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"After seven decades of making music, bob
acri is sharper, livelier than
ever. He plays with a verve and excitement few kids can match.
He's a chicago treasure."...Rick Kogan - WGN Radio/Chicago Tribune
"It was a pleasure working with Bob Acri
and his son.
They're very talented."...Jane Boal - Reporter/producer WGN-TV News
Click here to visit Jazz Review where they talk about Bob's CD
Click here to see the review in AMG
Chicago Tribune 1-6-02
For longer than some live, longer than most are married, certainly longer than most work, Bob Acri has been entertaining Chicagoans with his fluid piano style. In a career spanning more than 60 years, Acri has played in almost every venue in town and with almost everyone who mattered. He accompanied Ella Fitzgerald at the Chicago Theatre, Harry Belafonte at the Shubert. He played with both Nelson Riddle and Arthur Fiedler at Orchestra Hall.
For 10 years, his trio appeared at the Continental Hotel, and his five-piece band was a fixture two nights a week for five years at the Pump Room. He performed with the NBC studio orchestra here, off and on, for more than a quarter-century. That orchestra once added a large string section to accompany Louis Armstrong.
"Louis sang, 'Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen,' " Acri recalls, "and when it was over, he looked around at all the violins, rolled his eyes and said, 'I think I died and went to heaven.' "
In a long-ago gig at the late, much-missed Mr. Kelly's, Acri played behind a young singer. "She knew four songs," he says. "Three times a night for a month, she sang those same four tunes. I said to the guys in the band, 'I don't think this chick is going to make it in show business.' " He laughs now at his prediction and finishes the story: "That was Barbra Streisand."
Acri took lessons as a child and got an early start on his professional career. When he was a student at Austin High School--where saxophonist Bud Freeman and trumpeter Jimmy McPartland started out--his cousin, a drummer with the NBC orchestra, asked him to come to a party to play for his boss. "When he heard me play," Acri says, "he said, 'Let's hire him.'"
Acri, a high school sophomore, was 16 years old. That was 67 years ago.
In addition to the NBC gig, he began to play in bars around town. His favorite spot was a tavern across from the Chicago Stadium. He doesn't remember the name of the place but recalls the princely pay of $5 a night.
"I got a call one time to sub for another musician at a strip club," he says. "I was just a teen then, but I went. I couldn't believe the music. It was so hard, sort of classical stuff. What were they trying to prove?"
For NBC, he played every kind of music. "We did classical, Latin, jazz, backed up singers," he says. "Sometimes these singers would show up without any arrangements. I learned to improvise. The staff singer was Mike Douglas. I told him he should have his own show and, of course, later he did."
Acri took off four years for military service in South Carolina, then toured with Harry James and Woody Herman's Third Herd. Then it was home to stay.
At 72, Acri went back to school, studying composition at Roosevelt University. His fellow students were all youngsters who, when they heard about his career, looked on him as another professor. At Roosevelt he wrote a symphony, a flute solo, a cello quartet--"You name it, I did it," he says--and graduated with honors, getting both bachelor's and master's degrees.
Now, he's got a grant to perform at veterans' homes and other seniors' venues where he finds the audiences enthusiastic and appreciative. "They ask for tunes from the '40s," Acri says, "but my son, Bob Jr.--who is a lawyer, my manager and also my drummer--doesn't like me to do requests. He wants me to play what I like."
What Acri likes to play is "ballads with nice chord changes, tunes like 'It Could Happen to You' or, in honor of one of my five grandchildren, 'Emily.' "
Acri, whose fingers are as supple as ever, recently released a CD, "Timeless: The Music of Bob Acri," on Southport Records. You can sample it on his Web site, www.bobacri.com, which also lists his concert appearances.
"It doesn't matter if the music is old or new," Acri says, "it just matters if it's good or bad."
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