Saxophonist Audley Reid warms up his instrument before a performance during one of T&JJ’s Rebirth of Jazz nights earlier this year. Below, T&JJ co-owner Theresa Wilson. | Michael Romain/VFP
Monday, April 18, 2016 || By Michael Romain
On a Saturday night earlier this year, pianist and live music enthusiast Stephanie Shanks, 63, sat patiently at a table near the stage inside T&JJ’s Supreme Steaks and Catering, 718 S. 5th Ave. Shanks had traveled to Maywood from nearby Oak Park to hear jazz.
“I love the musicians and the bands,” said Shanks, who arrived at least 30 minutes before the Audley Reid Band was to start their first set.
“I’d never been to Maywood as a destination before this — not when it came to jazz. The people seem to love it,” she said. “Every time I come, it’s always larger. It really makes me think differently of Maywood.”
Shanks isn’t alone. Saturdays at T&JJ’s has Sarantis Alexopoulos, a Cicero resident, thinking differently about Maywood, too. The St. Joseph alum said he’d often travel through the village to go to school — but jazz is now making him get out of his car.
“I really enjoy coming to this and meeting the musicians,” he said.
Every other weekend, a music lover can stop by T&JJ’s and hear what Larry Shapiro, the co-creator of a bimonthly jazz series appropriately called the Rebirth of Jazz in Maywood, considers some of the most talented musicians in the Chicago area. It only costs a $10 cover fee. The buffet is $5.
“You can’t beat the price,” said Linda Person, who lives in the village. “The food is always great and it beats going downtown or to the South Side.”
Shapiro said since he and the restaurant’s owners, married couple Theresa and Joe Wilson, revived this weekend tradition last year, he’s definitely felt the momentum strengthening for live jazz in town. The restaurant had hosted live music events 10 years ago, but those eventually tapered off.
“We’re booked until September,” Shapiro said. “Financially, we’re doing okay. The important thing, though, is that the ownership is philosophically in support of what we do.”
While she didn’t disclose any financial information, Theresa Wilson said the live events help the restaurant’s bottom line in more ways than one.
“The jazz nights aren’t really making money yet, but a lot of people are beginning to recognize us not just as a restaurant and catering service, but as a full banquet hall,” said Wilson, who along with her husband has operated the establishment for around 15 years. “We’ve got everything for them.”
And she may not be exaggerating. The bimonthly jazz night is slowly growing a reputation for being one of the few venues still available to both established and aspiring live musicians. Last year, T&JJ’s was selected as an official celebratory site during a Chicago area centennial celebration for the late, great jazz composer and Duke Ellington sidekick Billy Strayhorn.
The Maywood jazz night has also earned support from a similar event hosted in the South Shore community on the city’s South Side, where Shapiro has strong ties. Shapiro retired as an English teacher from South Shore High School.
“The idea was to use jazz as a vehicle to bring people into communities that aren’t being respected or represented,” Shapiro said. “We’ve been successful both in South Shore and now in Maywood in that respect.”
Darius Lawrence, who helps produce the South Shore jazz night, said both events are providing platforms that are desperately needed nowadays.
“We support Larry and Larry supports us. We’re one big, happy family. This is very important for the community and very important for the art, for jazz,” said Lawrence, who won a Grammy in 2007 as a production and audio engineer on the album “One Last Time” by famed Gospel group the Clark Sisters.
“We’re on life support right now,” he said. “Because of programs like this, we’re providing venues for people, young and old, to perform. It wasn’t like this back in the day. There used to be a strip of places like this up and down 63rd Street in Chicago. You could see world-famous, world-class artists.”
Now, Shapiro said, some of those world-class artists are flocking to Maywood.
“We believe that there’s a jazz audience out there, but particularly on the West and South Sides, where there used to be a lot of jazz places,” he said. “They’re now closed and so musicians don’t really have anywhere to play locally. They end up playing downtown and in Europe. We’re now providing venues for artists to showcase their work.”
Audley Reid, a renowned saxophonist who performs at T&JJ’s frequently, is a case in point. So is his keyboardist, Self Black, who was nominated for a Grammy as well for his work playing with a band called Masque.
“We have some of the absolute finest musicians coming here,” said Shapiro. “We’ve got people who have played with Ramsey Lewis, Grover Washington — some of the finest musicians in America.” VFP
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