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Winter’s Jazz Club: One Year and Counting!

Owner of Winter's Jazz Club, Scott Stegman, welcoming the sold out audience on November 15th for the 1 year anniversary celebration.

When you are the owner of a jazz club, a one-year anniversary is something to be very excited about celebrating. On November 15, 2017, Scott Stegman, the owner of Winter’s Jazz Club, had a reason to celebrate. It was his one-year anniversary of opening and it seems that his dream is starting to take hold.

Stegman’s first encounter with jazz music was when he was very young and living in Bay City, Mich., with his parents. Stegman remembers his mother Marsha Winter—whom the club is named after—who would put him and his siblings to bed and then head back downstairs to unwind by sipping a martini and listening jazz recordings. “She would listen to Ella, Frank, Carmen, Lou Rawls, Nat Cole, Sarah Vaughn, all of these great jazz artists. I remember falling asleep listening to all of this jazz. It stuck, and that’s what gave me my love for the music.”

Stegman took that love of jazz and felt that someday he would like to open a jazz club. Well, about five years ago he decided it was time to make his dream a reality. “Even though I am not a musician and have never been in the jazz community before, I thought it was time to put together a business plan to see if it was viable. Honestly, I was putting the plan together to prove to myself that I couldn’t do it, just so that in 10 or 20 years I wouldn’t look back in regret and say to myself I should have opened a club.”

Paul Marinaro Tammy McCann Sarah Marie Young Art Davis

Just a few of the many musicians featured on November 15th at Winter's Jazz Club's 1st Anniversary. Photos by Kent Richmond

As he was putting the plan together, it started looking like it was more and more viable an option. “I thought this might actually be able to work, but then I figured it was going to fall apart when I started looking for a place to house the club.” He looked at a lot of spots that were not going to work financially, but when he saw the space where the club is currently located, it all started coming together. “This spot seemed to be perfectly laid out for a club and it required a minimal amount of build-out, and that made the difference.” He negotiated the lease and then it was time to really decide what he was going to do.

“Once I was about to signed the lease there was some soul searching to do on whether I was really going to put a chunk of my life’s savings into this. I decided if I am going to do this I better do it now. Here we are a year later and we’re still going.”

One of the things that stands out from Winter’s and other jazz clubs in the city is their interest in showcasing vocalists more often than many of the other venues in Chicago. This is partly due to him being exposed to jazz vocalists at an early age, but he also saw an opportunity in this market that could help with getting his club going. “I think from a business standpoint, if you are going to try to come on the scene when there are already three historic clubs in town, you have to do something a little bit different. I think putting an emphasis on singers is something that distinguishes us from the other clubs. However, we also are focused on being a place where people can really listen to the music. Most of our patrons are happy with that concept even though sometimes it’s a challenge at the bar. I feel if our customers are going to pay a cover charge with their hard earned money, then I want them to be able to listen to the music.”

Winter’s has managed to create an intimate performance space that features exquisite acoustics, elegant lighting and a stage that allows audience members to sit within just a few feet of the musicians. This creates an extra level of energy for both the listener and the performer. Although Stegman has relied primarily on booking local musicians, he is interested in branching out to include national artists if the economics will work. “It’s hard to make the math work to get out-of-town folks right now. However, we have had pianist Ben Patterson from New York a few times, a terrific trumpeter from Philadelphia, a wonderful singer from the UK Polly Gibbons, and Denise Thimes from St. Louis. So we have featured some out-of-town musicians, but it is really tough to make the math work. That’s why we’ve elected to work with local talent. There are so many locals to choose that from I feel very fortunate. The toughest part of it honestly for me is to turn down musicians who want to play here. They drop off their material, love the room and love the atmosphere; so turning them down is tough. We only have six nights a week of music and one band a night, so we have to make some difficult decisions.”

Helping Stegman make booking decisions is veteran jazz vocalist Elaine Dame, who Stegman made his talent coordinator upon opening the club. She has brought valuable insights into programming and many of the other aspects of talent booking. “Elaine Dame has been very helpful and really does all of the heavy lifting. I can’t thank her enough for all that she does for the club. She’s well connected and has seen and heard people whom I haven’t.”

Speaking of programming, Winter’s has several notable performances focused around the holiday season. The Chris White Trio will be performing A Charlie Brown Christmas December 5 and 14. We Three Sing on December 19 will feature vocalists Paul Marinaro, Rose Colella and Elaine Dame performing holiday classics, and on December 23, vocalist Typhanie Monique presents Songs of the Season.

Vocalist Elaine Dame. Photo by Kent Richmond

Moving into 2018, Stegman is looking to potentially bring in a few notable national groups. Winter’s will be creating weekly and bi-weekly residencies for local artists which Stegman hopes will build a consistent audience by featuring showcase musicians on a regular basis. Some of the featured musicians who have been announced will include Dana Hall, Paul Marinaro and Typhanie Monique.

It seems that Stegman has a vision for the future. With his audience growing and the club gaining more name recognition, hopefully he can continue to build on what he has started, which is not only an incredible music venue, but also a wonderful tribute to his mother.

For more information on Winter's Jazz Club visit the official website.


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