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Highlights: Chicago Jazz Festival at Millennium Park Features Sun Ra Arkestra, Cécile McLorin Salvant, Terence Blanchard and More

by Louise Burton   Aug 29, 2014 11:25 AM EDT

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Alfonso Pedraza: Highlights reel

The Chicago Jazz Festival, a favorite Labor Day weekend destination for jazz lovers for the past 36 years, celebrates the national jazz scene as well as top Chicago jazz artists. This year's fest runs from August 28-31 at Millennium Park and the Chicago Cultural Center. Headliners include Terence Blanchard, Rufus Reid, Gary Burton, Dave Holland, Cécile McLorin Salvant and the Sun Ra Arkestra.

Here are some not-to-miss events from this year's festival. For a complete schedule of events at this free festival, please visit chicagojazzfestival.us.

Thursday, August 28

The Jazz Festival will officially open Thursday night with "Homage to Nelson Mandela" by Chicago composer Ernest Dawkins, featuring vocalist Dee Alexander, at 6:30 p.m. in the Jay Pritzker Pavilion.

Saxophonist Dawkins, longtime leader of the New Horizons Ensemble, will be joined by musicians from Chicago, South Africa and London in recognition of the role musicians played in energizing the anti-apartheid movement.

At the heart of the work, Chicago singer Dee Alexander, who has recently received national attention for her jazz artistry, will embody the activist spirits of Winnie Mandela, the South African President's first wife, and Graça Machel, his widow.

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