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Preview Mon Nov 16 2015

Music Institute of Chicago Celebrates Sixth Annual Jazz Festival with Women in the Limelight

When mentioning women in jazz, certain names like the Empress of the Blues herself, Bessie Smith, may come to mind. But singers like Smith and Billie Holiday aren't the only women in jazz. With singers and instrumentalists alike, celebrating women is the focus of the Music Institute of Chicago's Sixth Annual Jazz Festival.

Each year the Music Institute weaves themes to bind their festival. Last year they focused on the bop innovator Charlie "Bird" Parker, while the first one in 2010 was on the prolific arranger Billy Strayhorn. President and CEO of the Music Institute of Chicago Mark George said, "we're looking back at the challenges women faced, but we're also looking to the present and the future."

Anat Cohen and her quartet will kick off the three-day festival at 7:30pm this Thursday, Nov. 19. The Israeli clarinetist and tenor sax player was voted "Clarinetist of the Year" by the Jazz Journalist Association for eight consecutive years. On Friday, one of the Music Institute's artist in residence, the jazz singer Tammy McCann, has been commissioned to sing along with nine, lush arrangements by a string orchestra.

George added, "sexism is still evident in society in general and there's still a male-bias in the jazz industry." He also noted the importance in understanding the history, as he mentioned women were in novelty acts before World War II and they were often not welcomed to play at bars. "Back in the early days of jazz, there were very few women," George said, "there were a lot of women playing sax, trumpet, or bass, but we don't know their names."

And to help Chicagoans and jazzers alike to better understand the history of women in jazz, last weekend the festival held a screening of the film Lady Be Good, a documentary by Kay D. Ray that highlights the underscored women instrumentalists.

The three-time Grammy and Tony Award winner Dee Dee Bridgewater will be closing the festival Nov. 21, who will be performing a tribute to Billie Holiday on the 100th anniversary of her birth. Bridgewater said, "women have come before her, and the climate has changed since her."

Bridgewater grew up in Flint, Mich., and has been a professional singer for over 40 years, ever since she moved to New York City in the early '70s. She has performed alongside with such legends as Sonny Rollins, Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Max Roach, Roland Kirk and many others.

Jazz, she said, reflects the social issues of its time. She said, "there's a whole thought process reflected by the music," and she noted how the music fuses different styles together. "We've become a melting pot," and certainly the works by Bridgewater, Anat Cohen, and Tammy McCann demonstrate this.

The festival also coincides with the 100th anniversary of the birth of Billy Strayhorn, the prolific pianist who worked with Duke Ellington for nearly 30 years. To honor the composer, nearly 750 piano students at the Music Institute will compete to perform Strayhorn compositions. Three winners will receive a cash prize and perform the Strayhorn works on each night of the Festival.

George said this Festival takes a good look at American history while also "rocking the house for three nights." He summed it up by saying "We always thought of these festivals as not only entertaining but educating too."

The Music Institute of Chicago is hosting their Sixth Annual Jazz Festival at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Ave. in Evanston Nov. 19-21. Tickets for each concert are $30 for adults, $20 for seniors, and $10 for students, available here.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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