Chicago Style is one of the most active ghosts on the jazz scene today, mainly because of the inability of many people to separate Chicago Jazz from the Chicagoans. Chicago jazz was the music of a group of young white musicians playing from about 1925 to 1932. It was characterized by artistic economy, the use of short phrases, and a large amount of Dixieland ensemble.
But there was a tremendous range of variability with individuals, and today there is nothing but those individuals left. The Chicagoans themselves admit that their music as a group is not what it was. They still get together and play, but it is different, the men have changed, they have developed, with jazz and with years.
The date, 1932, is chosen partly because of the death of Frank Teschmaker, who was not only one of the finest of musicians, but the leader of the Chicagoans as a consolidated group. His album of the Columbia reprint series is probably the only set of recordings sold as Chicago jazz that does not misuse the term.
Other albums, the Decca Chicago Album, and the Bud Freeman album of the old Wolverine numbers of Bix Beiderbecke, are living proofs of the non-existence of true Chicago style since its decline at the beginning of the thirties. The present-day Chicagoans, Bud Freeman, Jimmy McPartland, Eddie Condon, Pee-wee Russell, Joe Sullivan, George Wettling, and all the rest have stuck together, but their music is not a style.
It is important, however, as the basis for much of the improvised jamming of the "session." Around them these men have built up a large number of fine musicians, but their music is not Chicago jazz. Perhaps the name for it would be the jam style, an indefinite sort of term at best, combining the essence of New Orleans and Dixieland, and Chicago.
But the ghost of old Chicago jazz, which we have resurrected only to bury again, is dead. It is really a case of misnomer, for most jazz-lovers actually think of the Chicagoans and their influence when they speak of the Chicago style. Bud Freeman, not Chicago style is the father of the jam session tenor. Then, too, many of the original Chicagoans have left the fold. Gene Krupa, Benny Goodman, who still gives us a faint aroma of Teschmaker, Muggsy Spanier, and countless others are fronting commercial or semi-commercial bands.
Perhaps the most convincing flaw in the fantasy of the Chicago style's existence today, is the wide discrepancy in the styles of the Chicagoans. Contrast, for example, Pee-wee Russell and Mezz Mesirow, who is in partial retirement from his music, the "dirty" clarinet and the pure, reminiscent of New Orleans.
There is nothing left of Chicago style. Bud Freeman employs endless quantities of notes, as do many others, the short phrase has been substituted for long, closely-connected solos countless times, the ensemble was really Dixieland in the first place. There are only a group of men, the Chicagoans, and they are truly great.