Category Archives: Jazz

Choral Union Features Dvorak’s “Te Deum”; UW Annual Fund Underway; Jazz Fest Highlights High School Partnerships

CHORAL UNION CONCERTS FEATURE FIRST-EVER PERFORMANCE OF DVORAK’S “TE DEUM”

This weekend, the UW-community partnership that is the Choral Union will present its first concerts of the year. On the program: Antonin Dvorak‘s Te Deum; the Flos Campi of Ralph Vaughan Williams, with Pro Arte violist Sally Chisholm as soloist; and Giuseppe’s Verdi’s Te Deum.  “The two Te Deums are very different settings of an ancient liturgical song of praise,” says Beverly Taylor, Choral Union conductor.

The concerts are scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 22 at 8 PM, Mills Hall, and Sunday, Nov. 23, 7:30 PM, Mills Hall. Both events are ticketed: $15 general public, $8 students and seniors. You can buy ahead of time and also at the door. Ticket information is here.  Parking information is here. (Free parking on Sundays at Grainger Hall!) (To view these on our events calendar, click here.)

The BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus perform Dvorak’s Te Deum at the BBC Proms in 1996.

CELEBRATING JAZZ THROUGH PARTNERING WITH THE MADISON SCHOOLS

On December 4-6, 2014, the UW School of Music will host the 4th Annual UW/MMSD Jazz Festival, an educational jazz festival featuring workshops and performances by high school big bands from Madison and Middleton, the UW Jazz Orchestra and UW Contemporary Jazz Ensemble, UW jazz faculty, and New York trumpet star Ingrid Jensen.

 

Ingrid Jensen
Ingrid Jensen

Highlights will include two master classes on jazz trumpet and improvisation, a Friday night concert with Jensen and the Johannes Wallmann quintet, and a Saturday concert with the UW orchestra, jazz bands from all four schools, UW faculty and Ingrid Jensen. There will also be clinics for the area high schools.

All events are free. For more information, contact Johannes Wallmann, professor of jazz studies.

GENEROUS LOCAL PHILANTHROPIST PLAYED DOWN HER DONATIONS– UNTIL RECENTLY

Margaret Winston, a UW-Madison scientist who gave generously to the arts, including the UW-Madison School of Music, finally entered the public eye after the new Madison Opera building at 335 West Main Street was re-named in her honor.  She had refused publicity all her life; her gifts to the School of Music included a graduate fellowship in voice. Recipients have included James Kryshak, Shannon Prickett, and J. Adam Shelton.
Read the full story in the Wisconsin State Journal.

SPEAKING OF DONATIONS…

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The UW-Madison Annual Fund is now underway. Gifts from alumni and friends are welcome, and will be directed toward university research, student scholarships, faculty retention and recruiting, and so much more. Only 16% of UW-Madison’s budget is funded by state support, so your support is valued more than ever before. Click here to donate!

APPLICATIONS NOW BEING ACCEPTED FOR SUMMER CELLO INSTITUTE AT UW-MADISON

Announcing the 2015 “Your Body is Your Strad” Summer Programs

The National Summer Cello Institute (May 30 – June 12, 2015) is a unique program tailored for professional, graduate, and advanced undergraduate cellists.  The focus of the program is on the close relationship between effective use of the body and musical communication.  Twenty two cellists who are selected by audition submission delve deeply into the connection between body awareness and cellistic proficiency, musical expression, effective teaching, and injury prevention. All selected participants attend the full two week Your Body Is Your Strad program, which include the Feldenkrais for All Performers component.  They are exposed to a range of performance and pedagogical topics, represented by internationally acclaimed faculty. This year’s program will feature guest teachers Timothy Eddy of The Juilliard School, Paul Katz of New England Conservatory, as well as founders and returning faculty Uri Vardi, cello professor at UW-Madison, and Hagit Vardi, a UW-Health Feldenkrais practicitioner.

The Feldenkrais for All Performers program (May 30 – June 3, 2015) is for all instrumentalists, singers, actors, and dancers dedicated to exploring the intimate relationship between body awareness and artistic expression, while learning to prevent injuries. The program will feature musicians and Feldenkrais practitioners, Uri and Hagit Vardi, and presentations by specialists in Integrative Health, Authentic Performance, Mind-Eye Connection, Stage Anxiety, and Improvisation.

Learn about both programs here.

“Cellists move and groove”: 2014 Wisconsin State Journal

KLEZMER WORKSHOPS AND CONCERT THIS WEEK AT UW-MADISON

The Mayrent Institute for Yiddish Culture presents several events this week that continue its mission to study and preserve historical Yiddish music and culture. The events include a public workshop with founder Sherry Mayrent on Yiddish music performance on Wednesday, Nov. 19, 7:30 PM at the Pyle Center (702 Langdon St.) , and a second one for students, Friday, Nov. 21, at 2 PM at the School of Music, 2411 Humanities. Learn more here. Registration is requested; check link for details.

Mayrent and founding director Henry Sapoznik will also present a “Sound Salon,” an evening of Yiddish culture and concert, Thursday, Nov. 20, 7:30 at the University Club.

All events are free and open to the public.

STUDENT/ALUMNI NEWS

Music Theorists Present Papers: Ten current and former students of the graduate program in music theory recently spoke at the joint meeting of the American Musicological Society and the Society for Music Theory. Read more here. 

FACULTY NEWS

Laura Schwendinger receives residency grant from League of American Orchestras

“The program provides $7,500 grants, underwritten by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, to cover weeklong residencies during which each participating orchestra will perform a work from the resident composer’s catalog, ” according to the New York Times. Schwendinger will be paired with the Richmond Symphony Orchestra.

To learn about many more events at the UW-Madison School of Music, check our full concert calendar.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Pro Arte goes on tour; new faculty hires; di Sanza receives award

Pro Arte Quartet Rehearsal with composer Benoit Mernier
Benoit Mernier rehearsed with the Pro Arte Quartet in March. Photo by Michael R. Anderson.

Pro Arte Quartet Plans Belgium Concert Tour

The UW Pro Arte Quartet will return to its roots in May with a concert tour of Belgium, where the group was first formed in 1912.

The trip is the capstone of the Pro Arte’s centennial season and is believed to be the quartet’s first return to its homeland since being stranded in the U.S. when Nazi forces invaded Belgium, and UW responded by creating a residency for the group. The tour will feature the European premiere of the quartet’s latest commission, String Quartet No. 3 by Belgian composer Benoît Mernier.

Mernier’s composition received its world premiere by the Pro Arte on March 1 at Mills Concert Hall in the Mosse Humanities Building on the UW-Madison campus. The European premiere is scheduled for May 26 at the Brussels Conservatory, where the Pro Arte itself originated. Read a review of the Madison concert here.

The Pro Arte will kick off the weeklong tour on May 22 with a performance in Studio 1 of the Flagey Building, home to Belgium’s broadcast industry. The program will include compositions by Mozart, César Franck and Randall Thompson. Studio 1 has historic significance for the Pro Arte, too. An earlier iteration of the quartet recorded a Beethoven cycle there in 1938.

On May 23, the Pro Arte will perform an afternoon concert in the Arthur de Greef Auditorium of the Royal Library of Belgium in Brussels. The library series features works important to the library’s collections, and Pro Arte will present a program featuring works by Bartok and Haydn, since the library holds first editions of these composers. Know any Dutch? If so, you may read the announcement here: http://www.kbr.be/actualites/concerts/programme/23_05_nl.html

On May 24, the Pro Arte will travel to Dolhain Limburg, birthplace of the quartet’s founding violinist Alphonse Onnou for a reception, dinner and performance at Kursaal Dolhain. The evening program will include compositions by Mozart, Franck, Haydn and Alexander Glazunov. The Mernier European premiere at the Brussels Conservatory follows on May 26, along with compositions by Mozart, Thompson and Samuel Barber.

The final performance of the tour on May 27 will take place at the Catholic University of Louvain-la-Neuve. In addition to the Mernier work, the performance would include works by Mozart and Barber. In addition, the audience will view a 1975 documentary film about the Pro Arte by Pierre Bartholomée that includes interviews with composers Darius Milhaud, Igor Stravinsky and others.

Final arrangements for the trip are in the works pending the resolution of some current restrictions regarding international travel.

The Pro Arte Quartet issued a commemorative CD last year. Read about the CD here. To purchase it, click here.

Wisconsin Public Television filmed the quartet in concert last year. Watch the video here.

New faculty hired for next year

The School of Music will add three visiting professors next year. One, David Ronis of New York City, will replace retiring opera director William Farlow. A second, Tom Curry, will replace retiring tuba professor John Stevens, And a third, Leslie Shank, will replace violin professor Felicia Moye, who has accepted a position at McGill University in Montreal.

The School has issued separate news releases for all new faculty.

Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra violinist Leslie Shank to join UW

School of Music appoints alumnus Tom Curry as visiting assistant professor of tuba

School of Music announces David Ronis as visiting director of opera

 

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Percussion professor wins Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Award

Nominated by one of his students

Anthony Di Sanza
Percussion Professor Anthony Di Sanza working with students. Photo by Michael R. Anderson.

Anthony Di Sanza, professor of percussion in the School of Music, has received the Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Award, nominated by percussion student Jacob Wolbert (who was published in this space last summer), who was himself inducted into the society on April 12. Phi Beta Kappa is the nation’s oldest academic honor society and honors undergraduates for outstanding scholarly achievement. Students elected into Phi Beta Kappa are asked to nominate a deserving faculty whose teaching is exemplary and who encouraged their love of learning. Wolbert nominated di Sanza.

“Professor DiSanza found a way to transfer my musical skills into my non-musical ones and has encouraged my endeavors, providing wisdom and guidance even when they are unrelated to music,” says Wolbert. “Overall, he recognizes the value of music in an interdisciplinary education, a crucial tenet of what it means to receive an undergraduate liberal arts education here at UW-Madison.”

“I am deeply honored by this award and even more so by the fact that Jacob Wolbert, this engaged, talented and thought-provoking student, would think highly enough of my efforts to nominate me,” says di Sanza. Read the full press release here.

Speaking of choral: Sing this Summer! Auditions are now open for Madison Summer Choir

The Madison Summer Choir is an approximately 80-voice, auditioned choir performing a cappella, piano-accompanied, and choral-orchestral works, conducted by alumnus Ben Luedcke. We are supported by singers, the larger Madison community, and UW-Madison School of Music. 2014 will be our sixth year keeping summer choral arts alive – please join us on stage or in the audience! Rehearsals start in room 1351 Humanities, Monday May 19th, 5:15-7:15 pm, and are open to all current UW choral singers, as well as the community. The final concert is June 27, 7:30 pm, at First Congregational United Church of Christ. On the program: Schicksalslied, Op. 54, of Johannes Brahms, and Te Deum, by Georges Bizet.

Graduate wins Elliott Carter Rome Prize for music composition

Paula Matthusen, a 2001 graduate in composition who studied with professor Stephen Dembski and is now Assistant Professor of Music at Wesleyan University has received the Elliot Carter Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome. The prize is awarded annually to about thirty people “who represent the highest standard of excellence in the arts and humanities,” according to the academy’s website.  Winners receive a fellowship and are invited to live in Rome for up to two years. Read a 2009 review of Paula’s work here.

Selected upcoming concerts at the School of Music

(For a full list, please see http://www.music.wisc.edu/calendar )

Saturday, April 26: Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Vespers” or “All-Night Vigil” performed by Choral Union

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The Choral Union in rehearsal. Photo by Michael R. Anderson.

On Saturday, April 26 at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW-Madison Choral Union will perform Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Vespers” or “All-Night Vigil,” composed in 1915, consisting of settings of texts taken from the Russian Orthodox All-night vigil ceremony. Read about this work in Madison’s blog, The Well-Tempered Ear.

Tickets: $10/Adults & General Public, Free/Students and Seniors. Call (608) 265-ARTS (2787) for ticket info or buy online (surcharge applies; no surcharge if purchased at box office).

Thursday, May 1: Brian Lynch, the UW Jazz Orchestra and the High School Honors Jazz Band

Lynch to offer master classes on Wednesday, April 30 and Thursday, May 1 – see http://www.music.wisc.edu/calendar for details

Grammy-award winning jazz trumpeter Brian Lynch will perform May 1 as a guest of the UW Jazz Orchestra. Lynch, a native of Milwaukee who now makes his home in New York City, will appear in concert with the orchestra and the High School Honors Jazz Band, an auditioned ensemble comprised of the best jazz musicians that Madison-area schools have to offer.  Student tickets $5/general public $10. http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/Season13-14/Brian-Lynch.html

Read an earlier post here.

Read an interview with Brian Lynch in the blog, The Cultural Oyster.

UW Jazz is big winner in Eau Claire; Lincoln Trio to premiere Schwendinger work live on radio; “Save the date” for May 16 grad celebration

UW Contemporary Jazz ensemble wins first place in UW-Eau Claire Jazz Festival

Jazz Orchestra is runner-up in separate category

UW Contemporary Jazz Ensemble. Top row (l-r): Robert Medina, Alex Charland, Dylan Edwards, Johannes Wallmann, Ben Knox; bottom row (l-r): Nat Schwartz, Michael Wedoff

Two School of Music jazz ensembles directed by Assistant Professor Johannes Wallmann were recognized at the 47th Annual Eau Claire Jazz Festival this past weekend: The UW Contemporary Jazz Ensemble won first place in the college combo category (out of ten participating bands), and the UW Jazz Orchestra was the runner-up in the college big band category (out of seven bands). As a result of their first- and second-place finishes, both groups were invited to perform at the festival’s evening concert for an audience of several hundred festival participants and community members.

The UW Contemporary Jazz Ensemble is a sextet consisting of trumpet, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, piano, bass, and drums, that performs pieces composed in the last couple of decades by significant jazz artists, UW visiting guest artists, ensemble students, and its director. The ensemble’s winning set included London-based trumpeter Kenny Wheeler’s “Foxy Trot,” Wallmann’s “Arbutus,” and the ballad “Jurre” by Chicago guitarist Zvonimir Tot, who had performed as a guest artist with the ensemble in March at UW. The ensemble was founded in 2012 by Prof. Wallmann when he joined the faculty of the School of Music.

The UW Jazz Orchestra was first established in 1968 in the classic big band format. Its present incarnation focuses on repertoire from the 1950s to today, with an emphasis on the music of guest composers and performers. The UWJO’s festival set included New York trombonist Pete McGuinness’s “The Swagger,” Thad Jones’s “Cherry Juice,” and Wallmann’s “Your Silence Will Not Protect You.”

Alex Charland (tenor sax), Peter Garofalo (piano), Ben Knox (alto sax), and Erik Olsen (trombone) all received outstanding soloist awards at the festival. This marks the second year that UW jazz ensembles have participated in the Eau Claire jazz festival. Last year’s ensemble came in second and third in their respective categories. Congratulations to all!

Noted jazz trumpeter to perform with college and high school students on May 1

Meanwhile, in Mills Hall at 7:30 PM on May 1, Grammy-award winning jazz trumpeter Brian Lynch will cap off the jazz season as a guest of the UW Jazz Orchestra. Lynch, a native of Milwaukee who now makes his home in New York City, will appear in concert with the orchestra and the High School Honors Jazz Band, an auditioned ensemble comprised of the best jazz musicians that Madison-area schools have to offer. Scroll to the bottom of this page for a list of every high school student who will perform in the orchestra.

Brian Lynch.
Brian Lynch. Photo copyright Tomoji Hirakata.

Lynch went to Nicolet High School, and learned from local artists first hand. After graduating from the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, Lynch moved to New York, where he performed with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and the Horace Silver Quintet, and collaborated with greats such as Hector Lavoe, Eddie Palmieri, Benny Golson, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Lila Downs, and Prince. Click here for a 2007 New York Times story about Lynch and Eddie Palmieri performing at the 92nd Street Y.

Going on to produce 15 albums and teach as Professor of Jazz Trumpet at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami, Lynch has made a name due to his ability to draw from a wide range of jazz styles and inspirations. “I think that to be a jazz musician now means drawing on a wider variety of things than 30 or 40 years ago,” Lynch says. “Not to play a little bit of this or a little bit of that, but to blend everything together into something that has integrity and sounds good.” This concert is presented by Wisconsin Union Directorate’s Performing Arts Committee and Isthmus Weekly and supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts. WORT 89.9 FM is the media sponsor. This event is ticketed: prices range from $5 for students to $15 for adults. For tickets, click here.

Please note: Lynch will offer a master class on May 1 at 1:30 PM, Mills Hall. The public is welcome.

 

World premiere of new Schwendinger work to be broadcast live on WFMT radio

Laura Schwendinger
Laura Schwendinger

The Grammy-nominated Lincoln Trio will premiere Laura Elise Schwendinger’s Arc of Fire, commissioned in 2012 by Chamber Music America, on Saturday, April 19, 2014 at Gottlieb Hall at the Merit School of Music in Chicago.  It will also be broadcast live on WFMT’s show, “Relevant Tones.”  The Lincoln Trio will also be playing Stacy Garrop’s Sanctuary. in 2012, Schwendinger won the extremely competitive award with the Lincoln Trio, hailed in FANFARE Magazine as “one of the hottest young trios in the business.” Arc of Fire, composed in August, 2013, is dedicated to the memory of Gene Chinn, Schwendinger’s father-in-law. It is an intense and virtuosic 22 minute work that follows the stages of fire:

I. incipient… spark II. smoldering III. flames… IV. inferno V. false ebbing… VI. flare up VII. ebbing… (decay) and VIII. memento mori (melancholy waltz) for what has been lost, IX. decay…embers.

Meanwhile…save the date! The world premiere of Laura Schwendinger’s “Creature Quartet,” performed by the JACK Quartet, will be held on Friday, May 8, 2015, 8 pm at the renovated Shannon Hall, Wisconsin Union Theater, as part of the theater’s celebratory 75th anniversary.

New professor Jerome Camal augments growing “global music studies” program

With the appointment of Professor Jerome Camal, a faculty appointment in the Department of Anthropology, this semester marked a new beginning for ethnomusicology at UW-Madison’s School of Music. The new initiative, a “global music studies” program, examines music’s constitution as a cultural force woven into the social and political fabric. The university will offer courses and certificates at both the undergraduate and graduate levels with the expectation of initiating formal degrees in the future. It is made possible through support from the Mellon Foundation.
Click here to read more.

“Grace presents” Baroque music for a Saturday at noon

At the Square on Saturday for the just-opened Farmers’ Market? Stop in to Grace Episcopal Church, 116 W. Washington Avenue, for an hour of free R&R. On April 26, the church will offer a concert of new plus historic music for baroque flute, featuring Mi-Li Chang and Danielle Breisach on baroque flute; John Chappell Stowe on harpsichord; Stephanie Jutt on modern flute; and Eric Miller on viola da gamba. The program will include compositions by David MacBride, Robert Strizich, François Couperin, and Johann Sebastian Bach, as well as UW-Madison composers Stephen Dembski and Marc Vallon.

Javanese music and dance in Mills Hall, April 26

The Gamelan Ensemble, 2001. Photograph by Michael Forster Rothbart.
The Gamelan Ensemble, 2001. Photograph by Michael Forster Rothbart.

On Saturday, April 26 at 3:00 pm in Mills Hall, the University of Wisconsin School of Music, Department of Dance, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, and Indonesian Students’ Association present “Across Regional Boundaries: A Javanese Music and Dance Concert. The program is a collaboration between the UW Javanese Gamelan Ensemble in its first year under the direction of Steve Laronga and the UW Javanese Dance troupe, directed by Prof. Peggy Choy. The concert will present the closely related but sharply contrasting repertories and performance styles of the Central Javanese court music tradition of Yogyakarta and the lively popular traditions of East Java. Joining the UW Javanese Gamelan will be guest artists Prof. Christina Sunardi (University of Washington), an expert on East Javanese dance, and Yogyanese music and dance experts Prof. Roger Vetter (Grinnell College) and Val Vetter (Grinnell College). For more information, please contact Steve Laronga at smlaronga@wisc.edu.
Read more. 

School of Music to hold a combo awards & graduation celebration

School of Music graduate Ami Yamamoto in December 2013, with her parents, Tatsuhiko and Mami.
School of Music graduate Ami Yamamoto in December 2013, with her parents, Tatsuhiko and Mami.

The School of Music will be honoring and celebrating the achievements of the Class of 2014 as well as recipients of student awards on Friday, May 16, 2014 at 2:30 p.m. in Music Hall.

All graduates and award recipients are encouraged to attend this special recognition along with their family, friends and guests.  Members of the School of Music administration, faculty, and staff will be hosting the event.  Other guests of honor are the School’s generous scholarship and award donors, the School of Music Board of Visitors, members of the School of Music Alumni Association, representatives from the UW Foundation, and the School’s Academic Associate Dean from the College of Letters & Science.  A catered reception of hors d’oeuvres and light refreshments will follow the ceremony.

Parking on campus will be free and open to the public starting at 12 p.m. on Friday afternoon.  Guests are welcome to park in any UW-Madison parking ramp and surface lot. To view a map of parking options, please click here.

Music Hall offers accessible seating. Please call 263-1900 to specify your needs for accessible seating so we are able to accommodate you.

The College of Letters & Science will host a pre-commencement reception in the Field House at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday, May 17, 2014 from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.  Please click here for more details.

Hyperion Fox Trot Orchestra to hold reunion concert May 19

A benefit for the Karlos and Melinda Moser Opera Ticket Fund

Mills Hall, 7:30 PM. Tickets: $20 from Vilas Box Office, 265-2787.  www.arts.wisc.edu

Melinda Moser (at piano), Karlos Moser, and Rick Mackie.
Melinda Moser (at piano), Karlos Moser, and Rick Mackie.

The original Hyperion Oriental Fox Trot Orchestra was a “hot dance” revival orchestra, complete with strings, which performed an eclectic survey of early Twentieth Century popular American music. From Ragtime classics, through the transitional Tin Pan Alley idiom which names the orchestra, to masterpieces of the Jazz Age, the repertoire is sourced from collections of original published scores and manuscripts and includes a few transcriptions from famous recordings of the times.

The orchestra was very popular in Madison gigs in the 1970’s. Spearheaded by former University Opera director Karlos Moser and Madison Symphony Orchestra executive director Rick Mackie (who will both reprise their original roles in this 15-person orchestra) the May 19 concert will celebrate the Hyperion’s original debut at the Grand Benefit Ball for the Wisconsin Ballet on April 4, 1974. The program will be a mélange of New Orleans music and some famous derivatives, featuring music of Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Waller, and Duke Ellington. Karlos Moser will open the concert with Magnetic Rag, Scott Joplin’s last, a poignant end to the era of ragtime as jazz kicked-in the door. Special Guest Jacqueline Colbert will perform several vocals expressing the influence of the blues which was and is so pervasive in jazz. Hyperion will have audience dancing in the aisles with a playlist including Joplin’s “Magnetic Rag”; Jelly Roll Morten’s “New Orleans Blues,” “Jungle Blues,” and “I Wish I Could Shimmy like My Sister Kate”; Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’ “; and Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got That Swing.”

This concert will reunite artists who have played with the orchestra over the decades, including six of the original members present at its debut performance. Violinists Karen Smith (now with the Milwaukee Symphony), Wendy Buehl (Madison Symphony) and Leyla Sanyer (formerly Madison Symphony) were there from the beginning, with Buehl taking on the special task of cataloguing the unique collection of rarities in the orchestra’s library. Originals Melinda Moser, piano, Rick Mackie, drums and Pete Deakman, bass, also join Moser for this performance. The reed section will include tenor saxophonist Dick Lottridge, another UW School of Music faculty veteran best known as professor of bassoon and former principle bassoonist of the Madison Symphony. Lottridge has been a member since 1980, the year in which violinist Diane Mackie made her first Hyperion appearance. UW Professor of Trumpet John Aley has been in the first chair since 1982. Download press release: Hyperion Press release

Below: Watch Karlos and Melinda Moser perform in a “Music in Performance” class at the School of Music, Spring 2013, a one-credit class popular with non-majors and the community that seeks to introduce newcomers to the varied genres of music. To learn more about this class, see http://music.wisc.edu/mip.

 

Former percussion professor and studio to hold summer reunion

Students of Professor Emeritus Jim Latimer have planned an all-percussion reunion of former students (and their families) and are trying to spread the word to reach as many former students as possible. This includes students of the applied area, percussion ensemble and techniques classes.

Jim Latimer was professor of music, head of the percussion area and director of the UW Percussion Ensemble at UW-Madison from 1968 until his retirement in June 1999. He was also timpanist with the Madison Symphony for the same 31 years. From 1972 to 1978, he was Music Director of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras and took the orchestras on the first out-of-state tours, including representing Wisconsin at the Bicentennial Parade of American Music and the Kennedy Center in Washington DC in 1976. He has conducted one of Wisconsin’s finest concert bands, the Capitol City Band, since 1981 and continues to play concerts in the park with CCB each summer. He also conducts the volunteer community band, the VFW Band, is the founding member of the Madison Marimba Quartet and plays percussion with his own dance ensemble. He can be reached at jhlatime@wisc.edu

Saturday, June 28, 3:00 pm to 9:00 pm (open mic at 4 pm).
Rennebohm Park, 115 N Eau Claire Ave, Madison, WI
RSVP by May 1 to one of the following alums:
MaryJo Biechler hop2it@uwalumni.com
Connie Coghlan concog@aol.com
Nancy (Kath) Riesch-Flannery nancysue1@aol.com
David Pedracine at pedracine@yahoo.com

Did you know that the School of Music Alumni Association has its own website? Here’s where you can read and contribute news of alumni, become a member, find out about special events, and contribute money toward much-needed student scholarships at the School of Music. http://uwsomaa.org/

The 2014 High School Honors Jazz Band

Performing Thursday, May 1, Mills HAll, with Brian Lynch and the UW Jazz Orchestra.

Edgewood High School – teacher: Carrie Backman
-Benjamin Drummond, alto saxophone (alumnus of UW Summer Music Clinic)
Madison Memorial High School – teachers: Ben Jaeger (bands) & Ben Ferris (jazz, SoM UW ’13 Music Ed alumnus)
-Gabriel Guglielmina, trombone
-Lindsey Kermgard, trumpet
-Kameron Kudick, drums/percussion
-Sam Szotkowski, trumpet
Madison West High School – teacher: Dr. Scott Eckel
-Marie Kaczmarek, trumpet (alumna of UW Summer Music Clinic)
McFarland High School – teachers: Joe Hartson and Benjamin Petersen
-Maria Hilgers, baritone saxophone
Middleton High School – teacher: Brad Schneider
-Eli Bucheit, piano
-Burton Copeland, trumpet
-Tanner Tanyeri, drums/percussion
Sun Prairie High School – teacher: Steve Sveum
-Ryan Kruger, bass trombone
-Sam Olson, bass
-Xavier Payne, tenor saxophone
-Alexander Valigura, trombone
Stoughton High School – teacher: Dan Schmidt
-Lucas Myers, guitar
Verona Area High School – teachers: Paul Heinecke (jazz) and Eric Anderson (band)
-Philip Rudnitzky, tenor saxophone
Waunakee High School – teachers: Sam Robinson and Ryan Gill (UW SoM music ed alum)
-Andrew Maxfield, alto saxophone

 

 

 

 

UW alumna singer records with Grammy winner Roomful of Teeth; Brass and Woodwind Quintets to play at a town near you; Piano lovers’ heaven this Sat. at UW

UW alumna singer making a mark as vocalist

UW alumna Sarah Brailey after a recording session with the Grammy- winning ensemble Roomful of Teeth. From left: Merrill's sound engineer, Cameron Beauchamp, Merrill Garbus, Brad Wells, Taylor Ward, Virginia Warnken, Esteli Gomez, Sarah Brailey, Caroline Shaw, Eric Dudley, Dashon Burton.
UW alumna Sarah Brailey after a recording session with the Grammy- winning ensemble Roomful of Teeth. From left: Merrill’s sound engineer (in blue), and singers Cameron Beauchamp, Merrill Garbus, Brad Wells, Taylor Ward, Virginia Warnken, Esteli Gomez, Sarah Brailey, Caroline Shaw, Eric Dudley and Dashon Burton.

A round of applause for Sarah Brailey, a 2007 master’s graduate who studied with vocal professor Paul Rowe and received the School’s prestigious Collins Fellowship, who has been lately appearing on stages from continent to continent, including New York’s Carnegie Hall, the Barbican in London, and Electric Lady in Greenwich Village. Sarah is a full-time member of the Choir of Trinity Church on Wall Street and has been a part-time writer for the Natural Resources Defense Council (“who are totally supportive of my singing and are willing to let me have a very flexible schedule”). Nowadays, though, singing is taking the biggest role in her life.

Sarah, who received a bachelor’s degree from the Eastman School of Music, is originally from LaCrosse, Wisconsin. While in Madison, she played the role of Donna Elvira in Mozart’s Don Giovanni with University Opera.

Here’s what Sarah says about her work these days: “I’ve been on tour with the Choir of Trinity Wall Street and The English Concert, doing Handel’s Theodora. Among the incredible soloists are David Daniels, Dorothea Röschmann, and Sarah Connolly. We have been to Sonoma and Costa Mesa, California, Chapel Hill, and will have concerts at Carnegie Hall, the Barbican in London, Town Hall in Birmingham (England), and the Théâtre des Champs Élysées in Paris.

“This season, I had the immense pleasure of performing Britten’s Les Illuminations for the first time with Novus NY. Read a review here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/09/arts/music/handels-messiah-at-trinity-church.html

“I have recently started working with legendary composer John Zorn. This past summer, we premiered his “Madrigals” at the Guggenheim Museum.” Wrote the New York Times’s Steve Smith: “Those singers and three more — the sopranos Lisa Bielawa and Sarah Brailey, and the mezzo-soprano Abby Fischer — brought the same exactitude and luster to “Madrigals,” for which Mr. Zorn assembled phrases inspired by reading Percy Bysshe Shelley. Harmonically consonant, often unambiguously melodic and rhythmically effervescent, these half-dozen songs could easily slip into standard repertory.”

(L to R): Aulikki Eerola, Pertti Eerola, and
Three revered musicians from the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland will be in Madison and Milwaukee for a one-week residency March 2 – 8 to talk about Finland’s music education system, hold master classes, and perform a concert on March 8 at Luther Memorial Church. Click image to learn more.

“We also sang his piece, ‘Holy Visions,’ based on the writings of Hildegard von Bingen, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as part of an entire day dedicated to his works that were performed throughout the museum. We traveled to Huddersfield, England to perform both pieces in the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival and will be recording Holy Visions this spring.

“I have also worked on and off this season with the Grammy-winning contemporary a cappella vocal group, Roomful of Teeth. The photograph is from a recording session we did in August with Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs at Electric Lady in Greenwich Village. Electric Lady was originally built by Jimi Hendrix and has been used by artists such as John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Kiss, Daft Punk, and AC/DC.

In March, Sarah will perform Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians” down in Knoxville, Tennessee at the Big Ears Festival and also recording with the Grammy-nominated vocal octet, New York Polyphony. In May, she’ll perform with the Trinity Choir and Bang on a Can All-Stars for the New York premiere of Julia Wolfe’s “Anthracite Fields,” part of the New York Philharmonic’s Biennial Celebration.

National alumni, take note! Sarah’s other upcoming performances include:

Feb 26, 5pm, CUNY Grad Center: I’m performing a song cycle by André Brégégère with text by French-Carribean poet Édouard Glissant on CUNY’s Composers Now Festival.
March 4, 8pm, Alice Tully Hall: I’m soloing with The American Classical Orchestra in Handel’s Samson under the direction of Nicholas McGegan.
March 14 in Aiken, S. Carolina; March 16 in Morrow, GA; March 17 at Alice Tully in NYC: Bach’s St. Matthew Passion with The Choir of Trinity Wall Street and Juilliard 415.
March 29-30: I’m performing Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians at the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, TN.
April 18: I’m performing Josep Sanz’s King Lear with Ekmeles at the MATA Festival in NYC.

Wingra Woodwind Quintet and Wisconsin Brass Quintet on tour to northern Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota


The Wisconsin Idea is alive and well in the School of Music. This week, two of our four ensembles-in-residence will be on the road, offering a wonderful opportunity for classical music aficionados who don’t live in Madison (and we know there are many!) to hear some beautiful music.

Wisconsin Brass Quintet:

  • Tuesday, February 25, UW-Barron County – Fine Arts Auditorium, Rice Lake, WI. 7:00 pm. Wisconsin Brass Quintet, with the UW-Madison Wind Ensemble. Free.
  • Thursday, February 27, Owatonna High School, Owatonna, Minnesota. 7:00 pm. Wisconsin Brass Quintet, with the UW-Madison Wind Ensemble. Free.
  • Future outstate concerts, please see http://artsoutreach.wisc.edu/wis_brass.html
  • In Madison, you can see the quintet perform on March 29, at 8 Pm in Mills Hall.

 Wingra Woodwind Quintet:

  • This Wednesday in Madison, the  Wingra Woodwind Quintet will perform at a new location, Capital Lakes Retirement Community, 333 West Main Street, 7:30 pm. The quintet will also perform at a special dinner concert at the University Club on May 8.
  • In Ashland on February 28, United Presbyterian- Congregational Church, 7:30 pm. Tickets $15.00. http://www.ashlandchambermusic.org/concerts.html
  • In Three Lakes on March 1, at Three Lakes Elementary School, 6930 West School St. The concert begins at 7:30 pm. Tickets $10.00.
  • More information: http://artsoutreach.wisc.edu/wingra.html

Meanwhile, here in Madison we have a few special events on the docket for this weekend and next week….including the Pro Arte Quartet’s world premiere of String Quartet No. 3 by Belgian composer Benoit Mernier (read this week’s story by local blogger Jake Stockingerand a residency by three musicians of the Sibelius Academy, in Helsinki, Finland. That residency begins with a master class for singers and collaborative pianist on March 2. Read more, including the complete schedule, here.

Piano Extravaganza! to feature well-known pianists as well as rising stars

Hear the UW’s best collegiate pianists, faculty and high school talents at an all-day festival this Saturday at UW-Madison. Masterclasses, workshops and performances hosted by UW-Madison faculty and students. This year’s Piano Extravaganza will feature piano works influenced by jazz and blues. Here is the schedule of events:

Friday, February 28, 2014

8:00 PM: Mills Concert Hall: Christopher Taylor, Faculty Concert Series

Saturday, March 1, 2014

8:30-11:00 AM: Piano Extravaganza Competition

11:00 AM-12:00 PM: Professor Johannes Wallmann, Jazz Improvisation Workshop

1:30-3:30 PM: Masterclass and Q&A with UW Piano Faculty

3:45-6:30 PM: Jazz and Blues in Classical Music  (Performed by UW-Madison Piano Majors)

Download the full schedule here:  PIANO EXTRAVAGANZA

Seeking an open culture, New York trombonist Chris Washburne found it in Madison

Why did Columbia University jazz trombonist and professor Chris Washburne, here November 15 and 16 to perform with the UW Jazz Orchestra,  choose UW-Madison for his undergraduate education?

Chris Washburne.
Chris Washburne.

He was originally from the small town of Bath, Ohio (pop. 9,635), so it wasn’t because he called Madison home.

He didn’t know any students here.

He wasn’t offered a scholarship.

He attended UW-Madison because he could see it was a place that would allow him to grow. “I was looking for a school of music where I could expand my horizons,” Chris (BM 1986) said in a telephone interview last summer. “Madison had a good philosophy department, a good forestry department. The campus was beautiful, close to farmland and natural spaces. It was also real funky.”

“It didn’t hurt that the day I visited with my mother, there was a huge rally on the mall with a killer reggae band,” he added, chuckling.

That enterprising quality was also evident in the School of Music, where he found faculty who didn’t try to limit his pursuits to strictly classical or strictly jazz.  “Most music programs have a divide: you’re either jazz or you’re ‘legit.’ But (professor of bass) Richard Davis and (professor of composition and saxophone) Les Thimmig helped me. they said you can do both — just go for it.”

Such cross-training proved to be quite valuable. When he was needed for orchestra–as with the Manhattan Chamber Orchestra, where he served as principal trombone for a time–he was able to read music with the best of them. But when Bjork called to ask him to play on her soundtrack, he was able to do that, too. And he got a paycheck for both.

“Not many people can do both on the same level. But if you can, you’ll get twice as many employment possibilities,” he added.

Next week at several events, Chris will offer a smorgasbord of ideas about artistry, improvisation, and careers, as well as perform with the UW Jazz Orchestra. Here’s the schedule: On Friday, Nov. 15, Chris will be available to talk to students about careers as part of an informal Arts Enterprise Initiative event from 3 to 4 pm at Coffee Bytes, 799 University Avenue, in University Square. That evening, from 6 to 9 pm, he’ll rehearse in Music Hall with the UW Jazz Orchestra. On Saturday, Nov. 16, he’ll head up a master class on Latin Jazz and Salsa from 1 to 3 pm in Morphy Hall, in the Humanities Building. That evening, Nov. 16, he’ll perform with the UW Jazz Orchestra and the Jazz Composers’ Septet, directed by professors Johannes Wallmann and Les Thimmig.

In 2008, Washburne delved into the history of salsa music in New York City to write “Sounding Salsa,” published by Temple University Press, “a pioneering study that offers detailed accounts of these musicians grappling with intercultural tensions and commercial pressures.” It was that book that brought him to Madison, said Mark Hetzler, trombone professor at the School of Music. “I offered an independent study course on Latin jazz and Salsa last year for one of my outstanding undergrad students, Ty Psterson,” Mark said in an email.  “We read Chris’s book, ‘Sounding Salsa’ as part of the course and I was hooked.”

“Chris has a wealth of knowledge and experience with one of the most energized forms of music ever,” Mark continued. “I wanted to get him here to Madison to hear his artistry in person. I’m very excited to see what expertise and inspiration he’ll bring to our students.”

Chris’s visit is sponsored by the university’s Vilas Trust. The events are free and open to the public.

Chris agreed to answer a few questions about his life and work. Here are his answers, and we hope to see you on Nov. 15 and 16!

I watched “The Inclusion Show” and heard you talk about growing up in Ohio, down the street from Chrissie Hynde. That’s pretty amazing. How did all those rock and rollers end up in Ohio? What’s the likelihood of that?

“Not really sure, must have been the water!  It is quite striking though, and there is a reason why the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is in Cleveland.  When I was growing up, it seemed like every other house on my block had a garage band.  In fact, the first band I ever played in was a Led Zeppelin cover band, although it was a bit difficult to sound like Jimmy Paige on the trombone.  I’m still trying to sound like him today.”

You got into the trombone by accident. Please tell that story.

“When I was in 5th grade, I wanted to play the trumpet, because it was shiny and played high notes. There was a night at the local high school where you could go try out all the band instruments and rent them, and I immediately went to the table with the trumpet on it.  I tried to play, and no sound came out.  My mother asked me skeptically, ‘Do you still want to play trumpet?,’ and I said yes.  But she insisted that I try at least one other instrument before we left.  The trombone happened to be on the table next to the trumpet.  When I blew into it, a sound came out.  So the trombone picked me, I didn’t pick it.  I still have ambivalent feelings about that experience.” 

You got into salsa in grad school, so Madison didn’t do much for you there. What did you get from UW-Madison?

“What I got from UW-Madison was an open mind to all musical styles.  I was immediately able to start studying not only with (retired UW trombone professor) Bill Richardson, but also Richard Davis and Les Thimmig, and none of them ever told me that I had to make a choice between musical styles.  They allowed me to experiment and do exactly what I wanted to do, and that was truly a gift, because when I moved to NY, my dream was to become a studio musician, and the one thing you need to be able to do as a studio musician in NY is play all kinds of music.  That’s exactly what I’ve been doing for the last 25 years.  I have been the principal trombone player for the Manhattan Chamber Orchestra, a recording orchestra that has made over 50 Classical CD’s, played in jazz groups, recorded for pop bands, hip-hop bands, and all sorts of world music ensembles.  UW-Madison made that possible.”

You got your first salsa gig by accident. It must have taken guts to take on a gig in a genre you weren’t familiar with. Can you talk about that?

“I was practicing late one night at New England Conservatory and there was a knock on the door.  It was a trombonist I barely knew who said he desperately needed a sub that night.  When you’re in college, it doesn’t take guts to accept a gig; a gig is a gig and you accept it.  And as he was walking away, I asked, ‘What kind of music is it?’  He said ‘salsa.’  I said, ‘What’s that?’ He said, ‘Just play loud, and they’re going to love you,’ so that’s what I did.  I guess they did love me because I started working with them regularly.  I didn’t steal his gig, though – he ended up quitting the band and joining another one.”

Your first two records: Eddie Palmieri with Barry Rogers from Brooklyn, playing trombone. Was he your icon? What did you learn from him?

“Barry Rogers transformed Latin trombone playing by combining bluesy, gutbucket style playing with the sharp rhythms of Latin music.  Being someone from outside of Latino culture, he really forged the path for others of us to enter into Latin music and make real contributions.  Like me, his background was jazz, blues and rock, and he was able to fit that aesthetic into Latin music.  I was taken by the fact that he was able to lead an entire Latin band with his trombone sound.  He played the lead guitar role in those bands.  And that’s what I wanted to do.”

Richard Davis was recently chosen as a “jazz master” by the National Endowment for the Arts. Your thoughts about Prof. Davis?

“Richard Davis was a true gift to my musical education, and he has touched so many students at UW.  I was delighted when he won the most prestigious award any jazz musician can receive.  Well deserved.”

How important are improvisational skills to a musician? How do you train that?

“The best improvisers in the entire world are two-year-olds.  Improvisation is one of the most fundamental survival skills that all humans possess.  It is through our educational system that those natural abilities become squelched and unused, or taken advantage of.  I view my job as a music educator to try to tap into my students’ innate abilities and refine them, no matter what kind of music they play.  Sure, jazz uses improvisation a bit more than classical music does, but in performance classical musicians must be flexible and adaptable, and make micro-improvisational choices.  These skills are essential for a successful performing career. The teaching process involves a lot of un-learning and correcting the damage that’s been done in prior educational settings, allowing students to explore their improvisational potential.”

Chris Washburne and his band, SYOTOS.
Chris Washburne and his band, SYOTOS.

Your band “Syotos” means “see you on the other side.” What an amazing story. You made it back from a potentially devastating surgery. That’s crazy difficult. Congratulations to you, and tell us a bit about how you managed to recover.

“Six months post-surgery, I decided that I could not accept never playing trombone again, because it was such an essential part of my self-identity.  So I called my surgeon and told him I was going to try to play.  He told me that he didn’t think it was possible because he had removed all the nerves and muscles from one side of my face.  I told him that I didn’t care, that I was going to try.  On my first day, I played for about one minute and could play one of the lowest notes on the horn, and that was it.  I thought if I could play one note today in one minute, I could play two notes tomorrow for two minutes.  And that’s what I did.  Six months later, I played my first gig back from surgery, retraining myself how to play on one side of my face.  The muscles started to grow back, but the nerves don’t regenerate, so I can’t play by feel, I play by sound.  The human body is very resilient, and we need to remind ourselves how adaptable and strong we really are, because we can get through just about anything.”

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Scholarships help out-of-state trumpeter make UW possible

bendavistptpic2
At Interlochen Arts Academy, summer 2013.
Left to right: Ben Davis with faculty Ken Larson, Michael Davison, Vincent DiMartino, and Rob Smith.

With out-of-state tuition a challenge for many students and families to afford, every contribution from the university makes it more possible that a student will attend. Here’s one more story in our series for Share the Wonderful, about Benjamin Davis, an undergraduate trumpeter in the studio of John Aley, who has taught at UW-Madison for 32 years and is also principal trumpet in the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Brass Quintet. For 16 years, John has also taught high school students at the Interlochen Arts Camp.

Ben, a native of Richmond, Virgina, is one of two recipients of the Raymond F. Dvorak Scholarship and also is receiving a four-year School of Music scholarship.

Thank you to all who have given Ben the support that allows him to pursue his dreams. We hope you will enjoy his story!

“My name is Ben Davis and I am a senior trumpeter and composer from Richmond, Virginia studying Music Education here at UW. Being at UW has allowed me to become involved in so many different musical experiences that have been invaluable to my growth as a musician, educator, and student. I have been able to put on so many different hats in my career here between teaching music in practicum, being the Associate Director of the Isthmus Jazz Series with the Wisconsin Union Theater last year, performing with large ensembles and in brass quintet, and working as an ensemble librarian. I have been incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to work with the great instrumental, composition, and music education faculty here and collaborate with graduate and undergraduate colleagues.

Aley_Jensen_Hetzler2013
Jessica Jensen, John Aley, and Mark Hetzler of the Wisconsin Brass Quintet.
Photograph by Jon Harlow.

“Recently, what I have been doing has been an eclectic mix of activities. This summer was the second time I had the pleasure to be a teaching assistant in the brass area at Interlochen Arts Camp where I got to coach chamber music with the high schoolers, conduct the Intermediate Brass Ensemble, play with the Faculty Brass Ensemble and Big Band, help teach the brass component of instrument exploration, and make connections to artists on faculty and staff from all over the country. At UW, I am finishing up my coursework in the final semester before I student teach next semester, so things are very busy in my life currently. Like most semesters, I have the privilege to work with and learn from esteemed trumpet guru John Aley, whose unbelievable sound and great teaching attracted me to UW as a high schooler. I am also enrolled in a number of general education courses. However, this semester’s work also happens to include learning flute, cello, bass, and percussion all of which have been very enjoyable!

“Outside of my courses for school, I study composition with Filippo Santoro, a current DMA candidate, who has been a great mentor and very important to my development as a composer. Over the last few months, I had the great opportunity to collaborate with current artist-in-residence at Kennesaw State University and trumpet extraordinaire Doug Lindsey (DMA ‘12). I wrote a new piece for trumpet and stacked percussion (vibraphone and marimba) for him called Impressions that will be played next semester. Next semester will also bring the premier of the quartet Dig. for Trombone, Vibraphone, Piano, and Cello, written for UW senior and trombonist Ty Peterson. It is influenced by ideas of rhythm and groove in free jazz and is structurally informed by the panels of visual artist Sol LeWitt’s All One-Two-Three and Four Part Combinations of Lines in Four Directions and in Four Colors (1976). I am currently working on a piece for orchestra in four movements called freezes, flows and am in the relatively early stages of analysis of Katharina Rosenberger’s octet parcours III.

“The scholarships I have received from the School of Music and the Raymond F. Dvorak Scholarship have been very important for my family. Because I am not from Wisconsin or Minnesota, I pay out of state tuition for my schooling which is expensive. The financial assistance provided through these scholarships really have been of much use in reducing the net cost of my schooling and that has allowed me to be able to continue experiencing all of these great things that I have been able to do up here at UW, so I am extremely thankful!”

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Wallmann and Ellington: Jazz Notes from UW-Madison

Jazz fans, take note. It’s time for some opportunities and remembrances.

This Thursday, June 20, jazz pianist and UW Director of Jazz Studies Johannes Wallmann will be performing live on Wisconsin Public Radio with tenor saxophonist great Eric Koppa, playing an hour of duets on Norman Gilliland’s Midday show. The concert airs live from noon to 1:00 pm on WPR’s News and Classical Music network (in Madison, WERN-FM 88.7).

Johannes Wallmann
Johannes Wallmann
Photo by Mike Anderson.

Wallmann and Koppa will be premiering two new compositions by Wallmann, “Water Music (for People without Aquariums)” and “A House for Men and Birds,” written for an upcoming recording session with his New York-based quintet and a tour of New England in July. The duo will also explore a couple of jazz standards, “Stella by Starlight,” and from My Fair Lady, “I Could Have Danced All Night,” as well as Eric Koppa’s “Regions.”

Meanwhile, this year’s Isthmus Jazz Festival has a strong UW component. The UW Jazz Orchestra under Wallmann’s direction will play at the Memorial Union at 6 pm on Saturday, June 22. Following that, festival headliner Carmen Lundy will perform at our own Mills Hall, Saturday, June 22, at 8 pm.

The Jazz Orchestra will be accompanied by special guest composer and bassist Marcus Shelby, of San Francisco.  Wallmann, a pianist, will perform as a special guest with the Edgewood College Big Band and with the Madison Jazz Orchestra.

Last but not least, the UWs connection with jazz great Duke Ellington was explored recently in a Wisconsin Public Radio segment that aired on May 24, the anniversary of Ellington’s death. Written and recorded by Dean Robbins, editor of Madison’s weekly, Isthmus.

Duke Ellington’s Portrait of Wisconsin

by Dean Robbins

“It’s hard to imagine a time when Duke Ellington was underrated. Almost 40 years after his death, we take it for granted that Ellington is one of America’s greatest composers. Arguably the greatest. He explored the possibilities of a jazz orchestra, taking it far beyond dance music. His records proved that such humble sounds as growling trombones and wailing saxophones could figure into a grand artistic vision.

“But in Ellington’s heyday, the cultural gatekeepers weren’t used to seeing jazz as art. To them, it sounded too earthy to be important. Duke would receive no Pulitzer Prizes when he created his masterpieces in the 1930s and ‘40s. He would receive no federal grants when his band fell on hard times in the 1950s. Instead, he was forced to play background music at an ice show to pay the bills.

“This was also the era of segregation, of course, when a black musician like Ellington couldn’t even walk in a nightclub’s front door. Duke was a gracious man, and he took such indignities in stride. But the rest of us can be outraged on his behalf.

“Thankfully, Ellington did receive his share of official recognition late in his life. And believe it or not, one of his most glorious triumphs came in Wisconsin.

Ellington

“In the early 1970s, the UW-Madison made an extraordinary gesture for the time. It granted Ellington an honorary doctorate and mounted a weeklong festival of his music. It even gave Duke and his band members the rare opportunity to conduct master classes. Best of all, Governor Patrick Lucey proclaimed Duke Ellington Week throughout the state. Ellington considered this one of the greatest honors he ever received. In his 70s, he was gaining long-overdue recognition as an American treasure.

“Duke proclaimed his undying love for Wisconsin – the beer, the cheese, and the people. He expressed his gratitude in a suite written just for us, called “UWIS.” It’s Duke’s musical portrait of the state, painted in a dazzling range of colors.

“The old master wasn’t resting on his laurels. He was still experimenting with jazz form, even scoring his first polka. The polka, as you can imagine, surprised and delighted the Wisconsin crowd when Ellington performed it at the UW festival.

“About ‘UWIS,’ Ellington said, ‘I tried to evoke some of the happiness that Wisconsin and the inhabitants of that state had given me.’

“Now there’s something to be proud of, fellow Wisconsinites. We made Duke Ellington happy.”

Click here to hear Dean’s commentary on WPR.