Home Entertainment Diverse Artists, Venues Highlight 32nd Annual Isthmus Jazz Fest

Diverse Artists, Venues Highlight 32nd Annual Isthmus Jazz Fest


“Diversity is important to us. When we first started the Greater Madison Jazz Consortium, there were several of us on the board who wanted to make that the mission. It’s one of our big goals: not only to expand the jazz audience but to diversify in terms of race, ethnicity, and age,” says Howard Landsman, board member of the Greater Madison Jazz Consortium.

With that in mind, the Greater Madison Jazz Consortium and Wisconsin Union Theater will be joining forces to present the 32nd annual Isthmus Jazz Fest that feature an incredibly diverse array of artists who will perform at a variety of diverse venues throughout the city.

The 2019 Isthmus Jazz Festival, taking place from June 7-16, will present an ambitious and stylistically diverse array of concerts and other jazz-related events including special family-friendly programs, rare films, and much more.  And admission to most of the festival’s events will be free.

Now in its 32nd year, Landsman can remember back to that very first Jazz Festival event.

“It started out at the old Madison Civic Center in, I believe, 1987,” Landsman tells Madison365. “It was at Overture [Center] for one year and then it moved over to the [UW] Memorial Union. Most of the concerts were on the Terrace and then the big headliner was in the big music theater.”

Up until last year, the Jazz Festival had usually been a 2-day event that took place on the UW campus.

“Last year we tried to schedule events that would really take the Festival out into the community and not expect people to come to campus,” Landsman says. “I think there were some feelings over the years that when you looked over the audience, it was a pretty overwhelmingly white and older audience, so we wanted to take it out to places that would be more indigenous to communities of color and places where young people might come.”

In addition to the two days of events in 2018 at the Terrace, the Jazz Festival hosted 17 events at traditional and non-traditional venues all around town.

“It was very successful and we decided to make this an annual thing,” Landsman says. “So we’re doing it again this year. We’ll have 17 events spread around town.”

Café CODA will host two prominent members of the legendary Chicago jazz scene on June 13: pianist and former Miles Davis musical director and sideman Robert “Baabe” Irving III and vocalist Maggie Brown, performing with Madison’s own Hanah Jon Taylor on saxophone and flute.

Robert “Baabe” Irving III will perform on June 13 at Café CODA.

 Also from Chicago, and channeling inspiration from her Japanese and American musical roots, the young and celebrated saxophonist Mai Sugimoto will bring her quartet to the new Winnebago Arts Café on Saturday evening, June 8.

“After having seen what happened last year when we took the programs out to the community, I’m excited to see the community response and people embracing the music that I love,” Landsman says. “All of the different styles that we are able to present. It’s in the spirit of, ‘if you build it, will they come?’ And last year they came.”

This year’s festival will offer two concerts that explore the intersection of jazz, hip hop and spoken word. On June 9, drummer Rick Flowers and his Floroq Trio with pianist Becca May Grant and bassist Eric Ross will perform at the Arts + Literature Laboratory with the multi-dimensional poets T Banks, Zhalarina, Dequadray, and Isha Camara.  Two nights later, on June 11th, a “Lyricists Lounge” at North Street Cabaret will find the New Breed Jazz Trio performing with poets Laduma Nyguza and D.L.O. Earlier that night, the Cabaret will offer a free showing of the 1961 feature film “Paris Blues,” with its score by Duke Ellington and starring Sidney Poitier and Paul Newman as expatriate American jazz musicians.

“The interest in jazz is growing, and I love to see that.  I think that in the seven years that the Jazz Consortium has been around we’re seeing it get to almost the point to where supply is exceeding demand,” Landsman says. “There are all of these venues that are presenting jazz that wasn’t doing it before – Cafe Coda, North Street Cabaret, the Arts and Literature Lab, the new Winnebago Cafe, Sequoya Library’s Sunday afternoon jazz concerts, and more. There are just so many choices now for people to be able to go out and hear local musicians as well as touring musicians that are coming through.”

UW faculty members Anthony Black from Afro-American Studies and Matt Endres from the School of Music will team up at the Catholic Multicultural Center for a free talk called “Cymbalism: Roy Haynes’ and Bob Thompson’s Master Improvisation” on Monday, June 10. The Bayview Community Center will host a special free concert on Tuesday, June 11 titled “We Got the Blues,” in which Bayview youth perform their own blues compositions along with jazz bassist Ben Ferris and his quartet.  

WAMI award-winning vocalist Adekola Adedapo will perform on June 16 at the North Street Cabaret.

 The Fest wraps up on Sunday afternoon, June 16th, with a free performance by WAMI award-winning vocalist Adekola Adedapo as part of the twice-monthly free Madison Jazz Jam series at North Street Cabaret.

“Over the years, I’ve heard some fabulous performances at the Festival,” Landsman says. “We’ve gone away from having the super-major headline artists. I believe the first year of the Festival, the headliner was Miles Davis. That was incredible.  And Mary Stallings concert we had four or five years ago was probably one of the 10 best jazz concerts I’ve seen in my entire life. 

“I encourage people to come out and enjoy this year’s Isthmus Jazz Festival. There’s no substitute for seeing it live moreso on record, radio or download. Seeing the music as it is being created because so much of it is created on the spot by musicians who are masters at doing that,” Landsman says. “Seeing the interplay on the stage is cool. Split-second decisions are being made on where to take the music. It’s a thrilling thing to me.”


For the complete schedule for Isthmus Jazz Festival 2019 and information about each event, click here.