A friend who, as an actress and daughter of a musician, has developed a lifestyle around nighttime activities, sent me an email.
“Do you want to meet me for some jazz tonight? I know the saxophonist. He’s excellent”
She supplied the venue’s name and address, a newly rehabbed Mexican restaurant not far from my home, along the Northwestern tracks. She added that the first set started at 7:00.
I have met her on Monday nights at another “under the radar” find, the Serbian Village, for open mic. Was this the start of a new Taco Tuesday habit?
I was thrilled that music was supposed to start at seven instead of 9:30 and that they had a nice menu, fancy mini tacos with a wide range of drink options.
Located along the tracks, parking was surprisingly easy at Rojo Gusano. There was a small fire pit and tables set up outside and, after climbing up a short set of stairs and being greeted by the hostess, I immediately sensed the a warm, inviting vibe.
I seemed to remember the restaurant had a location even closer to my home. They shuttered it, I assumed, because of the pandemic. I was so happy to see the rebirth of a neighborhood place dedicated to live music, trying new things, fresh food and reasonable prices.
The hostess greeted me at the door. It was obvious that a lot of money went into the space. Maybe an old factory or a warehouse originally, it had been adapted to its new purpose while still paying homage to its roots.
The exposed brick walls were clean, a perfect backdrop for murals and other intriguing artwork. A tequila and mezcal bar as well as a taqueria and music venue, a large image of worms, supposedly the special ingredient in mezcal, hung behind the stage.
The high wooden ceilings created a very comfortable ambience. The place was cozy yet felt spacious, a perfect loft space.
Small sofas, chairs and tables of various sizes were arranged between the kitchen and the stage. I wish more people filled them.
The sound system was impeccable and the new windows kept the sound of any passing train from disturbing the patrons. I had no problem spotting my friend and her small entourage of other live music fans at a table close to the stage.
As promised, the saxophonist, Shelley Yoelin was great! Apparently, he spends summer months in Chicago and winters in Palm Springs.
The five women around our table shared little tacos and small talk about careers recently retired from and travel tales in hushed tones. One woman in our group dared to sample some mezcal, served with orange slices.
We all enjoyed the music, the nibbles and the ease of having these things at a neighborhood destination. It felt so great to be part of an in-person gathering.
There is something so wonderful about jazz performers, too, at least when it comes to hearing a playlist of standards.
Musicians exude a sense of freedom and exuberance along with a respect for structure and traditions.
One performer might be featured as the leader of the band, but every group member gets featured within a piece.
After the drum solo or when the guitarist takes center stage or when the standing bass player walks his fingers down the long neck of his instrument, everyone claps their approval.
Even the other performers clap. I think this is fantastic. To be assured of getting your time in the spotlight and to be recognized by your peers, for mastering your craft, and by the audience, for sharing your passion, is to be applauded.
Any business, any new restaurant or club or performer thrives and grows when people express their appreciation, when they share their feelings with others who might be similarly inspired or entertained.
Leaving a bar or restaurant, as I did, on Taco Tuesday, promising your waitress, and yourself, that you will come back (and bring friends) is no small thing.