Howard Wallach – Chicago Hospitality Professional of the Month (October 2016)

October 5th, 2016 | hereschicago

a-z entertainment chicagoHere’s our interview with Howard Wallach of A – Z Entertainment and this month’s Chicago Hospitality Professional of the month (October 2016) 

First and foremost, can you tell us your current position, company and describe what you do?

“Creating memories, seizing eyeballs, and riveting attention is what We do.” As Founder and Top Dawg of A-Z Entertainment, Ltd. Howard Wallach has been building a steady following of happy clients near and far.  “I love my job managing our group of musicologists, technicians, and interactive entertainers – I definitely know the coolest people”.  He attends industry related conferences thru the year, not only as a teacher, but as a student, bringing back exciting ideas and tweaking them to fit his clients needs.

What aspects of hospitality do you incorporate in your business today? 

Evoking Passion, Nostalgia, Emotional expression and an environment of the edgily evocative is what We incorporate. A-Z Entertainment, Ltd. has the experience and expertise to add ZEST to any event and top it off with exceptional entertainment – Whether we touch hearts thru dance bands, game shows, party DJs, elegant ensembles or lighting design, video production, interactive gaming and much more. “When you experience your experience with us your senses will be delighted as a result of our enthusiasm, passion and professionalism.”

Where did your hospitality career begin and when was that “aha” moment when you knew you were supposed to be in hospitality as a career?

As nightclub Emcee/DJ (Faces on Rush St + Jukebox Saturday Night / Lincoln Park) in the late 80s/early 90s, I felt my endorphins peak with the crowd. With targeted programming and channeling my high energy personality to joy, I delighted with the full- throated engagement of the audience, who became my partners in sharing the passion. Routinely, guests asked for my business card. Although, I knew little about business planning or the nuances of being a self- employed entrepreneur, I had a great deal of chutzpah and drive.

After staging my first corporate game show (in 1990), I had an epiphany. Highlighting a group’s products and services via fun trivia, I was exhilarated by this level of personalizing, creativity and presentation.  I pursued team-building events for organizations and specialty programming at college campuses too.

Why do you feel you are hospitality professional of the month? What would your friends say about you if they were nominating you?

When I read this review. . . ” Awe-inspiring energy, he’s an insightful concierge with a wealth of special event resource and knowledge “, I hoped it was true, and gratified when third parties seemed to agree.

What qualities do you feel a person needs to excel in as a hospitality professional?

Empathy. Reading the nuances of the specific group to connect to their passions. Its not about me, or attempting to recycle an off the shelf product again and again- its about connecting to passions and feelings – That takes work and focus.

How did you get into hospitality field?  

A college buddy introduced me to the production side of schlepping gear before and after parties. I discovered the world of meetings, galas, and festivals.

Always the pleaser, always the solutionist, always the networker, I was in the right place at the right time.

I distinctly remember DJing my first ever wedding. I loved the advocacy, the intimacy of the planning process, the rush of all the moving parts coming together.

Non-stop with my questions: Why this way? Is there a better way?  This led me to providing Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and theme party entertainment. I could introduce staging and screens and intelligent lighting with party motivators. More intricate coordination to make sure that every person in the room, from the youngest to oldest, had a complete and thrilling experience.

Who has been the biggest influence in your life?

My big-hearted storytelling, joking-giving father, John Wallach. Kind to all: bank teller, servers, laborers. His organic disposition to leave people feeling better for having interacted with him left a huge impact on me.  He lit up every room he was in. This panache for handling the spotlight rubbed off on me. When I’m on stage, I leave it all on the floor.  Years later, I now enjoy paying it forward; presenting best practices, lessons learned, innovative ideas and more.

What kinds of things really make you laugh?

Smart/Clever is always funny – in no particular order, favorites include George Karlin, Louie CK, Matt Stone & Trey Parker, Greg Giraldo, Jerry Seinfeld, Albert Brooks, John Stewart, Conan Obrien, Mitch Hedberg, Steve Martin, Monty Python

What’s your favorite place in the entire world?

I have fondness for Asia. The culture, the scenery, the tropical weather, the buzz of life fascinate me. From the temples to the street food to open-air markets, even the kitchy souvenirs – I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Singapore and Hong Kong. My next adventure will be exploring the Philippines. Maybe take in a few boat rides, day trips, cliff hikes, hot springs! Someday, I’d like to savor these experiences together with my children Jessica (19) and Jonathan (16)

Who is your best friend? What do you like about him/her?

I am fortunate to still be very close with my school buddies growing up. Like “allying nations”, we’re friends because we trust each other. We need each other, for resources & support. We depend on each other; our strength and health are vital to each other’s wellbeing. Unlike me, they don’t relish the spotlight, I’ll leave their names off this time . . .

What is your favorite movie of all time? Why so?

The ( four ) Planet of the Apes films ( ’68, ’01, ’11 ’14) With action and suspense, this pop-culture touchstone holds up a mirror to humanity and reflects our conflicts, issues and failings back through a wildly outrageous premise.  Spoiler . . . .July 2017, “War for the Planet of the Apes” drops

Do you have any pet peeves?

Long lines, gross incompetence, people who are chronically late, bad smells are especially annoying.

What was your family like growing up?

It’s Good to be Wallach . . . . We respect that each family member is precious and that family comes first.  Sadly, when mom passed away from cancer,  she was only 50; I was still in high school. My brother Barry (15 years my senior) has always been our family’s moral compass, leader (and my personal coach and muse).  My sister Jan (12 years my senior) always expresses care and concern for her brothers and widowed father. Our unity was our salvation when our Dad eventually succumbed to heart failure at 78. With over 20 first cousins, we Wallachs grew up with a sense of loyalty and devotion. Many of our cousins are lifelong friends. By any measure, we remain a connected family.

What were you like as a kid?

Always the organizer, Always vying for attention.  Maybe a bit too rambunctious for my teachers. Ok, definitely . . . School pals could count on me for reciting back movie lines and celebrity impressions faithfully. I grew up playing ping pong, baseball and pinball. I dabbled in photography and theater. Larger than life were my childhood heroes: Muhammad Ali, Bruce Lee, & Evil Kneivel.

What type of music do you love?   Songs impact the ways I work, relax, behave, and feel. Of course, I play dance floor hits and the most popular grooves and singalongs when I perform. Personally, my tastes flow with the time of day and whose company I may be with. Great tracks make me smile, dance in my car behind the steering wheel or even cry. I see myself as a rock and soul kinda guy, but found these at the top of my Spotify playlists too:

Chicago House Music ( 1984 – 1989 ), Reggaeton (2004 – 2010) , Funk (1978 – 1982) Hall & Oates, Stevie Wonder,  George Michael, Justin Timberlake, Talking Heads, Eagles, Stevie Ray Vaughn,  Acoustic Covers + Jack Johnson, Rap hits (2001 – 2006)

My love of music came very early . . . Music got under my skin; created strong feelings and strong memories. The first song I memorized the words to was So into You by The Atlantic Rhythm Section. Every chance I got, I recorded hits off the radio onto cassette and shared “mix-tapes” before there was even a name for it. Peoples reactions to these small gifts of song were significant. I am sure this was the seed of my love of programming music for large groups to illicit reaction and glee.

What was your First concert?

Styx Grand Illusion Tour 1997 (Supertramp and Foreigner soon followed )

If you had to go back to school or learn a new skill, what would you want to learn?

Embrace a foreign language, and be a truly proficient photographer

Are you a Cubs or Sox fan?

Many fond memories of the friendly confines, especially sitting in the bleachers with my father. I bleed Cubbie Blue and was even at Wrigley Field in 2003 for the post season Cubs vs Marlins game when Steve Bartman disrupted a potential catch from Outfielder Moises Alou.

NO W that day. No National League Pennant that Year. Until recently, October never meant nail-biting post- season action on the Northside.

What’s your go-to meal when you’re home alone?

Egg Scramble, shaved parmesan, sliced avocado seasoned with cayenne pepper, himalayan seal salt.

What’s on your bucket list?

Walk along the Great Wall of China, Rappel down a waterfall, bathe an elephant

At 60 and 70 yrs old – be fit as a fiddle.  Someday be an inspiration to my grandchildren.

What are your thoughts about 

Jim Grillo is a one-stop connector of who’s who around these parts. He has extensive local knowledge, expertise and resources. His business is a model of excellence linking top hospitality experts, activities, tours, and transportation. You might say, I‘m a big fan . . .


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