Tenor saxophonist Charles McPherson and pianist Jeb Patton perform at the 2022 Hyde Park Jazz Festival. Credit: Marc Monaghan/Hyde Park Jazz Festival

HYDE PARK — The Hyde Park Jazz Festival returns this weekend with dozens of free performances across the neighborhood, capping off the festival’s busiest year yet.

The 17th annual fest is 1 p.m.-midnight Saturday and 1-6 p.m. Sunday at 13 venues in Hyde Park. Among the 37 performances on the weekend’s lineup:

For a full schedule, a map and other information about the festival, click here.

Legendary poet Nikki Giovanni (left) records in a studio with saxophonist and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers alum Javon Jackson. Their collaborative album “The Gospel According to Nikki Giovanni” released in February 2022. Credit: Shaban R. Athuman

Saxophonist Javon Jackson and poet Nikki Giovanni will perform spirituals from their 2022 collaboration, “The Gospel According to Nikki Giovanni,” 3:45 p.m. Saturday at Hyde Park Union Church, 5600 S. Woodlawn Ave. They’ll be accompanied by pianist Jeremy Manasia.

Jackson, a University of Hartford professor who played saxophone in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers during the final years of Blakey’s life, invited Giovanni to the university in 2020.

During her visit, the pair heard Hank Jones and Charlie Haden’s rendition of the spiritual “Steal Away,” he told Block Club.

Giovanni noted how much she liked the song and said, “Wow, I’d like to hear more stuff like that,” Jackson said. The experience spurred Jackson to ask Giovanni to select 10 spirituals for the saxophonist to record, and the poet got back within a couple days with a playlist.

“I’m very honored to have her friendship, and to speak with her as regularly as I do and spend time with her away from the stage — it’s surreal,” Jackson said.

Their Hyde Park Jazz Festival set will draw entirely from the resulting album, including Giovanni’s vocals on “Night Song” — a favorite of her friend Nina Simone, Jackson said.

“The spirituals have been around so long,” Giovanni said in a statement. “Some spirituals have been updated and stayed around, and some have been lost over time. So for me, [the album is] just helping to keep something going. And I do it because there’s a need.”

There’s “a whole lot of girth in this material” that will “allow folks to really connect with us” during the performance, Jackson said.

“Especially with the fact that we’re doing in a church, that really allows for spirituals as many of them have their home there,” he said. “It’s a perfect place for us to focus 100 percent on this material.”

Saxophonist Javon Jackson (left) and poet Nikki Giovanni will perform selections from their album of spirituals Saturday afternoon at Hyde Park Union Church. Credit: Shaban R. Athuman

This weekend marks Jackson’s first time performing at the Hyde Park festival, though he “loves playing in Chicago” whenever he can, he said. He plans to catch two festival sets this weekend, if he can “boogie over there,” he said.

Jackson wants to catch Barron’s late night solo performance at Rockefeller Chapel, as well as Barron’s fellow jazz master Louis Hayes, a mentor and “very close friend,” whose quintet plays 8:30 p.m. Saturday on the Wagner Stage.

With collaborations like Jackson and Giovanni’s, legends like Barron and Hayes and even a DJ set from Rae Chardonnay, this year’s lineup is “definitely one of my favorite programs in the time I’ve worked with the festival,” said Kate Dumbleton, the festival’s artistic and executive director.

“If you want to it still and be contemplative, we have that,” she said. “If you want to dance and sing and hang out, we have that too, in a myriad of different venues to experience.”

The festival has commissioned pieces from musicians in past years, including Miguel de la Cerna’s “Soul Progression: Suite for My Father” in 2022.

That didn’t happen this year due to a lack of funding, though flutist Nicole Mitchell‘s composition, “South Side Love Letter,” will receive its world premiere at the festival, she said. Mitchell performs with Ensemble Dal Niente and the Artifacts Trio 5 p.m. Friday at the Logan Center performance hall.

This weekend ends an exceptionally busy year for Hyde Park Jazz Festival organizers, who expanded the festival’s Back Alley Jazz and Artist Corps programs this summer, Dumbleton said.

“We’ve done upwards of two dozen concerts over the summer. It’s definitely the first time we’ve ever done that much,” Dumbleton said.

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