Interesting People: Ted Butterman, Cubs Dixieland Band leader

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Interesting People: Ted Butterman, Cubs Dixieland Band leader

. Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Interesting People is a new irregular feature that talks with the people who make up the fabric of Cubdom. It's also the worst-named feature on the site. Oh well.

Today's interviewee is Ted Butterman, leader of the Cubs Dixieland band. If you sit in the seats that I do (500 and 200 section), chances are you've seen Ted and his rotating cast of uniformed Dixieland players. They're up and down the aisles around the park at pretty much every home game, and have belted out hundreds of jazz classics for millions of fans since their start in 1982. They also make appearances at Cubs convention, promotional events, and private parties. They're as much a part of our Cubs experience as sun-warmed Old Style, booming-voiced program hawkers, and neon green relish. Ted was kind enough to answer our questions via e-mail.

Wasting Away in Wrigleyville:
When and how did you become a Cubs fan?

Ted Butterman: I first became a Cubs fan when my dad took me to Wrigley Field when I was five years old. It stuck.

WAIW: Who is your all-time favorite Cubs player?

TB: My all time favorite Cubs player was Bill Nicholson, power hitting right fielder from 1939 to 1948 and then with the Phillies from 1949 through 1953. The link tells you why I'm a big fan of his.

WAIW: How did you come up with the idea for a Cubs band?

The idea is not original. King Oliver, early jazz great, had a band that played at Comiskey Park in 1930 and beyond. The Brooklyn Dodgers had a quasi-Dixieland band at Ebbets Field for yours in the '40s and '50s called the Sym-phony.

WAIW: How did you approach the team about playing at games?

TB: I called the Cubs many times in February of 1982 with my idea only to be rejected each time. I persisted and kept calling until I was finally contacted by Buck Peden of the Marketing Department and asked to come in for an audition. It was held in the concourse under the stands in front of what is now the main gate gift shop and viewed by many from the Marketing Dept. which included Buck, Bing Hampton, Valentine Judge, Mary Beth Hughes, and others who time has erased from my memory. Having passed the audition we were invited to play the last Spring Training exhibition game before the 1982 season began at Wrigley Field against the White Sox. As fate would have it the game was snowed out. Our first game was on April 9, 1982.

WAIW: How do you choose your playlist, and what's your favorite to play?

Here's a partial list of the songs we play. Our complete list approaches seven hundred. There's no way I can pick a favorite. I love most of them. We usually don't decide on what tune to play, as we make our rounds, until maybe a minute or so before we play then. Whoever comes up to us with a suggestion, we usually do it.

WAIW: What's your game day routine?

TB: We start an hour and a half before each game and play for an hour; a half hour at the Harry Caray statue and the second half hour by the main gate. We then take a break and resume when the game begins. We usually start in the Bleachers and then graduate to the right field stands (some days the lower boxes and other days the upper boxes which used to be called the grand stands). Other days we play the upper deck. Every half inning we move a section or two until we end up having circumnavigated the park, ending up in left field.

WAIW: Since 1982, you've seen some good Cubs teams, and more than a few not so good ones. What were your impressions of the '84, '89, '98, '03, '07, and '08 teams?

TB: After you've performed at over two thousand games in twenty-eight years it all becomes a blur. My favorite year is always the next one.

WAIW: What changes have you seen in the neighborhood since 1982?

I think the neighborhood is the same, only there's more of it. More restaurants and bars, that's all. If anything, the neighborhood has gentrified in the past ten years. The people are the same, only the faces change.

WAIW: Do you see a big change in the crowds during years the Cubs are contending versus when they're not?

TB: I notice little difference in the crowds from year to year, win or lose. The experience is the thing. As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet (though in an obviously different context), "The play's the thing." Hopefully we play a part of the ambience of the park.

WAIW: Do you have a favorite game you've played?

TB: I have no favorite game that the band's played. Each game has its own components, and no two games in the history of baseball have been exactly the same, so I like them all.

WAIW: What's your favorite Cubs memory?

My favorite Cubs memory is the game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Cubs in August of 1947. The unhittable Reds ace Ewell "the Whip" Blackwell, a sidearm-throwing righty, faced Cubs southpaw ace Johnny Schmitz. Blackwell was like a right-handed Randy Johnson. With the score tied 1-1 in the bottom of the ninth, Bill Nicholson hit a game-winning home run into the right field bleachers.

WAIW: What do you think of our chances to win it all in 2009?

TB: If the Cubs stay healthy there's no reason they can't emulate last year and hopefully go further into the playoffs.


Cole said...

I was a Wrigley Field Pepsi vendor in 2004. If you're ever scraping the bottom of the barrel for people to interview...

Steve said...

i was wondering if this was you. how the hell are you? i think it is an excellent idea to interview you, by the way.

Randal said...