SOUTH SHORE — A festival that sparked renewed interest in free outdoor jazz on the South Side returns this weekend with a “mega party” to celebrate its fifth anniversary.
Back Alley Jazz takes place on Saturdays from 12:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at the 7200-7300 blocks of Paxton Avenue and the 7400 block of Oglesby Avenue. Uche Omoniyi and the African Dance and Music Institute open the festival with a midday procession.
Most performances take place along Paxton Avenue, where people can turn up between 72nd and 74th Streets. Here is a schedule:
Dee Alexander and John McLean will close Back Alley Jazz with a 6:00 p.m. performance at 7400 S. Oglesby Ave. An after-party follows at the Quarry, 2423 E. 75th St., which hosts its own jazz performances weekly.
Silkscreens with the Hyde Park Art Center, martial arts demonstrations by the Dragon Budo Jujutsu Academy, massages by Anointed Hands Physical Therapy, food vendors and more will also be on offer during the festival.
For more information on Back Alley Jazz, visit the event’s website.
“Seeing everyone having a good time – all the smiles and the socializing; talking and seeing old friends; the families that have come a long way — that’s the best part,” said Jeannine “Katie” Sharpe, one of the original hosts of Back Alley Jazz alongside her sister Jonita and neighbors Gail Mangrum and Zenja Vaughn.
Last year’s Back Alley Jazz took place at 10 locations across the South Shore as organizers aimed to limit crowds due to coronavirus precautions.
This year, they’re excited to return to the festival’s roots and host all performances within blocks of each other, said project manager Olivia Junell.
“We’re excited to be refocusing much of the activity in one central location so that people have the opportunity to hang out outdoors and gather in community,” Junell said.
A “direct descendant” of the groundbreaking Jazz in the Alley performances, Universal Alley Jazz Jam takes place over the next two weekends and coincides with the Back Alley Jazz shows on Saturdays.
Universal is Saturday, August 13 from 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at 6916 S. Bennett Ave.
The jam was co-founded by the late saxophonist Jimmy Ellis, who served as Back Alley Jazz’s Grand Marshal in 2019 and was honored at last year’s festival, which took place a month after his death.
With Back Alley and Universal Alley performances — and other jazz jams like those by the South Side Jazz Coalition in Calumet Heights and the Cosmic Alley collective in Woodlawn — the South Side is returning to its history as a hub for free live jazz return. said the organizers.
“That’s part of the goal – not just to reach the people who know the music, but to introduce it to new generations‘ said Jonita Sharpe. “You feel good because you are passing on a tradition.”
The influence of the scene even extends beyond Chicago, as last year’s Back Alley Jazz visitors came from as far away as British Columbia, Canada.
With the growth of open-air concerts on the South Side, organizers “feel like a trendsetter,” Jonita Sharpe said.
The founding of Back Alley Jazz five years ago made it clear to neighbors that large, locally hosted jazz festivals could be a reality in every community, she said.
“It’s always been here, but maybe our event brought a little more exposure,” said Jonita Sharpe. “…We’ve made it more realistic for people that they can do this on a larger scale in their neighborhoods.”
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