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Isthmus Jazz Festival 2019


  • Multiple venues Madison, Wisconsin (map)

A richly varied 10 nights of jazz performances, film, spoken word, and more. Info/tix

Mai Sugimoto.

Mai Sugimoto.

The long-running Isthmus Jazz Festival has been shaking up its format over the past couple of years. The lineup used to comprise a series of free shows at the Memorial Union Terrace, capped off by a ticketed headliner concert at the Union Theater (recent headliners have included Richard Davis and trumpeter Terence Blanchard). All well and good, but now the festival partners with a greater variety of local venues and jazz organizations, doing a bit more justice to the variety of music contemporary jazz artists are making and the variety of experiences jazz audiences can have in Madison. This year's festival spans not just live music but also film screenings, spoken-word, and workshops and talks.

It kicks off June 7 with a small festival within a festival, Strollin' Monroe Street, part of a Greater Madison Jazz Consortium series that threads a variety of local jazz into the life of different neighborhoods around town; this installment wraps up at Brasserie V with performances from ever-versatile guitarist Louka Patenaude and swing duo Mal-O-Dua. Saturday's "Circus Jazz Brunch" at the Madison Circus Space just off Milwaukee Street is not only a delirious combination of words—Circus! Jazz! Brunch! I defy you to Madison harder!—but also a very solid combination of musicians, namely pianist Paul Hastil of the New Breed Jazz Jam (one of the most fun local jazz musicians to watch and just an all-around font of nimble melody), bassist John Christensen, and Patenaude again (the festival includes some repeat performances from some of the folks who really boost up the local jazz scene, and spotting them in different contexts feels like part of the fun). Chicago saxophonist Mai Sugimoto and Madison saxophonist Anders Svanoe will lead their bands on June 8 at the Winnebago, just the latest of several new jazz-friendly venues Madison has gained over the past few years.

Another busy hub for jazz, Arts + Literature Laboratory, will combine jazz and spoken word on June 9 with performances from a lineup of poets, songwriters, and rappers, namely T Banks, Zhalarina, Dequadray, and Isha Camara. The North Street Cabaret will host a June 11 screening of Martin Ritt's 1961 film Paris Blues, set amid Paris' expat jazz scene and scored by Duke Ellington. Drummer Matt Endres and UW-Madison professor Anthony Black will lead a June 10 talk on the improvisational techniques of legendary jazz drummer Roy Haynes and the abstract expressionist paintings of artist Bob Thompson, who often drew inspiration from jazz. Browse the full schedule, and if you prefer the "kicking back on the Terrace" part, there's an excellent chance to do that on June 15 with music from brilliant Chicago drummer/producer Makaya McCraven and his trio, as well as trumpeter Dave Cooper, Acoplados, Devin Drobka's Bell Dance Songs, and student ensembles from both Edgewood College and UW-Madison. Some Jazz Fest events are free and some are ticketed, so plan ahead. —Scott Gordon

Earlier Event: June 6
Jonah Parzen-Johnson