Musicians and Their Money

Bob Acri Jr. is an investment guru, so the Cavalcade of Music Foundation, the nonprofit he founded four years ago, must make financial sense–I’m just having a little trouble seeing it. This weekend the foundation will open the doors of its new headquarters at the Skokie Theater, 7924 N. Lincoln, with a three-day concert series. The facility was purchased last year for $375,000, and an additional $1.1 million has been spent turning it into a state-of-the-art 150-seat music venue. After this weekend the programming will mainly consist of weekly Wednesday afternoon concerts with very modest ticket prices: $6 in advance, $9 at the door, and $5 per head or less for groups. Acri says there’ll also be a Sunday afternoon event every month or so, but the theater won’t do much (if anything) at night and it won’t be rented out. The Wednesday matinees will feature the same band every week: the Bob Acri Jazz Octet, with Bob Jr. on drums and his dad, 87-year-old Bob Acri Sr., on piano.

“We’re a charity,” Acri says, explaining that the theater doesn’t have to make money. “Our basic mission is to provide seminars and programs for working musicians or people interested in careers in music.” The seminars, conducted by Acri and Allan Curtis, Cavalcade’s director of operations, address legal, financial, and promotional aspects of the music business. Acri is an attorney and MBA who cut his teeth in the trust departments of the Northern Trust and Harris banks; he launched his own investment advisory firm, Kenilworth Asset Management, about the same time he founded Cavalcade. Curtis is a longtime Skokie-based agent, manager, and promoter. So far they’ve taken their spiel on the road, speaking for free at more than a dozen colleges, mostly in the midwest. In the future they’ll offer seminars at the Skokie venue, which they say will also give students a chance to plan, promote, stage, and perform in concerts. Acri envisions the new headquarters as “an incubator for the great musicians of tomorrow . . . [with] students coming from across the country.” Curtis says they’d like to affiliate with a community college or local university, where a certificate in the business of music could be developed.

Acri says he’s felt a need for this kind of resource since he was a kid: “One of the reasons I started this foundation is that while [my father’s] a phenomenal musician, he needed a lot of help on the business side, and there weren’t many places in Chicago to turn to.” Acri Sr., an Austin High School grad, joined the NBC Orchestra at 17, toured with Harry James and Woody Herman, and was the house pianist at Mr. Kelly’s. From the mid-60s to the mid-70s his trio was the house band at the Continental Plaza (now the Westin). Though he’s recorded with bands, he didn’t release a recording under his own name until 2002: Timeless, on the Southport label. In 2004 Cavalcade produced a second CD, The Cavalcade of Music Foundation Presents Bob Acri (Blujazz), with Acri leading a sextet that included Lou Soloff on trumpet, George Mraz on bass, and Ed Thigpen on drums.

The Skokie Theater was built as a movie house in 1915, originally screening silent flicks. A revamp in the 1940s was responsible for its distinctive cream-and-brown tile art moderne facade, now neatly restored with the help of a $100,000 grant from the village. The seating inside has been reduced from 320 to 150 to make room for a bigger stage, backstage area, and larger restrooms, but Curtis points out there’s still minimal lobby space. Shows will be presented without intermission, and Cavalcade won’t sell concessions to boost revenue. Acri declines to identify individual donors, but says private contributions, including some pledges due by the end of the year, will pay off the purchase and remodeling costs entirely. In 2007, the foundation’s first full year of operation, the budget will be about $200,000. Curtis, who’d been producing ten concerts a year for Acri Sr.’s band in community auditoriums throughout the midwest, says he has a mailing list of 3,500 individuals and 3,700 groups and thinks they’re all potential audience members for the new venue. He plans to tap a “tremendous market of older, active adults looking for something to do in the afternoon.” Even with their near-give-away pricing, Acri expects ticket sales to cover the costs of the midweek concerts. Tickets for each of the four concerts this weekend, which include performances by the Diane Delin Quartet, the Greg Pasenko Trio, and the Bob Acri Octet, are $35. For more information, call 847-967-7652.

A Slow Win

In October 2004 the staff of Columbia College voted on whether to have union representation. The tally was 158 against and 138 in favor, but 60 ballots cast by employees whose eligibility the college disputed–including tutors–hadn’t been opened. The National Labor Relations Board held three weeks of hearings on the disputed ballots, and one year ago it handed down a decision that 42 should be counted. The college appealed, putting everything back on hold until this month, when the decision was upheld by an NLRB panel. Ten days ago administration and staff representatives met in the Chicago NLRB office to watch as the 42 ballots were opened. Five were cast against the union and 37 were in favor–enough to swing the vote. Joan McGrath, spokesperson for the United Staff of Columbia College, says benefits preservation, pay inequities, job security, and staffing levels are all potential issues for negotiation, but the first thing they’ll do is throw a big fence-mending party on April 28. McGrath says they hope to have a signed contract with the college sometime during the next academic year.

Meanwhile Keith Kostecka, president of the Columbia College Faculty Organization, says his group is finally getting some representation on the college’s board of trustees. One student representative and one faculty representative will be seated at its next meeting. They won’t have voting privileges, Kostecka says, but for the first time “the faculty will have a voice–the board can hear our concerns directly.” The Columbia College Board has 47 voting members.

Transitions in Trouble

Transitions Bookplace owner Gayle Seminara Mandel sent an SOS this week to the store’s 3,500 book-club members imploring them to come in before the end of the month and make some purchases. Mandel says the store, which specializes in recovery and spiritual titles and has been operating under Chapter 11 since last fall, is desperately in need of a boost in daily receipts and working capital. “If we don’t get some extra funds, we could be closing as early as June,” she says. “My husband and I have put everything we own into the store. I’m at the point where I would rather know, ‘Are you guys done with this?'”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Robert Drea.