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Jazz with Mr. C: Jazz in the Age of Coronavirus

By Jeff Cebulski

As I write this, Chicago jazz clubs and other associated venues have responded to the governor’s call to cease operations for the benefit of creating a reasonable halt to the spread of the coronavirus. Jazz performance, generally, is fairly close-quartered, as clubs like Andy’s, the Jazz Showcase, and Winter’s dominate the jazz scene in large cities. Otherwise, concerts are found in large halls, symphonic venues, and festivals—places where large numbers of fans congregate. There are few in-betweens.

Thinking about Chicago: if a lull in the stay-at-home rules occurs, I suppose a few places, like City Winery, the Showcase, the Promontory, and even the new spaces at the coming Epiphany Center for the Arts have enough room to allow a limited number of people to attend shows by creating reasonable distance between seats, but the loss of revenue makes that idea impractical, I’d guess.

These will be tough times for the jazz industry. Even musicians with steady work in colleges and universities or other aspects of the business will be tested due to the increasing closures—along with club owners, service staff, and vendors.

I have no jazz-related “wisdom from above” as to how to approach the next period of time. I do have some ideas on how the jazz vibe can continue until the virus settles down.

Internet concerts

Think about that—let’s say Winter’s holds concerts, but fans are able to listen by paying a fee to access the concert from home. Internet/computer technology has advanced to the point where you can get quality sound and view on your home setup, even your large screen TV. Several clubs around the country allow people to do just that—many free of charge—and the results suggest this might be a key time to set up shop. Note: Jazz at Lincoln Center has created a Google doc to log future Internet jazz performances, which can be found at [Editor’s note: check out the many virtual concerts being offered by homebound musicians on Facebook Live and other platforms.]

Get to know your library, home or otherwise

Over the years, I have amassed a fairly large music collection, including a significant number of CDs. As I type, I decided there was some music in my Ornette Coleman box set, Beauty Is a Rare Thing, that I haven’t really paid attention to and is now accompanying my writing. Coleman and Coltrane music gets my mind working by the sheer energy and often oft-kilter compositions and performances. Anyway, I also think my “Why Do I Still Have This Album?” series needs boosting. No time like now to dig in to what I already have. Then, the books. Some bios—Myself When I Am Real: The Life and Music of Charles Mingus, Lester Leaps In: The Life and Times of Lester “Pres” Young, and Duke Ellington and His World—are calling my name. Meanwhile, the Chicago Public Library is open online. Might as well give that a shot: books, videos, and music are available.

Trying an instrument

Ever wonder what you could learn to play, or do you have a neglected instrument in the house? This might be a good time to check it out—being mindful of family members’ and neighbors’ ears, of course. Remember the woman who used to serenade Jazz Festival attendees on Jackson as she sang along with Billie Holiday recordings coming from her boom box? Maybe trying something like that with a favorite singer could unleash a hidden talent or just provide some way to release tension. [Editor’s note: many musicians and music stores are offering online lessons to beginners and existing students.]

Invest in new music

If you can, without threatening your ability to provide necessities. Might be a nice time to investigate what our Chicago-area musicians are offering on their websites, and to show support, since they will probably not have many or any chances to perform in the coming months. Purchasing directly from the artists usually benefits them the most; other popular lnternet outlets include Amazon, CD Baby, and eBay.

Take care of yourself

Remember to practice self-care. I try to walk two to four miles a day; I have headphones to provide a nice flow of music.

Once things get going again, the music will need its audience.

Do you have more/better ideas? Share them with us. In various contexts, people are discussing how the fallout from this virus will create new approaches and opportunities that could advance art and business. Hopefully, we will survive well enough to see those things blossom.

As one could tell by my picture at the end of the column, I am “of a certain age” and am in the “really be careful” category. My wife and I are trying to be careful, knowing that our human frailties may unwittingly place ourselves in unrealized danger. As much as I want to be out there, I’ll have to be content with being home, listening to music, reading, and writing. The development of Chicago Jazz Magazine as an online publication allows me to do just that. I appreciate you, readers, and hope I can help provide a healthy kind of diversion as we hunker down to survive this new health challenge.

My best wishes for all during this tough time. Wash your hands and keep that safe distance!


“Jazz with Mr. C” is written by Jeff Cebulski, a jazz enthusiast and regular contributor to Chicago Jazz Magazine. Contact Jeff at

Jeff Celbulski

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