Tony Ventura stepped up to the microphone and faced the crowd. “Today, we’re going to hear John Cocuzzi play vibes. We haven’t heard him before, but he’s supposed to be good,” he said. The stocky Ventura stepped down from the small stage and weaved through the tables to stand in the back of the room as the lights dimmed.
Cocuzzi looked to be somewhere in his forties. With his long gray hair pulled back in a ponytail, he looked more like a modern jazz musician than a guy who would play in front of the Illiana Club of Traditional Jazz.
It was the club’s monthly Sunday afternoon concert at the Glendora Ballroom in Chicago Ridge. It amazes me that hundreds of people drive past this ballroom’s uninspiring façade at 102nd and Harlem, across the street from a Wal-Mart, without a clue that hot jazz is happening inside. The building looks structurally sound, but inside it feels like some old cartoon where there’s a party and the walls of the house sway in time with the music.
Some 200 people came to hear this vibes player “prove” himself. He wore a suit and tie. I like it when musicians dress up for their audiences. It shows respect. Most of the members of this jazz club have gray or white hair, and their generation dresses for concerts. Many were dressed up like the musicians. Others came in their July casual attire.