This year keeps promising to upend jazz in Madison, and the effects will spread beyond its usual audience.
While the Wisconsin Union Theater spreads its jazz and other bookings in its 2012-13 season to other campus venues during major renovations, and the Surrounded By Reality series brings the noisier side of jazz to Madison, the Madison Music Collective will be presenting a series that has as much to do with hip-hop, R&B and pop music as it does its usual realm of jazz and improvised music. The Collective's fall season announcement even cautiously uses the term "post rock." More importantly, it may challenge the organization to evolve its promotional efforts and change how it deals with Madison-based artists.
Crowning the Collective's fall slate is an October residency by Tia Fuller, a saxophonist who's played with Beyonce and Esperanza Spalding. She's also reached into jazz with a more traditional ear, as her 2010 solo album Decisive Steps demonstrates. Fuller is scheduled to conduct educational workshops for Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Wright Middle School, and the Boys and Girls Club of Madison, and will later play a free show with her own quartet on Friday, October 12 at Union South's The Sett, which also ties in with the Union Theater's fall season.
But beyond that, the Madison Music Collective is going heavy on artists with local ties. Its returning "Jazz on a Sunday" series at the Brink Lounge will kick off on September 9 with Laura Caviani, a Twin Cities pianist who reinterprets classical composers in a jazz mode. Both Caviani and saxophonist Pete Whitman will be playing with two Madisonians, bassist John Schaffer and drummer Rand Moore. The Collective has gradually been getting more nervy about asking out-of-town guests to perform with Madison musicians -- during this year's Isthmus Jazz Festival, headliner Mary Stallings was backed by locals Rick Flowers and John Mesoloras in her rhythm section.
The two subsequent Jazz on a Sunday shows aim to be even more genre-bending and Madison-boosting. On November 4, guitarist Luke Polipnick, who recently left Madison for Omaha, will return with a new quartet that aims to embrace everything from straightforward jazz to abrasive improvisation. On December 2, longtime Madison MC Rob Dz will play with solid Cardinal Bar regulars New Breed Quartet to show off the jazz-meets-spoken-word work he's been exploring alongside his usual hip-hop pursuits.
Chris Wagoner, a violinist who co-hosts the Jazz on a Sunday series and the Mad Toast Live musical variety show, says the season's focus derives partially from the necessity of writing eye-catching grant applications, as well as from changing attitudes among Collective board members.
"The Marilyn Crispell show was to us a great revelation, "Wagoner says, referring to an April concert by the renowned free-jazz pianist. "We weren't expecting a great crowd, frankly, because that's a real hard sell for a lot of people, and we had a full room."
In other words, the Madison Music Collective's at least made a start on a task so often neglected in local music: Getting crowds and musicians alike out of their comfort zones. To his credit, Wagoner has made some efforts at that in the past. One September 2010 edition of Mad Toast Live brought in both electronic artist David Biel and polka veterans The Don Peachey Band. One of Wagoner's own current groups, Graminy, combines classical, bluegrass, Klezmer and Indian music, among other styles.
Wagoner confesses that the Collective has some work ahead of it, including reaching a broader audience by cross-promoting to more pockets of Madison's population. He says the organization would like to find more board members who can bring new elements to its work, be that social media skills, or youth, or interests beyond the jazz world.
There's a related challenge, which is simply to make sure local audiences feel that local performers are "special" (Wagoner's word). He thinks board members have recently been making a greater effort to involve local musicians, both as featured acts in their own right and as accompaniment for prestigious out-of-town players. "Where the [Collective] was a couple years ago, we weren't doing any of that outreach," he says.
With this ongoing adaptation, the Madison Music Collective has a shot at making the local music scene's internal boundaries a bit more porous, to healthy effect. After all, it already books shows that make a trip to the nondescript Brink seem like an exciting prospect.