SCP Jazz showcases the genre’s vast panorama

Brian Blade (from left), Christian McBride, Joshua Redman and Brad Mehldau have joined forces for a MoodSwing Reunion.

Michael Wilson

After more than a year away, the Symphony Center Presents jazz concerts will be back onstage in February and continue into the spring. The diverse lineup affirms that this series and its featured artists have not lost a step. Longtime SCP favorites are returning with recent projects that reflect today’s urgent political and social debates. Other groups and soloists are bringing in new combinations of players. Up-and-coming young Chicago jazz musicians also will showcased on the series. The break from touring provided artists the time to develop new ideas, and these concerts will demonstrate how those concepts will all come alive.

All concerts are at 8 p.m., unless otherwise noted. Subscriptions go on sale Oct. 12 at

Terri Lyne Carrington + Social Science; Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Hero Trio, Feb. 4: Drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, an NEA Jazz Master, created Social Science to deliver socially conscious messages while bringing together different sonic worlds. This group’s debut album, “Waiting Game” (2020), featured a combination of her trio with pianist Aaron Parks and guitarist Matthew Stevens, alongside rappers and R&B singers. The record’s vocal tracks address such issues as police abuses, homophobia and indigenous peoples’ rights.

In an interview with JazzTimes, Carrington said of “Waiting Game,” “The goal is to create music, and when we do that, we’re not thinking about our solos; we’re thinking about how the song connects to humanity.” But this album also broke away from compositional rules: The record’s second half is a 42-minute, freely improvised piece, “Dreams and Desperate Measures.” For Carrington, who has collaborated with such giants as Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, Social Science is just the latest in a lifetime spent taking on challenges. Her Mosaic Project albums featured all-women musicians to highlight female composers, and Carrington also reinvented Duke Ellington’s compositions for her “Money Jungle” (2013).

Rudresh Mahanthappa, alto saxophonist and former Chicagoan, has been the recipient of numerous awards, including DownBeat Critics Polls for best artist on his instrument. Among his 15 acclaimed albums are “Bird Calls” and “Hero Trio,” on which he reimagines Charlie Parker’s songs as vehicles for his own improvisational flights. Mahanthappa also has combined jazz with South Indian music for such projects as the recent “Song of the Jasmine” (2014). Joining him are François Moutin, bass, and Rudy Royston, drums.

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, “Wynton at 60,” Feb. 25: Grammy Award-winning trumpeter and jazz champion Wynton Marsalis celebrates his 60th birthday in swinging style with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. The New Orleans native has led the JLCO at its Manhattan base for 30 years. With these dual anniversaries, Marsalis and the JLCO will be drawing on compositions and appearances throughout their decades together.

These performances have included reinterpretations of Miles Davis and Gil Evans’ epochal 1950s collaborations. Marsalis and the JLCO have also remained loose and lively enough to find new ways to have fun with historical scores — whether it’s Jelly Roll Morton’s foundational work in the 1920s, Ornette Coleman’s free-form explorations decades later or today’s diverse jazz world. Marsalis also has dug into seldom-performed gems from the extensive songbooks of such masters as Duke Ellington and has created orchestral pieces out of such challenging works as John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.”

In 2020, JLCO performed a series of video concerts that were centered on the intersection of jazz and social justice movements. For this tour, Marsalis and the JLCO also will perform new material in their ever expanding repertoire.

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis and special guest Bryan Stevenson, “Freedom, Justice and Hope,” 2 p.m., Feb. 26: For the second day of Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s weekend residency, they will perform new works that detail the ongoing struggles against inequality and injustice. This program includes bassist Endea Owens’ composition, “Ida’s Crusade,” dedicated to the work of journalist and anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells. The 1919 massacre of African Americans in Arkansas inspired Josh Evans’ piece, “Elaine.” Both compositions are JLCO commissions and debuted in 2021. Lawyer and activist Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative human-rights organization, serves as narrator and speaks about the mission of jazz and social activism. All of this is a strong extension of the JLCO’s mission to educate audiences about jazz and the circumstances that contributed to its creation.

The Bad Plus; Greg Ward’s Rogue Parade, March 18: The Bad Plus has blended jazz improvisation, classical technique and rock beats for more than 20 years. After a few lineup changes, the group continues to evolve. Originally a trio with a pianist (first Ethan Iverson, then Orrin Evans), in 2021, the band announced that it had become a quartet with saxophonist Chris Speed and guitarist Ben Monder joining founding bassist Reid Anderson and drummer David King. While the band gained wide attention for its interpretation of works by artists ranging from Igor Stravinsky to Blondie, the Bad Plus also emphasizes how Anderson and King’s compositions are ideal vehicles for its improvisational flights. Speed, who doubles on clarinet, also has led numerous groups stretching from free jazz to Eastern European folk music. (He had previously collaborated with King.) Before joining the Bad Plus, Monder had worked with artists ranging from saxophonist Lee Konitz to David Bowie.

Chicago-based saxophonist Greg Ward also is a veteran and master of numerous musical styles, which he brings to his Rogue Parade septet. Ward’s tricky compositions and soaring saxophone lines direct the rock-informed weaving of the group’s guitarists on its debut album, “Stomping Off From Greenwood” and in its live performances. Previously, Ward has performed commissions for such institutions as the Chicago Jazz Festival and collaborated with musicians ranging from saxophone legend Fred Anderson to rapper Lupe Fiasco. Ward also is a professor of music at Indiana University.

Dianne Reeves, April 8: An NEA Jazz Master and five-time Grammy recipient, Dianne Reeves has been a longtime favorite among jazz audiences worldwide, especially at Symphony Center. An expert at phrasing and improvisatory scatting, she has drawn acclaim for digging into the nuances of myriad different songs throughout her career of more than 30 years. Reeves’ albums, like “Beautiful Life” (2014), feature her gossamer voice and expert phrasing as she brings R&B, reggae and pop influences to jazz.

Throughout her career, she also has shown her dedication to legendary jazz singers on albums such as “The Calling: Celebrating Sarah Vaughan” (2001). Years before the Black Lives Matter movement, she highlighted message songs on “Art and Survival” (1993). Reeves also has recorded with acclaimed instrumentalists such as Billy Childs, Herbie Hancock, Stanley Turrentine and Lenny White. Among her many honors, Reeves has received an honorary doctorate of fine arts from the Juilliard School.

Redman, Mehldau, McBride, Blade: A MoodSwing Reunion, April 20: In 1994, tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman became a crucial young voice in jazz with his acclaimed album, “MoodSwing.” He led a powerful quartet on that session as he fronted pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade: all of whom have become stars on their own right in the 25 years since that landmark recording. Now, with all musicians sharing equal billing, they bring myriad experiences to this presentation of their history, which they revisited for their album, “RoundAgain” (2020).

Since originally recording “MoodSwing,” Redman has led groove-based electric bands and performed with such innovative ensembles as the Bad Plus. He also served as artistic director of the San Francisco-based SFJAZZ. Mehldau’s trio and solo albums feature intricately shaped compositions and free-flowing improvisational flights. His collaborators have ranged from mandolin player Chris Thile to chamber orchestras. McBride has gone on to lead a Grammy Award-winning big band and composed the epic The Movement: Revisited: A Musical Portrait of Four Icons, a work honoring American civil-rights leaders. National Public Radio listeners would recognize McBride’s voice as the host of “Jazz Night in America.” Three years after working on “MoodSwing,” Blade founded Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band, a popular group that brings together folk, gospel and jazz and was integral to the Wayne Shorter Quartet. The drummer also has become a highly sought-after session musician, working alongside icons such as Joni Mitchell and Daniel Lanois. 

Dee Dee Bridgewater & Bill Charlap; Artemis, April 29: The pairing of vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater and pianist Bill Charlap provides a vivid and imaginative presentation of the Great American Songbook. Bridgewater first received acclaim in the jazz media during her debut with the Thad Jones and Mel Lewis Orchestra in the early 1970s. Shortly later, she worked with Frank Foster’s Loud Minority band when she also wasn’t thrilling Broadway audiences with her performance in “The Wiz.” Along with serving as host of the NPR program “Jazz Set,” Bridgewater continues to record; her latest disc “Memphis … Yes, I’m Ready” (2017), is a tribute to the soul, gospel and rock songs that were hits from her hometown.

Charlap has received widespread accolades for his deep interpretations of such composers as Hoagy Carmichael, George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein. He continues his deep exploration of jazz standards with his trio’s album, “Street of Dreams” (2021).

Artemis is an all-women sextet that cuts across styles and international borders, representing the United States, Canada, Japan and Israel. While all six musicians are acclaimed bandleaders on their own, their combination presents a strong sense of mission (the ensemble is named after the ancient Greek goddess of the hunt). The members are Renee Rosnes, piano; Anat Cohen, clarinet; Nicole Glover, tenor saxophone; Ingrid Jensen, trumpet; Noriko Ueda, bass, and Allison Miller, drums.

As Cohen told National Public Radio, “I make a big effort to play with musicians that I can feel free and liberated with — you’re not supposed to fit a certain style, you’re not supposed to fit a certain way of being, you’re supposed to be yourself, and with Artemis, it’s definitely a liberating experience.” The group released its self-titled debut album in 2020, which features the members’ striking, sometimes playful, new compositions and their original arrangements of jazz, rock and R&B standards.

Sean Jones’ Dizzy Spellz; Thaddeus Tukes Quintet, May 20: Trumpeter Sean Jones draws his own musical portraits of African American culture and history through his Dizzy Spellz. Jones uses the music of bebop groundbreaker Dizzy Gillespie to look at the musical and spiritual connections among the American South, Caribbean and Africa. Jones also has worked with vocalist-choreographer Brinae Ali to bring dance and hip-hop to this Afro-futuristic vision. His multifaceted career informs this bold project.

After starting in gospel, Jones brought his warm tone to jazz. That emotional depth runs through his compositions on a series of albums that feature his affinity for hard bop and writing in challenging time signatures. Jones’ dexterity has fueled his collaborations with such musicians as Joe Lovano, Jimmy Heath, Dianne Reeves and Marcus Miller. He powers through it all in his live performances, as captured on “Live From Jazz at the Bistro” (2017). Earlier, Jones had been the lead trumpeter of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and also was a member of the San Francisco-based SFJAZZ Collective. Along with performing, Jones serves as the chair of jazz studies at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University.

Vibraphonist and Chicago native Thaddeus Tukes is making waves throughout the jazz world; the Chicago Tribune declares that he “brings poetry to the vibraphone.” He also was the recipient of the first degree in jazz vibraphone studies from Northwestern University and has served as a visiting artist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Cécile McLorin Salvant, June 3: One of the most acclaimed and popular vocalists in jazz, Cécile McLorin Salvant continues to build on her triumphs. Her authoritative improvisational flights reflect her classical technique and she offers distinctive interpretations of unheralded songs from the early 20th century. She began attracting attention in 2010, when at 21, she garnered a victory at the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocalist Competition. The win provided a wealth of opportunities, and soon Salvant toured the world, receiving applause for her incredible range and pitch control.

While she brought back to the stage the repertoire of such 1930s singers as Valaida Snow, Salvant wrote striking compositions such as the poetic “Woman Child.” Within the last few years, Salvant has released the sparse voice/piano duo album “The Window” and the theatrical song cycle, “Ogresse,” which she recorded with a 13-piece chamber ensemble. The piece requires Salvant to sing in multiple keys as she takes on several contrasting roles.

Salvant also took top prizes in the 2019 DownBeat Critics Poll before her triumphant performance at that year’s Chicago Jazz Festival. Still, she is always on the search to take her deep study of the music’s tradition to entirely different realms. “My music is not about jazz,” she told DownBeat. “It doesn’t begin and end with the genre itself. It begins and ends with life and people, and what it means to be alive.”