As Beth and I settle in at home at day’s end to decide what to do on any given evening, we can casually look at what’s at the Jazz Showcase and saunter down the block to take in some marvelous music. And we have a Veteran to thank.
In 1944, the U.S. Air Force drafted Joe Segal and stationed him in Rantoul, Illinois, at the now-shuttered Chanute Air Force base—about 20 miles from Champaign-Urbana. One could only guess what that was like for the native Philadelphian.
Joe had been a jazz fan back in Philly, and upon his discharge, he moved to Chicago and enrolled at Roosevelt University on the G.I. Bill. He also joined the university jazz club, and in 1947 he began organizing live afternoon jazz shows—showcases—on campus. He kept on keeping on for the next decade and began booking shows in dozens of locations across the city. He booked both local and national acts—like Charlie Parker.
Eventually he opened a club—Jazz Showcase—on Rush Street. Over the decades, neither lost leases nor changing tastes in music would stop Segal. The Showcase has moved multiple times since, and most fortuitously for Beth and me, the last move was to Dearborn Station, a long city block’s walk from our place.
Which brings us back to the luxury of having it a short walk away. There’s music seven nights a week. The marquee artists typically play Thursday through Sunday. Sunday includes an afternoon matinee that is kid-friendly—Joe says it’s his part in saving them from pop music. Mondays through Wednesdays usually have a lower cover charge, and often feature local acts, and often the bands from Roosevelt or DePaul University.
Last Monday night, a posting for a show announced that Ira Antelis and Lee Musiker would present music recorded on a recent collaborative CD.
I’d never heard of either, and the ad said you had to have RSVP’d earlier to come. It was more of a private party. We sort of gave up but after a day of beautiful fall weather, we decided to take an evening stroll and dropped in to see who was playing on the next night. Joe’s son Wayne, who now pretty much runs the joint, told us we were welcome to come in that very night, no charge.
I looked at Beth, we both shrugged our shoulders as if to say, “Why not?”
We found seats at the bar, and I noticed lots of folks that looked like musicians filing in. And lots of well-heeled urbanites, also filtering in at a good pace. We were intrigued.
Well, we learned that Antelis and Musiker (how does a musician get a name like that?) met in college in New York. As Antelis told it, Musiker’s virtuosity on the piano convinced Antelis that he should give up pursuing a career as a pianist—he understood immediately he’d never be that good. And the rest is history.
Antelis went on to be a successful composer and producer, doing lots of commercial work that you’d recognize. He runs a thriving studio called Jira Productions here in Chicago.
Musiker’s still a pianist, but that hardly covers it. He’s done a bunch of everything in jazz, classical, Broadway and pop stuff. He’s been music director, arranger, and orchestrator, and the people he’s worked with blew me away. Marilyn Horne, Wynton Marsalis, Joel Gray. He’s been touring with Tony Bennett since 2001, and he plays with the New York Philharmonic.
And so, that’s what Beth and I stumbled into, for free, on a Monday night. They performed the music from their recently released album, Gone but Not: Du-al-ity. The album features Antelis’ compositions, and Musiker on solo piano. But the show we saw was arranged for a trio. And man. Joel Spencer on drums, Larry Gray on bass. Chicagoans will understand.
Antelis and Musiker would trade Vaudeville-esqe schtick about their history, and then the trio would proceed to blow the room away. Antelis didn’t do much playing, he just listened to his stuff being performed wonderfully.
I really can’t do it justice here. But there is one number, one I didn’t expect to like, that I hope you’ll listen to.
I’m not a big rap fan. I’m not a big spoken word fan. And I usually squirm when spoken word is combined with music—it can come off as fussy and forced.
But I gotta’ tell you. Antelis took the piano, and knowing Kevin Coval was in the audience, he invited him on stage to perform the title number from the album, Gone but Not. Coval is a poet and the founder of “Louder than a Bomb,” a fantastic poetry program for kids. That should be “youth program,” but that’s so sterile.
Please give a listen via this video, which also scrolls the lyrics. Beth and both found it moving. I can’t recommend it enough.
In the meantime, here’s to Joe Segal (who still’s hanging at the club, introducing acts, and dissing pop music, by the way), one of my all-time favorite veterans. Thanks Joe.