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Neighborhood’s musical legacy to get new life

The notorious R. Kelly live concert Thursday evening. Allstate ArenJune 16 2011 I  Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

The notorious R. Kelly live in concert Thursday evening. at the Allstate Arena June 16, 2011 I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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The Hyde Park musical scene doesn’t get the juice of other Chicago neighborhoods, but its pedigree may be unprecedented.

The late blues-rock harmonica player-vocalist-guitarist Paul Butterfield was born in Hyde Park and attended the nearby University of Chicago Laboratory Schools.

The proximity of Hyde Park to the 1960s blues vibe around 63rd and Cottage Grove enabled Butterfield and University of Chicago physics student Elvin Bishop to woodshed with Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Little Walter. In 1963 Bishop hired Wolf’s touring drummer, Sam Lay, for his own band. The 63rd Street strip included the 520 Club, 520 E. 63rd St. and then the 620 Club, 620 E. 63rd St.

The legendary Theresa’s basement lounge (Junior Wells, Earl Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf) was a straight shot north operating between 1949 and 1983 at 48th and Indiana.

Late rock guitarist and Butterfield collaborator Mike Bloomfield (Bob Dylan, Charlie Musselwhite) fled the North Shore for Hyde Park. As a 20-year-old, Bloomfield gained focus by hanging out at the Fret Shop in Hyde Park and played upright bass with rural blues icon Big Joe Williams at the 1964 University of Chicago Folk Festival.

Acclaimed blues guitarist Dave Specter has been a partner in the Evanston S.P.A.C.E. since it opened in the spring of 2008.

“The legacy of Chicago music in a large part began on the South Side and particularly around Hyde Park,” Specter said. “It boggled my mind that today there isn’t more of a club scene around the University of Chicago. As far as I know the Paul Butterfield Band [including Bloomfield, Bishop, Lay and Jerome Arnold] was the first major integrated blues band that achieved national acclaim. My old boss Sam Lay was the drummer. One of my first road gigs was playing guitar for Sam. Butterfield was a big part of a sound and a style that influenced me.”

Kenwood Academy, 5015 S. Blackstone, is just north of Hyde Park. Rhythm and blues singer R. Kelly and rapper Da Brat attended Kenwood as well as White Zombie guitarist Jay Yuenger. Actor Denzel Washington has appeared with the acclaimed Kenwood Academy Concert Choir, and the Kenwood Academy jazz ensemble has performed at Ravinia and the annual Hyde Park Jazz Festival.

The free, sixth annual Hyde Park Jazz Festival is expected to draw more than 25,000 fans to the neighborhood this weekend (, 773-324-6926).

This year a second outdoor stage has been added along the parkway at the Midway Plaisance (entrances at corners of Woodlawn and Ellis). Other performances take place at the Smart Museum, DuSable Museum, Hyde Park Art Center, Little Black Pearl, Hyde Park Union Church, Hyde Park Bank, International House, Oriental Institute (performances in the gallery and auditorium), Frank Lloyd Wright Robie House and Rockefeller Chapel.

And although some Hyde Park Jazz Fest performances will take place at the new Logan Center for the Arts, the University of Chicago’s resplendent 11-story art venue formally opens Oct. 12-14 with a free “Logan Launch” festival at the $114 million arts complex, 915 E. 60th St. The California band Los Cenzontles will partner up with Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo in an outdoor courtyard concert at 1:30 p.m. Oct. 12. For a full schedule and more information, visit, or call (773) 702-2787.

Dave Hoekstra

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