For Gerri DiMaggio, reviving jazz at the Inn on the Park meant reconnecting with old times.
The Madison jazz singer and her husband, Bob Pesselman, played a regular gig at the Capitol Square hotel for five years in the 1980s as part of the R&B/funk band Mills Street Foundation.
"We lived in an apartment on West Wilson Street at the time," recalls DiMaggio. "Bob would grab his guitar, and we'd walk about four blocks to play our show."
Last year, DiMaggio says she drove past the former venue and felt a wave of nostalgia that prompted her to pick up the phone. "I called Carol Mullins. Jerry and Carol Mullins owned Inn on the Park, and, of course, Jerry died a few years ago, but Carol is still there running it."
DiMaggio made her pitch to begin a weekly jazz series at the hotel, 22 S. Carroll St. "Carol said, 'Well sure, come talk to me about it.'"
Earlier this month, Jazz at the Park commenced as a weekly Friday night show in the Signature Lounge on the hotel's ground floor. This Friday, April 30, Madison's Randal Harrison Trio performs at 8 p.m.
The new series fills a void left after the Concourse Hotel ended its jazz shows in late 2008.
"A lot of the jazz musicians in town were really depressed after that happened," says DiMaggio. "The Hilton pulled their live piano about the same time, and that was real steady money for the piano players."
DiMaggio's promotion company, Bella Productions, is presenting Jazz at the Park. DiMaggio will have more time for music now that she's decided to close her west-side home furnishings store after 25 years.
"Twenty-five years is a long time," she says between shifts helping customers at DiMaggio's Euro Design last weekend.
"I feel like I've been straddling two careers. When I first opened the store I didn't play for about five years. But then I went back. Music is in my blood."
DiMaggio has experience as a promoter. She helped start Jazz at Five in the early 1990s. The annual August/September jazz series enters its 17th season in 2010. Shows are outdoors, in the space where State Street meets the Capitol Square.
Friday night shows in the Signature Lounge aren't the only events DiMaggio has planned for Inn on the Park. "There's nothing better than the big room on the top floor, with its panoramic view," says DiMaggio. Last year, DiMaggio helped produce a Cole Porter tribute concert in that space. "I brought some props from the store. We set it up cabaret-style, and it was off and running."
Starting this fall, Bella Productions will host five to six larger-scale, themed shows in that space. "We're planning three or four shows for the fall and probably two more during winter," DiMaggio says.
DiMaggio is upbeat about the future of jazz downtown. "The Concourse event was a great service to the community and gave us 15 years of great music," she says. "Now that that's over, we jazz musicians can't just wait for someone to come along and hire us. We've got to create something ourselves. That's what we're trying to do at Inn on the Park."