Chicago the band should be honored because of their artistic achievement and longevity in the field of popular music, a band who are celebrating their 50th anniversary in the year 2017.
Founded in 1967 as a “psychedelic rock band with horns,” Chicago featured seven talented individuals, some with classical and jazz training, while others were intuitive talents, all gifted in many different styles of music including r&b, jazz, rock, pop, and soul. Together they created a unique horn-driven progressive hard rock sound, blazing into the public consciousness in 1969 with their first album, the Chicago Transit Authority.
Their second album, simply called Chicago, featured a seven-movement rock suite written by trombonist James Pankow, Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon. They continued to break new creative ground throughout the 70s as their songs, instrumentals, and suites featured time signature and key changes that are rare in popular music.
As a live band, the fiery guitar and soulful baritone voice of Terry Kath dominated the stage. They filled stadiums and arenas and also made in impact on college campuses, playing to their peers across the USA and world. Robert Lamm’s intelligent and socially-conscious lyrics challenged them all to think about the status quo and how to change it. Their fourth album was a four-record set recorded live at Carnegie Hall.
Many of their tunes have become rock anthems. Robert Lamm’s Saturday in the Park is loved by many generations to this day. Countless couples were married to Colour My World. Peter Cetera’s If You Leave Me Now was their first number one hit song.
At the same time, along with radio hits and ballads, they continued to explore new creative grounds. Chicago VII featured the gentle and expressive flute of woodwind player Walter Parazaider in a more prominent jazz fusion role, and his Coltrane-inspired style on the soprano saxophone was a favorite in their live shows. Danny Seraphine’s drums recalled the hard bop styles of Max Roach and Art Blakey. James Pankow took the blueprint of JJ Johnson and applied it to a new context, creating a new role for himself that was without precedent, a rock and roll trombone player.
Trumpet player Lee Loughnane has said that they’ve been together so long that they’ve had eras. Yet his trumpet solo on Introduction is just as clear and stylish as it was in 1969, if not more. And they aren’t going anywhere. Their latest album, entitled Now, featured a reinvigorated band with new creative energy. The original members, Robert Lamm, James Pankow, Lee Loughnane, and Walt Parazaider, meshed perfectly with the great musicians who join them on the road.
In 2016, Chicago were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a great honor that was too long coming. Yet, for their lyrical deepness, high energy live act, and unique instrumentation, they are a band apart from their peers. Chicago were, and are, a unique band that has thrived in six different decades and touched the lives of multiple generations of fans.
(Walter Parazaider, on stage with Chicago in 1973)