Jim Latimer

The Capitol City Band’s 50th season is kicking off tonight at Rennebohm Park shelter on Madison’s west side and longtime bandleader James Latimer could not be more excited.

“I do think 50 years is pretty amazing and I’m very excited about it. I don’t want to acknowledge it too much or I might get nervous,” Latimer laughs. “But this is definitely a significant feeling. I’m very happy for the band, the players, and the audience. Fifty years is pretty cool if you think about it.”

Latimer, a University of Wisconsin-Madison emeritus music professor, has been leading the Capitol City Band for 37 years – since 1981. The band plays free concerts in Rennebohm Park featuring old-time band music, pop, jazz, and Sousa marches and was founded by the late Dr. Elmer Ziegler, a disciple of the great John Philip Sousa.

“I was involved with the band before 1981. Occasionally, Elmer [Ziegler] would call me to fill in when his drummer was not available,” Latimer tells Madison365. “Elmer was a very energetic man who could not sit still. He was always planning and thinking ahead and coming up with significant ideas. He was a writer and a talker. He was ‘Mr. Dynamic.’”

Dr. Elmer Ziegler

When the Capitol City Band first started back in June of 1969, Ziegler led the concerts that took place in Vilas Park.

“Elmer was always doing something and always had some ideas emerging. He was a fascinating character. He must have played all of the instruments,” Latimer remembers. “I saw a picture of him playing with the Madison Civic Orchestra – that was before the Madison Symphony.

“He was a great influence on me. He would always call me when he had a problem to solve, so I was always involved in his idea with what he wanted to do,” Latimer adds. “Ziegler was a stenographer to John Philip Sousa at the Great Lakes Training Center. That’s how they met. So it’s remarkable that there is a direct line to some of the greats.”

Latimer will have Ziegler and Sousa and all of the greats that came before him in mind when the first concert of the 50th season starts tonight at 7 p.m. and will kick off 12 weeks of performances by the Capitol City Band this summer. Latimer is the conductor and Dave Pedracine, since 1985, has been the associate conductor. Latimer says that he is looking forward to a very special Golden Jubilee concert on Sunday, July 22, 2 p.m. marking the band’s 50-year anniversary.

“That will be a nostalgia day. I think one of the tunes that I have programmed for that day is a song about Wisconsin written by a Beloit College reporter Peter T. Naiken called ‘Wisconsin Memories'” Latimer says. “I can’t say enough about the writers – from top to bottom – these are people who deliver messages that are important.”

James Latimer (left) has been the conductor of the Capitol City Band since 1981 and Dave Pedracine, since 1985, has been the associate conductor.

Latimer says that it’s hard to believe that it’s been 50 years of the Capitol City Band. He adds that he believes that there should be a band – like his band that consists of 26 talented musicians – in every city in America.

“Music talks to us. Music tells us something,” he says. “It tells us so much about who we are. It is important that everybody has access to music.”

Latimer, 84, who earlier this year was awarded the lifetime achievement award by the Wisconsin Percussive Arts Society for a lifetime of education, performance, and promotion of percussion as a solo and ensemble art form, says that he’s excited about getting the 50th season kicked off tonight.

“It’s been an amazing run. I’m excited about it now as I’ve ever been,” he says. “Tonight is going to be wonderful. This is our mission – to connect with people. The Capitol City Band is committed to playing music for all cultures and all ages to make a difference in the community one note at a time.”

The Capitol City Band’s 50th season starts tonight at Rennebohm Park shelter, 115 N. Eau Claire Ave., on Madison’s west side. Concerts are happening rain or shine, so bring a chair and a friend and enjoy the music. Admission is free.