Five hours into the Isthmus Jazz Festival's Friday night sets, the passion of the music momentarily sparked trouble.
El Clan Destino's ritualistic percussion and primitive chants to the warrior gods swirled through the alcohol-drenched masses on the UW Memorial Union Terrace. And then, the band suddenly stopped. Percussionist Jamie Ryan yelled, "Hey!" and confronted a stage trespasser who stumbled mindlessly through the instruments.
The intruder soon fell back into the crowd. The band restarted their song. The audience seemed unfazed. If the late-night beauty of the Lake Mendota shorefront had a chaotic edge to it, well, that's what jazz is all about.
Across six hours last Friday, a few thousand Madisonians fell under the spell of jazz. The pre-sunset throng of children eating blue ice cream gave way to a sea of lovers sipping tonics in the moonlight.
Local jazz showed off its fiery colors.
The future of the genre commenced the evening. Seven high school students handpicked by Edgewood College instructor Dan Wallach flaunted their instrumental virtuosity and arrangement skills. Between classics by Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, these "High School Jazz All-Stars" proved they know how to compose. Alto-saxophonist Clay Lyons gave each player a chance for solo improvisation on "Clay's Blues."
Just after 6 p.m., and before the All-Stars had finished their set, two members of the band had to bow out. Guitarist Neil Ferris and trumpeter Brett Severson scurried away to Sun Prairie to attend their high school graduation.
In the age of mixers and sequencers, the All-Stars rebutted the notion that youth music has devolved into mechanical arrangements of prerecorded sounds. To some teenagers, anyway, instruments still matter.
Next, the Tim Whalen Nonet proved that the Madison jazz scene is a small world. Members Nickolas Moran (who is also in Madisalsa) and Jamie Ryan would reappear on stage three hours later to perform in El Clan Destino.
The Nonet's piano-centric sound thrived on call-and-response tension between Whalen's keyboard and the horns. It had a political orientation, too. Whalen concluded "Café Gitmo" by saying, "Would you like some water torture with that scone?" Joel Adams added lyrics to the next song, named after George W. Bush's phrase "The Decider." Adams spoke through a large megaphone as the music swelled: "I hear the voices/I read the front page/I know the speculation/I'm the decider!"
The third act of the night, Gerri DiMaggio and her friends Kelly DeHaven and Jeannie Woodall, showcased the vocal and pop sides of jazz. With Paul Hastil accompanying her on piano, DiMaggio sang a bluesy, cabaret rendition of Burt Bacharach's "The Look of Love." Woodall sang a tribute to the late Dakota Staton, and the always-charming DeHaven romanced the audience with her small talk as much as with her singing.
"It's great to be out here on the Terrace," she said, the night after storms had torn through Wisconsin. "No cyclones, no tornados, no golf-ball-size hail. It's perfect, because you're here."
At night's end, El Clan Destino showcased its beat-heavy blend of Afro-Cuban music, jazz and hip-hop. The band seemed intent on peppering its musical soup with all flavors of music. When frontman Nickolas Moran introduced the band's cover of Jeff Beck's "Lead Boots," he added, "Who says we don't do rock?"
Near the end of the night, I walked the length of the lifeguard pier that juts far into Lake Mendota. Boaters huddled near the shore to catch a listen; couples swung their legs over the water. The music was everywhere - blasting out of mammoth speakers, echoing off the windows and trees of the Memorial Union.
It was summer jazz the way it's supposed to be.