Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Saturday Snapshot #22



     Look at the photo above. What do you see? A jazz quartet, right? 
     The quartet performing last Saturday consisted of Nickolas Kaplan, on trumpet, Kevin Fort, on piano, John Sutton on bass at Chad Willetts on drums.
     But sitting in for a few songs—or rather standing, looking through the window was John Mondlak, the man in the white beard at right. More about him later.
     My wife had been talking about going to Le Piano for a long time, the new jazz place that has opened up in East Rogers Park in the old No Exit space, and we crowded into a prime booth—the Frank Sinatra Booth. The place has been open a month.
     A few thoughts.
     First, it's a lovely space: high ceilinged, inviting, with that wall of windows. Music every night. A $5 cover charge (which I notice people on Yelp still somehow manage to complain about. What do they want it to be, a dollar? Can you even imagine that. The doorman stopping you: "It's a dollar to get in." Yelp, I swear, I should create a Yelp page for Heaven, if it hasn't been done yet. "The Pearly Gates gave off a glowing luminescence that I found unpleasant. And the glissando of harps welcoming the saved into their eternal reward kept me up at night....")
     Second, a good vibe. The drummer, Chad Willetts, is also one of the owners, and at one point he made a little speech, and greeted the crowd and led the room into a round of "Happy Birthday" to someone celebrating a birthday. The room was crowded and the service sporadic, but adequate.         
     Third, the food. We contrived to eat dinner there, ordering the various small plates and trying to assemble them into a meal. I'd advise against that. Drinks and snacks is a more suitable use, at least while the kitchen works out its kinks. The wine was very good, I am told. The charcuterie plate could have used a pot of mustard, or something, though the cheeses were good. The fingerling potatoes were very good, the steak, less so. An $8 (or $5, or whatever it costs) loaf of bread should be better than what was served up. But they just opened, and no doubt are getting the kinks out.
      Fourth, returning to Mr. Mondlak—at least that's what I thought his name was. Communication was difficult. I asked him about the music and he mumbled something incoherent. The only word I caught was "Beatles." I asked him if he had anything he wanted to communicate to the public, and he said, "God is love. God is the totality of the universe." Makes as much sense as anything.
     East Rogers Park is a gritty area, and there are those who would lump the opening of Le Piano as the dread "gentrification." First, that is premature, judging by the active and highly varied street life passing by.  Second, a right extended to one should be enjoyed by all, and if any random person can show up and lay claim to a piece of real estate and call it home, then the owners of Le Piano should be able to do the same, despite the role of money and mortgages and vigorous effort.
      If you didn't see Mr. Mondlak in your initial glimpse of the picture, don't be too hard on yourself. There's a lot of that. When he was at the window, I had a hard time seeing anything else, and eventually went outside to talk with him, or try to. He stood there for a long time, listening, and I can't say I blame him. Chicago has only a few small jazz venues: Andy's downtown, The Green Mill in Uptown. Tough competition, now that I think of them, but Le Piano makes an encouraging start. With the Heartland closing a block away, a reminder that the city grows, changes, moves on, and we change with it.

12 comments:

  1. At first glance T thought that it was George R.R. Martin who was peering through the window.

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  2. I did notice Mr. Mondlak...but not right away...and I'm not sure if I noticed him before or after reading the first sentence. A classic illustration of the inadequacy of eyewitness testimony. Nicely done.

    john

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  3. As I have lived in Rogers Park for 68 of my 69 years, can easily say, there's no such place as "East Rogers Park"!
    It's just Rogers Park!
    Just because there's a West Rogers Park doesn't mean there's an East one.
    The L station is Morse-Rogers Park & the Metra Station has been Rogers Park for at least 130 years.
    Everything north of Devon & east of Kedzie is Rogers Park Township, which used to be two separate towns, Rogers Park & West Ridge, both of which foolishly decided to annex to Chicago in 1890.

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    1. Nothing is more variable than what neighborhoods are called. I use the term "East Rogers Park" because other people I know do. You may live there, Clark St., but you are not the only person living there. Don't hate me for telling you.

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    2. I don't hate you Neil, you & everyone else that calls us that, is totally & completely wrong!

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    3. My associations with that neighborhood date back to 1956, when my grandmother moved into a building at Glenwood and Estes, and it's been known as East Rogers Park since at least the early Sixties. There's always been an active and varied street life. But I hesitate to call it "gritty"...I was there during my last two visits to Chicago, and it still looks pretty good to me. One does need to be aware of one's surroundings, though, and to watch one's back, but that vigilance has become the norm in almost every urban area.

      I'm sad to hear that a place as big as Chicago has only a few small jazz venues left. Cleveland's can be counted on two or three fingers. The sad truth is, live jazz is not doing well in most places, outside of a few major cities, because of changing tastes and changing demographics. The jazz audience is aging rapidly and passing away. Those of us still here, and who still love the music, will have to get by with LPs, CDs, tapes, and Pandora.

      And when Le Piano's cover doubles or triples, it'll mean that gentrifiction has definitely arrived. Right now, the place sounds like a hidden jewel, and the best bargain in town.

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    4. Perhaps East Rogers Park is more a locator than appellation. By Clark St.'s definition my initial home at 6324 Magnolia is not Rogers Park at all, though the family always describes the neighborhood as such. The phone company was happy to include us in the Rogers exchange as well. Whatever, I still remember the popcorn stand at the Granada being outside the theater.

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  4. Thanks for mentioning this. I remember when the No Exit featured jazz on Sunday Nights, way back when. Love the Green Mill and they have the Jazz Showcase downtown. But I'll have to keep this one in mind. Thanks for the review. ($5.00 is quite a bargain, they should ask more)

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  5. Wish I could go. Would bring back my long ago student day at the U. of C. when "jazz venues" were not rare and populated by extraordinary instrumental virtuosos. A young Ahmad Jamal played regularly at a 55th street joint called the High Hat and other luminaries dropped in to jam late, after their regular gigs were over -- Oscar Peterson one memorable night. I also neglected my studies at a place down the street called the Beehive hearing the likes of Coleman Hawkins. At the tail end of the big band era one could go to the Blue Note in the loop to hear Stan Kenton and Woody Herman. All before most popular music became the province of kids with guitars screaming into microphones.

    Tom

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    1. The Beehive was a major jazz venue. Wasn't that where Nichols and May began doing their comedy routines in the mid-Fifties? I've read about the Compass Players, too, possibly in the same place...a forerunner of Second City on the Near North Side.

      A good friend spent his undergrad years at the U.of C. during the late Sixties, and there were still live-jazz spots then. I remember a jazz joint that I think was called The Cove, which was operating as late as 1977. Alas, the Hyde Park jazz scene is now long gone.

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  6. I did notice the man in the window, about the time I at first thought it was Neil playing the piano. (What's Dumbledore doing looking over Neil's shoulder"?

    Re: East Rogers Park.. If the establishment is at the eastern edge/side of Rogers Park, I don't see a problem with describing it as such.

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