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Chicago’s Oldest Jazz Club Thrives in South Loop

Jazz Showcase is set up like a classic jazz club right out of the movies. The lighting is dim, with only a few softly lit chandeliers on the ceiling and candles glowing on each table. Jazz Showcase is also the oldest living jazz listening room in Chicago and is nestled in the heart of the South Loop.

Jazz Showcase was opened in 1947 by Joe Segal and is now operated by Joe’s son Wayne. The jazz club has hosted many of the greats in the jazz genre including Chris Potter, Dexter Gordon, Bunky Green, Kenny Burrell and many more. Ahmad Jamal even recorded his trio album “Chicago Revisited” at Jazz Showcase in 1992 and Joe himself produced “The Chase”, a live album by Gene Ammons and Dexter Gordon there in 1970.

The club thrives today and “continues to bring in the top international and Chicago homegrown musicians,” according to the website. The jazz club presents live music seven nights a week, every week.

A bar is in the back, with stools surrounding it. Many of the tables are small and round, which adds to the intimacy of the room. There are sporadic couches and love seats lining the walls each with their own tiny table and candle. The walls are covered tastefully with vintage posters of past performances and posters from when Jazz Showcase was touring back in the day. Pictures also line the walls of many of the greats that have had the privilege to play in the club. The room, in essence, is simple and to the point. The stage feels close even from the back of the room and the deep red velvet curtain behind the performers adds to the classicism. A sentimental touch sits above the piano in the form of a young Joe Segal. His picture looks over the stage and the audience physically and metaphorically.

Trumpeter Wallace Roney and his quartet performing on Friday, April 25

Marlene Rosenberg, the bassist playing the cello for the Friday night show on April 25 was happy to be performing in Wallace Roney’s quartet. She said that she has performed at Jazz Showcase many times and “loves that it’s all about the music.” Apart from playing freelance with bands across the country, she also teaches introduction to jazz studies and jazz history among other classes at Northwestern University. Rosenberg’s story adds to the diversity of the people nestled in Jazz Showcase. She went back to get her Ph.D after attending college at University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign because “it makes [her] easily hirable.”

“Music is really about playing the music. At some level it’s almost not so good because you stay in school for so long. If you want to be a performer, you have to play. You almost have to have both,” said Rosenberg

Just like how the stage hosts many international and domestic musicians, the floor also holds many international and domestic audience members.

Michael Sanders, a consultant, and Paula Eisen, a boutique owner, are from the Chicago area and live in the neighborhood. This was their first visit to Jazz Showcase despite living in the neighborhood to years. Both were extremely pleased that they had finally stopped in.

“[The first set] was fantastic; wonderful,” said Eisen.

Joy and Frank Wolf were visiting their son Chris Wolf from Orlando, Florida. Chris has been to Jazz Showcase three times and enjoyed it so much that he brought Joy and Frank to listen in on some classic jazz. When asked about the first set, his mother was happy to explain her revelation with jazz music.

“It was great. I’ve never gotten the freestyle jazz form on C.D.,” Joy Wolf said. “But tonight I got it. I like makes sense to me now.”

She explains that it’s like singing a song, “With C.D.’s I just can’t hear where it’s going. You just sort of play and see where it takes you.”

The entrance to Jazz Showcase

The audience was very lively: socializing with friends or drinks, meeting friends and applauding wildly during a set.

Wayne, the owner of Jazz Showcase, speaks highly of working hand in hand with his father who has ran the place since it opened.

“My father is still very much involved so we’re partners and it’s wonderful,” Segal said. “It’s challenging at times; the music certainly makes up for the struggle of keeping the club going.”

It happened he said about when he finally started working at Jazz Showcase. He said he was in sales in a corporate world before and that his dad needed time off so Segal filled in.

Eventually Segal got tired of working in corporate America. He was well acquainted with the club. He hung out there as a kid and knew a lot of the musicians that would stop by. Wayne saw ways to improve the musicians and the business and eventually started working at Jazz Showcase and it turned into a full-time job about 15 or 20 years ago.

When asked about what it was like growing up with a father that has such a legacy attached to him Wayne said that it was no pressure.

“I have a lot of respect for what he’s done,” Segal said, “It’s been a challenge but it’s been teamwork more than anything else.”

He says that Wayne does the business side and Joe takes care of booking.

“It’s been a good dance,” he said.

Hear a sample of Wallace Roney’s quartet from April 25 here.

Jazz Showcase is located at 806 S Plymouth Court. View events and more at the website.


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