Friday, August 14, 2020

Jazz Showcase Founder - Joe Segal - Passes Away Leaving the World with His Love of the Music

The Jazz Showcase (806 S. Plymouth Ct) is a bit of a hidden Sloop treasure and it's founder passed away this week.  We really enjoyed the Chicago Tribune's write-up on him and how his love for the music propelled all of his decisions:

Joe Segal Introducing Musical Act at Jazz Showcase
Aside from the musicians themselves, no one did more for jazz in Chicago than impresario Joe Segal.

For more than 70 years, starting in 1947 as a student at Roosevelt University, Segal presented the world’s greatest jazz musicians in rented hovels, rundown showrooms, dilapidated hotels and, eventually, elegant clubs and concert halls.

Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, Von Freeman, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis – all these jazz visionaries, and uncounted others, worked for Segal at one point or another.

For his lifelong championing of the art form, with scant financial reward, Segal in 2015 won this country’s highest jazz award, the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Fellowship (which came with a $25,000 check).

“He carries the distinction of being the city’s longest-tenured jazz presenter, in addition to being one of the founders of one of Chicago’s pre-eminent jazz organizations, the Jazz Institute of Chicago,” noted the NEA in its salute to the founder of the Jazz Showcase club.


Segal died Monday afternoon in Chicago, at age 94, said his son, Wayne Segal. The elder Segal was “listening to Bird!” said Wayne Segal, referring to Joe Segal’s great musical hero, saxophonist Charlie Parker.

Some of the stories in the article were fun, but this one about the struggles was our favorite:

“Hey – it hasn’t been easy,” Segal told the Tribune in 1992. “On some nights, I’d be so broke, I’d pay the musicians, then I’d have to ask them to lend me a buck so I could get home.”

In part, this was because Segal insisted on presenting the musicians he believed in, rather than those more likely to generate a profit.

“If Joe had been a pure businessman, he could have made a lot of money, but the money didn’t seem to mean anything to him,” the late Chicago jazz pianist Willie Pickens said in a 1997 Tribune interview.

“I’ve seen Joe have people like the late (fusion) drummer Tony Williams and (multi-instrumentalist) Eddie Harris, and he’d have lines around the corner, and Joe would be angry, because he didn’t like what they were playing. They were playing funk music, the joint is packed, and Joe is complaining because he hates this music.

“And then he’d have maybe 3 or 4 people in the club, and you could blow a cannonball through there and not hurt anybody, and Joe’s happily snapping his fingers and getting into the music. That’s the kind of guy he is.”

We've been to the showcase a variety of times and sure enough Joe Segal was at the front door in his 90s greeting patrons and presiding over the whole place.  One highlight of the evening was hearing Joe introduce the acts...

He will be missed, but hope his legacy at the Jazz Showcase lives on for a long time. 

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