It’s spring and jazz is busting out all over in Milwaukee


The Newport Jazz Festival: Now 60! ensemble includes (foreground, left to right) vocalist-pianist Karrin Allyson, clarinetist-saxophonist Anat Cohen and trumpeter Randy Brecker. They will perform at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts in Brookfield on March 29 in a sold-out show. Courtesy

Up jumped spring and out broke big-time jazz, headed at a fast tempo straight for Milwaukee.
Over the next few weeks, this city will see jazz from Milwaukee-raised Grammy-winning trumpeter Brian Lynch, The Newport Jazz Festival‘s 60th anniversary tour, bebop sax great Charles McPherson, envelope-pushing saxophonist Tony Malaby and a powerful double bill of The David Bixler Quintet with The Manty Ellis Trio.
Furthermore, April is national Jazz Appreciation Month, and info on the vibrant range of local and regional jazz artists performing around town can be accessed on the performance calendar of Milwaukee Jazz Vision:

Milwaukee’s jazz spring will climax at 7:30 April 26 when MacArthur “genius” Fellowship-winning pianist and composer Jason Moran brings his new touring show Fats Waller Dance Party to the South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center.

Here’s a closer look at each of these notable events:
Brian Lynch ResidencyWisconsin Conservatory of Music, 1584 N. Prospect Ave. Milwaukee, 414 276-5760 or 459-3455, Wednesday-Friday, March 26-28. Trumpeter Lynch returns to his alma mater for his annual spring residency. His recent recording project Unsung Heroes: A Tribute to Some Underappreciated Trumpet Masters, Volumes 1 and 2 (on Hollistic Musicworks) has garnered wide critical acclaim including on this blog.1 The perpetually resourceful, stylistically rich and melodic trumpeter has bolstered the ensembles of such iconic names as Art Blakey, Horace Silver, Phil Woods, Eddie Palmieri and Toshiko Akiyoshi. Lynch earned the 2006 Grammy for Best Latin Jazz Album for his collaboration with Palmieri, The Brian Lynch/Eddie Palmieri Recording Project – Simpatico.

Lynch will conduct a jazz master class at 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 26 at the Conservatory, which is free to the public. Then he’ll lead jazz combo workshops with area high school groups March 27 and 28, which are not open to the public.

The Conservatory will sponsor several other upcoming jazz-related events: Orquestra Tumbao, the school’s faculty Latin jazz ensemble will perform at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. at the Lincoln High School Center for the Arts on April 11. A big band will stage “Swing! An Evening in Sinatra Style” with New York-based Frank Sinatra-style vocalist Michael Andrew on April 26 at Alverno College. Finally the crackerjack faculty ensemble We Six will perform with renowned bebop alto saxophonist Charles McPherson on May 1 at the Conservatory.


Jazz clarinetist Anat Cohen. Courtesy

Newport Jazz Festival: Now 60! — Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts, Brookfield. The good (and bad) news is that this concert was sold out almost two weeks before its date, which is March 29. (Tickets are still available for the same Newport line-up Friday March 28 at the Overture Center in Madison That follows on the heels of a near-sellout concert last month in the Wlison Center’s 650-seat Harris Hall by Grammy-winning and perennially poll-topping jazz vocalist Kurt Elling. 2 The touring Newport show honors the legendary jazz festival that had a massive influence on developing jazz audiences and the whole music festival phenomenon. Israeli-born Anat Cohen’s warm, supple clarinet style and forward thinking have pushed her instrument deep into the 21st century of mainstream jazz. Vocalist Karrin Allyson is a historically inquisitive and swinging stylist, and a frequent guest of NPR’s “A Prairie Home Companion.” Five-time Grammy-winning trumpeter Randy Brecker’s historic career includes stints with Blood, Sweat and Tears, Horace Silver, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, and co-founding the seminal fusion groups Dreams and The Brecker Brothers with his late, great saxophonist brother Michael Brecker. Randy’s prolific career as a guest artist includes working with James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen, Parliament/Funkadelic, Frank Sinatra, Steely Dan, and Frank Zappa. Guitarist Mark Whitfield is among the leading current masters of the Charlie Christian/Wes Montgomery/George Benson tradition. With a rhythm section of pianist Peter Martin, bassist Larry Grenadier, and drummer Clarence Penn, this multi-generational ensemble will interpret Armstrong, Ellington, Miles Davis, Latin, Brazilian, fusion and more.


BixlerAlto saxophonist David Bixler. Courtesy

The David Bixler Quintet with The Manty Ellis Trio — The Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts, 926 E. Center St. Milwaukee. 414-374-4722. 7 p.m. Sunday, March 30. $10, or $5 for students. All ages show. —  New York-based Bixler is the lead alto saxophonist with the Chico O’Farrill Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra. In smaller groups, he works in a post-cool style, which delivers by artfully calibrating its passions. His alto is influenced by John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Lee Konitz. Here’s the Bixler Quintet performing “The Darkness is My Closest Friend”: respected Milwaukee guitarist Manty Ellis led a powerhouse quintet at this venue last winter that showed his blues-cum-Montgomery-and-Coltrane stylings remain very potent. Ellis’ guitar should be the prime focus in this trio set.

Tony Malaby Trio — Sugar Maple, 441 E. Lincoln Ave. Milwaukee, 414-481-2393. 9 p.m. Thursday, April 3. $10 — This Bay View craft beer bar and avant performance space presents saxophonist Tony Malaby with  bassist Jason Roebke and drummer Frank Rosaly. New York-based Tucson native Malaby is significantly influenced by Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. That means his tenor and soprano sax styles encompass a daringly wide range of sonic and textural possibilities, including silence. This reflects the folk art/high art aesthetic of the internationally renowned Chicago creative music organization. Malaby’s auspicious resume includes membership in Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, Paul Motian’s Electric Bebop Band, Mark Helias’ Open Loose, and work with bandleaders Mario Pavone, Tim Berne and Marty Ehrlich. Malaby also recorded with the Fred Hersch Ensemble’s Leaves of Grass, the brilliant and moving 2005 settings of poetry by Walt Whitman, with musical readings by Kurt Elling and Kate McGarry. Malaby’s latest recordings are Tamarindo with bassist William Parker and drummer Nasheet Waits and the large ensemble Tony Malaby’s Novela with arrangements by Kris Davis. For info: Here’s Malaby (saxophonist in colored shirt) with Motian’s Electric Bebop Band performing Thelonious Monk’s “Brilliant Corners” at the Chivas Jazz Festival


Pianist Jason Moran (far right) in a giant Fats Waller bobble head with dancers in a Chicago performance of his Fats Waller Dance Party. Courtesy

Jason Moran and the Fats Waller Dance Party, South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center, 901 15th Ave., South Milwaukee  414-766-5049, 7:30 p.m. April 26. $45-$20 adults, $39-$18 Seniors (60+), $20-$12 students — Jason Moran is one of the most impressive, thoughtful and ingenious musicians in jazz today, qualities which have earned him widespread acclaim including a MacArthur “genius” Fellowship. His influences include Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington and Andrew Hill. And although he has worked in high-toned multi-arts contexts, Moran is also among the first jazz musicians to incorporate hip-hop into their music, especially on his excellent Blue Note album Same Mother. 
Moran’s last two CDs, TEN and the soulful duo album Hagar’s Daughter with Charles Lloyd, were among the best jazz recordings of their respective years. His current show, in support of an upcoming album of Fats Waller music, evokes the legendary stride pianist-singer-entertainer in his Harlem Renaissance prime.

And yet this show is Waller updated with “rhythms coming out of 1960s-and-beyond dance music: Motown, house, hip-hop,” according to New York Times jazz critic Ben Ratliff. Bassist-singer Meshell Nedegeocello was part of the original ensemble as were a group of dancers doing swing-style choreography. It’s unclear, beyond Moran’s ensemble, who will make the South Milwaukee show. But the Harlem Renaissance allowed urbane African American arts to flourish, and nobody did it with more flair, wit and virtuosity than Fats Waller. So this figures to be a very special blending of historic and contemporary jazz talents. Here’s a teaser video for the show:



1 The Culture Currents blog post on Brian Lynch’s Unsung Heroes recordings is at

2. Such successful major jazz events — which got virtually no coverage by Milwaukee area print media — demonstrate that there is a healthy jazz audience in the Milwaukee area, and suggest that new communication avenues like blogging and social media are helping the hip word to get out.

2 thoughts on “It’s spring and jazz is busting out all over in Milwaukee

    • Jamie, Thanks for the kudos and the hot news about the big Estate dates. I did a follow-up post on these events. The jazz flame is blazing in Milwaukee.

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