Erin McDougald knows how to throw a party, as you might guess from her chosen nickname, “Flapper Girl”: her holiday soirees parties have attained minor legendry within the Chicago entertainment industry. (As the nickname suggests, she also brings a fair amount of old-school glam to the process.)
But tonight, McDougald is throwing the party for others: a married couple of behind-the-scene fans who have neatly wedged their passions for jazz and photography into the mosaic of Chicago’s music scene.
The couple in question are Tracey and Fred Starr, and they regularly replenish their website, Chicago Studio Club, with photos and video of the city’s musicians at work: mostly jazz and cabaret folk, but artists in other genres as well. The site includes a remarkably comprehensive calendar that routinely lists between 15 and 30 performances taking place around town per day – a number that frankly surprises even Chicagoans who take pride in the range of offerings available any given night.
The Starrs do this on a voluntary basis, maintaining the site on their own dime in between their frequent rounds of the city’s music venues. McDougald hopes that tonight’s party – which runs from 8 PM till 2 in the morning at Old Town Burger Saloon (1208 N. Wells) – will help alleviate those expenses, as well as additional costs associated with some health problems the Starrs have encountered in recent years.
But mostly, she just felt it was time to raise awareness about a couple of fans who spend their time raising awareness about Chicago and its music.
“Tracey and Fred have singlehandedly done more free promotion of the live music scene in Chicago than any other person or organization over recent years,” says McDougald, a sultry and emotionally complex jazz singer, as well as a club-scene habitué herself. “This is a party to celebrate their enthusiasm for Chicago musicians – to honor and thank them for the dedication they unwaveringly display in spite of their own hardships.”
The Starrs’s audience shots do a service in their own right: they provide lively documentation of the city’s nightclub demimonde. Even people who have never ventured to their site may have run across these snaps (regularly posted on their Facebook page) which offer a running commentary on the city’s nightlife – a latter-day analog to the society photographs of the 30s and 40s that opened a window for newspaper readers onto the entertainment scene of that time.
Tonight’s benefit will feature a range of artists suitable to underscoring the city’s musical variety, from pop to bluegrass to Celtic music. The performers include singer-songwriter Temple Schultz, pianist Steve Kouba, Brazilian percussionist and bandleader Luiz Ewerling, and McDougald herself. Price of admission is only $10; of course, since it’s a benefit, anything above that goes straight to the honorees.
Many artistic idioms have cast their spell over unsuspecting observers, who, once moved by what they’ve heard or seen or read, become impassioned fans and supporters. Jazz may have more than its fair share of such monomaniacal camp followers – perhaps because the music’s depth lets it dig its hooks so deep into those who’ve been exposed. Once in a while, such fans manage to give something back; and once in a great while, they even turn themselves into a positive force for the music, without calling undue attention to their efforts.
Put the Starrs in that last echelon, and stop by the benefit Monday; hobnob with a few of the artists, as well as the Starrs. And the next time you see one of those candid shots, from that set at the club that you attended (or meant to) the night before, stop by their site and drop a donation into their digital cup.