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Dik Van Merteen


Ron Reminisces

Ron BrooksRecently Ron Brooks sat down with SEMJA board members Michael G. Nastos, Piotr Michalowski, and Lars Bjorn to talk about the early days of his career as a bassist and club-owner.

Rick Burgess was the first person I ever played jazz with…we played fraternities and sororities, when I was about 17 (1956). My mother was a singer in Evanston (Illinois) and sang around the house. I really wanted to be a singer like my mother. I was self-taught on the guitar and bass. I went to jam sessions, next to Red's Rite Spot. I liked the ideas, lifestyle and aspirations of the musicians at the jam sessions. Even though academically and technically they were ahead of me, but I could manage to keep up with them. Fortunately, I got to know the fast crowd, Bob James and Stanley Cowell, pianists in the near genius category.

The Bob James Trio with Ron and drummer Bob Pozar played at the Falcon in 1960–62. After winning a prize at the Notre Dame Festival in 1962, one of the judges, Quincy Jones, helped them get a recording contract for Mercury in August of that year.

Stanley Cowell and I were roommates for maybe three years (in the mid-sixties). I would wake up at 4 a.m. and he would be practically playing the keys off the piano. He practiced constantly. I got the job for the (Ron Brooks) Trio at the Towne Bar. I told the owners that I would build a stage in the window and I will bring in a piano, and let us play for two weekends and if your business goes up you can start paying us. (laughs)

Ron became the booker of bands for the Sunday sessions at the Del Rio (on Washington) in 1974. He was briefly a limited partner in the Earle, which featured national jazz acts in 1978, and started to consider opening his own club. He opened the Bird of Paradise in 1985 around the corner from the Earle in what was previously a shoemaker's shop. It lasted nineteen years.

I bet you, I get people asking me 25 to 30 times a week if I am going to open another jazz club. I miss the camaraderie, the inspiration and joy of being involved in something positive…,I think about Fathead Newman, I think about Emily Remler, about Tommy Flanagan. For a musician that is the greatest. I do not miss the pressures of the business decisions that are in conflict with the arts. Ray Brown once joked: You want to know how to make $2 million? Open a jazz club and start with $3 million!

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