The Chicago Jazz Festival is a free music fest that takes place at the end of summer every year. Musicians from all over the world perform in the heart of downtown Chicago for thousands of jazz music fans.

Here's everything you need to know about this premier jazz festival in Chicago.

Related: Click here to find more free things to do in Chicago.

Chicago Jazz Festival

History of the Chicago Jazz Festival

The Chicago Jazz Festival began because Chicagoans love their jazz so much there were going to be three different festivals dedicated to the genre in August. In 1974 a festival was organized as an homage to Duke Ellington. The legendary musician had passed away and fans wanted to honor his memory and the legacy he left behind. Four years later another festival was hosted to honor another jazz great, John Coltrane. Then the following year, in 1979, the Jazz Institute of Chicago started planning another event.

At this point the Chicago Office of Special Events joined in and combined the three festivals into one week-long event featuring free jazz performances. The festival continues to celebrate jazz for an entire week, and now adds free neighborhood performances throughout the summer to its end of summer roster.

Chicago Jazz Festival

Past Performers at the Chicago Jazz Festival

Like all of Chicago’s free music festivals, the performers at the Chicago Jazz Festival are some of the best in the world. Past performers include Benny Goodman, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, BB King, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, and Sarah Vaughan. A look at the lineup from previous years is like looking at a timeline of jazz greats.

 

Millennium Park Summer Film Series

Where is this Labor Day weekend tradition?

Historically the Chicago Jazz Festival was located on the grounds of Grant Park with performances in the Petrillo Band Shell. In 2013 the festival moved to Millennium Park the acoustically engineered Jay Pritzker Pavilion.

The majority of the performances on Labor Day weekend take place in the park. On the days leading up to the fest, additional free concerts are hosted at venues throughout the city, including Links Hall and the venerable Green Mill.

 

Picnic at Millennium Park

Food & Drink at the Chicago Jazz Festival

Concession stands offering food, beer and wine are available at the festival. A concession tent offers refreshment to the east of the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. There are additional vendors and concession carts on the Chase Promenade.

You can also bring a picnic basket and there are several nearby places to pick up items for your picnic. Pastoral Wine and Cheese on Lake Street is a great place to pick up items. Mariano’s is a grocery store north of Millennium Park that offers prepared meals. Park Grill and Cafe is a restaurant located in the park itself and they also provide picnic items. You can even bring in your own beer and wine, but you can only drink them on the Great Lawn.

Check out tips on packing a perfect picnic

Chicago Jazz Festival

What You Can’t Bring to Millennium Park

While you can bring in food, drink, blankets and chairs to enjoy on the Great Lawn of Millennium Park, don’t bring stakes or large umbrellas. The lawn has an extensive irrigation system so you’re not allowed to stick anything into the ground. That means that flag poles, tents and canopies are also out of the question.

Other things you can’t bring are barbecue grills, candles, fireworks, or anything with an open flame. Pets are also not allowed except for service animals. Smoking is not allowed anywhere within Millennium Park.

Click here to find out more about Millennium Park

Getting to Millennium Park

Millennium Park is easily accessible via public transportation. Buses run up and down Michigan Avenue, the El is just a couple of blocks away, and the Metra Electric Line runs right under Millennium Park. If you drive into the festival the Millennium Garages are the closest parking and there are several other garages in the area. Check out Parkwhiz for discounted parking.

 

Chicago Jazz Festival Schedule 2018

Chicago Jazz Festival Schedule for Millennium Park and the Chicago Cultural Center

Thursday, August 30

Chicago Cultural Center

Claudia Cassidy Theater                 

11a.m.–Noon                          Mindeman/Hall/Sommers Trio, in collaboration with the Jazz Record Art Collective

12:15–1:15 p.m.                      Great Black Music Ensemble in collaboration with AACM

1:45–2:45 p.m.                        Jazz Beat/The Intersection of Jazz and Hip Hop, in collaboration with Young                                                         Chicago Authors and the Jazz Institute of Chicago

3:15–4:15 p.m.                        Miyumi Project Sextet in collaboration with Asian Improv

 

Preston Bradley Hall

11 a.m.–Noon                         What is this thing called Jazz? Robert Irving III: Insights on Improvisation

12:30–1:30 p.m.                      Carmen Stokes Quartet, in collaboration with the South Side Jazz Coalition

2–3 p.m.                                  Paul Giallorenzo Trio, in collaboration with the Elastic Arts Foundation

3:30–4:30 p.m.                        Chicago Cellar Boys, in collaboration with the Iliana Club of Traditional Jazz

 

Millennium Park

Jay Pritzker Pavilion            

5 p.m.                                      Second-line Procession Presented by Mystic Crew of Laff Theater Co. featuring                                                  the Big Shoulders BrassBand (starts at Cloud Gate)

5:25–6:15 p.m.                        Geof Bradfield Nonet

6:30–7:25 p.m.                        Nicole Mitchell and Mandorla Awakening

7:45–9 p.m.                             Kurt Elling featuring Marquis  and Jeff “Tain” Watts

 

Friday, August 31

Millennium Park

Von Freeman Pavilion (Chase Promenade South)

11:30 a.m.–12:25 p.m.            Junius Paul Quartet

12:401–:35 p.m.                      Quin Kirchner Quintet

1:502–:45 p.m.                        Chris Speed Trio

3–4pm                                     Greg Ward and 10 Tongues

 

Jazz and Heritage Pavilion (Chase Promenade North)                

Noon–1 p.m.                           Gayle Kolb Sextet

1:30–2:30 p.m.                        Roy McGrath Remembranzas Quintet

3–4 p.m.                                  Million Brazilan Project, featuring Sarah Marie Young and Guy King

 

Jay Pritzker Pavilion

3:45 p.m.                                 Second-line Procession Presented by Mystic Crew of Laff Theater Co. featuring                                                  the Big Shoulders Brass Band (starts at Cloud Gate)

4:15–5:05 p.m.                        Tribute to Dr. Richard Muhal Abrams

5:25–6:15 p.m.                        Sabertooth Organ Quartet 25th Anniversary

6:30–7:25 p.m.                        Louis Hayes Quintet: “Seranade for Horace”

7:45–9 p.m.                             Dianne Reeves

 

Saturday, September 1

Millennium Park

Young Jazz Lions (Harris Rooftop)

111–1:30 a.m.                         ChiArts Jazz Combo

11:45 a.m. –12:15 p.m.           Morgan Park High School Jazz Combo

12:30–1 p.m.                           CYSO Jazz Combo

1:15–1:55 p.m.                        Eric Solorio High School Jazz Ensemble

2:10–2:50 p.m.                        Whitney Young High School Jazz Ensemble

3:05–3:45 p.m.                        Kenwood Academy Jazz Band

           

Von Freeman Pavilion (Chase Promenade South)

11:30 a.m.–12:25 p.m.            Black Diamond

12:40–1:35 p.m.                      Dustin Laurenzi and Natural Language

1:50–2:45 p.m.                        Matthew Shipp and Ivo Perelman Quartet

3–4 p.m.                                  Amina Claudine Myers Trio

 

Jazz and Heritage Pavilion (Chase Promenade North)                

Noon–1 p.m.                           Bruce Henry

1:30–2:30 p.m.                        The Chuck Webb Band featuring Margaret Murphy

3–4 p.m.                                  Nolatet

 

Jay Pritzker Pavilion

3:45 p.m.                                 Second-line Procession Presented by Mystic Crew of Laff Theater Co. featuring                                                  the Big Shoulders Brass Band (starts at Cloud Gate)

4:15–5:05 p.m.                        Tribute to Willie Pickens

5:25–6:10 p.m.                        Kenny Barron Quintet

6:25–7:25 p.m.                        Darcy James Argue Secret Society

7:45–9 p.m.                             Ramsey Lewis

 

Sunday, September 2

Millennium Park

NextGenJazz (Harris Rooftop)

11:15 a.m.–Noon                    Derek Duleba Quartet

12:15–1p.m.                            Cesar Martinez’s Cuicatl

1:15–2 p.m.                             Morgan Pirtle+5

2:15–3 p.m.                             Typical Sisters

3:15–4 p.m.                             Jahari Stampley Ensemble

 

Von Freeman Pavilion (Chase Promenade South)

11:30 a.m. –12:25 p.m.           Tribute to John Wright

12:40–1:35 p.m.                      Jaimie Branch's Fly or Die

1:50–2:45 p.m.                        Jason Stein Quartet

3–4 p.m.                                  Eric Revis Quartet

 

Jazz and Heritage Pavilion (Chase Promenade North)                

Noon–1 p.m.                           Quentin Coaxum Quintet

1:30–2:30 p.m.                        Alejandro Urzagaste’s Flow

3–4 p.m.                                  Fareed Haque and his Funk Brothers

 

Jay Pritzker Pavilion

3:45 p.m.                                 Second-line Procession Presented by Mystic Crew of Laff Theater Co. featuring                                                  the Big Shoulders Brass Band (starts at Cloud Gate)

4:15–5:05 p.m.                        Matt Ulery’s Loom Large

5:25–6:10 p.m.                        Arturo O'Farrill Sextet

6:25–7:25 p.m.                        Charles McPherson and Barry Harris Quartet

7:45–9 p.m.                             Maceo Parker


The Chicago Jazz Festival is the perfect way to finish summer in Chicago. The free performances feature some of the best musicians in the world, and Millennium Park is an ideal location to soak in the music.

All photos courtesy Chicago DCASE