The Maple Room of the Levy Senior Center was pulsing with excitement on June 7 as the seven members of The Fat Babies took the stage to deliver two one-hour sets of jazz standards from the 1920s and 1930s. The free concert was the fourth presented by the Levy Senior Center Foundation under the aegis of the Jamming Jean Concert Series. Already this relatively new musical series is making a name for itself around town.
The band played 22 tunes including “Messin’ Around,” “Ain’t You Baby” by Ray Miller, and “This Is So Nice It Must Be Illegal” by Fats Waller. Band leader Beau Sample noted that about one-third of their repertoire is new arrangements of old classics.
Members of the Fat Babies are founder and band leader Mr. Sample on string bass, David Bock on trombone, Alex Hall on drums, Paul Asaro on piano and vocals, Andy Shumm on coronet, John Donatowicz on banjo and guitar, and John Otto on clarinet and alto sax. They have been together for nearly 10 years and have produced five albums together.
The Fat Babies have a following in Chicago and at jazz festivals throughout the United States, primarily in California, Florida and Washington. Every Tuesday evening they play at the Green Mill, the historical jazz haunt located in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago; they will appear at SPACE later this summer.
The men met one another through their work at the Green Mill, when they were all playing in other bands, and they bonded through their love of 1920s classic jazz.
Mr. Sample grew up in Texas. The Fat Babies name comes from an exclamation one of Mr. Sample’s friends from high school used to say to describe the stifling heat in Texas: “Man, it’s hotter than a fat baby!”
The crowd at the Levy Center spanned all ages and included Levy Center regulars as well as first-timers. Staff from The Little Mexican Café sold spicy tacos throughout the evening; beer, wine, pop and water were also available for purchase. The Fat Babies encouraged people to dance and several couples took them up on the invitation with polished aplomb. Music from the 1920s requires exacting footwork – think Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers – but the couples dancing had the moves down pat.
At the concert’s conclusion, Judy Newton, Chairperson of the Levy Senior Center Foundation, drew two names and announced the raffle winners of the gift baskets that had enticed guests as they entered the room hours earlier. The crowd reluctantly left the building, many people expressing gratitude and raving about the evening. It was still light outside and the weather was clear, dry and perfect. It was a great night to be in Evanston and a perfect start to the weekend.