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Chicago Passport

By Brian F. Sullivan

He never smiles when he enters the cafe. Instead, he looks disdainfully at the customers, sizing them up, realizing that they are the same as those of past nights. The people in this cafe are here to drink and flirt with each other's wives, not to listen to his music.

Billy Collucci is a jazz pianist, playing his music five nights a week. Nobody listens. The busboys applaud--but only to be polite. He plays for himself, by himself.

Collucci isn't used to being ignored. Growing up in South Philadelphia where jazz is a "celebrated art form," the people listened when he played. But he left Philadelphia for some reason which he never mentions, and went to Baltimore. A very expensive, trendy downtown cafe needed somebody to play their piano and Collucci needed a job.

One night a few months ago, a record executive heard him in the cafe, and offered him a tryout in Chicago. Something out of the blue and tenuous at best, but it gave Collucci an excuse to leave the boring, if secure job at the cafe. He wanted to get some publicity pictures before he took off. "Train stations are cool," he said, and so we went there and another day to his dark, movie poster-filled apartment, and he posed his one pose. It said it all: all the depression, the anger, the disappointment. One day later he left the cafe with a smile on his face, and I knew he was on his way to Chicago.

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