"The Queen's Suite"

I was watching Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations on the network morning shows, and when I saw the 96-year-old woman make her appearance on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, one thought immediately came to mind: I wonder how often she listens to the musical suite that Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn wrote for her — “The Queen’s Suite”. Ellington’s orchestra had been touring in England and the European continent in late 1958, and met Queen Elizabeth at that time. Prince Phillip had seen Ellington perform in a theater in Leeds — the Prince went with composer Benjamin Britten to see Duke’s band. The Queen, however, never got a chance to see Ellington perform. But Ellington did meet the woman who would become Britain's longest serving monarch at a reception at Leeds Civic Hall later that evening in 1958. Duke wrote about the meeting in his 1973 memoir, "Music Is My Mistress: "The tension in one respect was while waiting in the entrance. You are

Happy birthday, Von Freeman!

Earle Lavon “Von” Freeman Sr. would have been 96 today, as hard as that is to believe. That’s because the great “Von-ski” (as many of his friends and fans called him) continued to be a key player on the Chicago jazz scene up until his death in August 2012 . Von was one of the founders of the post-war “Chicago school” of tenor sax – a school that included greats like Johnny Griffin, Gene Ammons and Clifford Jordan. But while he came of age as a tenor sax force in the 1940s, he kept his ears open to any post-bop sounds that he heard, including the avant-garde jazz championed by Ornette Coleman and others. The video above was produced 10 years before Freeman’s death, in 2002. The great Chicago Tribune arts critic Howard Reich knew (and knows) everyone on the Chicago jazz scene by first name. And he arranged for an extremely rare on-camera interview with “Von-ski” at one of his favorite haunts at that time, the Green Mill Lounge in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood.   I produ

Thoughts on the Hotel Sherman and the Thompson Center

Split screen showing corner of Randolph and LaSalle Streets in 1936 and 2019. See photo slider version at bottom of blog post. (Vintage ad/John Owens) The recently-launched James R. Thompson Center Historical Society made a unique entreaty to Chicagoans this week. The group --composed of an architect, real estate reporter and architectural historian in the city-- encouraged Chicagoans to "visit the building and contribute to the ongoing discussion of the past, present and future in Chicago," according to this story from the Sun-Times' Tina Sfondeles. This reminded me of the recent Twitterverse suggestions about turning it into a hotel, which seemed like a feasible idea for this unique Helmut Jahn building. Of course, doing so would bring the location back to its roots, since the legendary Hotel Sherman/Sherman House occupied this space in one way or another from 1837 to 1973. The last iteration of the Hotel Sherman, designed by the ubiquitous Chicago architect

"Ernie Banks ... was unimpressive in the field ..."

Hall of Fame shortstop/first baseman Ernie Banks made his Chicago Cubs debut on this date in 1953 at Wrigley Field. It was a historic appearance: the future "Mr. Cub" was the team's first African-American player to play for the Cubs, who were the eighth team in Major League Baseball to integrate with black players. By comparison, the crosstown White Sox were sixth, introducing Minnie Minoso and Sam Hairston in 1951. Banks was one of three rookies to make their debut on May 17, 1953. Pitcher Don Elston and outfielder Bob Talbot joined Ernie that day. A Chicago Tribune photographer captured the three before the game in the Wrigley Field locker room: Elston, who would have a decent 11-year career, mostly on the North Side, got hammered in his debut, as the Cubs lost to the Phils 16-4: The historic nature of Ernie's debut was totally lost on Ed Prell, the veteran Tribune sportswriter covering the event. Instead, he was dismissive of the 22-year-old shortsto

Sister Jean's "media debut": March 5, 2013

Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, who celebrated her 100th birthday yesterday, became an international phenomenon during Loyola University-Chicago's historic NCAA basketball tournament run in 2018, which ended with the Ramblers' improbable appearance in the Final Four. But Sister Jean's first major media profile was five years before that, in the March 5, 2013 edition of the Chicago Tribune, in print and online. The Trib's outstanding higher education reporter, Jodi Cohen (now with Pro Publica) wrote the story. And the Tribune's great photographer, Brian Cassella, shot photos and video. I produced a short video with Brian for, which was part of a multimedia package online. Unfortunately, the Tribune doesn't really maintain an archive of its online multimedia packages prior to, say, 2016. That's too bad, because there was some compelling multimedia work between around 2005 and 2016, which is lost to time. Anyway, enjoy this cobbled-togeth

A Platform for Chicago, circa 1964

In the early 1960s, the Chicago Tribune’s editorial page would routinely provide its “platform” for the city underneath the newspaper’s masthead. The "platform" was a list of infrastructure improvements and political reforms. This clip from March 29, 1964 lists eight goals for the city: As you can see, the board totally whiffed on some of these ideas. Can you imagine the Loop without the elevated trains? That was the Tribune’s proposal, while at the same time expanding mass transit lines. I assume that the mass transit expansion would involve the new “L” lines in the middle of the new expressways being built in the city in the ‘60s: the Dan Ryan and the Kennedy (the Congress line had already opened in the median of the Eisenhower Expressway in 1958, the world’s first such public transit rail line to be located in the middle of a multi-lane highway). The editorial board was also actively pushing for a West Side highway, better known as the “Crosstown Expres

An unlikely sports tradition in Chicago

Here’s the headline on page 1 of the Chicago Tribune from 70 years ago today. It was front-page coverage of the long-defunct Chicago Charities College All-Star Game, which pitted the NFL champion from the previous year (in this case, the Philadelphia Eagles) against a team of star college football seniors from the prior year: Check out that attendance – over 93,000 fans at a then-mammoth Soldier Field, 21 years before the lakefront stadium was reconfigured and made smaller in order to accommodate the Bears, who moved to Soldier Field in 1971, after spending the previous 50 years playing in Wrigley Field. Believe it or not, that was a drop from attendance for the game in the two previous years, when the game drew over 100,000 fans. The 1947 and 1948 games had additional local appeal, since the NFL champs playing the game were the Chicago Bears and Chicago Cardinals, respectively. The preseason game was staged annually in August from 1934 to 1976 at Soldier Field, exc