Podcast: Johannes Wallmann on celebration and struggle

The jazz pianist and composer celebrates the release of his new album, "Love Wins," on May 3 at the North Street Cabaret.

  Photo by Max Wendt

Photo by Max Wendt

Johannes Wallmann's latest album, Love Wins, draws on a couple of pivotal moments in the jazz pianist's personal, political, and creative life. Wallmann and his husband Keith Borden were among the people who sued the state of Wisconsin to overturn the state's ban on same-sex marriage. That lawsuit of course succeeded, with a federal court ruling in 2014 that brought marriage equality to the state, about a year before a separate ruling in the United States Supreme Court took it nationwide.

Since he moved to Madison to become head of the jazz studies program at UW-Madison's Mead Witter School of Music, Wallmann has also been doing a lot of collaborating with Wisconsin-based musicians, both in and out of academia. He released two albums in 2015, the big-band record Always Something and the gorgeously flowing, mostly quintet-centered The Town Musicians. Between them they featured players including Madison bassist Nick Moran, Milwaukee-based trumpeter Russ Johnson, and Madison trombone player Darren Sterud, to name a few.

  Rob Dz with Johannes Wallmann. Photo by Keith Borden.

Rob Dz with Johannes Wallmann. Photo by Keith Borden.

In the midst of all that, Wallmann also struck up a collaboration with Madison rapper and spoken-word artist Rob Dz, who frequently improvises rhymes with jazz musicians. The two knew they wanted to record a project together, and Love Wins ended up being the result. Wallmann's compositions explore the fight for marriage equality in an overt way, but with help from Dz's lyrics he also tries to connect that to larger themes, dealing with love itself and other struggles for equality, both in the LGBT community and elsewhere. Most memorably, there's a track called "The Seventh Circuit," where Dz and the rest of the musicians interact with actual recordings of Wisconsin's marriage equality case being argued in federal court.

As the title suggests, Love Wins has a celebratory feel to it, but also explores struggles beyond the marriage-equality battle. "Stonewall Was A Riot," which Wallmann actually composed about 15 years ago, acknowledges a battle fought by people who didn't get their triumphant day in court.

"Marriage equality, within the LGBT community, has not without reason sometimes been criticized as a movement that disproportionately benefits middle-class white people in the LGBT community, and it maybe draws some attention and resources away from the more marginalized people in our community," Wallmann says. "I'm sensitive to that…[Stonewall] was an uprising where non-gender-conforming people, people of color, trans people, were at the very forefront of this, who started this, so on the one hand that people is a shout-out of thanks to them."

The album has actually been done for a while, but due to a delay in its release, Wallmann will be playing a show to celebrate it on March 3 at the North Street Cabaret. We sat down this week in his office in the Humanities Building. 

Give the conversation a listen here, or subscribe to the Tone Madison podcast on Apple Podcasts. If you like what you're hearing, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and consider supporting us financially with a one-time or recurring donation.