Wednesday, March 8, 2006 | 7:26 a.m.
One of the nation's most recognizable pop/rock groups of the '70s and '80s is looking at spending more time in Las Vegas, perhaps following the trail blazed by Celine Dion, Elton John and, more recently, Barry Manilow and Reba McEntire.
Although Chicago has performed in Las Vegas many times during its 39-year history, most of the engagements have been one- or two-night stands.
That will change March 16 when the band that is noted for its use of horns launches the first of 10 performances at the MGM Grand's Hollywood Theatre, continuing through March 29.
Then, in May, Chicago returns for 10 more engagements.
"We hope it isn't an anomaly," said saxophonist Walt Parazaider, a founding member of the group Big Thing, which became the Chicago Transit Authority, which then became Chicago after the real Chicago Transit Authority threatened to sue.
There have been many personnel changes during the eight-man group's almost four decades of performing, but co-founders Parazaider, trumpeter Lee Loughnane, trombonist James Pankow and keyboardist Robert Lamm continue to be the backbone of Chicago.
Chicago hopes the upcoming appearances will mark the beginning of a greater presence in Las Vegas for the band.
"We're looking to do something with the MGM," Parazaider said. "We're excited with the people we are working with - we hope to make it a yearly event, to do this on top of the touring we do the rest of the year."
Spending more time in Las Vegas has obvious advantages.
"It's a great way to play in one place for a lot of people from all over the country, and for a lot of people to see us who might not come to an open concert or to a large arena," Parazaider said.
The group that had a string of 26 consecutive hit albums (with more than $122 million in record sales) has been around so long it has fans that span the generations - from young teens to older folks past retirement age.
"We hope the fans will come out to see us," the 60-year-old Parazaider said. "We have a fan base all over the country."
The Chicago native perhaps has a more selfish reason for wanting to spend more time performing in Las Vegas - for the past 14 months, it has been his home.
He and his wife of 39 years, JacLynn, sold their Southern California residence and now live at Lake Las Vegas.
"Our children were out the door," Parazaider said. "One daughter got married. Another daughter is going to school. We had a big house where we raised the kids - we lived there for a long time."
With their nest empty, the couple decided to make a change.
"We thought long and hard," he said. "We can live anywhere in the world and I can still play music."
They settled on Las Vegas because of the climate and the people.
"We like the desert - we're able to relax," Parazaider said.
They're far enough from the Strip to enjoy their privacy, but close enough that they can take in the shows and concerts.
And they can revel in the nature.
"Our home overlooks a beautiful mountain range," Parazaider said. "And we're enjoying the Valley of Fire - I'd like to hike into Red Rock Canyon, but I haven't done it yet. He said they have a "pretty good balance in their life - if you don't stop and smell the roses and enjoy things, you'll go a little bonkers."
He said it isn't uncommon for the couple to be shopping in Las Vegas and suddenly notice a beautiful sunset.
"We'll stop and hold hands and watch it for a few minutes," Parazaider said.
His real claim to fame, Parazaider said, is that he is able to spend more time with his wife.
"We may have the longest marriage in the business," he quipped.
"I really enjoy where I'm living," he said. "Away from the Strip, Las Vegas has a whole infrastructure - communities, wonderful churches. It has such a heart."
Parazider has been coming to Southern Nevada most of his professional life, beginning in 1965 when he performed with the Dick Clark Caravan of Stars at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
"I'm an old lounge rat," he said. "My dad was a trumpet player for 70 years - until he was 90. Since the age of 13, I've been exposed to the club environment, so I've always had a fascination with Las Vegas.
"There is always something great happening here - ever since the Rat Pack. And now there are a lot of great acts, tremendous shows."
One of them could be Chicago, if it chooses to lay down deeper roots.
The group marked its 39th anniversary on Feb. 15. "Our 40th season, and we haven't missed one year," Parazaider said. "The Rolling Stones have been around a long time, but they tour every five years."
In the early days Chicago was on the road for 300 dates a year. "We've cut that down to maybe 100 dates," Parazider said. "In between we do some recording and other engagements."
A couple of years ago they had a successful tour with Earth, Wind and Fire.
The group's 30th album, "Chicago XXX" will be released March 21 by Rhino Records and Warner Bros. Records.
The single, "Feel," taken from the album, was released in February.
Jay DeMarcus, bassist/vocalist with the country trio Rascal Flatts, produced the album, which may give it a country flavor.
"It was a good touch," Parazaider said. "Rock 'n' roll moved to Nashville years ago.
"Jay gave us a fresh spin on things."
Several songs from the new album will be included in the upcoming concert series.
"We put together something a little different from the regular one-nighters we do," Parazider said.