1977 – 2018: THE NEXT! 41 Years of Music and Recording!
Sparrow Sound Design, Southport Records, News & Commentary
1978 A YEAR IN TRANSITION by b. p. sparrow
Southport Records wants to salute The City of Chicago, The Chicago Cultural Center and The Jazz Institute of Chicago for their 40 strong years of live music support with regard to the world famous Chicago Jazz Festival. This is the year 2018, but it all began in the year and time around 1978...
Joanie Pallatto and I were recently at a meeting downtown at the Cultural Center on December 1, 2017 (hosted by Mark Kelly, the new Commissioner). It was about ways to improve The Chicago Jazz Festival. They mentioned that 2018 was the 40th anniversary of the festival. Way back then I played in 1978 and 1979 so it made me look back in time on the Internet. Not much information, and at the age of 64 my memory was a bit clouded. At the record label and studio we keep pretty good archives so this is me looking back in time at life, art and history.
1972 - The Very Early Years I got rejected from Northwestern University, the school my older brother went to the year before. So I went to DePaul University and commuted from Hyde Park.
1973 I met a composer at DePaul, Raymond Wilding-White, and he inspired me to be a composer. I built some bookcases for his house in Oak Park in exchange for "lessons."
I rented a space on Rush Street, 11 & 1/2 West Cedar, 2nd floor with an indoor spiral staircase and opened "Photon Montage", a photo gallery. Raymond Wilding-White and Bob Shiller had exhibits there, my sponsor and partner was a Doctor from Hyde Park, I think his name was Philip Ulrich. Back then photography was not considered an "art form" and I was working in both still photography and 16 mm film. The gallery lasted about 1 year. We had a newsletter called "Manipulation."
1975 This lead had to a construction company called "Loyal Building Services" that I started. My father, Bill Parker was an auto mechanic and carpenter and he taught his 4 sons how to do those things, I left Hyde Park and migrated the "northside." Found an apartment at 1857 N. Dayton for $65 per month, the bathtub was in the kitchen. I got it from Joe Vitale real estate that had an office on Webster and Racine.
Got a call from some hippies on West Armitage (1008) just off Sheffield Ave. that needed some work done. They wanted some plaster work and tables built. At the end of the work they could not pay me so I took over 1/3 of the restaurant, after a couple of months 2 of the hippies left and that space became what I called "Sparrow Restaurant." No one called me Sparrow before that, but since I was cooking and running the joint and also playing the big old Mason & Hamlin upright piano just past the kitchen area, everybody started calling me Sparrow.
In 1974 the Armitage Avenue Lincoln Park area was in transition. The streets were controlled by the Latin Kings. One day walking out of Arroyo's Liquor store on Armitage and Sheffield a young Latin King sucker punched me in them mouth. It did not knock me out, but I did see cartoon lights... this was across the street from Sparrow restaurant and it was the summer of 1975.
We had a 75 cent breakfast special, 2 eggs, toast, bacon or sausage and it did not include coffee. Sparrow restaurant lasted about 2 years and I was having more fun playing the piano than cooking sausage and eggs. Also someone purchased the 3 flat Greystone with coach house and store. The new insurance company came by and did not like our operation. I closed the restaurant one day, sold off all the equipment and went to Barcelona, Spain (1 way ticket) with alto horn man Jeff Vega. We met tenor man Marco Garcia in Barcelona. We were gonna take over Europe as a duo. Disco was in real big at the time and we did get some gigs between disco sets. Jeff and I got into a fight so I left him in Barcelona and I went to Paris. It was winter and I had about $200. 1 solo piano gig at The American Center. No place to stay so I squatted in a small jewelry store with some other Nomad gypsies. Ran out of money, figured I got to England where they spoke English. Met an older man with a black Bogart top hat and we walked the British streets, I still had my gray ghetto blaster radio. He let me sleep on his living room floor but his wife did not like that. I left early in the morning and gave him my ghetto blaster. Got stopped by the police (no sidearms for beat cops in London)... and went back broke to Chicago.
With no money or home I got a part time job doing construction with my old friend Roy Schoop. He let me sleep on a sofa in storefront the worked as his construction office. I also got a job driving Yellow, then Checker Cab. Driving a cab is like being a cop without a gun. One day while working a client jumped over from the back and grabbed me by the neck. I punched him in the mouth, pulled in front of District Police Station in Uptown and dragged him up the stairs letting him fall to ground in front of the beat sergeant. The man was white and I am not white so the sergeant asked me for some identification.
1977 This was a pivotal year for me, the official start year of Sparrow Sound Design recording studio (eventually later changing the record label division name from Sparrow to Southport Records). Our first reel to reel recorder was a Tandberg 2 track, eventually adding a Tascam 4 track.
Has it really been 40 years since the birth of The Chicago Jazz Festival? The seeds of the Chicago Jazz Festival started at the old band shell that was across the street (outer drive) from the Museum of History. The original band shell historically presented "Classical" music. Then, in 1974, after the death of Duke Ellington noted Chicago musicians held a Festival to honor the great man... the start of jazz in the park.
This is the road that led me to The Chicago Jazz Festival.
The details and history that are listed below are from the City of Chicago website: "The great composer/bandleader Duke Ellington died in the summer of 1974. Just a few weeks later, several dozen Chicago musicians held a festival to honor him, at the old bandshell at the south end of Grant Park. Ten thousand music lovers came, marking the first of what would become annual memorial concerts that drew crowds of up to 30,000. Then in 1978, musicians working with Chicago's Council of Fine Arts held the first John Coltrane Memorial Concert in Grant Park, another popular success. The next year the Jazz Institute of Chicago began planning its own August festival. That meant that three different groups of jazz people were working to present concerts at the end of August.
The Mayor's Office of Special Events proposed the solution: Get together to create the first Chicago Jazz Festival. It had an Ellington night, a Coltrane night, and five other programs organized by the Jazz Institute and it was held at the new Petrillo Music Shell. And 125,000 people came to listen, dance, picnic on the grass, and enjoy the birth of what was to become the most extensive free jazz festival in the world. Every year since then the Chicago Jazz Festival has been held on the week before Labor Day. The Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events coordinates it and the Jazz Institute programs it."
Late August 1977, Jimmy Carter was president and the unemployment rate was very high. Interest rates were also high, we were in a recession. I had switched to driving Yellow cab from Checker and working the jazz clubs and college circuit for gigs. The FEDs started a CETA program for unemployed artists in several US cities, it was called The Artist In Residence Program, in conjunction with the Chicago Council On Fine Arts (City Of Chicago). Open auditions were held in the basement rehearsal area at Orchestral Hall. I drove my cab down and parked in the Grant Park Garage. With my black Fedora on I played a part of my Spanish sonata for the judges. Corky Siegel and Studs Terkel were included in the judge's team. This is the first time I met a fine woman by the name of Mary Young (one of the projects coordinators with the program.).
I was selected to be a part of the Artist-In-Residence Program. Musicians also selected for 1977 were: Cedric Gay, Clay Rogers, Webster Phillips, Lucius Bell, Ken Chaney, Malachi Favors, Marvin Sparks, Phil Cohran, Curtis Robinson, Eugene Easton, Alberto Gianquinto and Hugh Hart. Composer John Austin was selected as the first City Of Chicago Composer-In-Residence. I was selected for that honor in 1978. Note: I have yet to find any historic mention of Chicago Composer-in-Residence program which ended in 1981 when funding for the CETA program ended with the new Republican administration and Ronald Reagan.
From the above City Of Chicago website: “Then in 1978, musicians working with Chicago's Council of Fine Arts held the first John Coltrane Memorial Concert in Grant Park, another popular success.”
The stable of musicians that were selected to be Artists-In-Residence musicians were used to form the first year (1978) of The Chicago Jazz Festival. This was the year before The Jazz Institute of Chicago began their programming efforts, or the "missing" year a period of transition and also the first year for the new Petrillo Music Shell.
Historic press clipping footnote-1 Sunday, August 27, 1978 Main Edition, The Chicago Tribune Jazz Tributes by Harriet Choice
The Fifth annual "Tribute To Duke Ellington" will be held at 7pm tomorrow at the James Petrillo Music Shell in Grant Park. More than 35 Chicago area artists will take part in the celebration of Ellington's contribution to American music. The musicians include the big bands of Willie Randall and Art Hoyle, the Larry Novak Trio, The Johnny Frigo Quartet, The Jimmy Ellis Quartet, Willie Pickens Trio, The Fred Anderson Quartet, Don DeMicheal's Swingtet and the Art Hodes-Franz Jackson Sextet. Singers Geraldine de Hass and special guest Joe Williams also will participate in the program which includes such songs as "Caravan," "Solitude," "Mood Indigo," "Satin Doll," "Black Butterfly," "C-Jam Blues," and "Take The A Train."
Also at the bandshell: Ken Chaney's Jazz Experience with guests Eugene Easton and Bradley Parker-Sparrow, will present a salute to John Coltrane and Bud Powell at 7p.m. Saturday, (September 2, 1978). Musical pieces to be performed include "Giant Steps," "My Favorite Things," and Parisian Thoroughfare." – Harriet Choice
And so 1978 was a transitional year for the birth of The Chicago Jazz Festival. That was also the year that I joined The Chicago Musicians Union. On that date I played, by way of CETA, the solo grand piano at Petrillo in Grant Park, Saturday, September 2, 1978, the "hidden" year. It was the first time that my father, Bill Parker heard me play in public, my mother Dorothy was there also.
1979 from the above City of Chicago website: "The next year the Jazz Institute of Chicago began planning its own August festival. That meant that three different groups of jazz people were working to present concerts at the end of August."
1979 is considered the first year of The Chicago Jazz Festival. This is the first year that The City of Chicago and The Jazz Institute worked in unison. I played again, this time with my ensemble that included Marvin Sparks, John E. Magnan and Hal Ra Ru. The festival ran from Monday August 27 thru Sunday September 2, Jane Byrne was mayor! My ensemble played the 2nd set Friday.
Time moves by so fast and things blend What is history, a dream. Does it stand still or blur like the wings of a hummingbird Was it 1978 or 1979 In time just past the park and lake or was it an Ocean?
- b. p. sparrow
press footnotes: Jazz at Grant Park-The Chicago Defender, Saturday, August 18, 1979
Jazz Dimension-They Cooked At The Big Gig, The Chicago Defender, Saturday, Sept 8, 1979 by Earl Calloway
Chicago Plans First Jazz Fest-Chicago Sun-Times Wed. August 15, 1979
Blues, Swing Featured at Jazz Festival-Chicago Sun-Times Thursday, August 30, 1979