Hanah Jon Taylor plans jazz venue in downtown Madison

Plans for the venue have shifted to the former site of The Fountain on West Dayton Street.

Taylor playing The Fountain in 2016 with the Rick Flowers Trio. Photo via The Fountain's Facebook page. 

Taylor playing The Fountain in 2016 with the Rick Flowers Trio. Photo via The Fountain's Facebook page. 

Update, Jan. 10, 2017: Café Coda is now planning to open in March a 113 W. Dayton St., the space currently known as The Fountain, co-founder Hanah Jon Taylor announced this week through his GoFundMe campaign.

The move comes after Taylor and partners ran into difficulties with their initial choice of a space, on the ground floor of a condo building on West Mifflin, and briefly considered a space on Regent Street.

The Fountain itself has tried over the years to establish itself as a hub for jazz in Madison, with mixed results. For a time, it had frequent recurring performances from Madison-based jazz standouts like Johannes Wallmann and Darren Sterud, and a pretty cool open mic hosted by Louka Patenaude and William Z. Villian. But it never really set its sights on national or international jazz bookings, the way Taylor hopes to with Café Coda.

Taylor plans to have a soft opening for the space in February, and a public grand opening on March 4. He has already secured a grand piano for the venue, and is now focusing on renovating the space and purchasing other audio gear.

Our original story on Café Coda from November remains below.

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Right now there’s no one venue in Madison that devotes itself primarily to jazz, and saxophonist Hanah Jon Taylor wants to change that.

Taylor has helped found and run two venues in Madison previously—the House of Soundz on Willy Street in the mid-1990s, and the Madison Center for Creative and Cultural Arts downtown from 2003 to 2007. Now he wants to open a new place on the ground-floor of the condo-retail development Metropolitan Place, at 329 W. Mifflin St. Taylor is currently raising money for the venue on GoFundMe and is a bit more than halfway to his goal of $10,000 in startup funds.

He’s calling it Cafe Coda, and he envisions it being a music venue by night and a coffee shop by day. Taylor would like to bring more prominent jazz artists to town—the kind that would play venues like Jazz Showcase in Chicago or the Dakota in Minneapolis—as well as international artists, plus hosting workshops, performances by local artists, visual art, and perhaps even screenings of jazz and blues documentaries. He’d like to open by March 1.

"What we want to offer primarily is a scene for jazz artists and jazz enthusiasts that is consistent and without the compromise of a ping pong table or a popcorn machine or a bunch of televisions," Taylor says. “A more sophisticated room.” That means comfortable seating, a tuned piano, and a liquor license, as well as an atmosphere that caters to both serious and casual listeners.

Taylor says that jazz currently has "a lack of presence in the community" in Madison. We're not completely starved for jazz right now: groups like the Greater Madison Jazz Consortium and Madison Music Collective help to bring in touring artists and showcase local acts, the Cardinal Bar has several recurring jazz events like the New Breed Jazz Jam on Tuesdays and the Wisconsin Union Theater includes some bigger-ticket jazz artists in its programming. Then again, none of these satisfy Taylor’s desire to have a place in town where people can go at least four nights a week and know they can count on hearing good jazz.

And he has a point that Madison misses out on a lot of compelling national jazz acts, despite recent visits from younger luminaries like Vijay Iyer and Lionel Loueke. He plans to apply for grants to help bring in more national acts, “so that the stress point of coming to see these people is not on the ticket sales,” and is also open to collaborating with groups like the GMJC, provided they’re on the same page as far as the musical vision. Taylor’s non-profit Kuumba Renaissance will also be involved.

There are a couple of obstacles to running a music venue in a condo building downtown. First, Madisonians can be incredibly picky about noise and anything resembling fun near their homes. Second, Mayor Paul Soglin has been openly hostile to issuing new liquor licenses downtown, even making a fuss over individual businesses seeking to get a license or change an existing one.

However, Taylor says he has the support of the building’s landlord, Terry Tao, and that he’s gotten good feedback from residents so far. He also says Alder Mark Verveer, in whose district Coda would be located, is supportive. (Verveer and the building’s condo association did not immediately return requests for comment.) In a Wisconsin State Journal story earlier this week, former UW-Madison chancellor John Wiley also voiced his support for the venue.

"It’s just a matter of me having all my ducks in line," Taylor says. "I don’t anticipate a problem." He also plans to have the venue close by midnight, reducing possible issues with noise complaints.

If not for the support, especially Tao’s, Taylor says he might not have ever gotten involved in a venue again. House of Soundz closed up after one of his partners in the venue grew tired of hosting live music, and the MCCCA became a victim of the downtown development boom—the monstrous luxury-apartment building Ovation 309 is now where the venue used to be. “It’s kind of ironic because [MCCCA co-founder] Susan Fox and I were walking past the place and we looked inside where our place was at, and we had to remember the old sayig that they took paradise and put up a parking lot, because that’s exactly what occupies our space now,” Taylor says.

However, as involved as he plans to be in the nitty-gritty details of launching and running the venue, Taylor is adamant that he won’t neglect his own music.

"I’m not becoming a manager to not be a practitioner," he says. "But I’m hoping that one will serve the other."