photo: courtesy of Green_Mill
It's no easy task presiding over an institution, but you wouldn't know it by talking to Dave Jemilo. Since 1986 the unassuming owner of the famed Green Mill
jazz club has been quietly furthering a rich musical legacy in the same Uptown spot that once hosted luminaries like Frank Sinatra and Charlie Chaplin.
With a diverse mix of classic and modern jazz, the club continues to pack 'em in as it did in its Prohibition Era heyday, and its speakeasy decor might make you think you're actually back in the roaring '20s, too (albeit with a different set of hipsters). Whether it's because of his love of the music or his fear that the ghost of former patron Al Capone will have his revenge if things don't go well, Jemilo seems to have this institution thing down. Now if he could just find a little time to rest his legs.
Some say dogs begin to look like their owners. Others say owners start to look like their dogs. Which is true for you?
You grow under each other, you know what I'm sayin'? The way I look at it is the Green Mill ends up being part of my personality, but my personality is also part of the Green Mill. It goes hand in hand.
Who's on your I-want-them-to-play-here wish list?
Tony Bennett, I think would be cool to play at the Green Mill. I don't know if it's realistic or not, but it'd be pretty cool.
What are you listening to?
I've got stacks and stacks of CDs that people send to me that I try to listen to, but I'm not very good at it. A customer sent me a Fareed Haque CD...we were just listening to it here at breakfast. I like listening to bluegrass music too, because we go to a bluegrass festival every year and the kids like that. I like Hank Mobley and Zoot Sims—I like a lot of tenor saxophonists.
What's the best/worst thing about your job?
The worst I guess would be sometimes the long hours and your feet and your legs hurt a lot. The best things would be actually making money listening to great music. I always say it's a great life when all you need to do is light ladies' cigarettes and make martinis and listen to music. It's a great way to make a living.
Music aside, the best night to visit your club is:
We have a lot of people that come every Thursday, because we have an 18-piece big band and there's dancing and things like that. A lot of regulars look at Sunday night, Kimberly Gordon behind the bar with an organ player and a guitarist...it's not necessarily packed in there, but it's like very romantic. Then you've got Patricia Barber on Monday, Kurt Elling on Wednesday. Then you've got your heavy hitters in on the weekends, bringing out all the jazz people. You try to have something different every night to get a different crowd every night.
A little known fact about your club is:
The poem in the men's bathroom...it's been on the wall since 1993. It's because our bartender, Rockwell, died in a motorcycle accident and the doorman, who thought Rockwell was a cool guy, made up a poem and wrote it on the wall and we painted around it for years. People are always wondering 'how come they don't paint over this graffiti?' It's not graffiti.
Besides yours, what's your favorite Chicago music club?
Lee's Unleaded Blues. It's the greatest...one of the reasons it's the greatest is 'cause a lot of people haven't been there.