I only knew Chicago because of its deep rooted and vibrant culture in Jazz, little did I know that music in Chicago is much more than that. While Chicago is not the exact place where Jazz began, the Great Migration drove the city to become one of Jazz capitals and developed the Chicago Jazz style. [1],[2] Not only that, but Chicago is also the birthplace of “House Music” in the early 1980s that set the tone for current dance music genres, including the ubiquitous Electronic Dance Music (EDM).[3] Chicago is the embodiment of the “Music” itself, not only as the place that borne and developed influential genres like Jazz, Blues, and House Music but also as the host of prominent concerts and music festivals in the past and today.

Louis Armstrong,

Chicago became the melting pot of Jazz after the Great Migration, urbanization of millions of African American from rural South to urban North in finding economic opportunities and obtaining freedom from segregationist law, began in the early 20th century. While migrating, the black community also brought their culture, including Jazz that was born in Mississippi. Jazz in Chicago is not only about the music, but also the medium of expression and movement of the black people at that time. The unpredictable and improvised tone in Jazz that was developed from musical fusion of African with European music further differentiated by the black community in early 20th Chicago. The Chicago Jazz unique style can be identified by its fast-paced tempo and longer solos.[4],[5] Jazz in Chicago not only plays a role as a mere music scene but also a social instrument that can unite people, regardless of its color.
In a racially divided nation, Jazz had an essential role as an inclusive music genre and performance that helped race relations among Americans. White and black people can enjoy Jazz together even in the Jim Crow era, a grim period in the U.S. history when the state legalized racial segregation among people. Not only performed as the instrument in uniting people, but Jazz also provided upward mobility for the marginalized black people community during the racial segregation period.[6] It is no exaggeration to say that Chicagoans have the passion in celebrating Jazz as the “soul” of the city of Chicago, nowadays. There are many jazz clubs and festivals that someone can attend and enjoy the music. People can enjoy four-day annual Chicago Jazz Festival that has been held since 1974 in the heart of Millennium Park.
While finding one particular place to portray music in Chicago, there are several places that attracted my attention when strolling around the city. First, the Empire Room at Palmer House Hotel, which is a 151-year-old historic hotel in the States and former largest hotel in the world in the early 20th century.[7] It is a stunning venue with art-deco architecture style that hosted legendary musicians’ performances, including Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald. However, the music that performed in the Empire Room back then was quite extravagant and relatively exclusive, only the privileged could enjoy the shows.

Empire Room entrance at the Palmer House,
Photo shot by the author

Second, I found that Andy’s Jazz Club is one of Chicago’s best known jazz venues that has been the venue for Jazz performances for more than 70 years. While not as fancy as and as old as the Empire Room, Andy’s Jazz Club is a warm place where music enthusiasts can mingle and enjoy the vibrant sound of Jazz together. The 47 years old club is located just a few blocks from Chicago’s Riverwalk and the Jazz performance starts at 6pm, a great place and time to have dinner and enjoy magnificent Chicago Jazz after strolling around the Riverwalk.

Andy’s Jazz Club,

In the contemporary music scene, Chicago is also well known to host some global scale music festivals, one of which is Lollapalooza. The music festival whose name literally means “extraordinarily impressive” combines many music genres such as rock, metal, and hip hop.[8] The festival is considered as one of the best music festivals in the world. In terms of economic value, Lollapalooza generated revenue of more than $305 million in 2021 alone and accumulated around $2 billion since 2010.[9],[10] In addition, Lollapalooza has also created social benefits in assisting students at City Colleges of Chicago to pursue careers in the creative sector.[11]


However, large music festivals like Lollapalooza also have their dark side in highlighting inequality between people and increasing surveillance around the neighborhood. For the sake of secure and convenient music festivals, surveillance tends to be more aggressive and mostly targets colored people for random search. For instance, the city of Chicago implemented a youth curfew and increased surveillance and policing  that escalates tensions between local communities in Chicago. The youth curfew gives the authority for police to detain the youth and punish their parents or guardian if they violate the law, that takes place citywide. [12] 
There is a phenomenon called the “Lollapalooza loophole” that has penalized colored youth because the curfew exempts people who are returning from ticketed or sponsored events. [13] This happened because most of the white kids that come to the music festivals are coming in from the suburbs and are not being affected by the curfew while the mostly black and hispanic teens live in the city and are subject to the curfew.
Chicago has a deep-rooted history in music, not only as an entertainment medium but also as the channel to show people’s expression. Inclusive music like Jazz brought a soul to the city of Chicago and to some extent had a role in uniting people in a segregated and racially divided nation in the past. This is what makes the music in Chicago come alive, a medium to unite people and rejoice with each other. Nevertheless, while current music festivals bring massive economic opportunities and branding Chicago as a city of festivals, the flaring discrimination problem it revealed needs more attention.
[1]  MasterClass. (June 7, 2021). “What Is Jazz? A Guide to the History and Sound of Jazz”. https://www.masterclass.com/articles/what-is-jazz
[2] Seigfried, K.E.H. (July 19, 2017). “Jazz, Chicago, and the Great Migration”. The New Berry. https://dcc.newberry.org/?p=14421
[3] Reynolds, S.C.W. House Music. Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/art/house-music
[4] Choose Chicago. https://www.choosechicago.com/articles/chicago-music/explore-chicago-jazz/;
[5] Chidester, B. (February 6, 2015). “What Is The Difference Between New Orleans and Chicago Dixieland Jazz?” The Trumpet Blog. http://www.thetrumpetblog.com/what-is-the-difference-between-new-orleans-and-chicago-dixieland-jazz/;
[6] Aldrich, H. (October 28, 2015). “Black History Month: Jazz and the Evolution of Music”. The Bubble. https://www.thebubble.org.uk/culture/history/black-history-month-jazz-and-the-evolution-of-music/
[7] Goodrich, T. (April 5, 2022). “Palmer House Hilton: Myths & Romance in Chicago’s Oldest Hotel. Your Chicago Guide. https://yourchicagoguide.com/palmer-house-hilton/
[8] Merriam-Webster. Lollapalooza. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/lollapalooza
[9] Time Out Editors. “The 40 Best Music Festivals in The World In 2022”. Time Out https://www.timeout.com/music/the-50-best-music-festivals-in-the-world
[10] Xie, T. (August 16, 2022). “Chicago Music Festivals Bring Revenue — and Tension — to City”. Bloomberg. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-08-16/chicago-music-festivals-bring-revenue-and-tension-to-city
[11] Ibid.
[12] City of Chicago Code of Ordinances. https://library.municode.com/il/north_chicago/codes/code_of_ordinances?nodeId=TIT8PORE_CH19CU
[13] Mercado, M. (May 18, 2022). “A Lollapalooza Loophole In Lighfoot’s Curfew To Crack Down On Crime Has Youth Asking: Who Is Downtown For?”. Blockclubchicago. https://blockclubchicago.org/2022/05/18/a-lollapalooza-loophole-in-lighfoots-curfew-to-crack-down-on-crime-has-youth-asking-who-is-downtown-for/