It’s hard to be timely when the publication you write for is bi-monthly. But this issue hits the street in perfect time for what is planned to be an annual event: The Labor Day Rusty Jones Memorial Jam Session. As most of you know, Rusty was a legendary drummer and personality on the Chicago music scene. I had the great pleasure of working with him several times, and saw many of his performances. He is in the rare company of Buddy Charles, Von Freeman, and very few others who have entered the pantheon of Chicago jazz sainthood on the basis of their work, their integrity and their humanity.
My old friend and colleague, pianist/singer Scott Holman, a terrific musician in his own right, was a close friend of Rusty’s and performed with him many times once he moved to Chicago from Florida. On Labor Day, September 4, Holman, along with Ira Sullivan, will be hosting a nine-hour jam session in tribute to Rusty Jones. Holman has a long history with both Ira and Rusty, and it felt like the perfect way to pay tribute to a man who loved to play, hang and encourage musicians.
As Holman explains, “Before I moved to Chicago in 1990 from Miami, I asked jazz legend Ira Sullivan how to approach the jazz scene in Chicago. He told me to look up Rusty Jones. That really was the only advice he gave me. Imagine what that said about Rusty. The move from Miami was important to my music career and I was looking for strategic advice. Could one person be the key to understanding so much about the jazz scene here? I was 35 years old, trying to make a quick integration. It turned out to be great advice. Rusty turned out to be the way to understand the city. And even more, I found a true, great friend and human being that I miss.”
Since my column is called “Piano Bar,” I have to filter this story through that lens. Though Scott is a superb and dedicated jazz musician, he has been making his living for the past 13 years doing a solo piano/vocal act at The Chop House, 60 West Ontario. He doesn’t like to talk about it, but he is one of the most successful—both artistically and commercially—professional pianists in Chicago working in the solo/vocal genre. Currently he performs five nights, Monday through Friday, from 5 to 8 p.m. His son Jim, also a fine pianist, performs there Saturdays and Sundays. Scott has two CDs out on Delmark Records. The first is Explosion with Rusty Jones, Frank Catalano, Richie Cole, Brian Sandstrom, and Rick Shandling. His second CD is with Ira Sullivan, also on Delmark Records, entitled Blue Skies.
Scott was born in Pittsburgh. He began playing piano at age 5, studied classical music, and did his first payed gig at the age of 14. Performing for youth group type events and churches, he developed enough confidence to move to Florida in 1972 to attend the University of Miami on a private scholarship. But there were a lot of gigs there at that time, so he left school after the second semester to work full-time as a musician. That’s when he met famous multi-instrumentalist Ira Sullivan, who was a legend in Florida. They have remained close friends and colleagues ever since.
After getting established as a versatile singing pianist in Chicago in the early nineties, Scott started a jazz program in the Chambers Restaurant in Morton Grove. Due in no small part to the participation of Rusty Jones, who was a magnet for other musicians, it turned out to be a huge success. Many times there was standing room only, especially when he had guests like Ira Sullivan, Richie Cole, Von Freeman, Paul Wertico, and many more name players.
Scott was thinking back on those days when he got the idea for a memorial jam session in honor of Rusty.
“Every year around Labor Day, Ira and I hit the recording studio. This year we decided to have a huge instrumental jam session. As my son Jim and I were setting up some of the details, he said, “You know who would have loved this, Dad? Rusty.” Yes, he nailed it: Rusty would have loved it! I contacted Ira, who back in the sixties and seventies when he was in Miami, was well known for a session he hosted where the music never stopped. As one musician left the stage, another would take his place. That is what we hope to duplicate here in a mammoth nine-hour session: 2 p.m. till 11 p.m., all instrumental, no vocals.
This will be a family hang as well. No cover. BYOB and bring your own food. There will be an enclosed patio along with some diversions for young kids. There is a very large room with a wonderful elevated stage at The Morton Grove Civic Center, just a couple blocks west of 94 on Dempster."
So who, I wondered, has the honor of occupying the drum chair on this gig? None other than Chicago’s own world-famous all-styles drummer, Paul Wertico, Associate Professor of Jazz Studies, Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. He won’t be at the kit for the whole nine hours, but will be there, helping to host this mammoth session while promoting and signing his new book, Turn the Beat Around. He says he wrote this book to help drummers explore an alternative way of thinking and grooving. The thing I like most about Paul is his open, non-sectarian view of music. Instead of being a jazz snob, something I despise, he wrote this book is for all drummers, running the gamut from simple to complex, regardless of the musical genre. Paul knew Rusty for many years and he shared some thoughts on Rusty with us.
“I knew Rusty Jones ever since I was a young, up-and-coming drummer back in the early 1970s. We played with many of the same people, and even had some of the same drum students who studied with us at various times. Rusty was not only a wonderful drummer, but he was also a wonderful human being, and his playing always reflected who he was, which is the sign of a true artist. His swing feel, brushwork, and overall musicality, were second to none, and he is sorely missed as a musician and as a friend.”
The Rusty Jones Memorial Jam Session will be held on September 4, 2017 from 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. at the Morton Grove Civic Center which is located at 6140 Dempster Rd., Morton Grove, Illinois.
About Mick Archer
Mick Archer is on the piano and voice faculty at The Old Town School of Folk Music, and is available for classes and private lessons. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.