The non-profit Madison Jazz Society was created in 1984 with the mission to preserve and promote traditional jazz. That’s jazz from early rag-time and up to the 1950s.
In March, the board of directors voted unanimously to dissolve the organization, leaving one less outlet for jazz in Madison. Many members of the jazz community found out in a recent newsletter.
Long-time president Lori Marty Schmitz points to membership as a main reason for the decision. “We’re losing members by attrition–by attrition I mean dying off, and they’re not being replaced,” explains Marty Schmitz. “Many of members are, as my doctor a while ago, upper middle age and don’t have the energy or physical capacity to do what needs to be done to keep the organization going.”
She also notes in recent years, the organization’s concerts aren’t making enough in ticket sales to cover the costs.
However, the organization isn’t disbanding until June 2023. The long process will hopefully let the group do two things; safely hold concerts to celebrate the group’s 40 years and find someone to take on its school programs.
In 2019, the Madison Jazz Society awarded just under ten thousand dollars in grants to schools across Wisconsin. The grants help band programs buy instruments and equipment, commission original pieces, and pay for residencies with professional musicians.
Peter Kuzma is the Arts Education Coordinator for Madison Metropolitan School District. He says the work, and especially the residency program, is invaluable.
“Madison Jazz Society has been able to provide really fantastic experiences with professional musicians, who are teaching artists. That has been a really powerful thing.”
The organization vets, connects, and pays these teaching artists. Kuzma says that the experience takes a lot of work and effort that music teachers can’t do without the support Madison Jazz Society offers.
However, Kuzma is hopeful that the programs and the relationships with musicians will continue. “Being able to shift how you’re doing what you do, in order to try meet some of the same needs and move forward in a productive way, that’s always the challenge,” he says. “Who does it, and how it happens? I understand that that might look really different a year from now, two years from now.”
The Madison Jazz Society will also be rehoming its archive. Records, program schedules, photos and newsletters will head to the Mills Music Library at UW-Madison. Marty Schmitz says the group is hoping to hold concerts this fall, pending COVID-19 concerns.
Steve Braunginn is the co-host of Strictly Jazz Sounds here on WORT. He says Madison Jazz Society’s focus on traditional jazz will be missed. “They most certainly leave a void in the community and that is a concern,” Braunginn explains. “For sure there are going to be people who will want to see it, want to hear it, ask for it.”
Braunginn says all nonprofits in Madison need to be thinking about recruiting. “I think that it is essential for the leadership for those organization to continue to recruit volunteers, younger volunteers. Many of us are getting older, we have committed many years to the organizations,” he says.
Still, other local organizations promoting jazz live on.
Last year, the Greater Madison Jazz Consortium was absorbed by Arts + Literature Laboratory. Both WORT and Madison Jazz Society are members of the consortium which promotes and supports local and visiting jazz artists.
This June, the Arts and Lit Lab is hosting the Madison Jazz Festival–formerly the Isthmus Jazz Festival.
Cafe Coda on Willy Street is a location for live music, and through the pandemic they have offered virtual performances. Owner Hanah Jon Taylor offers free Saturday courses for kids interested in jazz.
Here on WORT you can hear about 16 hours of jazz a week. And if you’re missing traditional jazz, Braunginn says listen to Entertainment on Saturday.