Banjoist Jack Meilahn has Died

ARMIN “Jack” MEILAHNARMIN “Jack” MEILAHN, 81, on September 15, Naperville, IL following a brief battle with liver cancer. A charter member of Chicago’s Bill Bailey’s Banjos in the late 50’s, “Smilin’ Jack” taught many of the Chicago area’s banjoists.

He performed and recorded with several jazz bands, including the Down Home Jazz Band, Ralph Norton’s Varsity Ramblers, Joan Reynolds’ Red Rose Ragtime Band, Frank Powers’ Chicago Rhythm, and the John Otto/Vince Giordano Hotel Edison Roof Orchestra, as well as the Dixie-o-naires in Holland and Jazz O’Maniacs of Hamburg, Germany.

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Jack attended Purdue University on a wrestling scholarship, and obtained his Master’s Degree in Physical Therapy from Northwestern University. His day career as a therapist supported his life-long interest in such diverse hobbies as sports car racing, airplane flying, antique car collecting, car repair, and playing music on various instruments, including guitar, violin, and French horn whenever and wherever he could. For a time in the 60’s, he was part owner of the Red Arrow, a popular jazz roadhouse in Stickney, IL which frequently featured legendary performers such as Lil Armstrong, Franz Jackson’s Jass All-Stars, and The Salty Dogs.

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Lew Shaw started writing about music as the publicist for the famous Berkshire Music Barn in the 1960s. He joined the West Coast Rag almost thirty years ago and has been a guiding light to this paper through the two name changes since then as we became The Syncopated Times.  47 of his profiles are collected in Jazz Beat: Notes on Classic Jazz. Volume two, containing profiles from 2013-2016 will be available on Amazon soon. He taps his extensive network of connections and friends throughout the traditional jazz world to bring us his Jazz Jottings column every month.

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