Bringing live music back to the South Side | WBEZ
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Bringing live music back to the South Side

A handful of musicians get a peek at the second-floor space they will soon be jamming in.

They’re checking out a new club called The Promontory, an industrial space with a concrete floor and exposed beams. Oxblood red curtains and chandeliers grace the room.

“The group is called South Side Big Band. And it’s destined to play music on the South Side. I have no inspiration to play anywhere North,” said arranger Tom Tom Washington. “We’ve been playing together for over 50 years, music all over the world. We’re already known by everybody.”

Individually, band members have played for some of the biggest soul, jazz & R&B artists from the last few decades.

Washington produced music for groups like the Chi-Lites and Earth Wind & Fire. Some guys played with jazz giants -- from Charlie Parker to Dizzy Gillespie to Sun Ra. While others did session work for 1960s Chicago R&B acts.

“We like to have our young people look at us and sort of go back and do some kind of study and research and learn the history of jazz in America. As we play we hope to sort of continue the legacy,” said tenor saxophonist Gene Barge, a former staffer for Chess Records.

To help keep the legacy alive, Washington formed the South Side Big Band in the 1990s.

He said they want to pay tribute to the old ballrooms and music clubs that featured jazz and R&B on the segregated South Side. For a long time now it’s been hard to find many live clubs playing this kind of music anywhere but the North Side.

But Jake Austen, The Promontory show booker, said Hyde Park is an area with a rich musical heritage that deserves more.

“What we kinda want to do here is combine what they’re successfully doing in other parts of the city like have this kind of legacy of successful rock clubs and music clubs and jazz clubs. But also respect the neighborhood and the South Side, the history and also what’s happening now. It’s diverse here, we can have all kinds of music here but you do not want to ignore the music here that’s a real foundation,” Austen said.

Upcoming shows include artists ranging from Roy Ayers and Stanley Clarke to Brokeback and the Eternals and country singer Kinky Friedman.

The Promontory’s owners already have a successful track record with the music clubs Empty Bottle on the North Side and Space in Evanston. Clubs like the Shrine and Reggie’s are South Side exceptions. But Austen said The Promontory wants to cater to an older crowd as well as local college kids.

“I hope people would be willing to come to the South Side to see something because we’ve all had to go to the North Side to see so many things,” Austen said.

It’s only fitting that the Promontory will kick things off with the 22-piece South Side Big Band.

is WBEZ’s South Side Bureau reporter. Follow Natalie on Google+,  Twitter

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