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Friday, January 30, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 25.0° F  Partly Cloudy
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Jazz at Five celebrates 20 years of keeping the beat downtown
Turning a sidewalk into a stage.
Credit:Gary L. Geiger

A mainstay in Madison since 1994, Jazz at Five kicks off its latest outdoor concert series with Nuggernaut and the Tim Whalen Nonet on Aug. 6.

On Wednesday evenings through Sept. 3, top local, regional and national talent will perform outside, on the 100 block of State Street. Featured artists include Chicago gypsy-jazz band Alfonso Ponticelli & Swing Gitan, Latin jazz pianist Arturo O'Farrill and contemporary jazz keyboardist Lao Tizer. Local trombone phenom Darren Sterud performs with his big band and keyboardist Jimmy Voegeli on Sept. 3.

Jazz at Five is a popular Madison music tradition. But it faces the same challenges that the Greater Madison Jazz Consortium has taken on.

"We're an all-volunteer organization," says Ken Johnson, a Jazz at Five board member. "It's great to find people who have ideas, but the most valuable volunteers are the ones like board member [and Brink Lounge owner] Elizabeth Brink who go out and get things done. She's done an unbelievable job of increasing the diversity of jazz on the stage."

Johnson also mentions the kinds of budgetary issues faced by many charitable organizations.

"We're definitely making progress. We've reduced our debt by two-thirds in recent years, but our budget is only about $60,000," he says. "We want to grow Jazz at Five and keep it fresh and exciting, but we don't have millions of dollars to spend."

Would partnering with the Greater Madison Jazz Consortium be an avenue to meeting these goals? Johnson applauds the Consortium's efforts but says Jazz at Five is more focused on downtown, whereas the Consortium has set its sights on the entire community.

"I want downtown Madison to be the best community it can be. The big thing for us is to make Jazz at Five better, and help build better events downtown," he says.

Johnson dreams of a day when Jazz at Five is as big as the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra's Concerts on the Square.

"We want to go after that kind of audience, for listeners and musicians and also to support businesses downtown," he says.

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