Tapas 7232 Music on Madison
May 18th 2013
7232 West Madison
Forest Park, Ill 60130
Cost: No Cover
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Listening Room at Lakeside Legacy Arts Park
May 18th 2013
401 Country Club Rd
Crystal Lake, Ill 60001
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Bob Centano was, to say the least, a character. He was a musician, entertainer, comedian and larger-than-life personality. A few years ago my wife, Noelle, and I moved into a house on Newport Street and assumed we were getting the usual house with bedrooms and a backyard. Unbeknownst to us, we moved in a few houses away from Bob Centano. We did not know what we were in for, but we soon found out! The first time I walked out the door with my sax around my shoulder, Bob yelled from a few doors down, “Hey are you a musician?” and the rest was history. Over the next six years, Bob became an important part of our lives and a dear friend. We hung out and listened to and talked music, smoked cigars and played poker. Bob always had great stories and was the life of any party. Since I knew Bob for only a relatively short time I asked some of his lifelong friends to share some stories.
Mike Smith––Anybody who knew Bob knows that when you were with him it was always a good time with lots of laughs, but I would rather talk about the kind of man Bob Centano was. He was a kind and generous person who always put others before and above himself. He was a gifted artist—a true renaissance man—painter, sculptor, musician, model railroad enthusiast, antiques collector and so much more. He had an eye for special pieces that most people would write off as junk. He would bring home some strange estate sale find and have the perfect place to put it.
And don’t forget party planner. The first Friday of December—when Bob always hosted his annual Christmas bash—will never be the same. Just a few weeks ago Bob said to me, “I sure feel sorry for the person who ends up with this house when I’m gone. Two hundred people are gonna show up and wonder were the party is!” That party, a 30-year tradition, took up the entire first floor of Bob’s house, as well as the basement man-cave, which I’m proud to have named “The Sportsman’s Lodge.” Ah, if walls could talk!
I met Bob in 1980, when I moved back to Chicago after college, and let me tell you, Bob was a real jazz daddy. He was constantly promoting the music, foremost with his big band, which featured some of this town’s most experienced musicians, along with the constant influx of young musicians flocking here to play the real Chicago big band-style jazz that Bob embodied. And he was good for those young players, because he was never judgmental. You played the way you played, and he was always encouraging. He had the most infectious love of jazz I’ve ever seen.
Bob was what we’d call civic- or community-minded, in the old-fashioned, honorable sense of that expression. He gave his time to community centers, to his church and to anyone who just needed a favor. To do him justice, we’d have to write volumes. For many years, Bob introduced me as his oldest son from his second marriage, and we both thoroughly enjoyed the befuddled looks he’d get. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t cherish the affection I always felt in that little joke.
Bill Porter––For all those who knew Bob Centano, I’m sure they will agree that he was one-of-a-kind. Bob was a great musician, bandleader, promoter, conductor, innovator, multi-talented artist and an all around great guy! As a close friend of Bob’s, I miss him dearly. What a tragic loss to the jazz world!
Bob Ojeda––I first met Bob when I was in the 8th grade. He had a band in the neighborhood––the first band I ever played with. I had not been playing trumpet that long. Years later we laughed when Bob confessed to me that they let me in the band because my family had a building with a basement so the band could rehearse! After rehearsal’s Mama Centano very often would cook pasta for the whole band at their house, four blocks away. Bob had a career at the Federal Court. During those decades he played his saxophone and had bands, large and small.
Bob touched more people in his life than most of us ever could.
Rich Corpolongo––What can be said about a man who covered so many walks in life? Bob was an entrepreneur, promoter, bandleader, musician, wheeler-dealer, comedian, and had the profound talent to attract and keep friends for an entire lifetime. When he walked into a room the eyes of all there knew it. He lived life to the fullest, always willing to please with his wit and humor.
One such incident was when a fellow musician, Lenny Druss, saw that Bob had one of the high notes on his baritone taped up. Lenny told Bob that with that taped note playing the horn above that note would be impossible. Bob’s answer will live in my memory forever, “As long as I’m the leader of the band I will not have to play that note above it.”
The very first job I played with Bob’s big band was in 1958, at a ballroom called the Eden Rock. It was the day that Billie Holiday passed away. We played for four or five people for three hours. We waited for a half-hour to see what the band received in payment that night. Bob, with happiness in his eyes, came to where the band was assembled and said, “Hey guys, we got paid tonight,” and proceeded to give everyone a 25 cent coin as payment for the engagement.
His proven generosity with friends was shown over and over again by his willingness to have parties for any reason. The many organizations that he belonged to were a living testament for his love of people. His willingness to go the extra mile for any worthwhile cause became his epitaph.
Bob Centano will be remembered as a man who tried to right the wrongs in a society that ignores the arts. His genius for promoting music and humanitarian projects with an emphasis on brotherly awareness, and helping people achieve their dreams is his contribution to the world.
Sonny G––Bob and I met 16 years ago and have been very good friends. The real Bob Centano was a God-loving, kind human being who almost never missed going to church on Sunday or donating his time to it. He also liked parties, and had a Christmas party every year, as well as a Super Bowl party, a Latin party and many other annual parties. We met by accident––he heard me sing and liked my voice. Though I had no training or experience in the entertainment field, he still gave me an opportunity to sing with his band and hired me to work with him in small group gigs. Thus, he started me in the industry. He was always giving inexperienced singers an opportunity. Bob was the kindest and most caring person I have ever known.
Tommy Muellner––Bobby Centano (AKA Gregory Peck) was a dear friend and colleague. I started playing with Bob about 25 years ago. At first it was a little daunting when he would declare the key, simply stating “F” and counting off the tempo. He’d do this without any mention of the tune he was going to play! That’s some “old school” stuff man! Ira Sullivan had a similar method. He’d just start playing and not tell you anything. They both taught me a valuable lesson: you better know a whole lot of tunes, and be able to play them in any key, and at any tempo!
I’ll never forget Bobby, and how much fun he made every gig, his enormous talent, his great sense of humor (“Here’s one I wrote in 1929!”), his kindness and generosity, all the fun times, the parties, going out for late night food and drink. He was all that to the very end.
In memory of Bob Centano and his undying support of the arts and music education, a scholarship fund has been set up to annually help further the music education of a deserving student. Please consider making a donation to carry on his legacy. Checks may be made out to the Bob Centano Memorial Scholarship Fund, and sent to:
Bob Centano Scholarship c/o Chicago Jazz Magazine
PO Box 737
Park Ridge, IL 60068
You may also email mfrostjazz@gmail for more information.
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