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How much can the Greater Madison Jazz Consortium get done in 2015?

The new non-profit kicks off an ambitious year with a benefit show Sunday at the Cardinal.

Photo: Darren Sterud, left, and Rob Dz will both perform at Sunday’s benefit for the GMJC. Photo by Jess Horn.

The Greater Madison Jazz Consortium did a good job of introducing itself to the public last year with Strollin’, a series of three “jazz crawls” that brought a variety of Wisconsin jazz artists to three different Madison neighborhoods. The non-profit aims to create more local opportunities for musicians, from professional jazz players to elementary-school kids. It serves as an umbrella organization for some other music non-profits in town, including the Madison Jazz Society and the Madison Music Collective (trying to keep all the music non-profits in Madison straight is kind of like that scene in Life Of Brian). The plan is for the Strollin’ series to return this fall, but GMJC has a bunch of other plans for this year, which it will support with proceeds from a benefit show this Sunday at the Cardinal, featuring the Darren Sterud Orchestra, New Breed Quartet with Rob Dz, and Charlie Painter Trio.

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Gary Poulson, who chairs the GMJC and also helps organize the twice-yearly Midwest Gypsy Swing Festival, says the group is currently in talks with the Madison Public Library to host a new series of local jazz artists performing original works at the Central Library this spring. The group is also talking with the Wisconsin Union Theater about putting on a fall series in the Union’s recently renovated Play Circle Theater. Consortium members are also thinking about starting a series of jazz house concerts. They also just launched jazzinmadison.org, a site intended to be a definitive resources for local jazz concert listings and more.

Poulson says the group, which already has five part-time employees, working in areas like event organizing and educational outreach, is looking to hire a development staffer to bolster the grant funding it has already received from charitable foundations and the City of Madison’s Arts Commission.

One reason I’m hopeful that the GMJC can make an impact is that the group realizes that it’s important to keep up with Madison’s musical diversity and not get confined to one of the many little pockets that make up our music community. For instance, the Strollin’ series, organized by bass players Nick Moran and Rob Lundberg, spanned from straightforward jazz-vocal acts to Latin jazz to free-jazz improvisation to spoken-word.

The organization also seems to be casting a wide net in its partnerships: For Strollin’, the bands were paid with a mix of grant funds and contributions from the local business that hosted shows; and for the GJMC’s educational outreach efforts, it dispatches local music educators to work with students through Madison public schools, the Goodman Community Center, the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County, and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

“Some of the members of our board come from a well-defined genre of music, which we want to promote individually, but the universe of jazz is pretty wide and our community is diverse, and you would expect maybe that diversity and breadth to be presented by an organization that purports to be a bigger thing,” Poulson says. “You want to hear the music you love, but you also have to appreciate that there are other things out there that are part of the whole picture.”

Another good sign is that, in a town where a lot of people want to do things to boost up the local arts scene, the GJMC seems cognizant of not duplicating others’ efforts. “We don’t want to overlap or do something that somebody else is already doing and doing fairly well,” Poulson says. “We want to work with the system that exists and then improve it.”

Then again, the GMJC is still a newer organization that’s already written itself a pretty big to-do list—other planned initiatives include setting up a grant fund to support local artists. “Of course, the danger in that is in spreading yourself out too thin,” Poulson admits. “Take Strollin’—why not to 6, why not do 9? We’re trying to feel the edges of our limits at capacity.”

I don’t know how much GMJC will be able to cross off its ambitious agenda in 2015, but I think it’s important that they’re thinking of making an impact beyond, say, the Jazz At Five crowd or the folks who can pony up extra to see jazz concerts at the Overture Center at Union Theater. In fact, a lot of talented younger jazz musicians have quietly moved to town in the time that I’ve lived here. The Surrounded By Reality show series, which focused on bringing in national avant-jazz performers like Chris Corsano and Kyle Bruckmann, has been on-again, off-again. If we gave these performers and bookers more reasons to stick around—or at even just more opportunities to play and thrive and take risks before moving on—perhaps Madison would benefit in the form of adventurous, forward-looking music.

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