Clip: Velvet Lounge benefit with Fred Anderson tonight
- Speaking of Chicago venues, anyone know if the Checkerboard Lounge has
opened in Hyde Park yet?
Gentrification threatens famed Velvet Lounge
July 29, 2005
BY JOHN LITWEILER
By now, there's only one building left on the west side of the 2100 block
of South Indiana Avenue. The neighborhood is being gentrified, and the
other buildings that used to be there, including Al Capone's old hotel,
have been razed. All that's left is the narrow, 1-story Velvet Lounge,
which used to be squeezed between two fast-food spots.
The Velvet is a modest-looking jazz club with a 21281/2 sign over the door
and, inside, a long, narrow bar, metal chairs and tables and a wooden
platform for a bandstand. After all, there's no need to be ostentatious
when you're already famous.
"This place is known all over Europe and Asia and Japan and everywhere,"
says owner-musician Fred Anderson. He says it matter-of-factly because he
does not brag. He's a friendly, soft-spoken 76-year-old who is known by
free-jazz listeners as one of the best saxophonists in the world. "I had
some people in here last night from Poland and France. Everybody has their
cameras. They want to take pictures of the Velvet Lounge, 'cause they know
it's coming down, see."
The impending doom of the Velvet is an alarming prospect to the Chicago
musicians who've played there over the years. A good number of talented
artists grew to musical maturity thanks to Anderson. Either they were
members of his bands or they played at his club, especially in his Sunday
jam sessions. "It's not for somebody to come in and get drunk and curse,"
he says. "We run it for the music." The Velvet's staff is a handful of
part-time employees and volunteers, and it's only open on live-music nights.
Anderson was encouraging young musicians way back in the early 1970s, when
he led his sextet weekly at the old Foundation Church in Old Town. As his
outstanding junior sidekicks (including drummer Hamid Drake, woodwinds
player Douglas Ewart and trombone player George Lewis) left, Anderson ran
his own no-alcohol, no-food concert room, the Birdhouse, on Lincoln Avenue.
In 1981, he took over a relative's tavern, renamed it the Velvet Lounge and
began holding fortnightly, then weekly sessions. After a few years of
drawing annual late-show crowds during Chicago Jazz Festival weeks, in 1993
the Velvet began its current several-nights-a-week schedule.
Anderson, too, was growing steadily as a musician. He always has played
tenor sax with a big, brawny Chicago sound. As his improvising became more
flowing, his phrases became more jagged. He conceives in long lines of
melody spiked with leaping blues cries, sometimes with extended side trips
into his lower register. While Charlie Parker and Ornette Coleman were
among his inspirations, he is such an original artist that one writer
called him "the lone prophet of the prairie." He has recorded at least 16
albums, received honors and awards and last month was the subject of Fred
Anderson Day at New York City's prestigious Vision Festival.
Anderson himself, Ewart, Von Freeman, Joseph Jarman, Roscoe Mitchell, Kidd
Jordan, Steve Lacy and others, just to mention some saxophonists, all have
played unforgettable shows at the Velvet Lounge over the years. After one
brilliant concert, Lacy scribbled over his photo on the wall, "This place
is a temple."
Chicago jazz audiences, from young students to old-timers, don't want to
see the Velvet vanish. A few other brave spots around Chicago, like the
Hungry Brain, Empty Bottle and Hotti Biscotti, also present regular
underground-jazz shows, but the Velvet is the one that programs adventurous
live jazz five nights a week.
Is there hope for the Velvet Lounge? Yes, indeed. The landlord has offered
Anderson a new location nearby on Cermak. The Chicago jazz community has
pitched in to raise money to help the Velvet make the move. Several other
jazz clubs have held fund-raisers, and several Web sites, most notably
www.velvetlounge.net, are soliciting donations. "The Velvet is a regular
corporation," Anderson says. "That's one of the biggest problems I have
right now. People won't donate to a corporation, but they'll donate to a
Anderson said he needs to raise at least $70,000 to move the Velvet; so
far, according to the club's Web site, $17,000 has been raised.
For now, he'll still have music at 21281/2 S. Indiana, at least until the
next Chicago Jazz Festival beginning Sept. 1, when the club will hold
late-show fund-raisers. After that, nobody knows how long it will continue
to be open there.
At 8 tonight the Velvet will host a performance by and interview of
Anderson for a new streaming-video Web site, www.chi-creates.tv. A set by
the Ernest Dawkins Quartet with Ari Brown will follow at 10:30; Dawkins and
Brown are themselves fine "outside" saxophonists. The Web site announces,
"This will be one of the last events at the historic Velvet Lounge." And
there will be other farewell events as jazz lovers continue to visit the
Velvet Lounge to say their last goodbyes.
John Litweiler is a Chicago jazz critic and author.
FRED ANDERSON, PERFORMANCE AND INTERVIEW
When: 8 tonight
Followed by: Ernest Dawkins Quartet with Ari Brown
When: 10:30 tonight
Where: Velvet Lounge, 21281/2 S. Indiana
Phone: (312) 791-9050