“We’re a standard big band, so the ideal is five saxophones, four or five trumpets, four trombones and the rhythm section, which includes the pianist, bassist, guitarist and drummer,” said Dave Tonkinson, a retiree from the construction industry who has been with the band since its founding. “Sometimes we have the ideal, sometimes not. Either way, we can always use more players.”
Director Don Sadofsky formed the band in 1976, as part of the Chicago Park District’s jazz instruction program. Over the years, the band was recorded live by Chicago Public Radio station WBEZ and performed in the Grand Ballroom of the Palmer House Hilton Hotel and in Chicago’s State of Illinois Building.
“We started out wanting to give kids who spent their summers learning jazz a place to play,” Sadofsky said. “We started with 10 members and then opened it up to the community to get more people involved. Right now we have about 20 regulars, and a few play from time to time. We play at a pretty advanced skill level, but anyone can join so long as they can keep up.”
Jason Kluczyk, a Walgreen’s photo center manager who plays trombone, is one of the returning members.
“I started playing here when I was 13 and played through high school. I stopped for several years before coming back a few months ago,” said Kluczyk, 28. “I had forgotten how much I loved playing until I came back.”
During summer months, the band plays at Chicago Park District facilities, mostly on the North and West Sides, performances Sadofsky lines up through his work as a music teacher and program director for the park district. The rest of the year, the band stays busy with concerts arranged by tenor saxophone player George Desanti, a retired salesman who has been with the band since 1998.
“We practice every Monday, then on Friday some of us get together for a jam session. We play two or three concerts a month, anywhere we think we can pull in a good crowd,” Desanti said. “We just played at a 100th anniversary celebration for Neiman Marcus [department] store downtown. When we finished our set, they saw all the customers we had pulled in and told us to keep playing. We made some good money that day.”
Band members come from a variety of backgrounds, Desanti said.
“We have a few retirees, two Chicago policemen, a firefighter, a teacher and so on,” Desanti said. “Some played in jazz bands in the Army, some were professional musicians who played with big names.”
The band is currently preparing for a series of holiday concerts at area nursing homes and hospitals, a tradition that goes back to its founding.
“I love it, so long as they’re careful with scheduling,” said Frank Savello, a professional musician for more than 30 years who once played with jazz great Lionel Hampton’s band. “A few years ago, they scheduled a show at the VA on Super Bowl Sunday and maybe three people showed up. But it’s still a great way to have fun and give to the community.”
Art & Entertainment Northwest Side Public
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