Saturday, January 2, 2010

Opening the New Year at Jazz Showcase

Last night was my first time inside the doors of Chicago landmark Jazz Showcase. I went with my friends Heather and Sam because Roy Hargrove and his quintet were playing there and, seriously, who can resist the Hargrove? He was fantastic, by the way, with an amazing drummer, a stellar piano player and a solid bassist. The alto sax player was facile, but I didn’t like his approach. Didn’t like it. There were, however, many MANY people in the place who DID like it, so take my opinion as just that, my opinion.

But this isn’t a music review site. This is a “here’s what I’m learning about Chicago as I explore it” site, so let’s get down to business.

I loved it there. The room is lined in awesome memorabilia that I would adore having the chance to examine closely, but that would annoy fellow patrons, so I’ll have to do it stealthily on multiple visits, instead of treating it like a museum.

There are a variety of seating options. We had stools at a table in the back for the first show—it was SRO, by the time Hargrove entered—and happily moved to a table with actual chairs (with backs!!) for the 10:00, happily because my right foot went to sleep on that stool, and Heather was more than relieved to collapse against a chair back. The good thing about the stools at the back tables, I have to say, is that they give you a fantastic view of the stage, right over the heads of the people sitting in front. So that’s nice. There’s also seating at the bar for late arrivals and for those who need to be closer to the source of their drinks.

Heather informed me that there’s one bartender there who makes a perfect French martini. She had two over the course of the evening, and while the first was, she said, “Probably by the other guy,” the second was definitely from the master. Who, by the way, spent part of the evening wearing a be-feathered “Happy New Year” hat sideways on his shiny bald head like a cheap paper mohawk. My kind of bartender.

Our table service during the first show was sporadic, which could in part have been due to the size of the crowd. Sam and Heather said they’d never seen it so full in there. However, given that our server misquoted a drink price to Sam--twice--and didn’t give us our waters, even though they came on the tray with the rest of our drinks, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say it was her. Especially since we got the other server when we moved tables, and she was FANTASTIC. No complaints at all about her.

According to Sam, who has been a regular at Jazz Showcase since he was a wee student at Northwestern, it was started in the 1940’s by Joe Segal who still runs it. This location is the third. Sometime early in the last decade, Segal and his son—who works with his father—closed Jazz Showcase for a couple of years. However, every time they would attend a jazz-related event in town, people would pester them about when they were going to reopen, so they eventually caved to pressure and did. Thank goodness.

Other things to know/love about Jazz Showcase:

♪ People under 21 are allowed in with a parent/guardian, which means that there were some kids in the house. It was awesome, because those kids got to experience the magic of Hargrove’s performance too, which wouldn’t be the case when an artist plays in a bar.

♪ And they’re all about making sure the kids get to experience the music. On Sundays, there is a 4pm matinee show by the headliners, which kids under 12 (with parents in tow, of course) can attend for free. Yes, the parents have to pay, but it’s still a great opportunity for the little ‘uns. And you’d better believe that when my nephew is old enough, we will go to the Sunday matinees so he can experience live jazz from world class artists during his visits.

♪ The headliners usually play Thursday-Sunday, but Jazz Showcase is open seven days a week, so Monday-Wednesday is dedicated to local artists. The cover those days drops to $10, and to only $5 for students, which makes it more than reasonable. (You should also note that though they take credit cards for drink orders, the cover charge is cash only.)

♪ And then there’s the setup. You can go to the 8 o’clock show, pay your cover and stay for the 10pm performance as well, if you want to and if the crowds allow it. We thought we were going to get booted after the first set because the place was packed and we figured they’d clear the house to let the latecomers in. BUT when that happens, those who were there early have the option of sticking around and re-entering the house if there are seats left once the new group has been settled. However, we got lucky. Enough people left after the first show that we were able to just table hop and not leave the room.

My experience at Jazz Showcase was wonderful enough that it won’t be my last. I’ll be back. Hopefully soon. Heather has assured me that unless he’s dying, Sam is always up for a visit there, and even were he dying, he’d still think hard about going. So I’ll always have company. It was a great way to cap of the first day of 2010. In fact, I leave you with Heather’s perfect tweet about the experience:

So 2010 will be my year of yes and right now i am soooo yes for roy hargrove and his 4tet!!


Jazz Showcase is located at 806 S. Plymouth Ct, in the Dearborn Station. If you’re taking the Red Line, get off at Harrison and take the southern exit. It will dump you right onto Polk going in the right direction and everything. South Plymouth Court is the street to your left when you reach the Dearborn Station. I only mention these things because I walked the length of that building, knowing I was in the right place, but only able to find Bar Louie, until I retraced my steps and just happened to look to the side.

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