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2007 Convention - Chicago, Illinois

Report by Horace Meunier Harris

One name stands out at this highly successful event - that of Past President Perry Huntoon. At a fairly late date he voluntarily took on the responsibility of organizing the 44th Annual Convention and arranging a suitable venue - then to learn that the hotel in question was closing its doors in February, 2007. He had to find a relocation in a hurry and negotiated with the Radisson Hotel at Northbrook, which proved to be a worthwhile choice. But what a worrying time it must have been! Perry and his helpers deserve our heartfelt thanks.

The program was aptly named “Chicago and All That Jazz”. At the Registration Desk on Thursday Perry was assisted by the charming Stephanie Stobiecki, who turned out to be the owner of Lasko’s Bar and Grill, of which more later. 90 members attended, including 8 from Canada, 4 from England, 1 from France and 1 from Germany. Everyone was given ample documentation, including as a bonus a small book entitled Jazz Music in Chicago's Early South-side Theaters, by Charles A. Sengstock. On the Thursday morning there was a fully attended Board Meeting, then at one o'clock the presentations commenced, the first being by Christopher Popa, called “Looking For Mr Goodman”, illustrating on the screen many of the addresses in Chicago still existing and formerly associated with Benny. This was accompanied aurally by a dozen of Goodman’s Victor 1935/9 recordings, and a couple of Columbias from 1940/1, all made in Chicago.

At 2 p.m. the aforesaid “Chuck” Sengstock, author of That Toddlin' Town, took over, talking about “Lesser Known White Chicago Bands”. He spoke of the powerful Benson organization and introduced the names of Coon-Sanders, Charley Straight, Ralph Williams, Frank Westphal, Louis Panico, Don Bestor, Roy Bargy, Paul Biese and others.

Then at three it was the turn of Duncan Schiedt, utilizing photos from his 55 years as a collector of same, in a program called “Jazz Curios - Rarities From the Archives”. This consisted of seldom if ever seen pictures of early New Orleans, plus Chicago pictures from the twenties. To spice it up he saucily incorporated three entrancing photos of the glamorous Ina Rae Hutton, finishing with a delectable picture of the incomparable Lee Wiley.

Finally at four Bob Koester, last heard at the St Louis Convention, gave a presentation entitled "The Future of Traditional Jazz and Chicago Jazz Lore". As always he spoke with the authority based on many years of involvement..

At 5:30 p.m. mine host Perry dispensed free beer in Room 556 at a "Happy Hour", following which some 20 members left in cars to visit the Green Mill Jazz Club, 4802, North Broadway, Chicago, which opened as a roadhouse in 1907 and has been featuring jazz, dance and swing music since the 1930s. They went to see and hear the Alan Gresik Swing Shift Orchestra.

The indefatigable Perry supplied this description:

"It was a good experience. The performances were handled as if you were transported back to 1940, with an announcer doing a radio remote. While the band members were dressed casually in open black shirts, the announcer was formally dressed in a white tux. Gresik himself wore a fedora while seated at the piano. Not only were the tunes announced, but make-believe commercials were added, being sung by the male and/or female vocalist with the band. It was quite charming. Musically, Gresik finds old stock arrangements, but focuses on obscure tunes. You don't hear In the Mood, Song of India, One O'clock Jump, etc. The band plays a lot of tunes I have never heard, and I consider myself well rooted in the Swing Era. The dance floor fills up quickly; even the male vocalist, when not singing, is out there with a variety of partners. All in all, a very engaging show."

Most of the remainder stayed in the hotel for the Members' Jam, a highly worthwhile session that carried on until after ten. Those who played (not all at once) were: Tom Pletcher, cornet; David Drazin, cornet and piano; Doug Finke, trombone; John Richmond, clarinet; Duncan Schiedt or Mike Montgomery, piano; Gerry Ruark, drums. All gave of their best and without wishing to be invidious I must mention Duncan's lovely playing, which sounded so much like the great Johnny Guarnieri on his ballad numbers, also Tom's lyrical cornet work.

On Friday at 9 a.m. we reassembled to hear Vice President Geoff Wheeler talk about the Solo Art label and its founder, Dan Qualey, in New York in the late 1930s. It was an erudite presentation, but marred by the fact that the sound and vision equipment could not be made to work.

After this we gathered in the lobby at ten on this hot and sunny morning for the bus and walking tour of the Chicago Loop area. More people than expected signed up for it at the last minute and to our surprise the transport provided to accommodate us all was a school bus! The leg room was totally inadequate and the 20 mile journey was insufferably bumpy. I formed the opinion that school buses were constructed minus any springs!

Our energetic guide was Phil Pospychala, Past IAJRC President and Vice Chairman for the Convention. He hosted the 1996 Chicago Convention at Libertyville, and organises the "Tribute to Bix" Festival at Racine, Wisconsin, every March. He showed us the exterior of the Knickerbocker Hotel, and the interior of the Congress Hotel (where the Benny Goodman band played for 7 months in 1935/6). We had a lengthy browse in Bob Koester's enormous Jazz Record Mart. We also visited Louis and Lil Armstrong's house (where Lil lived until her death), the Sunset Cafe, which was owned by Joe Glaser's mother and where Carroll Dickerson's Orchestra with Louis on trumpet played in the 1920s, and the Grand Terrace Cafe, the home of Earl Hines and his Orchestra through the 1930s.

The last-named is now a garage, while the Sunset Cafe is today a busy Ace Hardware store. In a moment of euphoria I bought there a washboard for under $20 (I believe that only this one company, the Columbus Washboard Co., in Columbus, Ohio, still makes them). Now I must acquire thimbles!

Finally, we were taken to Chicago's grandiose Harold Washington Public Library, and conducted to the Cindy Pritzker Auditorium on the lower level, with comfortable theatre-style seating and welcome air-conditioning. The aforesaid Chris Popa, who works there as Music Librarian, gave a talk, well illustrated on the big screen, entitled "Muggsy Spanier - Musician in the Major Leagues". The Library holds the Muggsy Spanier Archives and Chris dwelt in passing upon Muggsy's love of and prowess at baseball.

We left in the rush hour traffic and travelled north to Lasko's Bar and Grill, in the Jefferson Park area, where the band was already playing - The Chicago Footwarmers, led by Mike Walbridge on trumpet, with Tom Bartlett, trombone; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Ralph Norton, bass sax; and Jim Barrett, banjo. It was a jolly session in this attractive and crowded bistro, where a buffet of meat balls and pasta was awaiting our pleasure.

Back at the Radisson we were entertained by a varied program of jazz films, put on by the untiring Phil Pospychala, in the absence of Mark Cantor, who was in Tokyo. There was a short interlude in which Perry showed us two film clips by the incomparable Gene Krupa.

On Saturday, another hot day, the well attended Members' Meeting started at 9a.m. President Ron Pikielek handled this (and the Thursday morning Board Meeting) impeccably. Much praise was bestowed upon our Editor, Andy Simons, for his regular and always interesting Journals. No decision was reached for a venue in 2008, but "Chuck" Sweningsen announced that he is researching Bloomington, Minneapolis, for 2009 in August. He was encouraged to amend this to Spring or Fall.

The first afternoon presentation was by Michael Zirpolo, called "The Two Caesars - Petrillo and Stein". He discussed the early importance of radio and how Jules "Caesar" Stein founded the enormously powerful booking agency, Music Corporation of America, while Caesar Petrillo built up the equally strong American Federation of Musicians. He also explained that the latter was against canned music and Benny Goodman was against MCA.

Next, Dick Raichelson ably conducted Discographical Forum. It was in three parts. Rainer Lotz from Germany discussed his book called Deutsche Hot-Discography, then passed round a copy of his latest book, devoted to his research into black artists who have appeared in Europe. Art Zimmerman talked about the repair of 78rpm records, using candle-grease and a heated pin, illustrating the technique by an on-screen demo. Dick then showed us a photo of the little remembered Bon-Ton Orchestra of Kansas City, led in 1926 by Morris Bramsohn, which he is researching, and played a Flexo record by Paul Tremaine's Orchestra, of There Ain't No Maybe In My Baby's Eyes.

Afterwards, fellow Trustee Sonny McGown gave a presentation entitled "The Many Faces of Helen Ward". It transpired that he had been introduced to her by guitarist Steve Jordan and knew her well from 1974 until she died in 1998. He showed many rare photos of her and talked about her career, particularly with the Goodman band. He also played fascinating segments from a radio interview he conducted with her, particularly concerning her 1936 recordings with Gene Krupa's Swing Band.

The room was duly transformed for the Banquet, following which President Ron called up Perry Huntoon, to present him with the 2007 Meritorious Service Award. This announcement was greeted by all present with great enthusiasm, as being very well deserved. "Chuck" Sweningsen then announced the Best Article Awards, the first prize going to Michael Zirpolo ("Tommy Dorsey"), the second to Steve Adamson ("Serge Chaloff"), and the third to Geoff Wheeler ("Sonora label"), who was present to walk forward and claim his prize.

Afterwards the John Otto Band set up, playing a program which he entitled "Echoes of Condon", featuring tunes associated with the Chicago style and the Condon mob. The personnel was: Art Davis, trumpet; Bill Hand, trombone; John Otto, clarinet; Kim Cusack, tenor sax; Paul Libman, piano; Andy Brown, guitar; Warren Amster, bass; Greg Sergo, drums.

Sundry guests sat in: Doug Finke, trombone; John Richmond, clarinet; Joel O'Sickey, drums; and a talented young lady called Vicki on baritone sax. It was a happy session and they played until 11:30 p.m. I especially appreciated a couple of trombone duets by Bill and Doug.

Throughout the Convention the Record Vendors' Room did good business, while the Listening Room upstairs was patronized by a number of aficionados. Sunday morning was one for farewells, the overall consensus of opinion being that it had all been highly worthwhile. With the guidance of Andy Simons, who lived and worked in Chicago for 8 years, I was able to partake in three days of sightseeing before coming home and can confidently report that Chicago is a fine city which I much enjoyed.

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