Before we married, my wife and I used to go to a bar on Lincoln Park West called Toulouse to hear Johnny Frigo play violin. Frigo played the internatonal jazz festival circuit and he was regarded as one of the best jazz violinists around, but on Wednesday nights at Toulouse, he managed to make everyone in the tiny room feel like part of a circle of friends who were in on a secret. Frigo died today, at 90. The Chicago Tribune’s obit, by John Kelllman, is here.
Frigo got a lot of praise for his virtuosic technique and for his enormous repertoire, but what few people mentioned was that it was a lot of fun to listen to him banter with the audience in a small club like Toulouse. He and his pianist Joe Vito used to make the sorts of bad puns and wisecracks that reminded me of my dad and his buddies at a backyard cookout.
He took requests at Toulouse and one night he played “A Fine Romance” for me, and followed that up with “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” which an extremely tan retirement-age woman in gold jewelry had requested from the bar.
My wife got Frigo to play at our wedding, and I will never forget dancing with her while Frigo played “The Way You Look Tonight.” And my father-in-law, a former University of Michigan football player, will probably never forget Frigo playing “Hail to the Victors.” I’ve never seen so many people on the dance floor at a wedding. And I don’t know how many people came up to me that night to tell me that they had never heard anyone play like that.
Those nights at Toulouse were some of the best nights of my life. For all I know, my wife married me because I took her to hear Johnny Frigo.