Sonny’s Gospel Legacy

Re “How Sonny Defeated the Dragon” by Neil Tesser, August 28

Neil Tesser’s account of Sonny Rollins’s 1950s time in Chicago hit all the right notes, especially his mentioning the saxophonist’s time with the Gay family, Chicago’s First Family of Gospel. Yet the story of Rollins’s time with the great gospel pianist Geraldine Gay has some other dimensions that shows how much this encounter influenced gospel, as well as jazz.

When Rollins heard a young Geraldine Gay play, he mentioned to her that she sounded a bit like jazz pianists Erroll Garner and Oscar Peterson. Since she had been working exclusively in the church (at home or on the gospel circuit with her sisters Mildred and Evelyn Gay), and certainly couldn’t regularly visit jazz clubs, she didn’t know who he was talking about. So Rollins, as well as her brother Robert Gay, helped her shape a unique style that brought more sophisticated piano lines to gospel. She went on to inspire a number of celebrated gospel stars, particularly Jessy Dixon. It’s also conceivable that the music of the Pentecostal church added another element to Rollins’s expansive sound. To this day, Rollins and Geraldine still think the world of each other.

While it is true, as Tesser points out, that many of the musicians who Rollins encountered here in Chicago are no longer with us, Geraldine Gay certainly is. Her recent disc with her vocalist brother Donald Gay, Soulful Sounds, is terrific.

Aaron Cohen

Associate Editor


Neil Tesser replies:

Thanks to Aaron for that assessment. Unfortunately Geraldine Gay’s recent illness prevented me from discussing her friendship with Rollins at any length.

A Class Act

Good informative article on Sonny Rollins’s formative years as a musician and Chicago resident [August 28]. I met Mr. Rollins backstage after his performance at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival last year. It was a great pleasure to receive a signed program, a picture with him, and a few moments of talk on the show that he and his band had performed earlier. It was an even greater pleasure to witness his generous and accommodating receipt of the large crowd waiting for him outside the backstage door. He signed autographs, posed for cell-phone photos, and answered questions on topics like what Clifford Brown was like as a person for nearly 30 minutes until his manager was finally able to ease him into a waiting car so he could get some sleep. After all, he was due for a show in Monterey Bay tomorrow night.

Still a working musician, but always a living legend who apparently doesn’t act or think of himself as one.

Ellsworth D. Ware, III

TIFs Are Not for Personal Pet Projects

Re “It’s the Mayor, Stupid” by Ben Joravsky. August 28

The mayor’s cast of merry men are at most talking heads. Easily replaceable, in place to serve Daley (not Chicagoans), and fearful that any hint of disloyalty will result in their untimely career demise.

But it seems as though the TIF boondoggle is finally coming home to roost. Hizzoner could plug holes with bundles of cash due to Chicago real estate boom and resurgence as a destination city. No more. Roads are in miserable shape, and traffic is an absolute nightmare any time of day. Mass transit is one step above a joke. CPS is a black hole for both taxpayers and students. Scandals and corruption probes are too numerous to quantify. Residents are fed up, and are beginning to leave the city limits. Even the lapdog City Council is beginning to show signs of independence.

The Doc

Even the lapdog City Council is beginning to show signs of independence.”

Wha???? I was with you till that last sentence, Doc


We deseve this. We elected Richie Daley. who’s basically George W. Bush minus 20 IQ points. He can’t deal intelligently with fiscal issues, and doesn’t want to anyway, because in his view the city budget is essentially there for his white trash Bridgeport buddies to loot. He’ll undoubtedly see to it that this doesn’t reduce the number of 11th and 19th Ward droolers on the payroll, and the rest of us will probably have to start taking garbage to the landfill ourselves.

It Came From the 47th Ward

TIFs seem to be the mayor and City Council’s answer to any funding problem. The unfortunate part is that too many citizens are buying into the situation and starting to request TIFs to finance their personal pet projects, be it the new playlot, school project or other that was originally supposed to come out of our regular property tax dollars. We as a city need to stand up to this sort of politics so that our tax dollars can be properly tracked and used correctly. If that were happening, there wouldn’t be a need for TIFs.

Instead, because money can essentially be hidden in them, they have become everybody’s slush fund.

It’s got to stop!

Merril Miller

Thank Goodness for “Crazies”

Re “The Real Action in ’68” by Michael Miner, August 28

A propos of Michael Miner’s “The Real Action in ’68,” it’s easy enough to denigrate the “crazies” 40 years after. Hoffman and Rubin, no accomplishments? For one thing they provoked a trial that for months bared the Chicago power structure to the world. Unlike the “crazies” (?) demonstrating today in Minneapolis, at least they achieved national coverage. In any case they deserve a more careful analysis. You will find it in Louis Proyet’s’ article at

Peter Byrne

Our City on the Big Blaxploitation Screen

Re “Brotherman and Beyond,” Letters, August 28

Monkey Hustle is a smorgasbord of knowingly shot classic Chicago scenes. The director takes some liberties with geography in order to advance the (very thin) plot, but he leaves no doubt as to the setting, from the skyline to the train stations and railyards to the river to the corrupt cops and easily manipulated aldermen. In some spots you’ll be like, “Wait, how did they film there?” or “What ever happened to that place?”

Hulu seems to have the whole film available for viewing:

It’s not for the impatient, but ultimately it might be worth watching as an extended ode to a certain time in our strange little town.

And yeah, Yaphet Kotto a couple of years before Blue Collar and Alien is going way out of his way to prove his mettle here. Kotto and Rosalind Cash own this otherwise hamfistedly acted picture.


Yet another comment on “A Blast from Blaxploitation’s Past” [by Miles Raymer, August 21]: the third of three films from the 70s with Sidney Poitier and Bill Cosby, A Piece of the Action, was not only filmed in Chicago, but was one of the first, if not the first, filmed on location here after the passing of Richard J. Daley and, by extension, his ban on location shooting in Chicago.

Patrick Drazen