June 21, 2018

Louis Sullivan, architectural visionary

In the musical I co-wrote with June Finfer, “Burham’s Dream,” Louis Sullivan is Daniel Burnham’s biggest stylistic adversary. In a cruel turn of architectural fate, Sullivan’s building style was eclipsed by the renewed interest in Neo-classical designs after the 1893 fair.

Chicago architecture buffs are aware of the many lauded buildings of Louis Sullivan (The Auditorium Theater, Roosevelt University, Carson Pirie Scott facade on State Street, the Charnley House on Astor Street), but they may not know about the tragic turn his life took in his last two decades.

Sullivan’s Bayard Building in NYC’s Greenwich Village

The teens and twenties in the 20th century brought the once-revered man into penury, alcoholism and rented rooms. Two of his former students came to his aid in life and death. The Krause Music Store on Lincoln Avenue was not a commission for Sullivan, but for his former apprentice, William Presto who hired his old mentor to design the facade. The little jewel-box of a building currently houses Studio V Design. (4611 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60625)

Sullivan Transportation Building’s Golden Arch

Although Sullivan designed memorial structures for the wealthy in Graceland (most notably the Getty tomb), he himself died penniless with a pauper’s grave to be his lot. Protege Frank Lloyd Wright (and possibly some other architects) paid for the lovely monument that marks Sullivan’s final resting place in Graceland.

Not only can we appreciate Sullivan’s distinctively American architectural style, we can also thank him for the famous phrase, “Form follows function.”

Sullivan’s Facade on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago

I will be updating an article I wrote on Graceland this month, with some emphasis on the characters from Burnham’s Dream. This is the perfect time of year to visit this most restful of Chicago venues.

Ida B. Wells in current-day news

Burnham’s Dream has several historical characters including Ida B. Wells who is in current-day news.

The great-grand-daughter of Ida B. Wells, Michelle Duster, is trying to have a Chicago memorial erected in honor of her famous writer/social activist forebear.

Ida Wells created the first black kindergarten in Chicago and worked to get Chicago’s first black alderman elected. She was a tireless journalist, a friend and contemporary of Frederick B. Douglass and travelled to England to lecture about inequality and the lynching of black Americans.

She helped start the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Association of Colored Women. She was also a strong advocate of women getting the vote.

The New York Times very belatedly printed an obituary for Ida B. Wells on International Women’s Day this year, 87 years after her death.

The Chicago City Council faces a proposal to change Balbo Drive to Ida B. Wells Drive. If this happened, it would be the first Loop street named after a woman and a person of color. The now-razed housing project that bore her name was not a fitting monument to this brave and vociferous woman.

Golden Hill: A Novel of Old New York by Francis Spufford

With Golden Hill: A Novel of Old New York, English author Francis Spufford tries his hand at a first novel after having successfully written five non-fiction works.

We are immediately drawn into the world of New York city in the 1700s with language that could have been written during that time period. This is not an easy read with dense paragraphs and archaic vocabulary, but those who persist will be rewarded with writing of the first quality. Spufford has pulled off the challenge of writing as if in that time period but adding issues of homosexuality, the inequality of woman, slavery and race prejudice against those of darker skin.

Richard Smith arrives from England, with paperwork that says he is to be advanced a large sum of money in the New World. He becomes embroiled with two of the local money lender’s daughters, is robbed by a thief, befriends two well-connected young men and partakes in a theatrical work with his new acquaintances, all the while being questioned about his plans for the windfall that will shortly be his.

Smith’s journey takes the reader from high society, to church, to duels and debauchery in a panoramic view of life in the colonies under King George. Gird your loins and dive into this stunning book. Methinks you might just feel a sense of deep literary satisfaction with Golden Hill by Francis Spufford.

Singer Jane Oliver turns 70 this week

I am celebrating Jane Olivor’s 70th birthday this week. Although she has not performed publicly since 2008, you can still find her superlative initial recordings, First Night, Chasing Rainbows, Stay the Night, The Best Side of Goodbye and Jane Oliver in Concert on music purchase and streaming sites.
I saw her at a concert in Minneapolis and was blown away by her power house voice and emotional intensity. Here’s hoping her recordings find their way onto the playlists of budding young singers.

Better still, let us hope that Jane has yet another act in her storied career.

The Woman in the Window by author A. J. Finn

There always seem to be one or two fiction potboilers currently titillating the public and seem fast-tracked for Hollywood. One such book is The Woman In the Window by A. J. Finn. The narrator is an agoraphobic child psychologist named Anna Fox who is mad for old suspense movies. Film buffs will recognize the book title as a 1944 Fritz Lang movie with the same name.

Dr. Fox has a lot in common with the Jimmy Stewart character in Hitchcock’s Rear Window, both thinking they may have observed a murder from their voyeuristic window vantage points. Fox ups the ante by recording what she sees with an expensive camera. Anna Fox also suffers from drug and alcohol addiction along with her inability to leave her home so you begin to doubt her perceptions of reality and her very sanity. The book’s depiction of her agoraphobic symptoms when she does venture outside are harrowing and all too accurate.

Players and suspects in the mix are her husband and daughter who do not live with her, a handyman tenant in her basement apartment, a psychologist and a physical therapist who make regular house calls and all of her neighbors who are characters in her personal cinematic production. What is true? Who can be trusted? Is our narrator truthful and trustworthy or able to discern those qualities in others?

And yes, the author (in real life, Dan Mallory, an editor at William Morrow) already sold the film rights for The Woman In the Window to a production company that is developing the property even as you read this.

Le Chalet, French tv suspense series on Netflix

The French are noted for their romantic comedy movies, but a six-episode series on Netflix called Le Chalet highlights the Gallic penchant for murder mysteries.

An accident occurs which destroys the bridge to civilization, setting up a Ten Little Indians scenario as bodies begin to pile up. The screen play does not rival vintage Hitchcock, but plot lines concerning greed, rape, revenge, hidden identities and murder keep the viewer engaged.

The acting is generally excellent, but I was delighted to see three actors from the French Village series in this production as well. Nicolas Gob who was collaborating cop Jean Marchetti on FV is the bully/villain of The Chalet, while Thierry Godard and Nade Dieu play smaller but key roles in this 2017 tv program.

The cinematography is eye-popping, having been filmed in a picturesque village in the French Alps.

My only quibble is the alternation of scenes from present day and those of twenty years ago. Most of the time, it’s clear what time period we are seeing but every so often, one has to puzzle out the past from the present.

Kudos go to Netflix for carrying foreign tv material, especially shows with suspense and high production values like Le Chalet. As the tagline says in French, “When Stephen King meets Agatha Christie” which is quite apt.

Manhattan Beach: tour de force fiction from Jennifer Egan

Lovers of fiction may remember the unusual and beautifully crafted writing in 2010’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan.

Egan has hit another literary home run with Manhattan Beach, a more conventional work that still features her luminous writing. Take a peak at her research in the back of the book and you discover some of the subjects covered in her intriguing story.

The female lead character, Anna Kerrigan, works in the Brooklyn Naval Yard during WWII, measuring components for battleships. She manages to push her way into a diving program that features laughably bulky and primitive equipment and a boss who is decidedly against women in his employ.

Hovering around her central arc are depictions of New York’s organized crime operation which employs her father after his stints in vaudeville and his time as a stockbroker before the 1929 Crash. Anna meets his boss, Dexter Styles, a nightclub owner with shady ties as a little girl and again becomes involved in his life as an adult.

Two sections in particular struck me speechless with their beauty and immediacy. Styles helps Anna take her developmentally disabled sister, Lydia to Manhattan Beach where she is able to commune with the sea and sky.

Without tipping a plot point, I will also note a series of scenes concerning a merchant marine ship that is being hunted by German U-boats off the coast of Africa. I was on the edge of my proverbial chair with this riveting account of life aboard a ship, especially one encountering mortal dangers.

This is not pop fiction although the prose reads like a thriller. Egan has managed to use her stunning skills to create a blend of historical fiction with a masterful depiction of unforgettable characters.

Manhattan Beach just may be a book to put on your summer reading list.

Divas Lynne Jordan, Ty Cooper, Claudia Hommel and Elizabeth Doyle at Open Door Theater this Saturday night! Joined by bassist Jim Cox.

Our theme is April In Paris, but our show will be packed with variety. We have blues, jazz standards, originals, spoken-sung story songs and French/English classics all done by the amazing Lynne Jordan, Ty Cooper, Claudia Hommel and yours truly, Elizabeth Doyle. Bass player, Jim Cox adds a little musical testosterone.

For tickets to April In Paris at the Open Door Theater:


If you have not experienced the Open Door Theater, you are in for a treat. People have said it’s an intimate jewel of a theater with good acoustics and close-up sight lines for all audience members. The Theater sponsors comedy troupes, theatrical productions and music events so come check it out. Saturday night would be the perfect time!
April In Paris? No, April in Oak Park!

To find out more about the Open Door Theatre in Oak Park, please visit: http://www.opendoortheater.net/

Blossom Dearie and Bob Dorough

At the passing of singer-songwriter Bob Dorough, known for writing jazz standards and music for Schoolhouse Rock, it is worth noting his connection to Blossom Dearie who would have been 94 this week, the same age of Dorough who died this past week.

Dearie moved to Paris in 1952 and sang in a jazz vocal group called the Blue Flames with Michel Legrand’s sister, Christiane and none other than Bob Dorough. They had a hit with a French version of Lullaby of Birdland arranged by Michel Legrand.

Rocket ahead a couple of decades, and you find Dorough and Dearie working together again on Schoolhouse Rock which was initially broadcast on tv from 1973 to 1985. Blossom sang songs written for the educational show by Dorough: Mother Necessity, Figure Eight and Unpack Your Adjectives.

I recently heard her a handful of Dearie recordings on the Amazon show, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. That ethereal voice of Dearie lives on!

And if you were wondering where she got that distinctive name, someone delivered peach blossoms to their home on the day of her birth 94 years ago. Blossom was her middle name but it became part of her stage name. Dearie passed in 2009 at age 85.

Several years back, I took a songwriting seminar with Bob Dorough at the Old Town School of Folk Music. Dearie came in to see me perform at the Pump Room when she was in Chicago for a gig. Dorough and Dearie were both consummate performers and songwriters. I was blessed to have met and admired both of them.

Chicago Grind in Andersonville

A favorite coffee bar hangout in the Andersonville neighborhood is Chicago Grind, at Berwyn and Broadway, featuring coffees and teas from Metric Coffee Roasters and Benjamin Tea.

Husband and wife team, Reem and Jim Dababneh are frequently behind the cash register and food counter as they fill orders for beverages, pastries and savory food items. My favorite meal option is the vegan quinoa kale salad with nuts, cranberries and red peppers. They have even brought the “to-go” order outside when I have my dog.

The artisanal flatbread sandwiches have been top notch with gluten-free options available. Gourmet salads are another meal option, along with all sorts of enlightened treats from Maier Bakery, Alliance Patisserie and the gluten-free Defloured Bakery.

The Dababnehs are also owners of the very successful Pizzeria Aroma, just east near the Berwyn el stop. They will be moving that restaurant to another spot in the ‘hood, so I will keep you posted.

Chicago Grind is a handy spot for business meetings, lunches, breakfasts on the run or casual beverage breaks in the outdoor cafe. That is if it ever warms up enough to sit at sidewalk tables again!