"I came here on Ira's recommendation, and I also had a friend here who offered her couch. I came here with $470 in my pocket, and even 24 years ago you couldn't go to New York with that."
Perrillo has been "just trying to do whatever I can to survive" ever since, no easy task in the realm of jazz. But on purely artistic terms he has been quite successful, his reputation earning him a major commission at Millennium Park in 2009, recording dates backing everyone from Von Freeman to Fareed Haque and a part-time position as jazz studies lecturer at DePaul University's School of Music.
"It's been good for me," says Perrillo, referring to teaching. "It forces me to go back and think about things I've learned just empirically by having to support myself as a musician since I was 17. Things I've just learned by being on the bandstand – it's forced me to break it down to more bite-sized chunks, and for me it's been good to do that.
"Because being a self-taught musician, you really don't learn in that way. … When the kids are gifted and hard-working, (teaching) is among the most rewarding things I can think of."
Perhaps one of these days the rest of the world will discover what Perrillo's students and hard-core listeners already know: At 51, Perrillo ranks among the most protean pianists in jazz.
He'll get a chance to prove that again on Saturday night.
Also worth hearing
Patricia Barber: A singular Chicago singer-pianist-songwriter, Barber celebrates the 10th anniversary of Contempo's annual double-bill program featuring jazz and contemporary classical music. She'll be joined by the Ari Hoenig Trio; the concert also will present the Pacifica Quartet. 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the University of Chicago's Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St.; $25; 773-702-2787 or ticketsweb.uchicago.edu
Wallace Roney: The hard-hitting trumpeter, a protégé of Miles Davis, leads his quartet. 8 and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 4, 8 and 10 p.m. Sunday; at the Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Court; $25-$40; 312-360-0234 or jazzshowcase.com
Midwest Gypsy Swing Fest: The double-bill features Harmonious Wail and the Gonzalo Bergara Quartet. 9 p.m. Friday at the Green Mill Jazz Club, 4802 N. Broadway; $12; 773-878-5552 or greenmilljazz.com
Jason Stein Quartet: The inventive bass clarinetist shares the stage with tenor saxophonist Keefe Jackson, bassist Joshua Abrams and drummer Frank Rosaly. 9:30 p.m. Friday at Constellation, 3111 N. Western Ave.; $8; constellation-chicago.com
Dee Alexander: A remarkably chameleonic vocalist, Alexander will take on music of Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Nina Simone and Dinah Washington. 8 p.m. Saturday at Governors State University's Center for the Performing Arts, 1 University Parkway, University Park; 708-235-2222 or govst.edu
To read more from Howard Reich on jazz, go to chicagotribune.com/reich.
Ron Perrillo Quintet
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Green Mill Jazz Club, 4802 N. Broadway
Tickets: $12; 773-878-5552 or greenmilljazz.com