The Perfecto—Chicagoland's Loft
by Jerry DiMuzio and Isidro B. Perez
with an addendum by Mike West
In the 1970s the Chicago Jazz Scene was taking on a new look as boomer players started to assert themselves. This was evident in the success of the club scene in the Lincoln Park/Lincoln Avenue area. Some of the clubs includeed The Bulls, Collette’s, Orphans, Ratso’s and Wise Fools. What drove this success was the jazz player's need to perfect one's craft and keep their creativity moving.
Enter the jam sessions. One of these venues was commonly known as the Perfecto dubbed by saxophonist Ed Petersen as The Perfecto Lounge. It was named after the building that it shared with the Perfecto Cleaners in Evanston, Illinois.
The sessions at the Perfecto started in 1976 and were run by the saxophonist Jerry DiMuzio and the late trumpet/cornet and valve trombonist Merle Boley. The first location was the back of a cleaners on the corner of Church Street and East Prairie Rd. in Skokie. Shortly thereafter the sessions moved to the Ben Clasky Piano Studio in office space above the storefront section in the Devon Avenue business district. By Spring 1977 the sessions moved into the Perfecto building thanks to Eric Huffman who was a staff member of the tenant renting the space above the Perfecto Cleaners. The piano was owned by Eric Huffman and the drum set was owned by Bo Hampton.
Even though the Perfecto era was short, lasting only to mid-1978, the sessions were a source of great creativity and pleasure to the musicians who came through. You could always count on Merle Boley to bring his thermos of black coffee blended with Jack Daniels to kick off the good times. Aside from the fun of those days, the Perfecto Sessions were a great opportunity for the many players to network, and had a huge impact on their careers.
Some of the players who come to mind are Scott Bentall, Merle Boley, Dave Boruff, Jim Cooper, Al Criado, Dan DeLorenzo, Dave Derge, Jerry DiMuzio, Bob Dogan, Dave Dorsett, Al Ehrich, Bob Feldman, Mike Finnerty, Lynn Halliday, Bo Hampton, Joel Helleney, Eric Huffman, Jeff Kaye, Todd Kuhlman, Bill Lanphier, Howard Levy, Sam LiPuma, Tom Logan, Tom Mendel, Rich Pardo, Isi Perez, Ed Petersen, Scott Rosenthal, Rick Shandling, Eric Tillman, Marshall Vente, Mike West, Bill Wiser, Bill Witz.
Everyone who participated in those sessions have great memories of that short but sweet period.
The author produces Uncle Isi's Jazz Jamboree, a Chicago-area cable television show.
by Mike West
Just wanted to thank Jerry DiMuzio and Isidro Perez for the reminiscence about the "Perfecto Lounge." Trumpeter Merle Boley first recruited me for those jam sessions (actually it was pre-Perfecto at that time) after we met at a North-side joint—was it the Cubby Bear Lounge?—that used to have weekly jazz jams.
Merle was a veteran of the 52nd Street days, and had a lot of stories about hanging out with Bird, Diz, Miles, and all those mythic figures when he was a kid just in from somewhere in Iowa. Merle played well, too. And he was one of the gentlest, most modest guys I think I've ever met. Jerry knows all about that, because he helped keep Merle going during his (unsuccessful) battle with cancer.
I was living on the near-West side at the time, and used to "El" it all the way up to Evanston and back. I always learned something new every time I went up there. Isi Perez used to arrive with beautifully notated, perfectly transcribed lead sheets he'd taken off of the latest Blue Note albums. Jerry and Merle would bring stuff in, too, that was fun to play.
I know at least two working groups that came out of those sessions, because I was in both of them. One was with Ed Petersen and David Urban. It was called "The Richard Blake Unit" for some strange reason having to do with drummer Rick Shandling's pseudonym.
Ed Petersen was already writing brilliantly at the time—I believe he's still working with some of those marvellous things he composed back then in the mid-seventies. The other group was called "Straight Ahead", with Jerry and Isi and Merle.
A couple of other names come to mind. I'm pretty sure I remember both Rusty Jones and Paul Wertico climbing the Perfecto stairs at least once. Mike Wittekind (bass) was an occasional visitor. I know there are others, too, but I'm drawing a blank on names.
Looking back, I now realize how lucky I was to have a place to get together with other jazz lovers and play all night without having to worry about disturbing the neighbors. It was a great school for young players. I always felt like I was having a good time but also being pushed to get to the next level of skill. I'd certainly be there if it were still happening today. .