Ad: [ ? ]

Wednesday, November 25

Gapers Block

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr

« Review: Love Thy Neighbor... Till it Hurts & I Got Sick Then I Got Better @ Lifeline Theatre 2011 Black Women's Expo »

Culture Fri Jul 29 2011

Touring Chicago blues & jazz history with Chicago Detours


Meyers Ace Hardware Store, located at 315 E. 35th Street, the former home of the Sunset Café.

"Take a moment to imagine what it must have been like to be in this space when it was a club," Amanda Scotese says. We crowd around and listen to the recording of Louis Armstrong's "Sunset Stomp" coming from Amanda's iPad as patrons of the hardware store file past us, gardening supplies and various brick-a-brack in their hands. Posted next to the cash register is a homemade sign that reads: "Can't pay for it today? Lay-Away." We are inside Meyers Ace Hardware on 35th street in Bronzeville, the site of the former Sunset Café where Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Bix Beiderbecke, and other jazz luminaries played long ago. Most of what used to be the Sunset Café is long gone, but in the back office there's still a mural that was part of the jazz club, and if you stand quietly in the middle of the store and use your imagination, you can try to picture what it must have been like back then.


Detail of the mural in the back office of Meyers, a relic of the building's former use.

Scotese has come up with a fresh way to tour Chicago. A professional tour guide and writer for the popular Rick Steves' Europe series, her tours delve deeply into their subject, and unlike most bus tours, they involve getting off the vehicle and getting up close to the sights. I had the chance to join her for the tour: Our Chicago Sound: Jazz, Blues and Beyond. We met at the Jazz Record Mart; from there we headed uptown where we saw the Uptown Theater, the Aragon Ballroom, and the Green Mill; then headed to Bronzeville and Meyers Ace Hardware; followed by a visit to the Chess Records recording studio on South Michigan Avenue, where John Lee Hooker, Howlin' Wolf, Etta James and many others lay down their tracks. Along the way we were treated to informational videos highlighting the history of blues and jazz in Chicago, and information from Scotese, who kept the crowd as alert and interested during the interstitial travel times as she did when we reached points of interest.

The history of Chicago blues and jazz can hardly be covered in two and a half hours, but Scotese manages to pack a lot in. On our last stop before returning to the Jazz Record Mart, we pull over on Maxwell Street, which has long ceased to exist as a hotbed of musical ingenuity but remains an important historical marker. A musician named Fruitland Jackson boards the bus with us, distributes harmonicas to everyone on board, and in the time it takes for us to pull up to the Jazz Record Mart teaches us how to play a tune. It's one of the most genuinely fun and sweet moments I've experienced on a bus tour, and one that I won't likely find anywhere else.

In lieu of tips, Scotese accepts donations to be split between historical jazz and blues institutions in Chicago. The $70 tour price may seem a bit steep, but in addition to the refreshingly informational tour (I would much rather spend the money to take my out-of-town family on this tour than, say, to Navy Pier), participants receive a fair amount of loot: the aforementioned harmonicas; copies of the CDs South Side Chicago Blues and Chicago's Avant Today, both by Delmark Records on Rockwell Street; and coupons for 10% off their next purchase at the Jazz Record Mart. Besides the loot, it was satisfying to go on a small scale, well-researched tour of the city I love.
Our Chicago Sound: Jazz, Blues and Beyond runs on Saturdays through September, along with: Good Times Around Michigan Avenue, and: Inside The Loop: Expect The Unexpected. Private tours are also available. For more information call 312-350-1131 or visit Chicago Detours.


Add a Comment

Please enter the letter w in the field below:

Live Comment Preview

Notes & Tags

Items marked with a * are required fields. Please respect each other. We reserve the right to delete any comments borne out of douchebaggery or that deal in asshattery.

Permitted tags and how to use them:

To link: <a href="">Link text</a>
To italicize: <em>Your text</em>
To bold: <strong>Your text</strong>

Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Nov 20 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2, The Night Before, Secret in Their Eyes, The Hallow, In the Basement & A Poem Is a Naked Person

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


An Angry White Guy
AREA Chicago
ArchitectureChicago Plus
Arts Engagement Exchange
The Art Letter
Art or Idiocy?
Art Slant Chicago
Art Talk Chicago
Bad at Sports
Bite and Smile
Brian Dickie of COT
Bridgeport International
Carrie Secrist Gallery
Chainsaw Calligraphy
Chicago Art Blog
Chicago Art Department
Chicago Art Examiner
Chicago Art Journal
Chicago Artists Resource
Chicago Art Map
Chicago Art Review
Chicago Classical Music
Chicago Comedy Examiner
Chicago Cultural Center
Chicago Daily Views
Chicago Film Examiner
Chicago Film Archives
Chicago Gallery News
Chicago Uncommon
Contemporary Art Space
Co-op Image Group
Co-Prosperity Sphere
Chicago Urban Art Society
Creative Control
Devening Projects
DIY Film
The Exhibition Agency
The Flatiron Project
F newsmagazine
The Gallery Crawl...
Galerie F
The Gaudy God
Happy Dog Gallery
Homeroom Chicago
I, Homunculus
Hyde Park Artcenter Blog
Joyce Owens: Artist on Art
Julius Caesar
Kasia Kay Gallery
Kavi Gupta Gallery
Rob Kozlowski
Lookingglass Theatre Blog
Lumpen Blog
Mess Hall
Neoteric Art
Not If But When
Noun and Verb
On Film
On the Make
Peanut Gallery
Peregrine Program
The Poor Choices Show
Pop Up Art Loop
The Post Family
The Recycled Film
Reversible Eye
Rhona Hoffman Gallery
Roots & Culture Gallery
The Seen
Sisterman Vintage
Site of Big Shoulders
Sixty Inches From Center
Soleil's To-Do's
Sometimes Store
Stop Go Stop
Storefront Rebellion
TOC Blog
Theater for the Future
Theatre in Chicago
The Franklin
The Mission
The Theater Loop
Thomas Robertello Gallery
Time Tells Tony Wight Gallery
Uncommon Photographers
The Unscene Chicago
The Visualist
Western Exhibitions
What's Going On?
What to Wear During an Orange Alert?
You, Me, Them, Everybody
Zg Gallery



Wed Nov 25 2015
You, Me, Them, Everybody Live @ Hideout

Thu Nov 26 2015
Reggae Gold @ Subterranean

Fri Nov 27 2015
Tab Hunter Confidential @ Film Center

Fri Nov 27 2015
Sound of Music Sing-A-Long @ Music Box

Sat Nov 28 2015
You're Being Ridiculous @ Mayne Stage

Sat Nov 28 2015
Shop the Block on Chicago Avenue

Sun Nov 29 2015
The Nut Tapper @ Old Town School

A/C on Flickr

Join the A/C Flickr Pool.

About A/C

A/C is the arts and culture section of Gapers Block, covering the many forms of expression on display in Chicago. More...
Please see our submission guidelines.

Editor: Nancy Bishop,
A/C staff inbox:



A/C Flickr Pool
 Subscribe in a reader.

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15


Sign up for our free email newsletter I Star Chi and get a weekly round-up of the best of Gapers Block, plus our picks for must-do events each weekend!


Preferred format    Preferred format