Labor Day weekend marks the end of summer, and in Chicago, it is time for the Chicago Jazz Festival. It is programmed by the Jazz Institute of Chicago and produced by the Mayor's Office of Special Events and has been in place for 25 years. To heighten interest in the Jazz Festival and the jazz scene in Chicago, the Jazz Institute of Chicago began its Jazz Club Tour twenty- two years ago.
On the Wednesday preceding the Chicago Jazz Festival, participants can pay a fixed price and then choose to visit any of the 16 jazz clubs on the list. (This year's fee was $20,00). The fee provides entrance with no cover charge, minimum or admission charge and a bus to take you from club to club. Chicago School buses are utilized for the occasion and specific bus routes allow one to move from city center both north and south, with transfer points and express buses in place. Six of the clubs provide food service.
We chose to visit three clubs, but one could visit four or five with enough time and energy. We met Lauren Deutsch, the Executive Director of the Jazz Institute of Chicago, at Andy's where she presented us with our badges. It was a lovely night and we decided to walk two blocks to 'Jazz Showcase' .When we entered, we were greeted by its owner, Joe Segal. It was 1947 when he opened the club and while it has had many locations, it has remained in his charge and is a Chicago treasure. It is the second oldest jazz club in the country, the oldest being the Village Vanguard in New York.
We were very fortunate in the performance that evening. The Willie Pickens Trio was playing (Robert Shy-drums, Marlene Rosenberg-bass, Willie Pickens-piano) and Ira Sullivan joined them playing saxophone, flute and piano. The music was wonderful. Posters of famous jazz musicians who have played there line the walls. There is not a bad seat in the house. There is no smoking. The audience is very attentive. All the jazz greats have played at Jazz Showcase over the years. On most Sundays during the year, performances begin at 4:00 p.m. and children are invited and those under 12 admitted free.
The Green Mill, another historic club was our next choice, so we boarded the express bus going north. Looking west through the buildings lining Lake Shore Drive, one could see the end of a beautiful sunset. The Green Mill is the oldest continuously running jazz club in the United States and possibly in the world but has had many owners.
Its great and colorful history, began in 1914 when it was known as the Green Mill Gardens. (It began earlier as Pop Morris' Garden in 1907). It was then leased to 'Machine Gun' Mc Gurn, a suspect in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, and during prohibition it was turned into a speakeasy. A trapdoor behind the bar leads to a tunnel that was used to smuggle alcohol. Al Capone hung out there as did Charlie Chaplin. Billie Holiday, Al Jolson and Bennie Goodman were also seen frequently. At special times, it is possible to see a scrap- book filled with souvenirs of a bygone era. We found the murals on the walls fascinating but we found the music of Alfonso Ponticelli's alto sax and his group very loud and not as musical as we would have liked.
Our next bus ride to Green Dolphin provided an unexpected experience. The bus driver was unfamiliar with this part of the city and was given instructions from the head office via radio. The route varied from the map a bit and there were stops and starts and a variation in speed. Then, at one point there was road construction blocking the route. Fortunately, our photographer who knew the area very well, lead our driver through an alternate route and brought us our destination.
We were greeted by one of club's owners, Sam Sproviero. Green Dolphin Street is only ten years old. The location was once an auto junkyard. It currently offers a fine restaurant including organic produce and meats. Outside of the restaurant there is a patio and private boat dock. Diners can enjoy the open, spacious club section free.
Because it was Wednesday, we were treated to the sound of Bill Porters 12 piece big band. It was swing night and we enjoyed the music of a different era and watched some fabulous swing dancers. Earlier in the evening there were swing dance lessons. Tuesdays are Latin Jazz nights with Salsa dancing lessons
Seeing so many people of all ages and cultures including many visitors to Chicago, we were convinced that jazz is alive and well in Chicago. It was late and we headed back to Andy's via bus again. This time our driver was very skilled. Approaching the lake from the west, we were struck with the beauty of the city's skyscrapers lit up. It was surprising to see how many people were still in line and waiting to go to clubs. We wondered what we missed at the other 13 clubs on the list.
You can reach the following:
Jazz Institute of Chicago
PH: 312 427 1676
Jazz in Chicago.org
PH: 312 670 2473
PH: 773 878 5552
Green Dolphin Street
PH: 773 395 0066
Photographs by Gloria Henllan-Jones