Our Story

As co-founding mother Harriet Choice put it “And one thing led to another, and…”in the article she wrote for the first issue of the Jazz Institute’s Jazz Sheet in March-April 1969.  The Originators, comprised a group representative of Chicago’s jazz community at that time. With traditional musicians Art Hodes, George Finola, Wayne Jones and Franz Jackson, innovator Muhal Richard Abrams, bebop guardian Joe Segal, blues aficionado and record purveyor Bob Koester, writers Harriet Choice and Dan Morgenstern and others the group quickly decided that “ The Jazz Institute of Chicago is an attempt to organize Jazz, an attempt to unify the various schools of Jazz while maintaining the individuality or creative process of all of its several beautiful forms. The fact that musicians–and they must be the nucleus for such a project–from traditional to avant-garde can plan a concert together is a sign that the project is working”. 


After a few years of producing concerts that were wonderfully diverse—with Muhal’s Experimental Band on the same program with bluesman JB Hutto and Franz Jackson—and trying to launch a museum of jazz, the originators went where their lives took them.  A few years later in 1974, a new group took up where they left off, rejuvenating the essential idea that Chicago jazz should be preserved and perpetuated in all its forms.   Committees were formed to address establishing an archive, educational activities and concert programming.    An indoor Jazz Fair showcasing Chicago jazz artists was launched in 1979, the same year the JIC made a proposal to the city to start a jazz festival.  In the 80s The Jazz Express brought a jazz curriculum into Chicago public schools and performances that featured Chicago Jazz All Stars and visiting artists such as Wynton Marsalis and McCoy Tyner.   Without a venue to present concerts in, the organization learned to collaborate with cultural institutions, government agencies, jazz joints and importantly,  jazz educators and musicians.    This collaborative spirit, so infused in the nature of the music we advocate for, has continued to serve us well.


We’ve been an active partner in the creative community since 1969; programming the  Chicago Jazz Festival since 1979 and the Made in Chicago: World Class Jazz concert series at the request of the City in 2005 and partnering with the Chicago Park District since 1997 for the JazzCity concert series which brings Chicago’s stellar talent right into neighborhoods for free. Our partnership with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) which began in the 80s continues with the  Jazz Links education programs, begun in 2002, which link artists, teachers and students in performance and learning-based mentorships developed in partnership with Chicago Public School teachers. We nurture young artists through Jazz Links; sending master musicians into schools, introducing them to audiences at the Jazz Festival, JazzCity and Millennium Park; providing a real-life training ground to learn skills to become professional musicians. We train interns at the Jazz Institute and continue to support their careers as they become working musicians and full members of the community. We build support for the jazz clubs through our annual Jazz Club Tour introducing people to jazz clubs across the city and by other means of driving audience to the city’s jazz venues. In 2006 a partnership began with Estrada Poznanska in Poland to produce an annual Made in Chicago Festival in Poland.


We are the only jazz organization in Chicago that offers the breadth of opportunities for artists old, new and yet-to-be to create and perform new work in high visibility venues; that collaborates directly with Chicago Public School teachers to create programs for their students and professional development for themselves. We have built an audience community by community; presenting the city’s greatest artists right where they live. We deliberately cross racial and geographic boundaries to break through historical barriers that have been obstacles to the evolution of the music.  Our underlying belief and practice of the principle of mentorship informs our approach to everything we do.  We are excellent collaborators. We understand how to be good partners and in our efforts to help our community thrive, we have become good listeners as well.  We provide a center of gravity for our community to be productive and thrive through performance, education, advocacy for and access to jazz.

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