by Joseph R. Lewis
“Meinecke remains one of the monumental artistic secrets of Chicago, a man whose contribution remains to be adequately understood and evaluated.”
– John Corbett, Professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago
“If they played jazz in Chicago, they came to my parents’ pool parties.” – Brad Meinecke, son of Tristan
When Tristan Meinecke arrived in Chicago back in the forties he fell in swiftly with the jazz swingers. Tristan had already taught himself clarinet and alto sax and he worked the jazz dive circuit successfully here in this Windy City for many years. He played in the first integrated jazz trio to hit the Northside clubs. He hailed King Oliver and the entire royal court of jazz pioneers that forever changed the sound of music back in the 1920s from their impoverished neighborhoods on the Southside.
In an age of segregation and McCarthyism, Tristan was an aggressive anti-racist. He threw more than a few literal fists into the figurative face of prejudice.
In the fifties Tristan rose to great prominence as one of the cities most exciting and progressive visual artists. He clashed ideologically and physically with the art world as only a true rebel artist would. His low tolerance for BS was compounded by his disdain for self-inflation and this, as you can imagine, put him at odds with many of his contemporaries and curators. Eventually he eschewed the whole dang scene and established a home for he and his family free from the confines and servitude of any traditional genre or lifestyle.
He built his castle on Cleveland Street.
His wife, Angel, a famous Chicago starlet from the earliest days of television, counted amongst her good friends the likes of Lil Hardin, wife to Louis Armstrong and a legendary piano player in her own right.
Lil played with King Oliver, too. She, along with others from that famous musical round table could often be seen lounging at Tristan and Angel’s 10-year pool party, which they hosted from ’61 to ’70 at their double-lot dual-building property at 2022 N Cleveland.
From that address, this Chicago hipster power couple entertained a celebrity guest roster rivaling that of the Playboy Mansion. He taught art classes and sold his own work directly from his own home, bypassing museums and galleries completely.
Here’s a Meinecke unfired bust of Baby Dodds, jazz drummin’ pioneer. Tris and Baby were good friends. Baby sat for the bust->
Stay tuned to follow the adventure at The Underground Multiplex and the official Tristan Meinecke portal.