A new, shoebox-sized jazz space in Madison

In Microtones, our newsletter-first column.

In Microtones, our newsletter-first column.

Paul Hastil, Ben Ferris, and Matt Endres performing in March at Madison's Lower Bar.

Paul Hastil, Ben Ferris, and Matt Endres performing in March at Madison’s Lower Bar.

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A slick and somewhat featureless bar on King Street, Madison’s might not top the list of places most folks would think to go looking for jazz. But the place has actually been doing downtown Madison a much-needed service for the past few months by hosting a free Thursday night jazz series in the small bar area hidden in its basement.

Joe White, a Madison native and veteran drummer, began booking the series after one of Madison’s owners told him the recently remodeled basement space wasn’t getting much use. After hearing for a while about these events, most of them featuring locally based jazz musicians in small groups, I finally stopped in and caught a recent two-set performance from bassist Ben Ferris, keyboard player Paul Hastil, and drummer Matt Endres.

White seems to get the moment that jazz is having in Madison, as an energetic assortment of musicians in their 20s and 30s (like Ferris) collaborate or at least cross paths with people who’ve been at it a bit longer (like Hastil). He wants to get musicians to play Madison’s in configurations they don’t usually get to play with, and he thinks local venues need to do a better job of showcasing homegrown jazz talent.

“When I looked at the roster of events at the Jazz Estate [in Milwaukee], the one thing I was taken aback by? It was the fact that it was a lot of my friends from here, and they were prominently playing in Milwaukee, and didn’t have a comfortable place to play like that here,” White says.

The Lower Bar, as it’s called, feels pretty removed from Madison’s proper, though you might hear the occasional outburst bleed through if people are watching a game upstairs. The low-ceilinged downstairs space is dark and a little more chilled-out, with a few tables and a small bar. There’s a proper sound system and stage but it’s small, so the music booking will necessarily focus on duos, trios, and (at most, probably) quartets, which might also make it easier for players to try out different configurations and collaborations.

Given the shoebox proportions of the space—you could maybe cram 60 people down there—it will work best when the music is subtle and the crowd is attentive. White plans to keep it free and locally focused for now, but hints that he might expand the scope of the bookings at some point.

In the meantime another long-important downtown spot for jazz, the Nomad World Pub (formerly the Cardinal Bar), has lost two of its main recurring acts, with the Tuesday New Breed Jazz Jam relocating to the North Street Cabaret and the Thursday Latin jazz jam moving over to Robinia Courtyard. Café Coda had a brief but energetic run on State Street before having to vacate its space last summer, and is still looking for a new location. The downtown Madison Public Library branch still hosts the locally focused InDIGenous jazz series (which continues this Friday), and White has a hand in organizing that as well.

As an east-sider, I’m glad that there’s so much jazz music in my neck of the woods lately (at places including the Cabaret and Arts + Literature Laboratory). But it should have a presence downtown too. So far, I think White and the management at Madison’s are creating the right atmosphere for it. 

UW-Madison professor Dr. Sami Schalk reading at Everyday Gay Holiday in February 2017. Photo by Jennifer Bastian.

UW-Madison professor Dr. Sami Schalk reading at Everyday Gay Holiday in February 2017. Photo by Jennifer Bastian.

New this week:

Edwanike Harbour, Reid Kurkerewicz, Grant Phipps, and Scott Gordon previewed a handful of thrillers, horror, exploitation, and other such genre films you’ll find in this year’s Wisconsin Film Festival lineup.

Grant Phipps interviewed Wisconsin Film Festival and UW Cinematheque programmer Mike King about his decade spent curating film events in Madison. And finally, six Tone Madison writers sat down for a podcast conversation about this year’s festival, running April 5 through 12.

Also on the podcast: Phoebe Schlough talked with with the founders of Inside Everyday Gay Holiday, an unusual new art and literary studio on Atwood Avenue.

We’ve announced the next event we’re hosting: Ka Baird, Louise Bock, and Cult House Sound on May 30 at Communication. Tickets here.

The 2018 Marquette Waterfront Festival music lineup was announced this week. We helped book it and are excited to welcome artists including Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band, Cribshitter, and Protege The Pro, on Waterfront’s two stages on June 9 and 10.

A good handful of other Madison events were announced this past week, including Maria Bamford on Oct. 19 at the Capitol TheaterTigue on June 5 at Mickey’s, and The Dollop on Sept. 13 at the Barrymore.

Elsewhere on Madison internet: It’s a real ugly week for Gib’s Bar. Experimental musician Andrew Fitzpatrick, AKA Noxroy, shares a live set performed recently on WORT’s Weekly World Noise. DJ/producer Saint Saunter, AKA Sarah Akawa, shares the new “Club Hell” mix. Willy Street’s beloved Star Liquor has abruptly closed, the State Journal reports. And there’s finally something to wear to that mansion.

This week’s Madison calendar: Marisa Anderson at Union South, Black Thumb at Mickey’s Tavern, Line Breaks Festival at Memorial Union Play Circle, the Wisconsin Film Festival at multiple venues, Marie/Lepanto at Kiki’s House Of Righteous Music, Andrew Baldwin Quintet at the Central Libraryand more!

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