Activating Neighborhood Space: Back Alley Jazz as a Case Study

Join the Chicago Architecture Biennial and Hyde Park Jazz Festival for a conversation about convening community to conceptualize, design, and produce community driven cultural programs in neighborhoods. The discussion will focus on the case study of the ongoing, collaborative South Shore initiative Back Alley Jazz. Designer, lead artist, and resident Norman Teague; South Shore neighbors and project leaders Jonita and Jeannine Sharpe; and Back Alley Jazz Project Manager Olivia Junell will discuss the building process in conversation with CAB 2021 Artistic Director David Brown. The conversation will be moderated by artist, organizer, and South Shore resident Faheem Majeed. The group will discuss the potential and power of arts institutions and communities coming together to program neighborhood spaces, the nuts and bolts process of creating Back Alley Jazz, ways the program has evolved from year to year, and how, in this context, jazz played a unique role in convening and building community.


David Brown is the Artistic Director of the 2021 Chicago Architecture Biennial. Brown is a Chicago-based designer, researcher, and educator. Brown’s work has been exhibited in the Venice Architecture Biennale (2012), the Chicago Cultural Center’s Expo 72 (2013), the Chicago Architecture Biennial (2015), and received a grant from the Graham Foundation in 2011. Writing includes the book Noise Orders: Jazz, Improvisation, and Architecture and essays “Curious Mixtures” in Center 18: Music in Architecture—Architecture in Music and “Lots Will Vary in The Available City” in The Oxford Handbook of Critical Improvisation Studies. Brown has lectured on his work at Columbia University’s Center for Jazz Studies and the Politecno di Milano and has taught at Florida A&M University and Rice University. He is currently a Professor in the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). 

Olivia Junell has been the Project Manager for Back Alley Jazz since its inception in 2018. She has worked with the Hyde Park Jazz Festival since moving to Chicago in 2013  and currently also works as a Co-Director at Experimental Sound Studio. Over the past 15 years, Olivia has held various roles at a number of contemporary arts and music organizations including significant involvement at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, High Concept Labs, and Women & Their Work, among others. Olivia serves on the board of Honey Pot Performance.

Faheem Majeed is an artist, educator, curator, and community facilitator. He blends his unique experience as an artist, nonprofit administrator, and curator to create works that focus on institutional critique and exhibitions that leverage collaboration to engage his immediate, and the broader, community in meaningful dialogue. Majeed received the Field and MacArthur Foundation’s Leaders for a New Chicago Award (2020), as well as the Joyce Foundation Award (2020) and a Joan Mitchell Painters and Sculptors Grant (2015). He is also a Harpo Foundation Awardee (2016). 

Jeannine and Jonita Sharpe have helped lead the Back Alley Jazz project since 2018, when they hosted one of the inaugural performances in their yard on South Paxton Avenue. Since then, they have brought decades of experience in event planning and community organizing to the Back Alley Jazz project, helping to evolve it in significant ways each year. The Sharpes have been residents of South Shore for 53 years.

Norman Teague is a Chicago based designer and educator focused on projects and pedagogy that address the systematic complexity of urbanism and the culture of communities. Specializing in custom furniture that delivers a personal touch to a specific user topped unique aesthetic detail. Teague’s past projects have included consumer products, public sculpture, performances, and specially designed retail spaces. Working with common, locally sourced building materials and local fabricators to create objects and spaces that explore simplicity, honesty, cleverness and relates to the culture of the client and/or community. Teague graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and had his first solo show at Blanc Gallery and has worked with them to highlight new emerging artists as well as the community as it is where Teague grew up so the connections were nostalgic to say the least. Teague served as lead craftsman and co-founder of the Design Apprenticeship Program at the University of Chicago’s Arts Incubator. His retail ventures have included partnerships with KLEO Residences, Leaders1354, The Silver Room, The Exchange Cafe, DNA STL, Solange Knowles Saint Heron, Chicago Beyond, Hyde Park Art Center, Blanc Gallery, Chicago Park District and South Shore Chamber of Commerce.


The Hyde Park Jazz Festival is a collaborative platform dedicated to supporting the presentation and ongoing development of jazz, particularly on the South Side of Chicago. We do this by creating opportunities for a diverse community of listeners to engage with the music and its creators, and by working with artists, organizational partners and networks to celebrate the rich tradition of jazz and to support the development of new work and ideas. In 2021, the annual Hyde Park Jazz Festival will take place September 25 & 26. Visit for more information.

Back Alley Jazz is a free, annual event that programs live jazz performances throughout South Shore. The project was conceived by artists Norman Teague and Fo Wilson, and is led by the Hyde Park Jazz Festival in collaboration with South Shore residents and South Shore Works. Back Alley Jazz is inspired by the original jazz alley jams that took place in various locations on the South Side in the 1960s and 70s, and which still continue today in different forms like the annual Universal Alley Jazz Jam. The project creates a contemporary neighborhood happening that animates, builds on, and celebrates Chicago’s history and continuum of culture and art in communities. 



Back Alley Jazz 2018 Video

Past Back Alley Jazz Performance Videos 

Universal Alley Jazz Jam Video

Historic Jazz in the Alley photos by Kevin Harris and Jimmy Ellis

Smart Museum “The Alley LP” featuring interviews with Jimmy Ellis, Maggie Brown, and others. 

Musicians playing during Back Alley Jazz in 2020. Image courtesy of Hyde Park Jazz Festival / Marc Monaghan, 2020.