Jazz isn't dead, especially if you're a fan of TV soundtracks. Shows such as Cowboy Bebop and even Sex and the City wouldn't be the same without it. In the real world, however, it's tempting to question the genre's relevance if people don't go to hear it performed live.
As of late, several local venues that once catered to jazz have gotten cold feet. In December the Concourse discontinued its jazz programming, citing a need to create a laptop-friendly lounge for business travelers, and the downtown Hilton recently followed suit, scaling back its live music offerings and moving its piano from the Olive Lounge to the lobby.
None of this comes as a huge surprise given the recession, the bone-chilling weather and a fairly large menu of live music choices. However, given Madison's reputation for activism and cultural inquisitiveness, it's a bit of a shock that more people haven't stepped up their attendance and asked the hotels to keep the music coming.
Linda Marty Schmitz, president of the Madison Jazz Society, says she's also noticed a downturn in attendance outside the hotel bars.
"We lost some money on our fall concert series, which was a surprise to us," she says. "We'd tried to schedule around when the Packers were playing, but the attendance just wasn't there."
While this isn't necessarily cause for alarm, it is cause for a call to action, says Cathy Sullivan, executive director of Jazz at Five.
"I think the real simple thing is to get out and support the scene. We have a wonderful jazz community with wonderful musicians who want to get out and play, but if the audience doesn't support them by attending, there will be a decline like the one we're seeing," she says.
While this get-off-the-couch answer may seem like a no-brainer, it's not quite that simple. Schmitz points out that Madison has at least two different jazz audiences, one that prefers to attend concerts earlier in the day and another that likes to crawl the clubs at night. "Our audience at the Madison Jazz Society wants to be home before 10 p.m., unlike the downtown crowd," she says.
While these two groups aren't diametrically opposed, they're not likely to team up to present a unified front of jazz listeners. Plus, local listeners could use a reminder that many jazz events are less expensive than their morning latte.
"So much of this music is free and at major festivals like ours and the Isthmus Jazz Festival," Sullivan says. "The Overture Center and Wisconsin Union Theater jazz programs have reasonably priced tickets, and a lot of the restaurants and clubs don't have a cover charge for [many] jazz events."
Meanwhile, local jazz musicians are scouting venues to replace the Concourse and the Hilton.
Guitarist Louka Patenaude, who's been an active member of the local jazz scene for more than 10 years, says the Cabana Room looks like a promising new home for the New Breed Quintet.
"Cafe Montmartre could be a great spot and has been in the past for jazz," he says. "The Memorial Union Rathskeller, despite its acoustic problems, could be an excellent venue, though it limits jazz to the afternoons. The Local would be an interesting spot, and so would upstairs at Genna's if promoted that way."
And no matter the climate - economic or otherwise - there isn't reason for jazz fans to lose heart, Patenaude says. "Jazz will find a home."