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Concert Will Honor Taft Teacher James J. Stamm, Launch Foundation

  The tribute concert has already raised about   $15,000 for Taft High School hrough advance ticket sales.
Concert to Honor Teacher, Launch Foundation
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CHICAGO — James J. Stamm demanded excellence from each and every one of the students he taught at Taft High School from 1956 to 1983.

And many of them never forgot those lessons. On Saturday, his former students will say thank you with a tribute concert that will also raise money for their beloved high school.

"We couldn't think of a better way to bring all these people together to honor Mr. Stamm and raise money for Taft," said Rick Winge, who graduated from the school in 1970.

The tribute concert — dubbed the Stamm Jam — will also mark the launch of the Taft High School Foundation, which is designed to raise money for academic enrichment, arts and athletic programs at the Northwest Side school.

"It will be a fabulous evening of nostalgia, romance and fun," said Winge, who lives in Napa, Calif. "Mr. Stamm was so special, and it will be quite a tribute."

Speaking by phone from his home in Sarasota, Fla., the 88-year-old Stamm said he had mixed feelings about the tribute concert, and was a little overwhelmed by the attention.

"At my age, I don't need all this adulation," Stamm said. 

Stamm said the highlight of his career was directing the school's chorus.

"I tried to inculcate in my students to always strive for the best and to give as much as they can of themselves," Stamm said. "I got personal pleasure from making them sound like a professional or college chorus. That was my ambition."

Produced by Winge and fellow alum Mike Costanzo, of Sioux Falls, S.D., the concert — under the direction of Brian Lavery, the chairman of the Taft music department — will feature some of Stamm's favorite Broadway show tunes.

Stamm's relationships with his students, many of whom belonged to the chorus for three or four years were very special, Winge said.

About 300 alumni, including the high school's most famous graduate, Jim Jacobs, who based the musical "Grease" partly on his experiences at Taft, are expected to attend, Winge said.

Advance ticket sales have already raised nearly $15,000 for the foundation, which used the money to buy a baby grand piano.

"It was desperately needed," said Local School Council Vice Chairwoman Lisa Schwieger, adding that the foundation also plans to buy a digital piano for the school.

The foundation will also help keep graduates connected to Taft, and give them a way to support its programs, Local School Council Chairman Ted Pirpiris said. 

"It will help us meet the school's smaller needs," Pirpiris said.

Planning for the tribute concert began about a year ago at a meeting of several alumni who wanted to do something to benefit Taft, Winge said.

"We want to help Taft do the things it might not otherwise be able to do," Winge said. "There are all sorts of needs."

In the fall, Taft will become a wall-to-wall International Baccalaureate school in an effort to offer students an academically challenging program and to convince parents worried that their children won't snag a coveted place in a selective-enrollment high school to stay in the city.

In addition, Chicago Public Schools officials plan to spend $17 million during the next year to overhaul nine science labs, patch crumbling brick, repair water damage and replace the school's lockers.

The concert will take place at 6 p.m. in the assembly hall at Taft, 6530 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. General admission tickets are $15, and can be bought at jjstammtafttribute.com.