The Isthmus Jazz Festival is one of the highlights of the year for many Madison jazz fans. It used to be for me, too. Don’t get me wrong, you can go to any jazz festival in the world and not beat the weather we had, or the Memorial Union Terrace as a venue. Fantastic! But what about the jazz?
Here’s where I start to sound like an old-timer. Remember when the Isthmus Jazz Festival was held at the old civic center, three to four artists performing in different rooms at the same time, staking out a spot for the artists you really had to hear, and wandering in and out of the other rooms as you pleased? So much good music in one night! Sure, you might have to pick between two equally good acts or wait in line for a popular performance, but the programming was much more adventuresome.
Since the festival moved to the Memorial Union it has been progressively watered down. Players associated with “creative, improvised music (aka free jazz) have been steadily weeded out and now the festival is all release and no tension, all nice and no spice. And the quality has been diluted as well. Some might say the economy is at fault, but not when you can go out and hear Madison jazz artists any night of the week with better chops and more originality than at least one out-of-town headliner at this year’s fest. What’s with that?
Madison guitarist Luke Polipnick is wondering the same thing. Yesterday, he posted a Facebook note, an articulate rant about the Isthmus Jazz Festival and the Madison jazz scene in general. His note is generating sympathetic discussion among other local musicians. To read his note and join in the discussion you must be signed into facebook, then click: Booking Yourself is a Beyotch.