A visit to Chicago during the Chicago Jazz Festival of 2015
|We land smoothly at O’Hare airport on a warm September morning and in just over half an hour we are in downtown Chicago checking into the Sheraton. We are given a room with an amazing river view on the 29th floor but we are itching to get to the streets.
We are primarily here for the Chicago jazz festival which takes place over four days in the first week of September every year. The programs start in the late afternoon and go on till late evening at the Millennium Park and that is where we have to go. There are great restaurants all around and we head for one on the ‘magnificent mile’. Chicago is a very walkable city and the hotel makes it easier with some good advice. Whatever you might want to do or wherever you might want to explore, can be done on foot though we found cabs to be quite inexpensive too.
As we arrive at the Millennium Park, we stumble upon the stunning Cloud Gate. The Cloud Gate is British Indian artist Anish Kapoor's first public outdoor work installed in the United States. The 110-ton elliptical sculpture is forged of a seamless series of highly polished stainless steel plates, which reflect Chicago’s famous skyline and the clouds above. A 12-foot-high arch provides a "gate" to the concave chamber beneath the sculpture, inviting visitors to touch its mirror-like surface and see their image reflected back from a variety of perspectives. Inspired by liquid mercury, the sculpture is among the largest of its kind in the world, measuring 66-feet long by 33-feet high. Cameras snap up happily distorted images and we gape in amazement at how this unique structure blends in with the architecture of the park.
We head over toward the Frank Gehry designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park which is one of the world’s most state-of-the-art outdoor music pavilions featuring a proscenium surrounded by billowing curves of stainless steel and a steel trellis that spans the audience. This is the main stage for the Chicago Jazz festival and we find seats with thousands of music lovers in this city that is defined by its pioneering jazz history. As Chico Freeman and his band get into their musical groove the crowds pour in. What an atmosphere with great music, great architecture topped up with fantastic weather. So I ask why Chicago is called the ‘windy city’. Is it really breezy and windy all the time? ‘Hell no’, I am told, ‘it’s because of its politicians who have the reputation of being windbags’. Now, ‘that’ is a revelation.
After a hearty breakfast, the late morning is reserved for the Art Institute of Chicago, which has been voted as the #1 museum in the world. It does not disappoint. It has around 87,000 pieces of art in its collection from all over the world and we are overwhelmed by the modern and the ancient cultures on display. The Indian section is wonderful and for the first time I am overwhelmed by the influence of Indian art and sculpture on other regions in Asia from Indonesia to Malaysian, from Cambodia to Vietnam. There is no equivalent display, to my mind, either in India or in Britain. I’ve always loved the American artist John Singer Sargent and we see him here in all his glory, as we do the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright or the Bauhaus school. This is surely the foremost collection of art, architecture and culture in the world, an absolute must see. We trudge back satiated back to the engrossing music of the jazz festival.
Many associate skyscrapers with New York, but Chicago is really the home of the modern skyscraper. Architectural pioneers of the Chicago School explored steel-frame construction and in the1890s, the use of large areas of plate glass. In the 1940s, a "Second Chicago School" emerged from the works of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and the famous Skidmore Owings and Merrill partner Fazlur Khan of Bangladesh. He pioneered the structural system of framed tubes in skyscraper design and construction...a signature of the modern skyscraper in the world today. Examples of his works are the Sears Tower and the Hancock Building in Chicago. But the best part is that Chicago offers a range of architecture tours from riverside walks to Architecture cruises. We did both. We walked at our own pace along the winding riverside and the highlight was the architecture river cruise that we took from the Navy pier. A ‘must do’ for any visitor to Chicago.
When in Chicago, enjoy the music as Chicago is a major center for jazz, blues and many other genres of American music. My wife and I are great jazz fans and we sought out the famous jazz bars where top musicians play like the Jazz Showcase and the Green Mill. No food is served at the Jazz Showcase, but we were happy to go late into the night on drinks and music. We couldn’t have asked for more. Along the walls are jazz memorabilia, historic posters and exploits of the greats that have contributed to this great tradition.
Known for its artistic creativity, the Chicago Jazz Festival is a favorite September Labor Day Weekend tradition. It promotes awareness and appreciation for all forms of jazz through free, quality live musical performance. Since 1979, the festival's mission is to showcase Chicago's vast jazz talent alongside national and international artists to encourage and educate a jazz audience of all ages. The Chicago Jazz Festival kicks-off with Butler, Bernstein & the Hot 9. Soon, we are treated to a fantastic performance by the legendary Chico Freeman. There are so many programs and performers that we have to pick and choose, but it’s all worth it.
The festival concludes with an electrifying performance by Dee Dee Bridgewater and her band. With thousands crowding the permanent seating area at the Pritzker Pavilion and thousands more on the lawn, Bridgewater projects as if the acres of space before her present no challenge whatsoever. When she sings at full cry, the acoustics carry her to the far corners of Millennium Park. When she turns to more intimate modes she proves equally potent resonating across the park. What a performance. After its conclusion we walk with thousands of fellow music lovers and head toward our hotel dazed. What just happened?
As we leave Chicago, satiated with its music, its art and culture, its architecture and its dynamism, a cosmopolitan city which has strongly come out of the great recession, we promise to return to its welcoming fold. Yes, we have been permanently converted.