Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The sun rises again on the Sunset

On Saturday, the Chicago Architecture Foundation held its Open House Chicago, a tour of some of Chicago's hidden architectural treasures.

The stops included the Bronzeville neighborhood, once the musical home to many of the jazz greats who made the migration from New Orleans and the musical birthplace to the generations of jazz greats who followed.

Barely any buildings stand to testify that this great era even existed.

Gone is the Vendome. Gone is the Apex Club. Many of them were demolished so that the Illinois Institute of Technology could expand its campus.

One building that escaped the wrecking ball was the Sunset Cafe, located at 35th and Calumet. The building operates as an Ace Hardware store, but in its heyday it was one of the hottest jazz spots in Chicago. Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines and Fletcher Henderson were among the many great names that graced the marquee of the Sunset and, as it was later known, the New Grand Terrace.

I was able to glean some information on the origins of the Sunset from "Chicago jazz: a cultural history, 1904-1930," by William Howland Kenney, which you can read below.

Across the street was the Plantation Cafe, where King Oliver once played at the same time that his protege, Louis Armstrong, was playing at the Sunset.

Kenney writes the following about the Plantation.

But getting back to our visit to the Sunset. A crowd gathered around 2 p.m. Saturday, not only to view the inside, but also hear some music from trumpeter Frank Youngwerth and trombonist Dave Ramey.

Docents guided visitors through the hardware store - which really looks like hardware store and not a dance hall - and the office where a tantalizing mural hangs advertising a breakfast dance featuring the music of Sun Ra.

Following the brief tour, the guests were treated to a short concert by Youngwerth and Ramey.

After this short musical interlude, Youngwerth gives an impromptu lecture.

Finally, Ramey talks about the neighborhood around the Sunset and some of its famous musical residents, including Louis Armstrong and his wife Lil Hardin and blues musician Sonny Boy Williamson No. 1.

Thus ends out little trip to the Sunset Cafe. And now we sign off with an appropriate number, the Sunset Cafe Stomp, performed by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five.

1 comment:

  1. Great research. Great photos. Great video. I especially liked the lecturing musicians. What really comes across is the closeness of the club and the openness of the street. Thanks for posting this and braving what looks like a chill Chicago day.