I've got a whole city to hold down

May 17, 2005

Following on our story of last week about the looming threat to the future of the Velvet Lounge, there was a terrific, in-depth piece on the subject by Tribune jazz critic Howard Reich on the front page of Sunday's paper.

"In a few weeks or a little longer--no one is saying exactly when--a wrecking ball will demolish the last great jazz club on the South Side of Chicago," Reich writes.

"And though the Velvet Lounge, on South Indiana Avenue near Cermak Road, doesn't exactly date to the days when Louis Armstrong and Nat 'King' Cole made the South Side swing, the end of the club's 23-year-run has galvanized music lovers trying to help relocate the club nearby.

"Unfortunately for Velvet Lounge owner and celebrated Chicago saxophonist Fred Anderson, and his fans, the move will cost about $120,000, which to a typical jazz musician may as well be $120 million.

"'I don't have that kind of money, that's for sure, but we're trying our best to try to raise it real fast,' said Anderson, who in 1982 transformed a dilapidated, shoebox-shaped bar into what would become a nexus for cutting-edge jazz in Chicago.

"'I'm just hoping we can get the money together before they tear this place down, so we can pick right up in the new place, before people forget about us.'

"If Anderson, 76, doesn't succeed in keeping the name and spirit of the Velvet Lounge alive, said admirers of the club and the oft-rambunctious music it presents, the cultural import of the South Side and the city at large will be diminished.

"'It would be damaging to say the least,' said Timuel Black, a cultural historian whose landmark oral history, 'Bridges of Memory' (Northwestern University Press), documents the great migration of Southern blacks north to Chicago.

"'The loss of the Velvet Lounge,' added Black, 'would be devastating to the perpetuation of the music the club has presented to all kinds of listeners through the years--black and white and locals and visitors.'

"Moreover, the possible demise of the Velvet Lounge comes on the heels of the closing of the legendary Checkerboard Lounge, a blues institution on East 43rd Street, in 2003, and the shuttering of Gerri's Palm Tavern, a historic music spot on East 47th Street."

And there's much more. The piece is a must-read for those who missed it in print - and the cause deserves a serious outcry from anyone who cares about music, art, our city and its history.