Taxpaying Chicagoans have grown weary from decades of superfluous government spending, and events like the Chicago Jazz Festival should not be free from the same scrutiny that every other city program faces. The proper justification for the event is to be found in Saturday night’s festivities, with propulsive pianist Jason Moran set to headline the most popular evening of the four. That jazz music is a uniquely American treasure is no longer popular opinion among our country’s youth, but Moran’s performance promises such a wide appeal as to turn even the most strident challengers into active participants. All that’s to say, if you are in attendance this Saturday evening, you should expect to dance. For some, a free dance party is justification enough. The hypnotic ability of music to move its listeners is self-evident. It renders criticism obsolete. But to lay out the legacy of twentieth-century American musicality requires the nuance of a gifted player. Moran’s youthful career, the entirety of which has been documented by legendary label Blue Note, has seen the prodigious pianist pay tribute to an entire century of American expression. This performance, a send-up to Fats Waller, promises to cover the entire spectrum. Beginning with the publishing prowess of Tin Pan Alley, ragtime was built upon a flourish of rhythm and an incitement to dance. Songwriters of the early twentieth century were increasingly drawn to populist art movements, few more beloved than ragtime and its eventual successor stride, which opens up the form to all kinds of improvisation. This is Moran’s opening to stretch American minds through space and time, turning player piano and panhandle tunes into early rhythm and blues and eventually rock ‘n’ roll and hip-hop. Guaranteed to be the only history lesson where you prove what you’ve learned by shaking your ass.(Kenneth Preski)
Chicago Jazz Festival, August 31 at Jay Pritzker Pavilion, 201 East Randolph, 8:45pm. Free.