Baseball Way Back: Chicago, baseball and all that jazz
A voice rises from the surface noise of an old record.
"Play ball! Here comes the pitch."
Following the sound effect of a bat hitting a ball, you hear a studio crowd cheering amid shouts of "go go go."
Then the voice of a blues singer, accompanied by a barrelhouse piano, arrives.
"Come with me to the South Side of Chicago. That's where the Sox play....."
Thus begins "Go -- Go -- Sox," recorded in the early 1950s by Paul Mall and The Bleacher Boys on the Seymour label.
This jazzy anthem is credited to the label's founder, Seymour Schwartz, who also plays a trumpet solo that at times sounds like the blowing of a shofar during a Jewish holiday service.
Schwartz not only owned the label, he owned the record store that would later become the world-famous Jazz Record Mart.
The song was inspired by the resurgent Sox of the 1950s and the chants of "go go go" that filled Comiskey Park at the time.
The melody resembles a song on another recording, "My Home Town, Chicago," by Lurlean Hunter, accompanied by the John Young Orchestra.
The tune, not surprisingly, is credited to Schwartz.
I remember seeing Young, a pianist, at the late lamented Rick's Cafe Americain on Lake Shore Drive in the 1970s.
For me, the tune is emblematic of the ties between Chicago, jazz and baseball, three of my passions.
The connection came home to me recently when it was announced that Joe Segal, owner of the Jazz Showcase, passed away.
When I was in my 20s, the Jazz Showcase was often a final destination on summer days and nights when I watched baseball.
Summer days I would park on Halsted and walk over to Wrigley, where I would buy a seat for less than $10 and watch Bill Buckner or a latter-day Fergie Jenkins play. On summer nights, I would park in Bridgeport and walk over to Comiskey, where I would often find a reasonably priced scalped lower-deck seat, enjoying the budding career of Harold Baines and the roof-shots of Greg Luzinski and Ron Kittle.
When the games were over, it was only natural -- hey, the night was still young -- to head to the many night spots brimming with the sounds of jazz and blues. For the latter, one could head to the Checkerboard Lounge on the South Side, where I heard one memorable set from Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, or venture to Lilly's on Lincoln Avenue to hear Blind John Davis, who recorded with the great blues artist Tampa Red in the 1930s.
My Mecca for jazz was the Jazz Showcase, where I would hear jazz giants whose names will be familiar to enthusiasts of the genre -- Bud Freeman, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers with Wynton Marsalis, Jabbo Smith, Jay McShann, Slim Gaillard. The list goes on and on.
Jazz and baseball share many attributes. The lack of time constraints. The importance of tempo and rhythm. The value of solo performance and improvisation within the context of tight ensemble play.
But there are special Chicago connections between baseball and jazz. The fact that for a long time, Comiskey Park was just a short walk from Bronzeville, where jazz flourished at such clubs as the Sunset Café at 35th and Calumet. It was there that Louis Armstrong and his cornet revolutionized jazz.
But jazz was also part of the baseball experience. One classic photo, purportedly from the ill-fated 1919 World Series, shows the great King Oliver with a jazz band in the stands at Comiskey Park. Behind the musicians holding their instruments is a banner reading, "White Sox Boosters."
The great Boogie Woogie pianist Jimmy Yancey was a groundskeeper at Comiskey. In fact, he recorded "White Sox Stomp" in 1943. A 1940 article in the Milwaukee Journal says, "Jim Yancey, who has been sprucing up the Comiskey Park diamond since about 1920," even "gathered some ballplayers around a piano in the press clubrooms at the field, thumped out several tunes, hoofed it for the boys to show that he had not lost his form."
Jazz entered the Friendly Confines as well. When I attended games in the 1980s, Ted Butterman's band brought the strains of Dixieland to Wrigley Field with his Chicago Cub Quintet. Cubs fans would hear these strolling musicians regaling the faithful with such standards as "Sweet Georgia Brown" and "All of Me."
Over the years, jazz musicians had their own ballclubs. Louis Armstrong sponsored a team in his hometown of New Orleans, the Armstrong Secret 9, a semipro Negro League squad. Cab Calloway, who played some infield himself, also sponsored a team.
In his autobiography, Negro league legend Buck O'Neil talks about how playing and managing for the Kansas City Monarchs brought him into contact with the great Kansas City jazz scene and led him into a friendship with Count Basie.
The great cornetist Bix Beiderbecke played on the baseball team at Lake Forest Academy.
I used to hear to hear "Go -- Go -- Sox" on the early Sunday morning radio show "Blues Before Sunrise" when the Sox would clinch a postseason berth.
I'm hoping the host of the WDCB show, Steve Cushing, will play it again when the Sox advance in the postseason.