Lara Driscoll grew up in Prospect Heights, where she participated in band programs at Eisenhower School, MacArthur Middle School and ultimately at Hersey High School, where she would lead the band as drum major. At the same time, she studied classical piano with Cheryl Lim, and played piano with the jazz band and combo at Hersey.
“I would have given anything to go to a world class jazz club in my neighborhood, let alone see a jazz festival of creative projects led by women when I was in middle or high school,” Driscoll says now. “Despite attending a decent amount of concerts, I have little to no recollection of seeing jazz performed live by women when I was younger.”
That all changes this weekend, when Hey Nonny in Arlington Heights hosts its first Women’s Jazz Festival. The fest opens with a free show from 4-6 p.m. Friday, featuring Yoko Noge and her band, the Jazz Me Blues, for a mix of Chicago blues, jazz and Japanese music.
The festival continues through Sunday — when Driscoll performs at 10:30 a.m. during a free show at the jazz brunch — with both free and ticketed shows each day and all featuring female jazz musicians and band leaders.
“Do a quick search for a women’s jazz festival and you’ll find one in Palm Springs and nowhere else,” says Chip Brooks, co-owner. “We’ve been blessed to have a bunch of great women jazz players at Hey Nonny, but you don’t have to look very hard to see that the jazz world is not an easy place for women and folks from the LGBTQ world.
“We thought this might be a good opportunity,” he adds, “to start shining a light on some great talent.”
Driscoll continued to study music after she left Hersey. She earned her undergraduate degree in jazz piano at the University of Illinois before earning a master’s in jazz performance at McGill University’s Schulich School of Music in Montreal.
She currently holds faculty positions at Loyola, Harold Washington College and DePaul. But in looking back through her years as a student, she realizes she had only one jazz instructor and role model who was a woman: Joan Hickey, a pianist, who ironically performs with her quartet after Driscoll, at 4 p.m. on Sunday.
In thinking back, Driscoll recalls that she began to think about women in jazz after seeing the 2011 documentary, The Girls in the Band.