Route 66 this weekend:  Berwyn Car Show and CineFest


Hello again, fellow roadies! This weekend, route roadies in Chicago are blessed with a full two days’ worth of worthy events (that’s in addition to everything else going on in the immediate area, like the special exhibits at the Art Institute and the usual tours at the top of the Sears Tower, etc.). First up today is the annual Berwyn Route 66 Car Show, a don’t-miss, no-admission event in Illinois as it is second in size only to the Mother Road Festival in downstate Springfield. Flashy vehicles, food and fun, and did we mention it’s FREE? Yessir! Be there, or be square. Berwyn is the second suburb you encounter outside Chicago when traveling Route 66, one whose civic leaders very consciously promote Route 66 – and Berwyn’s history on the route – all year long. It’s also home to the Berwyn Route 66 Museum, which is one of the co-sponsors of the car show.

Then there’s the first annual CineFest in the Douglas Park area of Chicago, a weekend-long celebration of feature-length movies and TV series filmed in Chicago (many of which have been at least partially produced at fest sponsor Cinestage Chicago). And perhaps the best part of that festival is that the beverages of choice will be brewskis supplied by next-door neighbor Lagunitas-Chicago brewery, Chicago’s largest craft beer producer. Cinestage Chicago occupies the historic former Ryerson Steel campus, which is located between Western Avenue on the easternmost end and Washtenaw Avenue on the west, Route 66/Ogden Avenue on the north and the railroad viaduct that runs on an angle roughly between 17th to 18th Streets and parallel to Ogden. In fact, Lagunitas itself is in a former Ryerson warehouse that the brewery rents from Cinestage under a 99-year lease. So you have history all around you at both of these events this weekend.

In fact, our suggestion is that you attend the car show today and CineFest tomorrow – work them both in, if you can, then dine somewhere on the route afterwards.

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Route 66 Song Of The Week:  Louis Armstrong’s “Gut Bucket Blues”


[Due to technical difficulties, this article didn’t post on Friday they way it should have, which means that Louis Armstrong’s birthday was last week.  Ooops; my bad.  Sincere apologies for the delay.]

Happy birthday, Louis Armstrong!  This is the birthday week of one of the greatest figures in jazz, if not the greatest.  Born August 4, 1901, Armstrong would have been 114 years old this week.  Louis had always claimed his birth date to be July 4, 1900 and proudly celebrated his natals on the nation’s birthday, but recent research into New Orleans baptismal records indicates that he was really born 13 months later; in fact, he may not have known the correct date himself.  Jazz, on the other hand, may have been born in New Orleans among the whorehouses and saloons of Storyville, but it grew up in Chicago – during the Roaring Twenties – and the young Louis Armstrong was its greatest co-creator, performer and exponent.  He did that here, right in the middle of the Prohibition years, even as Route 66 was being born.

Known in his youth as ‘Dippermouth’ or ‘Satchelmouth’ for his big embouchure (the way a trumpeter’s or trombonist’s lips and facial muscles wrap around the stem of a brass instrument) and his even bigger smile, later as just ‘Satchmo’ or ‘Pops,’ or just plain Louie, Armstrong was a seminal figure in both Chicago and New York in the mid-to-late part of the decade.  The conscious evolution of his own playing style set the direction and shaped the development of jazz during its formative years and heavily affected other jazz musicians for decades to come.  Even now, Armstrong’s music remains strongly influential: nobody becomes a jazz musician or jazz vocalist of any worth without knowing and being influenced by the music of Louis Armstrong, even if indirectly.  The innovations he brought to jazz make it impossible to do otherwise.

What we have for you today is a recording that helped launch that big change in the direction of jazz:  a classic 12-bar blues that Armstrong improvised on the spot during a recording session for Okeh Records in Chicago on November 12, 1925, almost a year to the day before Route 66 came into existence in November 1926:  “Gut Bucket Blues.”  Banjoist Johnny St. Cyr described it as “a low down blues.”  In fact, we have two takes of the same song, recorded 32 years apart, for comparison – the original 1925 recording with a 24-year-old Armstrong and his newly formed Hot Five, and a 1957 version with his All Stars, made for the vinyl LP album set Satchmo: A Musical Autobiography on Decca Records (the latter has been remastered and reissued on CD within the last decade).

Louis Armstrong in 1953

Louis Armstrong in 1953  (Photo via of Wikimedia Commons)

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Route 66 news:  events calendar update & Lollapalooza in Chicago this weekend


Hello again, fellow roadies!  Instead of the ghastly Chicago summer humidity of the last two weeks, we had a nice, dry sunny day on Friday.  Excellent weather for starting a weekend road trip!  But there is one good thing about warm weather, even with a bit of humidity:  eating and listening to music al fresco, whether it’s at your favorite grill or tavern, neighborhood street fest/art fair, or a downtown extravaganza like the gargantuan music fest descending upon Chicago this weekend.

I mean Lolla, of course – short for Lollapalooza, the event that will be monopolizing a good chunk of Grant Park, starting immediately south of Jackson Drive/Route 66 and centering on Congress Plaza and Buckingham Fountain (with all the stages, scaffolding and speakers, you’ll be lucky if you get so much as a teensy glimpse of that fountain before next Monday or Tuesday).

We recommend that route-roadies heading for Chicago this weekend bunk down north of the river or perhaps further down the route (like on Jackson or Adams in the financial district, or in the West Loop/IMD – there’s a Marriott on the medical campus, for example), or even in suburban Countryside or Willowbrook (it might be worth it just this once to sleep outside the Loop, if you want to get any sleep at all: those Lolla folks party hearty, no matter where they’re staying).  On the other hand, if you don’t intend to sleep, by all means: hang around.  But expect to pay for the privilege – all too many hotels, restaurants and bars downtown will be capitalizing on the event and charging up the wazoo for whatever.  Don’t even dream about street parking.

Buckingham Fountain:  get a good look at it now, because you won’t see much of it behind all the stages, steel lighting scaffolds and thousands of sweaty, overindulging bodies surrounding it for three days.  (Photo courtesy of Alanscottwalker via Wikimedia Commons)

Buckingham Fountain:  Get a good look at it now, because you won’t see much of it during the 3-day Lollapalooza bash behind the stages, steel lighting scaffolds and thousands of sweaty, overindulging bodies surrounding it.  (Photo by Alanscottwalker via Wikimedia Commons)

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Route 66 update: pond dedication to a Route 66 hero a success


We did it.  At last!  Monday morning’s 10 a.m. dedication of Schustek Pond in Burr Ridge, IL came off without a hitch.  Even Mother Nature co-operated somewhat:  it was still a humid bad-hair day for some of us (yours truly included, no matter how much hair product I used), but the cool breeze off the pond took away from the growing heat of the day, making the morning quite pleasant.  Sitting on the west bank of the pond helped in that respect and gave us all a lovely view.

Schustek Pond with the new plaque, in all its glory (Photo copyright 2015 by M.R. Traska; all rights reserved)

Schustek Pond with the new plaque  (Photo copyright 2015 by M.R. Traska; all rights reserved)

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Route 66 Song Of The Week:  Louis Jordan


Happy birthday, Louis Jordan!  Cooler and hipper than Cab Calloway, who covered a number of Jordan’s many hits, Louis Jordan was one of the biggest black musical stars of the 20th century.  Those of you who don’t know about Jordan obviously don’t know about jump blues, either, in that case.  Jump blues, aka Jump Jive, was a genre of blues that led directly to rock ‘n’ roll.  Wikipedia’s bio of Jordan describes jump blues as “a swinging, up-tempo, dance-oriented hybrid of jazz, blues and boogie-woogie” that often involved fast-talking, hip lyrics about black urban life.  It’s true, as Muddy Waters claimed, that blues begat rock, but it wasn’t Muddy’s style of blues, nor Bessie Smith’s, nor even that of B.B. King – it was jump blues, which makes Louis Jordan, as jump blues’ most successful exponent and innovator, at least the granddaddy of rock ‘n’ roll if not the actual father.  Even the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame recognized him as such in 1987.

Louis Jordan, circa July 1946  (photo courtesy of William P. Gottlieb via Wikimedia Commons)

Louis Jordan and his alto sax, circa July 1946  (photo courtesy of William P. Gottlieb via Wikimedia Commons)

However, Jordan’s music crossed musical lines, from blues and jazz to swing, big band, R&B and even comic ‘novelty’ songs.  He also crossed color lines:  Jordan was one of the first black entertainers whose records did well on the pop charts, and he did duets with several of his Decca Records label mates, including Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.  A gifted instrumentalist as well as a vocalist – who could sing a ballad as well as he could jive lyrics – he played piano, clarinet, and alto, tenor and baritone sax, though his instrument of choice was the alto.  He was also a bandleader and a clever songwriter, though he didn’t get credit or royalties for some of his songs (that was his own doing:  in an attempt to get around an existing publishing contract, he credited some songs, including the famous “Caldonia,” to his third wife, childhood sweetheart Fleecie Moore; but as that marriage was tempestuous and, thankfully, short lived – Fleecie stabbed Jordan on two occasions during domestic disputes, once near fatally – they soon divorced, but she retained ownership of songs she’d never written, much to his dismay).

Some performers come to music by accident or by desire, but not Jordan – he was born into it on July 8, 1908 in Brinkley, Arkansas, to Adell and James Aaron Jordan.  His mother died when he was young; his father, however, was a musician, music teacher and bandleader for two local groups, the Brinkley Brass Band and the Rabbit Foot Minstrels, and young Louis was surrounded by music before he could walk.  His father taught him music, starting with the clarinet, and as a youth he played in his father’s bands whenever school was out.  Jordan briefly attended Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock, where he majored in music.  He also played piano professionally early in his career and played with other local bands, including Bob Alexander’s Harmony Kings.  When he moved with his family to Philadelphia in 1932, he played clarinet in the Charlie Gaines band and also did gigs with pianist Clarence Williams.

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Route 66 Song Of The Week, bonus edition:  Nat ‘King’ Cole


Hello again, fellow roadies!  Welcome to the holiday bonus edition of the Route 66 Song Of The Week.  Only a few days ago, we treated you to Natalie Cole’s take on her daddy’s big hit and our favorite road anthem.  But no sooner had we posted it than a hue and cry went up for Daddy Dearest.  Well!  This being the ultimate All-American Weekend, what with The Fourth, and it being the height of the road-trip season as well, how could we refuse? After all, who could beat the guy who held the title of King long before Elvis?

So:  by popular demand, we give you the definitive Nat King Cole and King Cole Trio’s YouTube version of “Route 66,” as uploaded by Gene Vincent’s Official Nat King Cole Fan Club.  This is clearly a filmed/videotaped version meant to look like a club date but is most likely a performance the group did for television.  It may even be from Nat Cole’s own brief TV show, which ran in 1956 and 1957.  It seems Cole was much more popular as a guest on other people’s TV shows and specials, at least where TV sponsors were concerned.

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Route 66 Song Of The Week:  Natalie Cole


Howdy, road music lovers!  We’re overdue for an installment of our favorite road anthem, and this week it’s Natalie Cole’s turn.  Given that her dad, Nat ‘King’ Cole, made this tune a big hit only a few weeks after Bobby Troup and his first wife Cynthia wrote it while driving down said route on the way to L.A. (Cynthia suggested the title), it seems only appropriate to feature the lovely Ms. Natalie right before the July 4th holiday.  Nat and his King Cole Trio were playing in L.A. at the time (yes, now you know how he got his nickname); before that, he and the trio spent a while making music in Chicago, a city to which Nat and his family had moved when he was four years old and to which he often returned.

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