Good news: Jane Addams Junior High band director moonlights in Chicago tribute band
Eric Caliendo is living the dream, literally. By day, he directs the seventh and eighth grade bands at Jane Addams Junior High School in Schaumburg, and at night he performs with the Chicago Experience, a popular tribute band to the classic rock group Chicago.
Earlier this month, the Chicago Experience played two sold-out shows at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights, and this summer they will play festivals in Mount Prospect, Burr Ridge, Wheaton, South Barrington, Vernon Hills, Schaumburg and again in Arlington Heights.
"I don't make a big deal about it with my students, but they eventually find out," says Caliendo, a Carpentersville resident. "It brings me credibility with them. They think it's cool."
The Chicago Experience has been together for more than 10 years, though Caliendo just joined them last year. On stage, he voices the part of Terry Kath, who played guitar and sang vocals with the original band.
Consequently, he gets to sing some of the band's most iconic songs, including "Make Me Smile" and "Color My World," while combining with Brian Hemstock, who sings Peter Cetera's vocals, on many of the band's other hits.
"This is the best band, technically, that I've ever been with," Caliendo says. "There is unbelievable attention to detail. We can have four-hour vocal rehearsals just to get the cutoff note right."
Making music is a family tradition for Caliendo. Growing up in Hoffman Estates, his father, Mark Caliendo, was the band director at Jane Addams, while also playing in rock bands on the side.
By the time Eric was 15, his father started his own cover band, The Ultimate Party Band, which rehearsed in their home and which Eric joined, playing trombone, trumpet and keyboards, before his sister also joined them.
They performed throughout the area for nearly 25 years, including at Schaumburg's Septemberfest, before Mark Caliendo passed away in 2016.
Caliendo attended Fremd High School in Palatine and ultimately majored in music education at Northern Illinois University. He started his career as a band director for fifth and sixth graders in Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54 before eventually following his father at Addams.
Caliendo has been directing bands at Addams for 18 years, while he also codirect's District 54's jazz band. To complete the family connection, his wife, Denise, is the music and chorus teacher at Addams.
"Being a band director is all about performance, and I bring that into my teaching," he says. "I want my students to learn how to play to an audience, to make it special for the audience, as if they're hearing it for the first time."
His worlds sometimes collide when he challenges his eighth grade band to play a Chicago medley or perform one of favorites, "Make Me Smile."
Caliendo often speaks to prospective band students throughout the district at fourth grade assemblies. He always talks about how he played baseball, basketball and football growing up, but as an adult he no longer plays.
At the same time, he tells them how he learned to play the trombone and performed in the band at Carl Sandburg Junior High School and later at Fremd -- and he's still playing.
When Caliendo is not performing with The Chicago Experience, he also plays with a Santana tribute band and he subs in with the band Billy Elton, a Billy Joel and Elton John cover band.
"I love doing it," he says. "Music is something you can do for your whole life. It's really special."
For information on where to see Caliendo and The Chicago Experience, visit thechicagoexperience.com.