While visiting Chicago, I told my wife I wanted to hear live jazz in a smoky old club without the smoke. As a native Chicagoan, she’d visited the Green Mill in the Uptown neighborhood many times. We checked online to find the Pharez Whitted Quintet would play that weekend. So, after a Friday night home cooked meal, we ducked out to hear the show.
In a cozy booth hugging the main room’s wall, Marilyn sipped cranberry juice while I enjoyed a pint of beer. It was almost too dark to see the marks on the page, but even still, I sketched through the evening. Dimly lit art nouveau chandeliers provided ambiance, lighting rococo framed murals. In keeping with the club’s décor, an alabaster statue of Ceres, the Goddess of Harvest (whom house musicians have rechristened “Stella by Starlight”) stands just to the left of the stage.
The Green Mill opened in 1907 as Pop Morse’s Roadhouse and was used as a place for mourners attending service at nearby St. Boniface Cemetery. In 1910, new owners converted the roadhouse into an indoor/outdoor club for dancing and drinking, modeled after The Moulin Rouge Gardens, renaming it Green Mill Gardens. Musicians Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor and Sophie Tucker all performed here. The table just across from us (bottom left of my drawing) was frequented by Al Capone and his bootlegging henchmen, and tonight, the table was ironically covered with glasses filled with wine and booze.
The band kept our feet tapping until the early morning hours. I would best describe the sound of Pharez Whitted as straight-ahead jazz, but Neil Tesser of the Chicago Examiner gives a better description, “Pharez . . . honors the late giant (Freddie Hubbard) with his combination of intensity and technique, spank and sparkle, and that hot-cider tone!” I’ll buy that.