Many cities across North America have buildings of historical significance, usually associated with people who are themselves figures of importance either locally or nationally. (I swear the city I live in has a plaque on every building the first Prime Minister of our country took a piss in.) But how many cities are there where buildings are remembered for the music that took place in them as long as 90 years ago?
Although Chicago has buildings designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright and public art by Pablo Picasso, some of the city's best known landmarks are those associated with music. Aside from the plethora of still active blues and jazz venues that have helped make the city a Mecca for music lovers, there are the buildings that hosted the greats of both genres in times past.
Even those that have fallen to the wrecking ball or whose function has changed are either remembered for the music that played there or have elements of their history preserved. Where else but in Chicago would you find an Ace Hardware that at one time had been a club that hosted the likes of Louis Armstrong? And while Armstrong was playing on the South Side for mainly black audiences during the 1920's, across town the Friar's Inn was providing a jazz education for young whites.
Before working up the nerve to head out to the South Side, white Chicago kids like Bix Beiderbecke and Gene Krupa would head out to the Friar's Inn and watch the New Orleans Rhythm Kings strut their stuff. In the segregated world of the 1920's the Rhythm Kings were considered the best white band in Chicago, and were the first jazz experience for many a future player.
One of those players was pianist Art Hodes, who would split his time between the blues clubs of the South Side and jazz bars like the Friar's. He was thus one of the few jazz musicians of the time who also developed a love and respect for the blues. Most jazz players looked down on the blues in much the same way a city person would look down on country people, considering it a little too unsophisticated and common for their tastes.