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September 18, 2014

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Several musical highways connect Chicago to Las Vegas

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Members of the band Chicago, shown in posed formation. Bottom row, from left: Lou Pardini, Walt Parazaider, Jimmy Pankow, Tris Imboden Middle row, from left: Lee Loughnane, Jason Scheff, Keith Howland. Top row: Robert Lamm.

When Walt Parazaider says, “The serendipity part of this is not lost on me,” he’s not just blowing smoke.

He’s not just blowing into a saxophone, either, though Parazaider is great at that. But follow along, if you will, the serendipitous path leading to Chicago:

Three years ago, Parazaider watched a show at Tropicana Theater shortly after “Folies Bergere” packed up the gowns and left the venue after a 49-year run. The band Parazaider saw that night was Santa Fe & The Fat City Horns, which (as the name would indicate) is powered by the same horn instrumentation Parazaider himself helped usher into rock music when he founded Chicago 46 years ago.

And the very date the band then known as Chicago Transit Authority was established was Feb. 15.

And guess what night Chicago plays, for the first time, the Tropicana?

“We are playing there exactly to the day 46 years ago that I started the band. I started looking at this and was saying, ‘We should do this, no matter when it is, but we really need to do it on that night.”

A band that has performed in myriad Las Vegas venues, razed and otherwise, Chicago settles into the renovated Tropicana Theater on Feb. 15-17. Tickets are $79, $99 and $150 and available on the Trop website.

Parazaider has lived in Vegas for the past eight years and has used the city as a hub for the band’s frequent tours. Chicago has been featured on Vegas marquees for most of their career, performing at the now-closed Circus Maximus at Caesars Palace, the Stardust Showroom, Paris Theater, the Hilton (and later LVH) Theater and even the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Parazaider’s first gig in Vegas actually predated the official launch of Chicago. He was a backing musician on the Caravan of Stars bus tour, a series of one-night stands across the country that stopped at the Convention Center.

“We would play anywhere,” he said. “That Caravan of Stars, we played with Tom Jones, and I lived in Chicago at the time. We knew, even then, that the Mecca of musicians was Las Vegas. We would play for coin returns, or for donations, just to play here. That’s how great it was -- and still is.”

Any Chicago show plays out like a lengthy reminder of the band’s famous catalog of hits. The band has sold more than 100 million records, amassed 21 Billboard Top 10 singles, five consecutive No. 1 albums and 11 No. 1 singles and recorded a staggering 25 platinum albums. Chicago’s longevity is legendary; it is the first American band to chart Top 40 albums in five decades.

But Chicago’s influence exceeds even those gaudy sales figures. The band is among the earliest in rock history to create rock music with horns playing an integral role of the mix. Musicians in such Vegas show bands as Santa Fe, Lon Bronson’s All-Star band and David Perrico’s Pop Evolution often point to Chicago (along with Tower of Power) as major influences.

“We’re awfully proud to have made horns an integral part of the songs, to have them interwoven into the music, but it’s very hard to ponder what our place is in all of this history,” Parazaider said. “We’re just always trying to get better. That is always the goal.”

Parazaider most frequently refers to the band’s staying power. He’s not had to search for a gig since the late 1960s. Four of the original members, dating back to Chicago Transit Authority, remain: keyboardist Robert Lamm, trombonist James Pankow, trumpet player Lee Loughnane and Parazaider.

“It’s an honor to be playing anywhere, and every month that goes by, I’m more thankful for the success and happiness we’ve had,” Parazaider said. “There is an emotional wire between us that keeps us going. I would probably be in jail, and I’m not kidding, coming from Chicago like I did. So I look forward to every showroom we play.”

There has never been any variance from the band’s original concept.

“We started as a rock and roll band with horns,” the great sax player says. “And that’s what we still are.”

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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