Café Coda prepares for a Willy Street rebirth

The jazz club’s second incarnation will host musicians including David Murray, Alexis Lombre and John Christensen this fall.

The jazz club’s second incarnation will host musicians including David Murray, Alexis Lombre and John Christensen this fall. (Photo: Hanah Jon Taylor in front of the venue’s new location. Photo by Scott Gordon.)

It’s now been one year since Café Coda had to leave its initial space just off of State Street, ending a six-month run for musician Hanah Jon Taylor’s vision of a proper jazz club in Madison. Taylor had been eyeing a space on Willy Street for a while, but that fell through. He caught a break when PaintBar Madison abruptly cleared out of 1224 Williamson Street in April. The space is now deep in renovation mode, and Café Coda version two is scheduled to re-open on September 8 with a show from pianist Alexis Lombre.

The 99-capacity venue will be open Wednesdays through Sundays, with a mix of weekly programming and shows from local, regional, and national and international artists. Saxophonist David Murray and percussionist Kahil El’Zabar, who played one of the most memorable shows at the first Café Coda, will be back on October 4; other headliners on the to-be-announced schedule include pianist Lynn Arriale and saxophonist Ari Brown. Madison-based artists slated to headline this fall include bassist John Christensen, saxophonist Anders Svanoe, and free-jazz trio Brennan Connors & Stray Passage. On Wednesdays, Christensen and Taylor will host an improvisation-centered jam session with a rotation of featured guests. Thursdays will be “world music dance” night, which Taylor says will highlight “dance music from various cultures,” including Latin jazz and funk. During the day on Saturdays, the venue will host a community drum circle and a jam session for younger musicians, and on Sunday afternoons, patrons can bring their own jazz vinyl to spin at the venue.

The space itself will have a bar up front, opening up into a performance area with seating and a stage. Most traces of Paint Bar have been stripped away, and Café Coda is in the process of putting in new flooring and drywall. One wall of the bar area will eventually host work from featured visual artists, but will start out hung with large photo prints of jazz artists including Ella Fitzgerald and Josephine Baker. General manager Emma Dehlinger, formerly of the Cardinal Bar, will be running the bar and expects to have a total staff of about eight people. Taylor has dropped his initial plan of serving food at the club, but patrons will be allowed to have food delivered there.

“The idea is that this is not going to be a bar,” Taylor says. “It’s going to be a listening room that sells good alcohol.”

Taylor, a saxophonist, flautist, and improviser, has lived in Madison for about 25 years and has long voiced his displeasure with the amenities and pay that local venues offer jazz musicians. He concedes that there are bright spots in Madison lately—for instance, the North Street Cabaret and Arts + Literature Laboratory regularly bring in noteworthy touring jazz artists, and the local jazz community feels as visible and creatively fertile as ever—but insists Madison doesn’t have anything that quite qualifies as a jazz club. His criteria include a grand piano. Café Coda acquired a donated Yamaha concert grand before opening at its previous space, and that will be moving over to Willy Street. Taylor is also making a point of providing a proper green room in the back of the venue. He’s been involved in started two venues in Madison before, the House of Soundz on Willy Street in the mid-1990s, and the Madison Center for Creative and Cultural Arts downtown from 2003 to 2007.

“The average club owner really does not have too much knowledge of the artist experience, coming to a club, preparing for a gig,” Taylor says.

So far, Taylor says, the venue’s neighbors and the Marquette Neighborhood Association have had a lot of questions, but have also offered support.

“I think this neighborhood is a great neighborhood for the arts and potentially cultivating more enthusiasm about music,” Taylor says. “But they’re highly scrutinous of me and this thing. What made it so interesting to me is that I and this neighborhood are not strangers. I’ve been here for most of the time that I’ve lived in Madison. But I had to account for every day of programming that we wanted to set up. There was concern about this thing called noise, as well as, I guess, the element that live music would bring to a community….but I believe there are people in the community who are really on our side and who helped to alleviate what might have been some fearful concerns of a jazz club on Willy Street.”

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