Every musician has a number of experiences that form who they are to become, from inspiring teachers to live concert performances that leave a lasting impression.
I was fortunate at a young age to have teachers that exposed me to great music at key points in my development. My 7th grade guidance counselor gave me a copied cassette tape of 60’s-era Miles Davis, when he saw and heard that I had an inclination toward jazz music. My private lesson teacher in middle/high school and I would often spend our entire lesson trading choruses and fours along with Aebersold records – absorbing the feel and spirit of the music, not worrying about licks and patterns. One particular college professor and I would spend entire lessons playing a single tune, him accompanying beautifully and artistically on piano, with only a few words of advice… Professor: “Did you realize you were breathing every four measures?” Me: “No. No, I didn’t” Prof: “Well… don’t do that. Don’t let your ideas be confined to just four-bar increments.” All of these things were important guide posts along the way to me forming my identity as a musician.
Around 1997 or 98, I was invited to attend a rehearsal with a band that was looking to add a trumpet player. Being about 18-19 years old, and not having had worked a whole lot, it was an exciting proposition. I only knew the saxophonist and trombonist casually, having played in the University Big Band with them for about a semester. The first rehearsal was in a dingy basement in a mysterious house shrouded by overgrown bushes and odd/abstract homemade sculptures – this itself was an eye-opening experience. I entered the rehearsal space cautiously and I walked in on an incredible thing – a deeply organic, earthy, spiritual – thing. I looked around the basement and saw six musicians who cared deeply about music… upright bass, hollow body guitar, drumset, congas, baritone saxophone, and trombone. I remember timidly playing through a couple charts before launching into an Afro-Cuban arrangement of “Stolen Moments” by Oliver Nelson, which I knew well. We played through the head per usual and hit the solo section into a raging 12/8 percussion deluge. My mind and soul was instantly blown wide open. Everything I knew about music was about to change.
On break from the rehearsal we went upstairs and everyone spread out across the living area and kitchen of the house. Conversations popped up about various recordings, potential tune choices, set lists, and other items of interest. Stacks of manuscript paper were intermingled with CD’s. Names I had never heard of were criss-crossing in front of me left and right: Sun Ra, Steve Coleman, Hugh Masakela, Cal Tjader, Poncho Sanchez, Paul Motian, Steve Turre, Dave Holland, Ruben Gonzalez – and names I had heard of, but didn’t know much about as well, like: Charles Mingus, Woody Shaw, Art Blakey, and Lee Morgan. After the rehearsal, I was filled in on an upcoming gig that weekend at The Nomad, a bar on Brady St in Milwaukee. I didn’t know if I was “in” the band or not, but I knew this was a special group.
Over the next 15 years or so, I went on to have some of my most memorable experiences in music with these fellows. I experienced a generation in the Milwaukee creative music that hasn’t been seen since. Venues such as The Nomad, Thai Joe’s, The Stork Club, Shank Hall, Onopa Brewing Co., The Social, The Velvet Room, The Up & Under, 3rd Ward Jazz Fest, J*** in the Park, (Summerfest even!) – would all be packed to the gills with people listening and dancing. Other bands such as MCME (Milwaukee Creative Music Ensemble), Jasmine Road Affair, Recycled Future, The Westfall, Porcine, Missippi Cactus, Elixir Ensemble, Mama Digdown’s Brass Band, Little Blue Crunchy Things, Citizen King, ULU, Hudson (of which I also became a member), and later – De La Buena among others, all were a part of this incredible “scene”.
As the years have progressed and other commitments and life situations have shifted, so has the state of the Milwaukee music climate. Gone are the throngs of people going out to hear live music for the sake of the music. Gone are many of the esteemed venues that presented creative music, often without worry of whether or not the music was accesible enough or not. Gone are the MASSIVE complimentary Thai meals at Thai Joe’s that would be spread in front of the performers simply out of appreciation for the music/musicians. Gone are the giant crowds at The Nomad spilling out onto Brady Street in the dead of Winter – steam-obscured windows from all the body heat inside. You can join us one last time this Friday night at The Nomad World Pub on Brady St. as we mark the end of a musical institution 25 years in the making and revisit a bygone era in Milwaukee music. See you there.
Mike Pauers, saxophones Max Day, trombone JB, trumpet Brian Dietz, guitar Dave Dinauer, bass Jay Arpin, drums Tom Presser, congas/percussion Tony Finlayson, percussion and many special guests!
Friday, February 28th. 9pm
Nomad World Pub
1401 E Brady Street
Milwaukee, WI 53202