Jazz Institute of Chicago

And one thing led to another, and...

And one thing led
to another, and...
by Harriet Choice

I suppose the Jazz Institute of Chicago began during a phone conversation with Art Hodes last spring. I had just returned from New Orleans where Art's band was among the groups that had performed at the first New Orleans Jazz Festival. There had been so many places to hear traditional Jazz there and so few here in Chicago. We talked about the possibility of getting an old store and turning it into a kitty hall similar to those in New Orleans.

With this is mind, I called George Finola in New Orleans. The young Chicago born cornetist had at one time operated such a hall, but he was then working as the assistant director of the New Orleans Jazz Museum. Though he was enthusiastic about the possibility of Chicago having such a hall, he was more interested in continuing his work in Jazz research and history. Chicago didn't have a Jazz museum. Hmm...I shelved the kitty hall and started thinking museum.

Next, Art put me in touch with Chicago attorney John Baker, who had been on the jazz scene since his days at Princeton in the '30s. John invited us to a concert by members of Jack Howe's Youth Music Foundation. After the concert, where Art sat in with the young musicians, we told Baker and Howe about the New Orleans Jazz Museum and our hope to establish a similar museum in Chicago. They liked the idea, and Jack offered to make the museum project a division of the Youth Music Foundation so we could get the ball rolling.

A few more calls to New Orleans, and George was on his way to Chicago. When he arrived, we met with jazz historian John Steiner. He was looking for a repository for his massive record collection: if we could come up with an organization and adequate housing, he would donate his collection. Through the generosity of Edwin (Squirrel) Ashcraft, a close friend of Bix Beiderbecke and a jazz fan of long standing, we were able to retain George as a professional museum consultant. In August, a group of Jazz people of various persuasions sat down together in the same room--no mean achievement--to discuss what as a group they could do for the music. It turned out to be the first of many meetings of what is now the Jazz Institute of Chicago. Those who were there included Art, George, and me; Dan Morgenstern, editor of Down Beat; clarinetist and band leader Franz Jackson; pianist Richard Abrams of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians; Bob Koester, owner of the Jazz Record Mart and Delmark Records; his wife, Sue; Joe Segal, who has presented jazz concerts in Chicago for 20 years; drummer Wayne Jones and his wife, Jean; attorney Roger Severns and his brother Will.

A majority of the group felt that our plan was in danger of becoming just another Dixieland Jazz society. It was then we decided that the Jazz Institute would represent all phases of jazz. Also, museums and collections were not enough--jazz was alive, and it needed to be played and heard as well as enshrined. Answer to a split decision: bring the museum-library concept and live performances under one roof.

With each meeting, our plans grew. Squirrel Ashcraft's contribution was matched by the Chicago American's $1,000. Others gave to the best of their income. Friendly arguments between group members became more stimulating. We decided on a series of debates and forums which would also include the playing of records, the showing of Jazz movies, and, when possible, live performances.

Shortly before Christmas, we began planning a publication. Former Down Beat editor Don DeMicheal agreed to edit what originally was to be merely a sheet of paper with Jazz information typed on it--thus, the name of the eight-page publication you now hold in your hands. At the same meeting we chose the date for our first concert. Through Franz' efforts the Chicago Federation of Musicians agreed to pay the musicians' salaries with money from the Music Performance Trust Fund of the Recording Industries.

All subsequent meetings were held at the office of the Rev. Robert H. Owen (The Night pastor). The concert committee, (Morgenstern, Segal, Koester, Jackson, Abrams, Hodes) announced the program for the March 16 concert. This first concert will feature Chicago musicians. Subsequent concerts will include out-of-town jazzmen too.

The Jazz Institute of Chicago is an attempt to organize Jazz, an attempt to unify the various schools of Jazz while maintaining the individuality or creative process of all of its several beautiful forms. The fact that musicians--and they must be the nucleus for such a project--from traditional to avant-garde can plan a concert together is a sign that the project is working.

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