialist in ragtime and stride idioms, pianist Grossner kicks off a three-night series of events at Chicago's shrine to the piano, the PianoForte Studios (broadcast live on WDCB FM 90.9). 5:30 p.m. Monday at PianoForte Studios, 1335 S. Michigan Ave.; free, but reservations recommended; 312-291-0291 or pianofortefoundation.org

"Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise" and "Mystery Mr. Ra": The Chicago Jazz Festival will salute the centennial of jazz iconoclast Sun Ra with screenings of two films about him. 6 p.m. Monday in the Claudia Cassidy Theater of the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St.; free; 312-744-6630 or chicagoculturalcenter.org

Tuesday

John Wright: The veteran Chicago pianist plays the second night of PianoForte's solo series (broadcast live on WDCB FM 90.9 FM.) 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at PianoForte Studios, 1335 S. Michigan Ave.; free, but reservations recommended; 312-291-0291 or pianofortefoundation.org

"Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise" and "Mystery Mr. Ra": Encore screenings of two documentaries. 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Claudia Cassidy Theater of the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St.; free; 312-744-6630 or chicagoculturalcenter.org

Wednesday

Matthew Shipp: The grand finale of PianoForte's piano recital series will feature Shipp playing music from his profound new album, "I've Been to Many Places" (Thirsty Ear). Though Shipp has performed periodically in Chicago, the chance to hear him unveiling new music on a top-notch Fazioli piano is worth seizing (broadcast live on WDCB FM 90.9). 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at PianoForte Studios, 1335 S. Michigan Ave.; free, but reservations recommended; 312-291-0291 or pianofortefoundation.org

Jazz Club Tour: The annual event takes listeners to various venues via trolley. It's not a great listening experience, with arriving and departing visitors proving quite a distract, but the tour may be appreciated by those who want to explore new places. Participating venues include Andy's Jazz Club, 11 E. Hubbard St.; City Life, 712 E. 83rd St.; CloseUp 2, 416 S. Clark St. (which closes Sept. 1); Constellation, 3111 N Western Ave.; Drake Hotel, 140 E. Walton St.; 50 Yard Line, 69 E. 75th St.; Green Mill Jazz Club, 4802 N. Broadway; Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Court; Kingston Mines, 2548 N Halsted St.; M Lounge, 1520 S. Wabash Ave.; Norman's Bistro, 1001 E. 43rd St.; Red Pepper's Masquerade Lounge, 428 E. 87th St.; Reggie's, 2105 S. State St. 6 p.m. to midnight; $25-$35; 312-427-1676 or jazzinchicago.org

Thursday

Chris Foreman Trio: The Chicago organist kicks off 41/2 hours of music at the Chicago Cultural Center, with performances unfolding in three rooms. Foreman, a soulful soloist best known for Friday sets at the Green Mill Jazz Club in Uptown, will play at noon and will be followed by the Erwin Helfer/John Brumbach Duo playing traditional boogie and blues at 1:30 p.m. in the Cultural Center's Randolph Square. More experimental fare will come from reedist Keefe Jackson's Likely So at 12:15 p.m. and saxophonist David Boykin's Expanse at 1:45 p.m. in the Claudia Cassidy Theater. More mainstream traditions will be celebrated by Brazilian guitarist Paulinho Garcia's quintet at 12:30 p.m. and the Judy Roberts/Greg Fishman Duo at 2 p.m. in Preston Bradley Hall. In addition, the popular lecture-demonstration "What Is This Thing Called Jazz?" will start at 3:15 p.m. in the Claudia Cassidy Theater. At the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St.; free; 312-744-6630 or chicagoculturalcenter.org

Sun Ra Panel Discussion: The next installment in the festival's examination of Sun Ra's legacy will feature John Szwed, author of "Space Is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra," in conversation with Sun Ra Arkestra veteran Marshall Allen and writer John Corbett. Before the talking begins, saxophonist Allen will play a brief set. 4 p.m. Thursday at Roosevelt University's Ganz Hall, 430 S. Michigan Ave., seventh floor; free

"Homage to Nelson Mandela: Ernest Dawkins' Memory in the Center, an Afro Jazz Opera": Chicago saxophonist-bandleader Dawkins has penned many suites exploring key moments in American cultural history, such as "Untill Emmett Till" and "A Dream Come True or a Dream Deferred?" He returns to large-scale composition with this tribute to Mandela, featuring a large jazz ensemble and narration by Khari B. 6:30 p.m. at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park