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Black Social Clubs Integrated Chicago's Club Scene

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The recent velvet rope snub of Chicago Bears players (race-fueled or not) has brought back a few bad memories of Chicago's segregated nightclub scene during the decades of decadence (the 80s and 90s.)

Race discrimination on the club scene isn't new, but Black social clubs gradually diversified the scene.

601 Productions, a social club founded by six upwardly mobile African-American men who wanted to find more venues to party, is widely recognized as the first group to throw an organized party for Blacks outside of the 'hood.

"We were one of the first to have our parties on Rush Street," founding member (now Alderman) Howard Brookins says. "We were at Faces nightclub."

Faces, at the time, was an exclusive, predominantly White club. Brookins continues, "We had our party there, and it was packed."

Shortly thereafter, however, Faces shuttered. Some believe the nightclub was dwindling in popularity on its own (and that paved the way for them to accept 601's group); others believed the surge of 601's Black partiers--high class or not--triggered White flight.

Speaking of 601 Productions, raunchy they were not. It was a Black social club, and to fully appreciate the elegance of such clubs, you must rewind the clock.

During the decades of decadence, stylistically speaking, the residents of the City of Big Shoulders were also outfitted with even bigger shoulder pads. The hair was big, the jewelry even bigger, and there were enough MC Hammer clown pants to dress every man woman and child.

Twice.

The Black social clubs, 601 Productions, First Fridays, the Rat Pack, Pentad, The Committee and other predominantly African-American social clubs like them, were decidedly elite.

"We all knew a lot of people and we brought those people together," says Gold Coast realtor Ray Blaney, also a founding member of 601 Productions. "And people appreciated the notion that we knew heads of cliques--people who are connected, and wherever they're going to be, it's going to be the top-of-the-game."

True to form, these social clubs were always on the prowl for new venues and hot spots to party.

Enter the Jazz Oasis, a trendy restaurant that featured live jazz acts.

Jazz Oasis patrons were a diversified group of professionals who wore business suits and evening attire to listen to jazz. For them, a night at the Jazz Oasis was an experience that some prepared for in the middle of the workweek. It was a social hour, a supper club and a night on the town that didn't invite the pompous attitude or the MC Hammer clown clothes.

The new color of the day was green and the Buppies were spending money big time. White club owners took notice, John Moultrie, chef and founder of the Jazz Oasis says. "Club owners realized that they were losing a few regular beer drinkers, but that they were also inheriting top-shelf cognac drinkers. That opened a lot of eyes."

The Jazz Oasis also opened the doors for local jazz acts.

"The Jazz Oasis was the premiere club in Chicago, and when I came out on my own, [club owner John Moultrie] was the first person to hire me," says international jazz musician Nick Colionne, recently nominated for the prestigious American Smooth Jazz Award in the "Entertainer of the Year" category.

The Jazz Oasis represented Black sophistication, and it became a trendy spot embraced by White jazz lovers as well--an anomaly against the backdrop of the race-based political chicanery that divided the city at the time.

As the years passed, the Chicago club scene became a haven for Black jazz lovers, as such trendy spots as the Cotton Club, DeJoie's, HotHouse, Bop Shop, Pops for Champagne and Christopher's each courted the niche.

Does such a haven exist now? Or better yet, could it exist now?

Sadly, many of the jazz clubs of the 80s and 90s are no longer. Recently, the Jazz Oasis celebrated its 20th Anniversary at Rumba, and Moultrie announced that he would recreate the Jazz Oasis experience.

Would new school jazz lovers leave the fashion fads behind and dress in a suit to "go clubbing?"

Would jazz venues price their shows realistically, instead of pricing jazz lovers out?

Would big-name acts drop the pretense and perform just because they love what they do and want to share the music?

Would Chicago jazz lovers find a parking spot that wouldn't cost a full day's pay? What do you think?

Hmmm.

I guess for now, we must all stay tuned.