Since 1969, the Capitol City Band has been performing free summer concerts on Thursday nights during summer in the Rennebohm Park shelter on Madison’s west side. Last August, they hit a big milestone.

“We did our 900th concert. Can you believe that?” Jim Latimer, the group’s longtime bandleader, tells Madison365.

Latimer, a University of Wisconsin-Madison emeritus music professor, has been leading the Capitol City Band for 41 years – since 1981. He has conducted over 700 of those 900-plus concerts.

“We’ve been doing this for so long but it’s still so very fun. For more than 40 years!” Latimer exclaims. “The music is the focal point. All of these tunes going way, way back have just been so uplifting. Bach, Beethoven, Ellington, Mozart …. Thelonious Monk – all mixed in together. Just makes for a delightful time.”

Jim Latimer conducts the Capitol City Band. (Photo supplied)

A special 2022 opening concert — Tribute to the Troops Concert — was held on July 4 at Rennebohm Park to kick off the concert season where Latimer says that the band hopes to “help to heal the nation one note at a time.”

“We had a good-sized audience and there was enthusiasm everywhere. Of course, there was lots of Americana and favorite tunes,” he says.

There was a scary moment for Latimer when mid-concert he learned of the July 4 shooting at a parade in Highland Park, Illinois. “I was passed a note in the middle of the concert telling me that there was a mass killing and that was really shocking for me,” Latimer remembers. “That was disturbing and very sad.”

Despite the sad news, the band played on to the delight of the crowd at the kick-off event.

“We ended up doing a Tommy Newsom arrangement of Duke Ellington. It’s about a 10-minute work of all of the Ellington favorites. We just had a wonderful time with it.”

Speaking of Duke Ellington, it was 50 years ago this month when Latimer, then a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, conceived and organized The Duke Ellington Festival, a week‐long tribute to the jazz pianist with a series of clinic‐workshops and master classes for students and teachers. It is also the golden anniversary of Duke Ellington’s five-day residency at UW in July 1972.

“Our mood was up, up up because the university recently recalled and honored the 50th anniversary of Duke playing here at the festival,”  Latimer says. “It was his festival. That put us all in a good mood. I’m always happy to play Duke. He’s just a wonderful man.”

When the Capitol City Band first started back in June of 1969, Elmer Ziegler, a mentor to Latimer, led the concerts which back then took place in Vilas Park. Most of the time in the last half-century, the band has been led by Latimer, who was awarded the lifetime achievement award by the Wisconsin Percussive Arts Society in 2018 for a lifetime of education, performance, and promotion of percussion as a solo and ensemble art form, leading the way. 

The band’s weekly Thursday concerts will take place at 7 p.m. and run from tonight until Aug. 25. Latimer says, “bring a chair and bring a friend.” Concerts are rain or shine.

The band could not play during the 2020 season because of COVID and audiences have been a little sparser than usual for last year, still during the pandemic. So Latimer is really looking forward to this season.

“It’s a great chance to enjoy each other’s company. We’re coming out of this COVID thing and we’re just all glad to enjoy being able to see each other and interacting with each other. That’s one of those marvelous things about gathering like we do to play music.”

The Capitol City Band plays tonight at Rennebohm Park shelter, 115 N. Eau Claire Ave., on Madison’s west side.