President and CEO, Chicago Symphony Orchestra
When a new CSO season begins without a contract for the musicians, ordinarily that means a strike is imminent. In both 1991 (the orchestra’s centennial and Daniel Barenboim’s first as music director) and 2011 (the third season for Riccardo Muti [#1] as music director), the CSO played free inaugural outdoor events, but walked off the following day. In the fall of 2015, however, when the contract expired without a new agreement, negotiations continued—and so did concerts. Nary a note was missed during the weeks it took to finally secure a contract. Jeff Alexander had only been on the job for several months, but players noticed the change in tone from his recent predecessors and took him on good faith. Alexander is a throwback to the subdued management style of John S. Edwards, the CSO’s general manager during the Solti years who was far more of a behind-the-scenes kind of guy rather than the flamboyant and gregarious styles of Henry Fogel and Deborah Rutter.
Leader of Wilco and Producer
Although Wilco has released two albums in the past two years and he’s just put out a solo record called “Together At Last,” Tweedy’s work as a producer should not be overlooked. Since 2015 he’s produced records by late R&B and gospel legend Pops Staples, living folk-rock legend Richard Thompson, a beautiful and spare fourth album from a future folk legend, Kentucky’s Joan Shelley, and most recently, Canadian cousins and backwoods folk harmonizers Kacy & Clayton’s “Strange Country.” In all cases—including Wilco, his solo work, his collaboration with his son Spencer in the group Tweedy and numerous solo projects—his light and sensitive touch lets the music do the talking. Tweedy is also founding partner in dBpm Records, based in Easthampton, Massachusetts, which serves as a platform to release their records, the Staples album and possibly releases from other artists in the future.
Owner, SPACE and Co-owner, The Promontory, Thalia Hall
“I think it’s still safe to say we are still quite artist- and artistic-driven,” Golden says of his trio of music venues (two of which he co-owns with Bruce Finkelman [#4]), “both in our pursuit of presenting acts that we and our customers think are worth hearing and or have a relevant message.” Golden also reaffirms a point he made when we talked to him in 2015: that his goal is to make each club a positive, contributing component of its neighborhood (SPACE in Evanston, Thalia Hall and The Promontory on the South Side). All three also manage to book a highly eclectic and wide-ranging roster of acts while yet maintaining a distinctive identity. “Trying to keep our venues both intimate and comfortable we think it provides an opportunity for listeners to have a closer and hopefully more emotional connection with the artist,” Golden adds. “We just try to put on music in the form and fashion that we would like to see music if we were going out.”
Arny Granat and Jerry Mickelson
Owners, Jam Productions
Jam remains the top-tier independent concert producer in the U.S., and continues to book The Vic, Park West and the Riviera here in its hometown. But according to Granat, they’ve been feeling the pinch from mega-producers Ticketmaster and Live Nation, and from corporate takeovers of independent venues. To maintain its feisty-guy-in-the-middle status, the company has made a few strategic moves, like joining Ticketfly, the Pandora-owned ticket distribution platform. It’s also diversified into music-related events, like “Exhibitionism: The Rolling Stones,” the blockbuster show that traces the legendary band’s history through artifacts and multimedia presentations, and which played at Navy Pier from April through July.
Brad Owen and Erik Selz
Agents, Paradigm Talent Agency
Tom Windish may no longer call Chicago home, but his agency’s footprint has grown since it was formally integrated into the Paradigm umbrella in January of this year. Local veterans Owen and Selz are the heavy hitters in the Chicago office. Neither Owen nor Selz can guess how many acts are under the Paradigm umbrella—a quick perusal of their website yielded 111 acts, but that was just the letter ‘A.’ Dillon Francis, Flosstradamus, Justice, Bonobo, YehMe2, FKJ and Amon Tobin are among the talents Owen represents. In 2014, Selz folded his two-decade-old boutique shop, Red Ryder, into Windish, bringing with him longtime agent Ethan Berlin, and a couple dozen artists, including Andrew Bird, The Magnetic Fields, Jukebox the Ghost and Typhoon. Since then, Selz’s roster has grown substantially, and he’s now part of the team behind projects ranging from alt-J, to M83, Nick Mulvey, Everything Everything, Ry X, Sharon Van Etten and Frightened Rabbit.
Artistic Director and Principal Conductor, Grant Park Music Festival
Principal conductor since 2000 and artistic director since 2011, Kalmar is the de facto music director of the nation’s only remaining free summer classical music festival. That is a responsibility that he takes very seriously, using the resources of the Grant Park Music Festival to give the city innovative and wide-ranging programs of astonishing variety and scope. In addition to two different programs a week on Wednesdays and Saturdays through mid-August, with pre-concert lectures an hour before, all of the rehearsals of the Grant Park Orchestra are open to the public. Kalmar skillfully combines the familiar with the unfamiliar, as in the pairing of Frank Martin’s oratorio “In terra pax,” written for the end of the Second World War with Mozart’s “Linz” Symphony No. 36 for a July 28-29 program. The world premiere of Aaron Jay Kernis’ Horn Concerto takes place August 11-12 alongside Rimsky-Korsakov’s Overture to “The Tsar’s Bride” and Tchaikovsky’s “Manfred” Symphony.
Chief Operating Officer, Schubas and Lincoln Hall
When Chris and Mike Schuba sold their North Side clubs to Audioleaf (Michigan business Greenleaf Companies and local music company Audiotree) in April of 2015, some feared that there would be a decline in the musical performances Schubas and Lincoln Hall would present. Older brother Chris Schuba was “ready for a change to be out of the business and move forward” to pursue other interests, younger brother Mike Schuba told the Chicago Tribune. But as the younger Schuba promised, for the most part it has been “business as usual” for both venerated venues, including retaining seventy staff members (which Chris called “essential” to completing the multimillion dollar transaction). Although talent booker Matt Rucins left in October of 2015 after fifteen years, neither venue has shown a discernible drop in the quality of music presented, always choosing the talented over the trumpeted, and both spaces are still among the best places to see live music in Chicago.
Tim and Katie Tuten, Mike and Jim Hinchsliff
Owners, The Hideout
Ironically for a venue as far off the beaten path as this one (it’s a long, bleak crawl across a North Side industrial back channel), more and more subsets of Chicagoans are beating a path to The Hideout’s door. Still best known as a rock and folk club, the house has teamed with Scottie McNiece’s (#32) label International Anthem for a free jazz series featuring local talents like Makaya McCraven, Junius Paul and Jodie Branch. It’s also branched into hip-hop and LGBTQ dance nights, and expanded its non-musical palette, which already included poetry and spoken-word events, to incorporate comedy showcases and political action meetings. But, Tim Tuten reassures us, they’re out to keep their old friends as well; and though Robbie Fulks has ended his seven-year residency at the club, a new showcase will debut later this year that will incorporate performers from the same community.
Lucas King and Jeff Callahan
Founders, React Presents
King and Callahan have consolidated their presence on the festival landscape in Chicago and beyond with events like Spring Awakening, North Coast, Mamby On The Beach, after-shows for Lollapalooza and club shows at Concord Music Hall. There have been some recent growing pains; after Spring 2015, Spring Awakening was slated to move to Jackson Park, but encountered some resistance from locals; ultimately a conflict with the University of Chicago’s convocation ceremony shunted the festival instead to Addams/Medill Park in University Village. But there were some scores as well, such as recruiting highly respected talent buyer Matt Rucins. In February of this year, the company also responded to the city’s gun-violence epidemic with a “React To Violence” campaign that launched in February with a “Mamby Plunge,” a fundraising water event, in which React staff braved the wintry waters off the Mamby Festival’s home at Oakwood Beach.
Joe Segal and Wayne Segal
Founder and Owner, Jazz Showcase
Jazz Showcase celebrates its seventieth anniversary this year—seven decades since Joe Segal made it “the temple of bebop,” the progressive music of which Segal was an avid advocate. In those last days of swing clubs, where jazz was still a soundtrack for dancing, what distinguished the Showcase was that it was a hardcore listening room where no musical holds were barred. Segal, now ninety-one and an NEA Jazz Fellow, and son Wayne can boast of having the longest-running jazz establishment in the city’s colorful history. As jazz continues to proliferate in the more sterile environments of the concert hall and university, the few remaining true jazz clubs out there continue to be the vibrant breeding grounds for innovative performers as well as the last places where the deep link between performer and audience that sparked the rebellious spirit of the form in the first place can still be experienced firsthand.
Robert Rodi is an author, spoken-word performer and musician who has served as Newcity’s Music Editor since 2014. He’s written more than a dozen books, including the travel memoir “Seven Seasons In Siena.” His jazz quintet recently completed a two-year residency at Uncommon Ground, and he regularly hosts a jazz singers’ jam at Lizard’s Liquid Lounge. His literary and music criticism has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, Salon, The Huffington Post and many other national and regional publications.