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Isthmus Jazz Festival 2018

  • Multiple venues Madison, Wisconsin (map)

The long-running local jazz fest gets an exciting reinvention. Info/tix

Hanah Jon Taylor

Hanah Jon Taylor

The Isthmus Jazz Festival (mostly organized by the staff of the Wisconsin Union Theater, now with help from the Greater Madison Jazz Consortium) has needed a fresh approach for a while now. At last year's fest I watched Milwaukee’s Kevin Hayden Band play a great set to a largely indifferent and chatty crowd at the Rathskeller. As good as the actual music was, the atmosphere felt very out of sync with the wide range of musicians and audiences around Madison who seem newly energized about jazz these days. But there are always compelling local and touring performers in the mix, so it's exciting to see the event throw out the mold and totally reinvent itself this year. Previously comprising a weekend of shows at the Terrace and Union Theater, the fest now expands to 10 days of performances, talks, and film screenings at venues around the city, including spots that have given the local jazz scene a jolt, like North Street Cabaret and Arts + Literature Laboratory.

There's still music on the Terrace, including a June 2 lineup headlined by Chicago guitarist Joel Paterson and his whimsical throwback group The Modern Sounds. Madison-based saxophonist/flautist Hanah Jon Taylor will debut a new suite called "Songs For The Emerging Man" in a June 3 performance at the Madison Opera Center, with an ensemble including percussionist Dushun Mosley and multi-faceted MC Laduma Nguyuza (of Dumate and Fringe Character). The Cabaret will host acts including Milwaukee vocalist Lem Banks on June 3 and Madison Latin-jazz ensemble Acoplados on June 6. Out-of-town standouts in the lineup include Chicago bassist/composer Matt Ulery, who brings his Loom Ensemble to the Brink Lounge on June 7

The parts that aren't performances are just as interesting. UW-Madison Information School professor Ethelene Whitmire will delve into the stories of African-American jazz musicians who've gone to live abroad in a June 3 talk at the Urban League of Greater Madison, followed by a screening of the 1982 documentary Jazz In Exile. WORT-FM jazz DJ Gary Alderman will present a program of rare jazz films on June 7 at the Sequoya Library. Attendees will have two chances to learn more about the history of jazz in Wisconsin, thanks to a June 5 lecture from drummer and UW-Madison adjunct professor Matt Endres and a June 6 launch event for trombonist and Ripon College professor Kurt Dietrich’s book Wisconsin Riffs: Jazz Profiles From The Heartland. Some events are free and some ticketed, so be sure to browse the full schedule. There are many points of entry here, whether you're looking to gain deeper historical context about jazz or just learn more about the jazz musicians working in your own backyard. —Scott Gordon

Later Event: June 1