[JPL] Jazz giants come out to fete tireless promoter

Dr. Jazz drjazz at drjazz.com
Sun Apr 23 23:18:46 EDT 2006

Jazz giants come out to fete tireless promoter

April 23, 2006

BY <mailto:lsachs at suntimes.com>LLOYD SACHS Staff Reporter

On Friday night, in celebration of his 80th birthday, the Chicago jazz 
impresario Joe Segal will be gifted with a Symphony Center concert in his 
honor featuring a bunch of his all-time favorite players.

His birthday buddy Johnny Griffin, also born on April 24, won't be on hand 
to share in the festivities like he used to every year at Segal's Jazz 
Showcase. But other practitioners of the music Segal loves best, bebop, 
will be on hand, including saxophonists Lou Donaldson, Jimmy Heath, James 
Moody and Ira Sullivan. Also on the bill: two saxophonists of a more 
modernist bent, Chicagoan Von Freeman and Yusef Lateef, making a rare Windy 
City visit.

All-star concerts don't always work, but high spirits promise to elevate 
this one, the way they elevated the Symphony Center bash in honor of 
Freeman's 80th several years back. That one recognized a local legend's 
mastery of the tenor saxophone. This one will recognize another local 
legend's mastery of the instrument of jazz itself. For nearly 60 years -- 
60! -- in the face of downward trends and reasons to quit the biz while the 
quittin' was good, Segal has presented jazz in this city. That's the 
longest stint by a jazz promoter ever, a marathon run even more impressive 
than that of another Joe, DiMaggio.

DiMaggio never had to deal with disco or Windy City winters or messed-up 
musicians or fickle audiences that forced a series of "Save Our Showcase" 
benefits -- or the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who in culturally purifying the 
Blackstone Hotel after purchasing it in 1995 made the Showcase take a hike. 
Nor did DiMaggio have to persuade drummers to play softer and singers -- 
well, most of them, anyway -- to play somewhere else. If you're a vocalist 
and your name is not Billie Holiday, Segal probably won't have a soft spot 
in his sensibility for you.


When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan
Tickets: $16-$55
Call: (312) 294-3000

Think about it: This man has been booking jazz -- real jazz, none of that 
easy listening stuff -- in Chicago since becoming a student promoter at 
Roosevelt University in 1947. You want to know what was going on then? 
Mahatma Gandhi began a march for peace in East Bengali. Jackie Robinson 
broke baseball's color barrier. Albert Speer was tried at Nuremberg. The 
Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. So, by many people, was Charlie Parker, 
patron saint of the Jazz Showcase, who formed his quintet with Miles Davis 
that year in New York and recorded some of his greatest works.

The Showcase has moved numerous times over the years. Before landing on its 
feet at Grand and Clark, next to what was then the Zinfandel restaurant, it 
spent the most quality time on Rush Street (at the Happy Medium) and in the 
Blackstone. A few downtown clubs have competed with it in presenting 
national jazz acts (including Rick's Cafe Americain, booked by cocktail 
pianist Bill Snyder in the old Holiday Inn on Lake Shore Drive), but Segal 
has pretty much had the field to himself. Meaning that he's had McCoy Tyner 
and Roy Haynes and Joe Henderson and Phil Woods and so many other greats on 
pretty much an exclusive basis.

Who knows whether someone else would have promoted this music in this town 
the way it deserves to be promoted had Segal not taken on the mission, 
fresh from a stint in the military, a Philadelphian with no preconceptions 
of Chicago. Who knows whether someone else would have stuck it out through 
periods in which the jazz audience has drifted -- and through periods like 
right now in which the major record labels have all but quit the form.

Segal, who isn't kidding when he calls bebop "the music of the future," 
isn't much for progressive or avant-garde jazz, which ranks only slightly 
higher than the "rap crap" he used to bemoan from the stage for the benefit 
of young Sunday matinee attendees. But he couldn't resist the opportunity 
to plug upcoming Showcase gigs even in accepting tributes at his 75th 
birthday party at Joe's Be-Bop Cafe on Navy Pier (where he'll celebrate 
tonight, as well). "Tickets are still available," he said back then, 
pitching Count Basie Orchestra.

Now, as ever, that's an offer no jazz fan can refuse.

Lloyd Sachs, formerly the Sun-Times' jazz critic, now sits on the editorial 

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