Summer Shuffle: Some Kind of Blue

What Motown was to Detroit, Stax was to Memphis, developing a signature soul sound for the South, melding blues, jazz, and funk. But unlike its northern companion and competitor, Stax had a house band that became so intimately involved in recording that they began cutting their own tracks as Booker T. & The MGs, immediately making a statement with the rippling instrumental “Green Onions.” The group’s leading man, keyboardist turned multi-instrumentalist Booker T. Jones, will make his first appearance at Ravinia in nearly 20 years on July 6, an evening that will also feature longtime Chicago bluesman Buddy Guy, who “almost alone of his generation consistently delivers an emotional charge undiminished since the late 1950s … tearing into you like a steel-bladed knife” (Chicago Reader).

The only jazz singer to have eight albums debut atop Billboard’s Jazz Albums chart, Diana Krall returns to Ravinia on June 28 in celebration of her newest album, Turn Up the Quiet, which sees her return to the American Songbook standards and sleek jazz that’s earned her five Grammys and seven multiplatinum albums. “One of the signature gifts of this most musically sophisticated of pop-jazz performers,” says the UK’s Guardian, “has long been the ability to make a giant venue feel like a shoebox jazz club.”

The British paper also observes that a “chemistry of improv virtuosity, songwriting skill, and rock power” elevated Pat Metheny to a similar level of stardom, and that “he keeps on proving that few jazz artists who enjoyed such early success have balanced parading their hits and exploring new ventures so creatively.” The 20-time Grammy winning guitarist returns to the festival on June 14, fronting a newly minted acoustic trio comprising drummer Antonio Sanchez, the composer of the critically acclaimed score to Birdman; pianist Gwilym Simcock; and bassist Linda May Han Oh, whom he calls, “simply put, one of the most exciting new musicians I have heard in a long time on her instrument. She has a kind of presence that invites her listeners to follow the details; there’s a narrative depth to her soloing and her accompaniment.” An alumna of Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute, Oh will be leading a master class for this summer’s fellows that afternoon, and a couple days later, those young players—handpicked from Chicago and other jazz centers—will showcase their original compositions and improvisations on the annual RSMI Jazz Grandstand on June 16.

Celebrating his 90th birthday at Ravinia last summer, Tony Bennett “looked and sounded like an artist just beginning the autumn of his years,” said the Chicago Tribune. “Two perspectives converged: the buoyancy of youth and the wisdom of the ages. No other vocalist in Bennett’s idiom has achieved to this degree, if only because none of his peers has lived so long or sung so well after so many decades in the spotlight.” The timeless troubadour of vocal jazz will make his milestone 30th season appearance at the festival on August 4, flashing rays of summer through his kaleidoscope autumn.

Then, on August 25, Chicago’s own cabaret chanteuse for connoisseurs—called a “dynamic powerhouse of passion” (San Francisco Examiner) who has “a wicked way with a lyric and a glint of well-controlled mischief” (New York Times) from coast to coast—Spider Saloff will perform a tribute to prolific singer, songwriter, and actress Peggy Lee, who after a two years in Benny Goodman’s band led a six-decade career in jazz that also included writing lyrics for and singing and voicing characters in Disney’s The Lady and the Tramp.