Madison jazz scene status report...

Who's making noise in and around Madison? What's new in the business of making music around town? Review shows and CDs here. Please keep all hype in Hype Exchange.
dstol62
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Madison jazz scene status report...

Postby dstol62 » Sun Apr 24, 2011 12:26 am

After being "off the grid" I wanted to check in with a few thoughts on the above topic. It is no secret that the economy has had a detrimental effect on many aspects of the arts. That effect has made Madison's jazz scene a pale shadow of it's previous incarnations. There are some weekly events which provide a ray of hope, three of which take place weekly at The Cardinal Bar (check their web site for details). One could also name other venues which provide jazz as an accessory to dining, but these don't really create an ideal dynamic between the performer and the listener. The reality is that beyond the examples listed, Madison's jazz scene is at it's most anemic in recent memory. Like many other fragile examples of give and take within the arts community, without a proper venue to present live jazz, the idiom becomes akin to a forgotten chapter in a book that the author chose to delete for reasons of his own choosing. To be sure, in a place like Madison, presenting jazz cannot be a purely profit motivated endeavor, and probably requires that a venue also presents other styles that are more marketable. To find a successful club venue example of this idea, you have to go back almost thirty years in Madison's history to the time when the clubs Bunky's and Merlyn's were each offering a balance of solid local, regional and national talent of many musical styles. The reason for the failure of these clubs had more to do with poor management than poor choices of who performed there. I would propose that if a new venue could be created now, and conformed to favorable acoustics and had good sight lines (assuming that a strong pool of performing groups could be booked), it would be successful. It should also be desirable to get to by all modes of transportation (in other words, if someone doesn't have a car or the weather is bad, they can still get there easily). This makes the central city a logical choice. It's time for the movers and shakers to stop thinking about tired sports bars and college beer barns, and start thinking about making Madison the artistically diverse place that it could be again.

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Re: Madison jazz scene status report...

Postby hellogoodbye » Sun Apr 24, 2011 8:57 am

Magnus closing brought this reality to light, even for non musician/jazzer types. I'm not saying Magnus was the be all end all but it provided a focus in Madison that appears to be completely gone. As dstol62 so astutely points out, "jazz cannot be a purely profit motivated endeavor." So hard for me to understand how jazz is continually shit on here in the good old USA. It could successfully be argued that jazz is more American than apple freaking pie! Jazz needs a modern day Johnny Appleseed bad.

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Re: Madison jazz scene status report...

Postby Nate535 » Sun Apr 24, 2011 9:42 pm

I think it's a pretty tall order to ask a small business like a music venue or bar to support Jazz knowing that it's not going to be profitable. It's unfair to ask an owner to take a hit on a night for the sake of artistic diversity. They are, after all, in business to make money.

The problem isn't the venues, it's the lack of a fanbase that is willing to go out for a night and spend money having a drink and listening to Jazz. See also, Madison blues.

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Re: Madison jazz scene status report...

Postby wack wack » Mon Apr 25, 2011 9:17 am

Are you trying to tell us you're getting ready to open a new jazz venue?! SWEET!!!

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Re: Madison jazz scene status report...

Postby dstol62 » Mon Apr 25, 2011 10:40 am

Nate535-

We have become a culture where only the things which are "marketed" to people are assigned a "market value". In order for jazz to be successfully marketed as a viable live music option in Madison, I believe that the attributes I listed must be present. Beyond that, a venue would have to properly "brand" itself to be attractive to the potential target demographic.

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Re: Madison jazz scene status report...

Postby jman111 » Mon Apr 25, 2011 11:00 am

Nate535 wrote:The problem isn't the venues, it's the lack of a fanbase that is willing to go out for a night and spend money having a drink and listening to Jazz. See also, Madison blues.

I'm not sure this is entirely fair to the local blues scene. While I'll admit that the doors aren't being broken down at the blues shows, I think there does exist a somewhat significant fan base. There are several weekly shows and jam sessions that attract a audience that, at least apparently, preclude the need for venue owners to "take a hit" (monetarily, that is!) for the sake of artistic diversity.

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Re: Madison jazz scene status report...

Postby Nate535 » Mon Apr 25, 2011 12:27 pm

dstol62 wrote:Nate535-

We have become a culture where only the things which are "marketed" to people are assigned a "market value". In order for jazz to be successfully marketed as a viable live music option in Madison, I believe that the attributes I listed must be present. Beyond that, a venue would have to properly "brand" itself to be attractive to the potential target demographic.


Personally, I doubt very highly that this is a marketing issue. There just isn't an active target demographic for Jazz music in Madison. Certainly not one large enough to support a Jazz club in an ideal spot downtown. It's just not a sound business decision and if it was, you'd have people taking the risk.

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Re: Madison jazz scene status report...

Postby ilikebeans » Mon Apr 25, 2011 1:02 pm

Madison just doesn't have the fan base for a full-time jazz club.

It's been tried over and over in the past 10-15 years: The King Club, the Concourse Bar, Magnus, Inn on the Park, etc. None are active jazz clubs anymore. Can it always be due to bad management?

Several places, as mentioned, include jazz occasionally, or as background music: Cardinal, Brink, Liliana's, Samba, Mother Fool's, Project Lodge. I think that's be best that can be hoped for at the moment.

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Re: Madison jazz scene status report...

Postby supaunknown » Mon Apr 25, 2011 2:04 pm

I grew up seeing my dad play as part of a regular jazz/Dixieland combo gig at the old Pirate Ship on Fairchild. They also played after most of the home games at Union South, in addition to keeping pretty busy doing weddings on other weekends. When was the last time a 5+piece jazz combo had a regular gig anywhere in Madison?

I thoroughly enjoyed visiting the Brink Lounge for Mad Toast Live. The sound they ran down there was pretty damn good. Ambience of the club itself? Well, I do like sitting down and sipping my drank. Not so sure about the hotel lobby feel of it though. The location is A-OK.

As long as there are people willing to take musical chances there will always be jazz. One of, if not the only, truly American art form.

I bemoan some musicians' seeming inability to "swing" these days. Swing is impossible to notate - a feel that either you got or you don't.

Blues, on the other hand is a tired-ass musical genre. Closely related to jazz I s'pose, but when was the last time you heard of a blues artist pushing any musical boundaries? It all coloring between the lines, especially for the poor rhythm section. Boring. Sorry.

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Re: Madison jazz scene status report...

Postby jman111 » Mon Apr 25, 2011 2:11 pm

supaunknown wrote: ...but when was the last time you heard of a blues artist pushing any musical boundaries?

Two things:
1- Have you heard anything from Wayne Baker Brooks (Lonnie Brooks' son)?
2- Does a musical genre have to push boundaries to be worthwhile, in your opinion?

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Re: Madison jazz scene status report...

Postby supaunknown » Mon Apr 25, 2011 2:42 pm

jman111 wrote:
supaunknown wrote: ...but when was the last time you heard of a blues artist pushing any musical boundaries?

Two things:
1- Have you heard anything from Wayne Baker Brooks (Lonnie Brooks' son)?
2- Does a musical genre have to push boundaries to be worthwhile, in your opinion?

1) Wayne Baker Brooks has crack band that plays excellent Chicago blues. So what? He's rehashing a sound that his father Lonnie, Muddy, etc already defined. This just in: they're remaking the movie Total Recall. Why? I don't know.

2) Worthwhile? No, of course not. If a musician enjoys what he/she is doing then who am I to argue the relative merits of their chosen art? I'm just a local basement nobody with an opinion.
Can I use Wynton Marsalis as an example? This guy is a virtuoso musician fully committed to preserving a style of music to the point of detailed obsession. There are some that would argue that by him focusing so much on being a jazz historian that he misses out on the originality, the creative spirit of jazz itself.

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Re: Madison jazz scene status report...

Postby jman111 » Mon Apr 25, 2011 3:11 pm

I'm sure Wayne's newer stuff (see Mystery album) cannot be classified as Chicago Blues. Similarly, Nick Moss has reconstructed the Flip Tops with some younger talent and plays stuff that is more rock-oriented. But, I guess that begs the question of whether or this music is blues at all. But, it certainly could be interpreted as blues artists pushing boundaries, IMO.

That said, it is interesting to hear others' opinions of blues. What, exactly, is "the blues"? Delta? Chicago? Piedmont? What about SRV? Purists may argue that he was a rock artist, not a bluesman. I hear similar generalizations about some of the younger blues artists. I'll admit, part of what draws me to blues is the simplicity of form. The ability to build on that simplicity (the coloring between the lines that you refer to) with raw emotion and musical talent is what keeps me coming back for more. Perhaps the fact that I am not a musician contributes.

I think an important distinction lies in your last statement, in which you refer to the creative spirit of jazz. The improvisational nature of (some) jazz surely guarantees "freshness", essentially eliminating the risk of the genre becoming tired-ass.

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Re: Madison jazz scene status report...

Postby Nate535 » Mon Apr 25, 2011 4:05 pm

jman111 wrote:
supaunknown wrote: ...but when was the last time you heard of a blues artist pushing any musical boundaries?

Two things:
1- Have you heard anything from Wayne Baker Brooks (Lonnie Brooks' son)?
2- Does a musical genre have to push boundaries to be worthwhile, in your opinion?


I can't think of a single blues-ish guitar player in Madison who is doing anything even remotely creative. The Madison blues scene is all about copying traditional Chicago blues now apparently which I agree is both tired and boring. It shouldn't be surprising considering the sparse talent in this genre here in Madison.

A musical genre doesn't have to push boundaries to be worthwhile, but it does have to be done well...which in my opinion is not the case.

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Re: Madison jazz scene status report...

Postby fisticuffs » Mon Apr 25, 2011 4:12 pm

Blues still drives a lot of the musical instrument industry mostly because the people into that sort of thing are older with more expendable income. Most every person I know under the age of 50 liked blues briefly while learning guitar and then moved the fuck on with their lives though. I'm sure there's some innovative stuff somewhere that could be considered blues I just don't have time to wade through the bald guys playing Mustang Sally to find it nor do I care enough to bother. Jazz sounds like a great thing one night a week at a low key bar/restaurant but there certainly isn't enough interest to warrant an entire club year round. Hell there's barely enough interest in live music of any type to keep most of our clubs going.

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Re: Madison jazz scene status report...

Postby wallrock » Mon Apr 25, 2011 4:18 pm

jman111 wrote:I'm sure Wayne's newer stuff (see Mystery album) cannot be classified as Chicago Blues.

Agreed. I picked up Mystery after a particularly rousing show but I didn't think the qualities I liked about him in a live setting translated to the album. It probably had a lot to do with the female backing vocals present in a good number of the tracks. I hate that shit. Still he puts on a hell of a show.


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