No history, no future.
*an edited version of this essay will appear as the introduction the forthcoming book “Images of America, Milwaukee Jazz” by Joey Grihalva on Arcadia Publishing Co. (preorder the book here: mkejazzbook.com)
Many have proclaimed the “death of jazz” since the musical art form began over a century ago. In response to such proclamations, Milwaukee Jazz guitarist Manty Ellis says, “You can’t kill a cultural art form. They try to kill the music, but when they stomp it out here, it grows up over there. They kill it over there, it comes up over here.” It is a disgraceful if unsurprising fact that the music born out of the oppression and suffering of Black Americans has not been fully embraced in the country in which it was created.
Several years ago I began documenting the history of the under-appreciated, if not completely unrecognized jazz scene in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The impetus for the project was that I had found very little online or print evidence of Milwaukee’s rich and storied jazz history, and little mention of particular notable individuals. Important Milwaukee musicians such as Berkeley Fudge, Hattush Alexander, Manty Ellis, Penny Goodwin, Tony King, Will Green, Jessie Hauck, Bob Hobbs, and Dick Smith, to name just a few, influenced and inspired generations of Milwaukee jazz artists. Speaking of guitarist Manty Ellis, alto saxophone legend Frank Morgan said, “I can’t say enough. There are some bright stars on the horizon who owe their life to him. He’s a legend in his own time. I love him and there should be a monument erected to him in Milwaukee.” Continue reading “No history, no future.”