WBEZ | Tom Brenner http://www.wbez.org/tags/tom-brenner Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Downtown Jazz clubs once fueled a young musicians’ dreams http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-09-01/downtown-jazz-clubs-once-fueled-young-musicians%E2%80%99-dreams-91412 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/segment/photo/2011-September/2011-09-01/After_Hours_At_The_London_House.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The 33rd Annual Chicago Jazz Festival began Thursday. Chicago remains home to a number of year-round jazz clubs but writer <a href="http://www.brennerpathways.org" target="_blank">Tom Brenner </a>remembered a time when downtown Chicago hopped to its own swingin’ rhythms. Those beats, Brenner explained on <em>Eight Forty-Eight</em>, helped fuel a young man’s dreams:</p><p>On Sunday afternoons, as a 12 year old, dressed up in my white sport coat and shined shoes, I would ride the train into the Loop to hear jazz. Some of the greats performed at the Blue Note on Clark and Madison. I would walk out of the bright afternoon sunlight up a flight of stairs and straight into the cool, dimly lit jazz club. There was a band stand with spotlights, music stands, drum set and grand piano. Soon, the best jazz musicians in the world would take their places. My friends and I sat in the peanut gallery in the back of the Blue Note where we would order tall, frosted glasses of freshly squeezed lemonade.</p><p>I could feel the music through my toes and the top of my head--it was electrifying. These bands and jazz musicians were heroes to me. They came to Chicago to speak to us through the language of jazz; a language I wanted to learn.</p><p>One time, Les Brown came to town with his Band of Renown.”&nbsp;</p><p>I saw him backstage and called after him,“Mr. Brown, Mr. Brown, I want to be a jazz musician when I grow up!” I yelled.</p><p>He looked at me, shook his head and said, “Don’t count on it kid, be an astronaut or something, your odds are better.”&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>But I didn’t care about the odds; I was going to be a drummer. &nbsp;I wanted to grow up to play drums like Sonny Payne, Count Basie’s drummer. Sonny was as important a role model for me as baseball greats Ernie Banks and Minnie Minoso.</p><p>I used to go to a little drum shop on South Wabash to buy drum sticks. There I would roll hundreds of sticks on the store counter to see which ones were straight. This ritual quickly wore thin and the owner would tell me to roll a few less, pick a few more and hit the road. But that was OK, because I could feel jazz everywhere in Chicago.</p><p>When I was just 13 years old, I mustered the courage to talk to Jose Bethancourt. He was one of the best Latin musicians in the country. I asked him to teach me the rhythms that he played in the NBC orchestra. Even though I was just a nervy kid, Jose agreed to teach me and I learned the Latin feel for the samba and the cha-cha.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>A few years later, when I was 17, Jose called to ask if I would come down to the London House and play drums for the house band to play opposite jazz pianist Errol Garner. I jumped at it; me, playing in the London House with the great Jose Bethancourt and Errol Garner; thank God I had a tux shirt. I was very nervous but Jose told me not to be scared; just stand on the side and play your timbales.</p><p>Recently, I was eating lunch at a restaurant on Michigan and Wacker, the site of the old London House. I could see where the London House stage used to be. As I sipped my coffee, I closed my eyes and could feel the music still in the walls. I could almost hear Errol Garner’s laughter as he ripped through "Nice Work If You Can Get It<em>;"</em> the deep stride chords of his left hand, his right hand flying over the keys as he rocked the room with the joyful sound that was Chicago and jazz.</p><p>Weaving these shadows between concrete and sound, the spirit of this music--this jazz--is preserved within a sacred corner of my city. Somewhere in this City of Big Shoulders there is a young kid practicing his rudiments on a rubber drum pad, or playing on a bucket or a park bench, answering the call and response of a city with jazz in its heart, and young rhythms waiting to be heard.&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Thu, 01 Sep 2011 15:39:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-09-01/downtown-jazz-clubs-once-fueled-young-musicians%E2%80%99-dreams-91412