Chicago residents strolled along tree-lined streets in the South Shore community Saturday to listen to short pop-up concerts as part of the third annual Back Alley Jazz. From noon to 5 p.m., eight performances took place in 30-minute increments in driveways, front lawns and other outdoor spaces.
The concerts were inspired by the original jazz alley performances that took place across the South Side in the 1960s and ‘70s. Three years ago, Norman Teague and Fo Wilson collaborated with the Hyde Park Jazz Festival to revitalize the series.
They began in South Shore with the hopes that it would eventually grow throughout the city. Teague, a South Side native, said they wanted to revitalize something and give people the power to build on it.
“I was just thinking about it, we weren’t giving people the power,” he said. “I think we were reminding people that they had the power, and then watching what happens.”
Teague and Wilson organized the event for the past two years. But this year, community members took the lead.
“The idea was really to put the bug in people’s ear and let them sort of run with it,” he said.
Gail Mangrum and Jonita and Jeannine Sharpe, longtime South Shore residents who co-organized this year’s event, said the coronavirus pandemic meant they had to ensure people could follow social distancing guidelines, but they didn’t think it impacted the community feel.
“People, they were kinda surprised,” said Mangrum. “But they were happy and everybody just kind of kept their distance, they really did.”
South Side native Alexis Lombre was one of the first artists to perform. She set up at 72nd Street and Merrill Avenue outside of St. Philip Neri Catholic Church. Lombre, who has been performing jazz for 10 years and writing it for seven, played songs from her album, “Southside Sounds.”
In the past, the series has been held in the close quarters of people’s backyards, but “COVID’s really flipped everything on its head,” Lombre said. “But people are resilient so that’s what I really like about it.”
Denise Jordan Howell, of Englewood, is a fan of Lombre and drove over to hear her perform Saturday.
Just a few blocks over, Sam Trump and Radius performed on the front lawn of the home of South Shore natives Anton Seals Jr. and Amissah Lemieux Seals and their 7-year-old son Anton.
Trump expressed his gratitude to the audience and said the isolation that has been brought on by COVID-19 is harmful.
“We’re electric human beings, we are meant to be amongst each other and our loved ones, we’re not meant to be here alone,” he said. “I think this is an amazing move to bring this to the neighborhoods, to get people to gather in a comfortable environment, where everybody can be spacious and distanced, but to where we can still see each other and vibe.”
Nearby, on the 7400 block of Oglesby Avenue, vocalist Dee Alexander and John McLean performed together in a driveway as the Alexander/McLean Project, which they established nearly two years ago.
The street was soon lined with neighbors.
Phyllis Dixon, Liz Cotton and Ethel Philpott, who have all lived in South Shore for over 50 years, sat one house over. They said they’ve missed spending time with their neighbors.
“It was a perfect day,” said Dixon. “It couldn’t have been nicer.”
Grace Del Vecchio is a freelance contributor to WTTW News: @delvecchiograce
Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the co-organizers of this year’s Back Alley Jazz. They are Gail Mangrum and Jonita and Jeannine Sharpe. The story has been updated.