Chicago carrying The Duke’s jazz banner 

click to enlarge Chicago
  • courtesy photo
  • Chicago – from left, Tris Imboden, Wally Reyes, Jr., Jason Scheff, Keith Howland, Lee Loughnane, Walt Parazaider, James Pankow, Robert Lamm and Lou Pardini – appears in concert with R.E.O. Speedwagon.
After 47 years and more than 100 million records sold, brass-section-backed rock band Chicago is still going strong. Among its recent activities are an appearance in “Clear History,” a movie by Larry David; a New York museum exhibit of its iconic album art, and a jazzy new album, “Now: XXXVI,” which was recorded mostly on tour, utilizing a foot locker-sized portable studio called The Rig. The band has happily changed with the digital times. In the old days, laughs founding trombonist James Pankow, “The record companies were the pimps, and you were the whore. You went out and sold their product. Now, you’re the pimp. We’re the record company, and it’s global, it’s virtual, it’s the Internet!”

Your brother John Pankow plays the sleazy studio head Merc on one of TV’s most underrated shows, “Episodes,” right? Yeah. In fact, he’s off to London very soon to shoot the fifth season. The show is killing. He jumped on this thing ‘cause the role was juicy, he plays this total scumbag. And he just finished doing Shakespeare in the Park over the summer. But what put him on the map was doing “Mad About You,” playing cousin Ira. But we’re the only two siblings in show business out of nine — we are so lucky to put food on the table doing only what we love.

How have you thrived all these years? Some of it has to do with being in the right place at the right time. I was a jazz guy at De Paul University when I met Walter (Parazaider, band saxophonist), who had this idea about combining a rock and roll band with a horn section. I had my own jazz quintet, but he heard me playing one day and came up and introduced himself, and I jumped on Walt’s idea, just like everyone else did. And now the band is busier than ever, and Chicago’s music has become the fabric of life for all generations.

What else summarizes Chicago’s success? In 1973, we appeared on Duke Ellington’s TV tribute “We Love You Madly” for ABC — his last public performance before his death a few months later. He was over 80, and had pneumonia, but he ran out and conducted the all-star band like a 20-year-old. After the show, Walter and I were like two little kids — we ran over to him and said “Mr. Ellington! We’re with Chicago, and we wanted to tell you what an honor it was to play your amazing tribute!” And he grinned and said. “It is I who am honored to have performed with you, because you are the next Duke Ellingtons!” And I take that with me wherever I go. We are indeed carrying The Duke’s banner.


Chicago, R.E.O. Speedwagon

Where: Concord Pavilion, 2000 Kirker Pass Road, Concord

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday

Tickets: $24 to $116.25

Contact: (925) 676-8742,

Correction: This story was updated July 31 to correct the spelling of DePaul University. Also, the number of albums the band has sold was misstated; it is more than 100 million.

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Tom Lanham

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