A former member of the hip-hop group the Roots, Abrams grew up in Philadelphia and honed his chops as a member of the house band at the now-shuttered local jazz club Velvet Lounge. “In Chicago, it’s nice that there is a willingness of musicians to help realize each other’s music,” says the 40-year-old, who’s known for his ability to jump genres with ease.
Where to see him next: The Von Freeman Pavilion at 1:10 p.m. on August 29
Few pack the punch of this vibraphone virtuoso, 36, who plays regularly with the likes of Reed and Abrams. (He met Reed at DePaul University.) Famous for his hard-charging eclectic style, the Crystal Lake native says that improvising is “a challenging and intimate conversation” with other musicians.
Where to see him next: With his group Sun Rooms at the Jazz and Heritage Pavilion at 2 p.m. on August 31
Go to any free-jazz series in the city and chances are this 40-year-old Evanston native has something to do with it. Inspired as a kid by iconic jazz drummer Buddy Rich’s musical bouts with Animal on The Muppet Show, Reed developed a passion for percussion. These days, he can be counted on for the understated style he brings to several local groups.
Where to see him next: The Museum of Contemporary Art’s Tuesdays on the Terrace series at 5:30 p.m. on August 26
Whether plucked or bowed, 35-year-old Reid’s dynamic riffs provide a sturdy backbone to any ensemble she plays with. As one of the few women on the scene, the classically trained D.C. native (she studied music at the University of Maryland, College Park) uses repetition to create ethereal phrases.
Where to see her next: With guitarist Mary Halvorson, drummer Tomas Fujiwara, and bassist Jason Roebke at the Jazz and Heritage Pavilion at 12:30 p.m. on August 31
Known for his textured approach to the reeds, this Andersonville resident has been a staple of the local jazz scene for two decades. The 49-year-old’s wild improvisations have garnered him a number of distinctions, including a coveted MacArthur “genius” grant.
Where to see him next: In an homage to free-jazz composer Hal Russell during the 10th annual Made in Chicago: World Class Jazz series at the Pritzker Pavilion on July 31
3111 N. Western Ave.
Much like free-jazz itself, a night at this North Side hot spot, founded by Mike Reed in April 2013, can go in unexpected directions. With sets ranging from fresh takes on Coltrane to late-night jams that slip into psychedelic sound art, Constellation has become Chicago’s favorite off-center watering hole.
University of Chicago Arts Incubator
301 E. Garfield Blvd.
The brainchild of local art star Theaster Gates, this South Side space hosts a free-jazz session every Sunday night featuring saxophonist and artist-in-residence David Boykin. He invites a rotating cast of musicians to the stage each week, ensuring that listeners never hear the same thing twice.