Episode: SIX


Release Date: MAY 2016

For nearly 110 years, Chicago has been home to one of the world’s oldest and greatest living shrines to jazz, the Green Mill. Located in Chicago’s historic Uptown neighborhood, it sits between the Aragon Ballroom, the Riviera and the long shuttered Uptown Theatre—but stands apart from any other jazz club in the world.

There is no music as rich, as expressive or as difficult to define as jazz. It is deeply personal, yet played to be heard and affect the listener. It has attitude. It is often ostentatious, but just as often, sullen and sentimental. From ragtime to gypsy, traditional to avant, big band to bebop, it is steeped in as many different traditions as layers of improvisation. Jazz is deeply complex, totally original and altogether timeless.

The Green Mill is a classic, where both jazz and Prohibition history know no equal, in Chicago, or anywhere else in the world. Legends such as Billie Holiday, Al Jolson, Von Freeman, Franz Jackson, Wilbur Campbell, and Clifford Jordan have all played its hallowed ground. Here their legacy lives on in the weathered hands of seasoned masters, and new generations of young hip virtuosos leaving their mark on the club’s rich history.

That history runs deep. The Green Mill first opened its doors in 1907 as Pop Morse’s Roadhouse, a bar and beer garden for mourners from the nearby Graceland and Saint Boniface cemeteries. In 1910, the bar was sold to a local real estate developer who renamed it the Green Mill Gardens—in homage to Paris’ famous “Red Mill,” The Moulin Rouge—where it soon became the epicenter for Chicago’s pre-Prohibition entertainment and boozing.

The Green Mill prospered until after World War II, when its hay day legacy faded and fell into ruin. The club quickly went from a nightlife hub to a place where day drinking, drug use and passed-out patrons were the norm. And that might have been that. That might have been the end of the era… if not for Dave Jemilo, a Southside Chicago native, bar owner and jazz fan who purchased the Green Mill in 1986.

For the past 30 years, Dave Jemilo has owned, managed and carefully curated the music at the Green Mill. But how has he managed not only to preserve this classic cocktail lounge and shrine to jazz, but to make its original formula more successful than ever?

In this episode of 12 for 12, Adam heads to Uptown to answer this question and to find out what makes the Green Mill so special (and Jack “Machine Gun” McGurn turn in his grave).


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