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The Whims of Winston Mardis

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To the editors:

Once again director of the Mayor's License Commission, Winston Mardis, is playing judge and jury over the fate of an important Chicago music club (Ben Joravsky's Neighborhood News column, August 13). Just five months ago Ben Joravsky reported on an attempt to shut down the Wild Hare reggae club, this time it's Rosa's blues bar. There are similarities besides the cultural significance of the music. In both cases the clubs are active and respected in their respective neighborhoods and have the support of many neighbors. The notion that 60-year-old Mama Rosa somehow sanctioned a drug sale by one of her waitresses is as preposterous as the Wild Hare noise allegations.

Music clubs are an easy, high-profile target. Once the commission gets a whim to close down a club, either for political or publicity purposes, nothing can prevent the ensuing fines and temporary closing orders. Whether or not a drug transaction occurred at Mama Rosa's and under what circumstances can't properly be determined in the kangaroo court of the License Commission. In order to appeal, the club must first survive the closing and pay a small fortune in legal fees. Whereas most bars simply turn on a TV for entertainment, music bars pay and support real live musicians. Music patrons come for the music and therefore tend to drink less. Music bars by their nature operate on a shoestring and can ill afford this kind of persecution. Rarely does the liquor commission go after Chicago's well-connected (and often rowdy) sports bars with such determination.

It's time for the License Commission and the city to recognize the importance of Chicago's live music establishments. We are one of the last cities in the country with a thriving multicultural, multiethnic live music scene. Ask any tourist what brought them to Chicago and more often than not they will talk music. While the rest of the city gets the main financial benefits of the tourism, and the cultural benefits of an international musical reputation, musicians in Chicago eke out a living, and music clubs live subject to the whims of Winston Mardis.

Maybe it's time for musicians to announce from the many stages around town what is common knowledge around the bar scene; that the License Commission operates like a political fiefdom, like a corrupt piece of old Chicago, arrogant and out of touch. Maybe we should announce from the stages of the jazz and blues festivals that the director threatens live music year-round. Maybe we should suggest that come election time, musicians, waiters, waitresses, bartenders, club owners, and fans hold Mr. Mardis's boss, Mayor Daley, accountable for the threat to live music in Chicago.

Or maybe Mr. Mardis will act as a responsible public official and treat Chicago's cultural, musical institutions fairly.

Frankie Hill

Chicago musician

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