This post was originally written February, 2011 and has been updated several times, most recently on September 10, 2012.
You’re an up and coming Madison jazz musician looking to improve, play in public, meet like-minded folks, possibly get in a band. Or maybe you love to listen to jazz, learn more about it, meet local musicians, and be a part of the Madison jazz scene. If these descriptions fit, you need to check out the local jam sessions.
ln 2010 I was lamenting the lack of jazz jams in Madison, but now you can pick and choose from several distinctly different jams.
Let’s start with the granddaddy of Madison jazz jams: the New Breed Jam. The weekly New Breed jam started ten years ago at the King Club, moved to the Concourse Hotel for eight years, then to the Cabana Room for a year, and was homeless for most of 2010.
In early 2011 the New Breed found a home again at the Cardinal Bar. They host a jam every Tuesday night from 9:00 (jazz time per Nick) until 11:30 or so. They are playing in the back room where the dancing floor is (yes, there have been dancers). The room has nice sound and lighting and best of all is isolated from bar noise.
While the New Breed’s personnel has changed over the years , it has survived because it always has some of the best jazz musicians in Madison. The current line-up is Louka Patenaude on guitar, Nick Moran on bass, Michael Brenneis on drums, and Paul Hastil on Fender Rhodes.
Typically, the New Breed plays much of the first set before starting the jam. For years the band played jazz standards during that set, but since the end of 2010 they’ve been emphasizing band compositions with a more contemporary sound. This gives the New Breed a distinct personality and they now sound much more like a real band than a pick-up group.
Now on to the newest jam: Madison Jazz Jam is a nonprofit organization that began hosting a monthly all-ages jam in late 2010. In September 2012 they moved the jam to a larger, central location, The Fountain, 122 State Street. The jam is from 4-7 pm on the first and third Sunday of every month.
If you feel intimidated jamming with the New Breed you might feel more comfortable at the Madison Jazz Jam. Although the house bands are a rotating crew of Madison’s best jazz musicians this jam works hard to accommodate all levels of musicians. The first set is intended for newer improvisers and includes instructional feedback for musicians and listeners. The second set is more like a conventional jam open to beginning and advanced improvisers alike. With its all-ages focus and early Sunday evening time slot, Madison Jazz Jam is a family and community event. The comprehensive Madison Jazz Jam website has additional information about the jam, educational materials, and much more.
Another new jam/workshop has been taking place at the Mason Street Lounge on Park Street. The jam was started by bassist Stephen Ellstad and became Five Points Jazz Collective when a small group of regulars evolved into a band. The band doesn’t actively advertise their weekly Tuesday night gig as a jam and there is no sign-up sheet, but you can sit in if you contact Stephen ahead of time.
Lastly we have a jam I know less about. Every Thursday the Middleton Senior Center hosts a jam session from 9:30 – 11 AM. I believe this is open to the general public but (as expected for a senior center) draws primarily seniors. For more information see the Madison Jazz Calendar.