Ask "Mr. Music"
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: Living just 65 miles north of Chicago, we easily receive many of their radio stations.

That is how I first heard Vic Damone's "South Side of Chicago," probably in the mid-'60s. It's about the glory years "back when jazz was king, on the south side of Chicago." It's a good song that was understandably popular down there.

Since then, I have found several other versions, including ones by Della Reese; Al Grey & Richard Boone; Lezlie Anders; Walter Wanderly; Charley Harrison; and my personal favorite, Ray Price.

What intrigues me is all but one refers to "21st and Wentworth" as the "beating heart" of the jazz night life and "the place where the action first got its start."

The exception is Charley Harrison's. He changes the supposedly historic intersection to 63rd and Cottage. Why?

Harrison is also the only singer to mention Vaughan Freeman. Who is he?
—Julia Konizeski, Twin Lakes, Wisc.

DEAR JULIA: Vic Damone did have the first single release of tunesmith Phil Zeller's "On the South Side of Chicago" (complete title), issued in early 1967 (RCA 9145). Vic's single is also the only rendition to appear on any of the music charts.

Damone followed the single with an LP titled "On the South Side of Chicago" (RCA 3765).

Walter Wanderly's 1967 version is the only instrumental on your list. This fine Brazilian keyboardist (1932-1986) performed "On the South Side of Chicago" in the style of his 1966 hit, "Summer Samba."

Now about the stray in the herd:

Charley Harrison is a top-flight jazz composer, arranger, and producer. He is not, however, the singer of "On the South Side of Chicago." Harrison's guest vocalist on that track is Freddy Cole.

Their six-minute masterpiece is on Charley's debut (2006) CD album, "Keeping My Composure." For all 11 of the tracks, Charley conducts Jeff Lindberg's Chicago Jazz Orchestra.

Harrison's is the only recording I know that cites somewhere other than 21st and Wentworth, actually on the edge of Chinatown, as "the place where [Chicago jazz] action first got its start."

As a Chicago native, Charley might have known that there is no intersection of 21st and Wentworth there. They do have a 2100 South block on Wentworth, but none of the principal jazz clubs were that far north.

Nearly half of the 50 or so hot venues were on State Street, between 26th and 47th.

My recommendation for the verse would therefore be to pinpoint 35th and State as the Chicago jazz epicenter.

Still, 63rd and Cottage (full name: Cottage Grove) has long been a bustling area of general activity, especially the Grand Ballroom and Tivoli Theater. The Tivoli is long gone, but the Grand Ballroom still stands ready to host special events, from weddings to conventions.

One block from the Grand Ballroom stood another significant music venue: the Pershing Hotel, home of the Pershing Palace Ballroom and El Grotto Supper Club.

Conveniently, in the same building, right next to the Pershing's main doors, was a record store where all the top swing-era 78s were sold — possibly an impulse marketing precursor to today's supermarket checkout line racks.

Not Vaughan, Earle Lavon "Von" Freeman is an 87-year-old Chicago-born tenor saxophone legend. Last year, Freeman received the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters award, our nation's highest jazz honor.

IZ ZAT SO? In Zeller's "On the South Side of Chicago," we're told "there was everything" in that district. Phil could have also written "there was everyone," in particular the country's biggest names in jazz bands and swing music.

Here is just a sampling of major stars, whose live shows at "little places filled with people glowing" cost from "no cover charge" to one dollar: Albert Ammons; Louis Armstrong; Count Basie; Sidney Bechet; Cab Calloway; Nat King Cole; Johnny Dodds; Benny Goodman; Lionel Hampton; Coleman Hawkins; Fletcher Henderson; Woody Herman; Earl Hines; Alberta Hunter; Al Jolson; Freddie Keppard; Jimmy Lunceford; Jelly Roll Morton; Jimmy Noone; Joe "King" Oliver; Kid Ory; Tiny Parham; Bessie Smith; Erskine Tate; Fats Waller; Billy Ward; Ethel Waters; Paul Whiteman; Joe Williams; and Teddy Wilson.

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