Former alderman Isaac “Ike” Carothers has become an ambassador blues and jazz on the West Side. He plans to open a live music venue, Ike’s Place, to keep the critical music alive. During his fourth annual West Side Blues Fest, Carothers explained his evolving relationship with jazz and blues.
Ike’s parents came to Chicago during the Great Migration, which brought blues and jazz from the South. His father, William “Bill” Carothers, came from Franklin, Tenn. His maternal grandfather Ike Sims, who came as a boy with his family from Augusta, Ga., ran a lounge, Martin’s Corners, at Wolcott and Lake. Afterward, Sims opened the Oasis on Lake and Kedzie, right across from the famous club Silvio’s, where Ike watched Howlin’ Wolf play.
“People were really into live entertainment at taverns and lounges all down Madison, Roosevelt and Lake Streets,” Carothers recalls. “Live blues and jazz can help bring our business districts back.”
Young Ike grew up working in the family’s grocery store attached to the Oasis, and began playing the baritone horn, a small tuba, in elementary school. One day he found a 1950s alto saxophone that his mother, Roberta Carothers, had played in the McKinley High School band.
She was excited when Ike cleaned up the horn and started to play. He studied great jazz sax players like John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Dexter Gordon, and played in a teen band called the Commodores, which practiced in the Carothers basement.
Like his father Bill, Carothers served as a 28th ward alderman. After 11 years in office, he resigned in 2010. He pled guilty to bribery and tax fraud charges after an FBI investigation revealed he backed a zoning change for the Galewood Yards development, in exchange for $40,000 in work at his home, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Carothers’ year in federal prison in Duluth, Minn. brought him back to the saxophone, he said. Carothers played in three bands while in prison, but said that the Illinois penal system should offer inmates more music.
“It helps people assimilate and express themselves,” he said.