Tag Archives: jazz

Behind the curtain with the mysterious maestro Thane

By Joey Grihalva

At the end of the summer I noticed an article by Tarik Moody of 88Nine Radio Milwaukee promoting a three-track EP Gravity by a producer named Thane. As soon as I heard Thane’s soulful blend of jazz, electronic, hip-hop and R&B I was in awe.

I immediately thought to myself, “Who the f*ck is Thane?” I like to think that I pay pretty close attention to the Wisconsin music scene, but Thane seemingly came out of nowhere.

Less than a month later the mysterious Thane released a debut full-length album, Topia. The exceptional 12-track record features guest appearances by local and national artists including Mick Jenkins, Amanda Huff, BJ the Chicago Kid, and one of 2016’s breakout stars, Anderson .Paak.

It is rare for a debut album from an unknown talent to be so fully formed, with such a distinct, assured and progressive sound, yet that is precisely what Thane has accomplished with Topia.

'Gravity' EP artwork
‘Gravity’ EP artwork

Determined to uncover the identity of this up-and-coming maestro, I searched for clues. I could only find one picture of Thane on the Internet and it is of a tall, young man whose eyes can’t be seen. Local jazz musician Jamie Breiwick appears on both the Gravity EP and Topia.

My first guess was that Thane is a former student of Breiwick’s. When I reached out to Breiwick he debunked my hunch and passed along a phone number for Thane’s manager. An interview was set up for a Friday night at Colectivo on the Lake.

Going into my interview with Thane and his manager Jake Kestly I was nervous. I had no frame of reference except for the music. Thane appeared to be nervous as well. It was one of his first in-person interviews.

SMALL-TOWN ESCAPISM

Thane grew up and still resides in the small town of Pewaukee about 20 minutes west of Milwaukee. He describes his home as having a “strong music environment.” As a child he took piano lessons and picked up a brass instrument called the euphonium, which is similar to the baritone but with an additional valve. In middle school he played in the jazz band and kept it up in high school for a few years. Thane continues to play the euphonium and incorporates the instrument in his production.

Like many young musical minds, Thane was aided by an older sibling with good taste. His brother Jake, who is two years his elder and now his manager, turned Thane on to hip-hop and electronic artists like Kendrick Lamar and Flying Lotus. Jake initially bought production equipment for himself, but according to Thane, “he kind of sucked.” Thane first tried digital production at age 15 within a couple of years he had crafted over 600 beats.

“For the first two or three years I would go home and make music until the late hours of the night, almost every single night,” says Thane. “It was kind of an escape from reality.”

thanephoto_2
Thane

While Thane and Jake’s parents didn’t quite understand the boys mission, they were always supportive, allowing them to work into the wee hours of the night, despite the loud, often repetitive sounds coming from Thane’s room.

The brothers attended private, Christian schools throughout their childhood. It was difficult to find like-minded people. Listening to and discovering music was their primary means of entertainment.

“There was nothing else to do. There weren’t any parties or anything to go to in our town. We had a few friends that were really into it. So we’d talk about music and get really excited and go to shows at Turner Hall and in Chicago,” says Jake.

Topia is an expression of how the Kestly brothers navigated their adolescence. Rather than an overtly positive (utopia) or negative (dystopia) existence, “Topia” is about a neutral understanding of your reality it is what you make it.

The concept is also a commentary on the individual versus their environment. The first words heard on Topia are actually a clip from a Ted Talk by a neuroscientist who is discussing how the brain works that suggests we have more power over our fate than we might think.  

NATIONAL AMBITIONS

As Thane’s production skills developed, Jake approached him about putting together an album. Thane was only 17 at the time. The logical first step for a producer would be to create a SoundCloud or YouTube page and put up a few beats. Maybe reach out to a local rapper/singer to collaborate on a track.

But from the beginning, the Kestly brothers aimed to create a conceptual album that featured national talent. With no direct connections to the Milwaukee music scene, the Kestly brothers set their sights outside of the city for potential Topia collaborations.

Jake who worked as an intern at 88Nine Radio Milwaukee during the early stages of Topia reached out to artists all over the globe. The artists who ended up on the album were people who vibed with both the concept of the album and the music Thane created.

'Topia' artwork
‘Topia’ artwork

The beat for “Responsibilities,” a stand out track featuring BJ the Chicago Kid and Anderson .Paak, was not originally intended for the album, but an impromptu selection when BJ wasn’t feeling the groove of the initial beat.

When my girlfriend and I first heard the recorded version of “Responsibilities” we looked at each other and she said, “I’ve heard this before.” We are almost certain Anderson .Paak performed the song at the Soundset Music Festival in Minnesota this May. When I told the Kestly brothers this their eyes lit up.  

“I wouldn’t be surprised, because he really loved the track. His manager contacted us and said he was jumping up and down when he finished recording it,” says Thane.

The other featured artists on Topia include Chicago rapper Mick Jenkins, LA singer Low Leaf, London poet/rapper Kojey Radical, Boston ambient musician Solei, plus a few “SoundCloud artists,” meaning musicians similar to Thane, who have music online but not much presence elsewhere. They include Memphis-based Jay Stones and Milwaukee singer Marxus. Instrumentation is provided by Thane (keys, guitar, euphonium), Jamie Breiwick (trumpet), Earl Turner (saxophone) and Aubrey Ellickson (violin).

‘STREETS OF MILWAUKEE’

On my favorite Topia track “Metropolis” we first hear dramatic strings, the sounds of cars driving by, then Amanda Huff’s voice. Next a beat drops and then disappears before haunting synths come in and a vocal sample says, “These are the streets of Milwaukee, something many of you have never seen.”

Later on “Metropolis” a frenzied drum beat drops and we hear Kanye West say, “That’s the main thing people are controlled by, their perception of themselves. They’re slowed down by their perception of themselves.”

Thane confirmed my suspicion that “Metropolis” is commenting on how Milwaukeeans tend to have a chip on their shoulder. Kanye — a Chicago-native — was an interesting choice to convey the message, considering the Kestly brothers have followed the Chicago hip-hop scene closer than Milwaukee’s. They admit that the Milwaukee music scene is becoming more receptive to collaboration than when they started. Jake cites the Strange Fruit Festival that took place in August as a successful example of the Milwaukee hip-hop, jazz, soul, and R&B scenes blending.

“I’m pretty familiar with everybody in the Milwaukee scene at this point,” says Thane. “I like Milo a lot, I like King Courteen, and Kiings are pretty good. Melvv is a big producer in Madison right now. Trapo and IshDARR are dope too.”

Thane
Thane

Since the release of Topia the Kestly brothers have been contacted about potential collaborations. Thane is being selective about who he works with. He is also not ready for a live performance just yet. Thane has an introverted nature and at 20-years-old he is entering the public eye after years of isolation in his bedroom studio.

When the time comes for a live performance, the Kestly brothers hope to create something visually dynamic and possibly interactive. They are inspired by Flying Lotus’ live show and the LA/Philly artist Ryat. They also have a lot of ideas for music videos but don’t want to rush the process.

A shroud of mystery still hangs over Thane. I was never given his real first name. A few things came up in conversation that they wouldn’t go into detail about. Jake is working on the next step in their business, but wouldn’t reveal what it was. I do know that Thane is currently a student at Carroll College and they’ve come up with a concept for the next album.

We’ll have to wait and see what the next moves are for this small-town Wisconsin music prodigy.

Click here to listen to/purchase Topia.

FULL-INTERVIEW

I met with Thane and his manager/brother Jake Kestly at the Colectivo on the Lake one Friday night a few weeks back. What follows is a transcript of our conversation.

WiG
First of all, I’m a big fan. Love the record. And to be honest it kind of came out of nowhere. So the obvious question is, where did you come from?

THANE
I’m from Pewaukee, Wisconsin. Kind of near Pewaukee Beach.

WiG
Growing up what were you listening to? What were you influenced by?

THANE
I’ve always had a strong music environment. I started piano lessons when I was little and then I picked up this brass instrument called the euphonium and I’ve been playing that for a long time. Since maybe third or fourth grade. I really started getting into “good music” per say around eighth grade or so, my brother was getting into it so I did too.

WiG
Older brother?

THANE
Yeah. [Points to Jake.] He was listening to Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus and stuff like that. I used to listen to more rock, and there’s still a little bit of influence from that…

WiG
What kind of rock?

THANE
Like bad stuff. Nothing terrible…stuff like Train. Pop rock stuff. But then my brother started listening to good stuff and I’d always be driving around in the car with him going to school so he was always playing that. I didn’t like it at first but he kept on playing it and then I got into it. That’s how I started to expand my tastes.

As far as electronically producing, I started that when I was 15 going on 16. I’m 20 now, so I’ve been working on it for a little while. Jake actually tried his hand at it first with FL Studio and he kind of sucked.

[Jake and Thane laugh.]

And he bought this cheaper MIDI keyboard and a machine micro and so we had all that stuff in the house and a year later I picked it up. I gave it a try and I really liked it. I’m more tech oriented too so I was having fun with it. As I advanced I got some monitors and got a better set up.

WiG
Are you primarily doing everything digitally at this point or playing instruments yourself?

THANE
The thing with my music is that I usually make a building block, maybe a bassline that I like, then I’ll create a beat around that on the digital workstation. Then I add keys, then either I record instruments I play or if I can’t I’ll bring someone in. Like how we brought in Jamie Breiwick. He’s a phenomenal trumpet player in the Milwaukee jazz scene. I remember my brother showed me him one time and we contacted him and asked him if he would like to be on a song and he was into it. So yeah, I like to combine electronic with different jazz elements and strings.

WiG
In high school were you coming to Milwaukee to see shows? Or down to Chicago?

THANE
Me and my brother went to Chicago a lot. I haven’t recently just because I’ve been super busy, but we would go to the Metro quite a bit. We went to see a lot of local hip-hop shows.

JAKE
Were you at the Mick Jenkins and Earl Sweatshirt one?

THANE
Yeah.

JAKE
Yeah we’d see a lot of the Chicago hip-hop acts there. More importantly we would see the energy in the scene that was going on there and we were inspired by that. Vic Mensa’s homecoming show was a big one.

WiG
Is Pewaukee closer to Chicago than Milwaukee?

JAKE
No it’s about 20 minutes west from here. It’s kind of out in the country but it’s a very quick trip to Milwaukee.

WiG
You said you were a piano student Thane. Did you play music in high school, like in band?

THANE
I didn’t do it all four years but I did band with the euphonium. Do you know what a baritone is?

WiG
Yeah.

THANE
It’s like a smaller tuba. The difference between the euphonium and baritone is that the baritone has three valves on top that you play and the euphonium has an extra one on the side, that’s the only difference.

WiG
Are you familiar with a guy who was in the Milwaukee music scene but has since moved up north, he was a pretty heavy electronic producer named Lorn?

JAKE
Brainfeeder?

WiG
Yeah.

THANE
Oh yeah. I like his music a lot.

WiG
He moved out to the woods by Eau Claire. I know he’s made music for videos games. Could you see yourself getting into that? Are you a gamer yourself?

THANE
I used to be, but I haven’t in like three years. Maybe, but I don’t think it would be as cinematic. Do you know who Jon Brion is?

WiG
Yeah, the producer.

THANE
I like him a lot. Lorn’s style is a little different, I don’t know how to describe it.

WiG
It’s really dark, more minimal. Your stuff has the strings and horns and uptempo keys.

THANE
For sure, I like the minimal stuff though.

WiG
The production on Topia is really polished and clean. How did you get it mixed and mastered? What was the process like?

THANE
It was a really long process. We actually started the development when I was like 17. I had been making beats and getting better and my brother was like, why don’t we make an album?

WiG
Had you put anything out prior to the EP?

THANE
No.

WiG
So you were just making music for you?

THANE
Yeah. We came up with the concept. It was originally called “Utopia,” but we cut it to “Topia” because conceptually we wanted it to be an environment that you’re not trying to break out of. It’s not a utopia or dystopia…

WiG
So not overtly positive or overtly negative?

THANE
Yeah. You kind of make what you want out of the environment that you’re put into. I’ve made over six hundred beats and we went through and picked maybe five. The other ones were added on later. The ones that we started with kind of fit a certain sound we were going for. Then we built on those.

The guy who mixed the record, he’s not our engineer anymore, but he was a friend of my brothers, a friend of a friend. He did it in his mom’s basement. We had a pretty limited budget at the time so it seemed like a pretty good deal. And then we slowly built it as more ideas came.

WiG
How did you link up or land the features? Because you’ve got some big names including Anderson .Paak, Mick Jenkins and BJ the Chicago Kid.

THANE
We reached out to them before they got big but Jake did more of that on his end, so I think he can explain that.

Jake Kestly and Earl Turner with Kendrick Lamar backstage at The Rave in 2012.
Jake Kestly and Earl Turner with Kendrick Lamar backstage at The Rave in 2012.

JAKE
Basically we kind of operate and always have like A&Rs to an extent, I like to think. I was on to Kendrick years before he blew up and I was telling people he’d be huge. So I kind of have an ear for stuff like that. We reached out to a lot of people that we vibed with, people we thought were really talented and would make a good addition to our project. We hit up a ton of different possibilities and the ones that came through are people that vibed with our concept. It was a really long process of going through who would fit and who wouldn’t.

THANE
And it was figuring out the music business as we went along and how complicated it is. The funny thing too about the “Responsibilities” track is that one initially had another beat. It was almost too electronic-y so BJ didn’t like it as much because he wasn’t feeling the groove, so I was quickly trying to find one that worked with the sound of the album and had more of a soul influence to it. Then I quickly sent over that one and it turned out great. So that beat wasn’t intended to be on the album. It’s kind of funny how that worked out.

WiG
I saw Anderson .Paak at the Soundset music festival in Minnesota this past Memorial Day and my girlfriend and I are almost certain he performed “Responsibilities.”

[Both of their eyes light up.]

THANE
Really?

JAKE
That would be sweet.

WiG
Did you hear any reports?

JAKE
No. But I wouldn’t be surprised because he really loved that track.

THANE
His manager contacted us and said that he was jumping up and down when he recorded it.

JAKE
Since that time it took a while to get all the materials ready for release and come up with a plan. That took longer than expected and during that time Anderson .Paak inked a deal with Aftermath and I think there’s something within that contract that didn’t allow him to promote it on his social media at the point when we released our record, unfortunately. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he performed it because he did really vibe with the end product.

WiG
And it was done by Memorial Day?

JAKE
Oh yeah.

WiG
I’m almost positive. Because the first time we listened to “Responsibilities” my girlfriend and I looked at each other and she was like, “I’ve heard this song.”

JAKE
That would be super cool.

THANE
That’s very cool.

JAKE
Him and BJ have a really good chemistry. That was something that was cool too, we were one of the first people to get them on a track together. That was before they met and before they were on Compton, we put them together. There was a piece about those two in The Source a couple months ago.

WiG
Did they record together for that?

JAKE
Nah, we got BJ in February of 2014. We’ve worked on this project for a long time. But then we got Anderson in April of 2015. We had the BJ hook and we knew we wanted something soulful. At first we were trying to get GoldLink because we thought that would be dope. We were really vibing with The God Complex, but that didn’t pan out. And then we said what about Anderson .Paak? I heard him first on the Watsky album. He did production and had some vocals on it and I was really impressed. Then I heard “Suede” which came out later that year. That’s the first single on the new NxWorries, which just came out today. I was super impressed with that and I knew he was something special and I convinced Thane that we try and pursue him.

WiG
Who are some of the other people? I’m not familiar with Jay Stones…

JAKE
Thane found him.

THANE
I found him on SoundCloud. I really liked his voice and delivery and thought he’d fit well over my type of beat. He’s one of those SoundCloud artists that doesn’t have a really big presence in any scene but he was totally down with it. I really like how it turned out, it’s one of my favorite tracks on the album.

JAKE

This is a weird comparison but for some reason his style reminds me of Jamiroquai. He’s got that type of futuristic funk vibe.

WiG
It’s interesting that the genre designation on Apple music is “Funk” for the album.

JAKE
We gave them a bunch of stuff to choose from and that’s what they ended up going with.

WiG
Do you feel good about that?

JAKE
I mean it’s kind of a blend, we had no genre in mind. When he was making it we never said, “Oh, we’re going to make an R&B album.” We just took a bunch of elements and put them together. I guess funk is appropriate…

THANE
I definitely didn’t set out to make a funk record, but there are funk elements. It’s just kind of all the stuff that I like Modge Podged together.

WiG
Do you listen to Rhythm Lab Radio on 88Nine?

THANE
Yeah.

WiG
Because I feel like the album fits perfectly in the myriad genres and sounds that Tarik plays. And he’s been a supporter of the album, right?

JAKE
Yeah he played “Responsibilities” a couple weeks ago, which is pretty dope.

THANE
Jake actually used to intern at 88Nine.

JAKE
Yeah, we played Topia for a few of the DJs early on and they were rocking with it.

THANE
Him and Barney…

JAKE
Justin and Tarik were the main ones listening and then Jordan just came in.

WiG
So you were an intern at 88nine?

JAKE
I did a couple years ago.

WiG
So is that kind of the goal, to work in the music industry?

JAKE
Yeah we were just discussing this project that we’re working on. I don’t really want to talk too much about it. It’s not really a label, but we do want to get further in the music and do something bigger with it.

WiG
Topia is all you production-wise. And there aren’t any other tracks that you’ve produced for other artists,  but do you see yourself starting to do that? Have you been contacted by other artists to make beats for them?

THANE
Yes. I’m trying to be pretty selective right now. I haven’t done anything yet. Should I tell him about the remix thing?

JAKE
Don’t tell him too many details.

THANE
You can just tell him.

JAKE
Okay, so we got contacted by a fairly respectable label out of Los Angeles to do a remix on spec for one of their artists. They seemed interested in Thane to an extent. We just submitted it and have yet to hear back. What were we talking about? Labels…oh yeah, collaborations. So when stuff like that comes up it’s a just matter of whether Thane vibes with the artist. It’s about natural collaborations.

THANE
I’m pretty familiar at this point with everybody in the Milwaukee scene. I’ve listened to a lot of local music. If there’s an artist that I really like in the local scene that reaches out I would probably collaborate.

WiG
Who are your favorite musicians in the local scene?

THANE
Any genre?

WiG
Sure.

THANE
I like Milo a lot. I like King Courteen. I like Kiings, they’re pretty good. I don’t know if you know who Melvv is?

WiG
How do you spell it?

THANE
Melvv. He’s in Madison. He’s a pretty big producer.

JAKE
I personally fuck with Trapo.

THANE
Trapo and IshDARR are pretty dope. Most of NAN to a certain extent.

JAKE
Gotta shout Jamie out.

THANE
Of course Jamie. I found Marxus too…

WiG
Where is he from?

JAKE
He’s from Milwaukee. He hasn’t released any material yet. You can explain how you found him.

THANE
I always search the “Milwaukee” tag on Bandcamp. That’s how I find new music. I listened to his one track “X” and thought this guy had some really sick pipes. We emailed him and asked if he wanted to vocally contribute. Initially he just did backing vocals but we dug it so much that we featured him on “Summer in Paris.” Now we’re collaborating on more stuff. He’s going to be on some new material. He was backing on a lot of the other tracks like “The Arrival” and “Gravity.” You can hear some of his ad libs on those tracks.

WiG
Yeah, it seems like when you have official featured artist on the track I can still hear other artists adding little elements.

THANE
The main two backing on “Gravity” are Marxus and Amanda Huff. I remember hearing her on some compilation tape and I thought she was really cool.

WiG
I think one of my favorite tracks on the album is “Metropolis.”

THANE
Oh really?

JAKE
That’s one of mine too.

WiG
Yeah I love that one and you use some interesting samples. There’s an audio clip about “the streets of Milwaukee” and then you hear Kanye talking about people being slowed down by their perception of themselves. I’m wondering if that’s sort of a commentary about Milwaukee and how people here tend to have a chip on their shoulder?

THANE
That’s exactly it and that’s kind of what Topia is about. You see Chicago and you see how collaborative  everyone is there. And then you see Milwaukee, and it’s getting better, but especially when we started it felt very separate. Some people were doing their thing and some people were doing another thing over there. People have a chip on their shoulder and don’t want to collaborate as much. I think it’s one of the reasons why scenes like Chicago and LA are thriving more than a scene like Milwaukee. But Milwaukee is doing much better than it has in the past.

WiG
And the intro track “The Arrival,” who is speaking in that clip about neurons?

THANE
My brother actually found that, it’s from a Ted Talk.

JAKE
I helped out with the concept of the album. I remember hearing that back in a psychology class my freshman year of college. I was really fascinated by this neuroscientist talking about how we are more in control and we’re more powerful in regards to our fate than we allow ourselves to be. It’s a lot about positive thought. A lot of what Topia is about is taking your environment and the stuff that we may perceive as really positive or really negative, and just realizing that it’s this neutral thing that is for your making. That was kind of the whole idea of Topia. Individual versus environment. A lot of those things are there throughout, examining the idea of how in control are we when it comes to our goals and dreams.

THANE
If you can tell he’s more articulate with this stuff. He’s the communications major. I’m more of the introvert hermit. Sorry if I’m coming off in a certain way, that’s just how I am.

WiG
No no. I mean the music is introspective and I feel like it’s geared towards putting it in the headphones and vibing out.

THANE
Especially the first two or three years that I was working on it I literally went home almost every day and made music until the late hours of the night. It was kind of an escape from reality.

WiG
Does that sort of speak to how I haven’t seen your name on any shows? Is it because of your introverted nature?

THANE
I don’t really want to do shows, at least not yet.

JAKE
I’m trying to get him to.

WiG
Have you done any?

THANE
No.

JAKE
We want to do some cool audio visual stuff for it too, but that’s not ready at this point.

WiG
In terms of a music video?

JAKE
Well, I help serve as creative director and I get really inspired by what Flying Lotus is doing with three screen layers and making electronic based performances a little more interactive. We’d also like to bring in some live instrumentation and he’s honing in on some other instruments. We want to wait until he feels more comfortable and then we get some concepts together for a live show.

WiG
So having it be not just a concert, but like an experience?

JAKE
Yeah. That’s kind of how we approach creating records and that’s what we’d like to translate into the live setting.

WiG
You familiar with Video Villains?

JAKE
Yeah I just had a meeting with Adam the other day about something that I can’t really talk about. But yeah, they’re tight.

WiG
Are you familiar with this audio movie art installation that came out I want to say 2010. It was originally an installation in New York where the artist/producer had multiple speakers in a space and you would stand there and listen to this audio film happening. It was narrated by an actor and it was a movie told through the music of New York rappers like Ghostface Killah, Nas, and Biggie. It was super cool and the way you incorporate audio clips, I feel like it would be really cool if you did something like that.

[NOTE: The project I was refering to but couldn’t remember details about is called “City of God’s Son” by Kenzo Digital. You can listen to it by clicking here.]

JAKE
We’re totally into the idea of performance art. I’m really into what is happening in LA with Ryat. They blend a lot of film and incorporate it into the music making it this whole art experience. They’re doing some of the best stuff in terms of visuals.

WiG
I’m not familiar, I’ll have to check them out.

THANE
They’re Brainfeeder right?

JAKE
Yeah.

WiG
Who else are you inspired by and listening to right now?

THANE
I like electronic artists like Flying Lotus and James Blake that have more of a barrier breaking sound.  This probably doesn’t make any sense but I listen to a lot of like chill music.

WiG
Ambient sort of stuff?

THANE
No, no. Like Norah Jones, Nick Drake. Jordan Rakei, Nick Hakim. Those are some of the artists I listen to the most right now.

JAKE
Nick Hakim has one of the best EPs out. We tried to get him too, but he’s not really a collaborator. He’s out of DC, really good.

THANE
His voice kind of sounds like Jason Mraz, vocally. But the beats are more neo-soul.

JAKE
Dwele almost. Jill Scott kind of.

THANE
It’s really dope.

WiG
All the strings and keys and horns on the album, is that people you brought in?

THANE
Yeah mostly.

WiG
So you’re moreso the composer?

THANE
Yeah me and my brother. They’ll be the basic beat that I make and then we add live instruments, which either I’ll play or we bring a collaborator and they add stuff. I’m trying to learn more instruments to add to my arsenal. I’m honing in more on the guitar, piano, and I’m getting better at the euphonium,  expanding my sound more. As far as trumpet and violin I think we’ll still be collaborating with Jamie Breiwick. The violinist is someone from Carroll College, Aubrey Ellickson.

JAKE
You should mention Earl too.

THANE
Oh yeah. The saxophonist is a high school friend that we’ve known for a while. He just comes over and lays some sax down.

WiG
What’s his last name?

JAKE
Turner.

THANE
He has no music presence  in terms of putting anything out.

JAKE
We’re trying to get him to get on the jazz scene here but he’s pretty busy right now.

WiG
It seems like you’ve contributed a lot of ideas with the production…

JAKE
Yeah I executive produced Topia…

THANE
When I make a beat he’s always the one who’ll tell me if it’s garbage or not. He’s really critical of my stuff. The rare times that he says, “It’s pretty tight” or whatever, then I know I have a good one.

WiG
That got me thinking, if you’re contributing so much why isn’t this like a duo, sort of like Kiings?

JAKE
I don’t want my role to be that. I enjoy being behind-the-scenes. I like being able to have the creative and conceptual control and contribute the way I do. My role as manager I enjoy as well. It’s not really a big thing for me. He’s the talented one as far as the music itself goes.

WiG
Are you the only siblings?

JAKE
Yeah.

WiG
What high school did you go to?

JAKE
We went to private Christian schools all throughout.

[Thane groans.]

JAKE
That was interesting because there weren’t really like minded people around us. I remember trying to get jam sessions going, trying to find like-minded people when it came to music, but it was really difficult to do. Topia too is somewhat about how we were never in an environment with like-minded people, so how do we create that? It’s this multi-layered idea that both describes the process itself,  like a commentary on the things that we see, and a general commentary on the individual versus their environment in an abstract, conceptual way.

WiG
So was music sort of an escape for you guys?

THANE
Oh yeah definitely.

JAKE
For sure.

THANE
It still is.

JAKE
I would go on the Internet and Bandcamp and stuff like that and just search because there was nothing else to do. There weren’t parties or anything to go to. So music was the fun shit that we did. We had a few friends that were really into it too. We’d talk about it and get really excited and go to shows at Turner Hall and in Chicago. That’s kind of what we did.

WiG
Did you go to that Flying Lotus show when he played the Miltown Beat Down final?

JAKE

I don’t know if I was at that one, but it was after he released Until the Quiet Comes and Thundercat was there.

WiG
How old are you?

JAKE
22. I just graduated college.

WiG
Cool. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

JAKE
He’s working on the next project.

THANE
Yeah. I’m like one song deep with a friend of mine from high school actually.

JAKE
I wouldn’t even say that she’s included in the project just yet…

THANE
Probably don’t want me to share too much of it…

JAKE
Yeah no, because we’re figuring out the sound. But it’s in the works.

WiG
So you’ve already moved on to the next thing?

JAKE
It’s going to be different though.

THANE
It’s going to be really cool. We came up with a very unique idea. I’m pretty excited to start flushing it out.

WiG
And how has the reception been for a Topia so far?

JAKE
It’s been expected but unexpected. We planned and we were doing it in a proper way, trying to execute it in a very orderly way. And so we would have expected it to have a good reception. We were grinding for a minute to try and get all the press spots beforehand, but we only got a few. But then just how the other blogs caught on, the way it built the way it did was kind of unexpected. The ripple effects of who’s been contacting us has been unexpected.

WiG
You feel like you want to keep pushing that project or move on to the next thing?

JAKE
Since he’s not ready to do shows we are still working on promoting it in the ways that we can. We’re a very small team. I have a few friends that kind of help with the social media stuff. But we’re ready to push ahead and focus on the concept for the next record. When opportunities like this come up we do them. We have a bigger thing coming up in a month or so that we’re doing. We have a music video too that we’re not sure if we should do or not.

WiG
For a song from Topia?

JAKE
Yeah yeah.

THANE
For the song “Minor Movements.”

JAKE
We may shoot if the time is right. But there’s a bunch of ideas in terms of putting visuals to a lot of the tracks. So it’s just a matter of us finding the time to do it and the right videographer. We’re not going to close any doors but right now we’re kind of off Topia.

WiG
Gotcha.

JAKE
Again, I really dig that jazz piece that you wrote. It was interesting as hell. As a huge jazz fan it was cool to read. I had no idea that Milwaukee had that type of presence at one point.

WiG
Yeah and I feel like it’s getting better.

JAKE
Yeah it is. That’s the one thing I got kind of irritated with, that Milwaukee is mad talented when it comes to jazz but you wouldn’t know it. Me and my ex-girlfriend would go to Mason Street Grill every weekend and watch these guys play and shit was just crazy. You would have never thought because it doesn’t really get promoted. It would be really cool if all these hip-hop and jazz scenes melded even more. I went to Jay Anderson’s Strange Fruit Festival and that was a super cool curation. I definitely hope the Milwaukee scene keeps doing more stuff like that, keeps blending and collaborating.

WiG
I feel like that’s what Topia is sonically. It’s such a blend of jazz and hip-hop and soul. The second article in my jazz series is coming out in two weeks and it’s about the present and I’m sure I’ll end up mentioning Topia in terms of Jamie being featured on it.

JAKE
I’ve been a fan of Jamie’s since I heard of him on Bandcamp [CHECK] back like my sophomore year of high school. I reached out to him at one point when we were making the album and he responded and was enthusiastic about collaborating. To me he’s like the essence of what jazz is supposed to be in terms of the freedom and soul.

THANE
You see a lot of electronic stuff that they call jazz, but it’s a lot of watered down stuff. I used to be in the jazz band in middle school and I thought it was really cool to be a part of that. I’ve always liked jazz, my brother even more so than me. So it just made sense to have a strong jazz element and presence on the album.

WiG
Do you guys know BADBADNOTGOOD?

THANE
Yeah.

JAKE
I dig them too. I feel like jazz is slowly becoming trendy again. You have the Kamasi Washington thing, ever since Kendrick dropped To Pimp A Butterfly I was very excited about that. It’s not just jazz samples, it’s legitimate jazz musicians playing on there.

WiG
Yeah I feel like that was a turning point.

JAKE
And then Chance the Rapper has his own variation. On Acid Rap it was more like a ragtime influence, like on “Juice.” On Coloring Book it’s more of like that southern, Louie Armstrong vibe. It’s cool how hip-hop is incorporating real jazz.

WiG
Do you go to college now?

THANE
Yeah. Working and going to college at Carroll. I was at school all day and he just picked me up from there before we came here.

WiG
What are you studying?

THANE
Business marketing and a web design minor. Staying busy.

WiG
Alright, cool.

Norah Jones returns to her roots

Those who loved Norah Jones’ breakout debut album, Come Away With Me, will enjoy Day Breaks. It’s music for the coffeehouse crowd that prefers songs sung in an indoor voice.

As for those who found Jones’ early work too mellow, they’re unlikely to applaud the return to her roots.

She’s again serving up intimate ballads in a sultry alto with hints of jazz, and while the music is pretty, it’s also pretty polite.

There’s a disconnect when pulling down from the cloud new music so grounded in the last century, especially the singer-songwriter heyday of the 1970s.

“Flipside” echoes Joe Jackson, “It’s a Wonderful Time for Love” borrows from Van Morrison and “Don’t Be Denied” covers Neil Young.

On her original tunes Jones sings about alcoholism (“Tragedy”), deceit (“Sleeping Wild”) and a relationship giving off the wrong kind of heat (“Burn”), but she never raises the temperature herself.

Standout drummer Brian Blade manages to boost the energy level at times, as do horn arrangements on a few cuts, but Wayne Shorter’s squawky soprano sax seems jarring.

Jones’ frequent piano solos, like her vocals, are lovely but restrained. Many listeners will likely find lovely to be plenty.

Consider the Source bring ‘Sci-Fi Middle Eastern Fusion’ to Wisconsin

Continue reading Consider the Source bring ‘Sci-Fi Middle Eastern Fusion’ to Wisconsin

Dianne Reeves swings holiday favorites in concert

As a child, jazz singer Dianne Reeves always loved the music of Christmas. If she had a favorite, it might have been Nat “King” Cole’s version of “The Christmas Song,” the seasonal ode to “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” penned by Mel Torme.

“They were both jazz artists,” remembers Reeves. “I love all the Christmas songs, but I especially loved hearing that one.”

Fans of both jazz and Christmas can get an earful of Reeves’ holiday favorites twice this month when the Grammy Award-winning artist celebrates the season in Wisconsin. Reeves and her quartet will perform a stockingfull of holiday and jazz favorites Dec. 11 at UW-Madison’s Wisconsin Union Theater and again on Dec. 12 at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts in Brookfield.

Reeves will perform both engagements with her quartet of “co-creators,” as she calls them, featuring pianist Peter Martin, guitarist Romero Lubambo, bassist Reginald Veal and drummer Terreon Gully.

Both shows will draw heavily on her 2004 CD Christmas Time is Here, whose titular tune, familiar to fans of the 1965 animated program A Charlie Brown Christmas, was written by pianist Vince Guaraldi, another jazz artist. The frequent intersection of jazz and holiday music does not at all surprise the 59-year-old singer.

“Jazz musicians have always taken Christmas standards and given them a jazz sensibility,” Reeves says. “I love that you can swing a Christmas carol.”

Reeves will no doubt swing her own version of “The Christmas Song,” “Little Drummer Boy,” “Carol of the Bells” and other holiday favorites. It’s a playlist she always looks forward to performing.

“This is the only time of year I get to do Christmas songs,” she says. “It’s a real treat for me.”

Reeves, born in Detroit and raised in Denver, grew up in a musical household in which holiday songs and other tunes were bandied about almost as a part of the conversation. Her father, who died when she was 2 years old, was a singer, and her mother, Vada Swanson, played the trumpet. George Duke, Reeves’ cousin, was a jazz pianist and record producer, and her uncle Charles Burrell played the bass in the Denver Symphony Orchestra.

Burrell also introduced a young Reeves to jazz singers Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan. All three inspired the future five-time Grammy-winner to pursue a career in jazz.

Jazz as a discipline is distinctly American in its roots, but with many alternating branches. From ragtime to big band, bebop to post-bop to fusion and even acid jazz, the genre has many voices that, at their extremes, don’t even come close to sounding alike. But there is a common thread, Reeves says.

“It’s improvisation,” she explains. “The music is living, it’s a conversation just like the one we’re having now, and what we’re saying will never be said in the same way again.”

Reeves has had many such conversations in the course of her career, having toured with Harry Belafonte, Sergio Mendes, Eduardo del Barrio and Billy Childs before striking out on her own.

Over time, Reeves also has become a composer and producer and is the only singer to win three consecutive Grammys for Best Jazz Vocal Performance — most recently for Beautiful Life in 2015.

“Music is an intellectual and emotional balance,” Reeves says. “The intellectual part is what I learned in school, but what draws people is the artist’s own interpretation of the music. At the end of the day, people relate not only to what you’re saying musically, but how you’re saying it.”

Jazz is once again enjoying an upswing in popularity, particularly among young artists who find the music’s improvisational element appealing, Reeves says. It also has a great capacity to bring people and artists from different countries and cultures together to communicate with a single musical voice.

“Jazz is far-reaching,” Reeves says. “It attracts you because there is fellowship to it. It’s interesting to young people because it gives them the chance to have their own voice.”

Jazz is still a niche market compared to other more broadly popular genres of music, but its star is once again on the rise. Blend it with holiday favorites, Reeves says, it just may open up a few more minds to the music’s outstanding possibilities.

“Jazz may not make you rich, but it really feeds your soul,” she adds.

ON STAGE 

Singer Dianne Reeves and her quartet will perform two evenings of Christmas and jazz favorites this month. On Dec. 11, she is appearing at the Wisconsin Union Theater, 800 Langdon St., Madison, and, on Dec. 12, she will perform at the Wilson Center, 19805 W. Capitol Drive, Brookfield. Tickets are $10-$45 in Madison and $42-$73 in Brookfield. Visit uniontheater.wisc.edu or wilson-center.com for more details. 

Cuban musician González to lead UW-Madison residency

The first thing Juan de Marcos González wants American music fans to understand is that Cuban music is too often mislabeled as simply another form of Latin American jazz.

“Cuban music is not properly Latin jazz,” says González, leader of the Afro-Cuban All Stars and its spinoff, the Buena Vista Social Club. “It’s jazzy because we do improvise a lot, but the accent of the music is in a different place. Overall, it’s really pretty different.”

Musicologists agree that the syncretic nature of Cuban music and its many genres makes it one of the world’s richest regional styles. The music’s son Cubano foundation, which merges Spanish guitar, melodies and harmonies with West African percussion and rhythms, has made it one of the most popular and influential forms of music in Latin America and beyond.

González, along with a full ensemble of fellow Cuban musicians, will explore Cuban music’s influence this season as an interdisciplinary artist-in-residence at UW-Madison. 

Supported jointly by the UW School of Music and the Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives operating within the Division of Diversity, Equity and Educational Achievement, González will teach a lecture course called “Afro-Cuban Music: Roots, Jazz, Hip Hop” and a production course, “Music Production: Afro-Cuban and Hip Hop Music.”

But it is the wealth of González’s public lectures and musical performances with various ensembles that will find Wisconsin’s capital city awash in a season of Cuban rhythms. Festivities begin with a Sept. 15 public welcome reception at Madison’s Cardinal Bar, 418 E. Wilson St., and extend through a Dec. 8 lecture and student Afro-Cuban music performance at the Frederic March Play Circle in the UW Memorial Union, 800 Langdon St.

Also, the Cuban String Ensemble led by Gliceria González Abreu, one of Juan de Marcos González’s two daughters, will offer a six-week performance workshop for budding musicians. The workshop, which begins Sept. 13, will introduce the classical side of Cuban music to student players of bowed string instruments, including violin, viola, cello and bass.

“The repertoire will cover her own compositions, arrangements of other Cuban Composers and music of Louis Moreau Gottschalk, who was the first great artist in close relationships with my island,” Juan de Marcos González says. “He wrote contradanzas exactly as if he were a Cuban, sometimes mixing in proto-ragtime elements.”

Clarinetist Laura Lydia González, Gliceria González’s sister, will also participate in the classical workshops.

Juan de Marcos González will sit in with Pellejo Seco, a San Francisco-based Cuban fusion ensemble, when it appears at the Madison World Music Festival on Sept. 18 and Sept. 19, with performances held on both the UW campus and in conjunction with Madison’s Willy Street Fair.

The residency program also features performances by the Afro-Cuban All Stars on Oct. 2 at Madison’s Overture Center for the Arts, on Oct. 3 at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts in Milwaukee’s Brookfield suburb, and at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis. 

González also is bringing in Cuban spoken word artist Telmary Diaz to Madison. She will appear at three “Passin’ the Mic’” open microphone sessions Oct. 22–24 at the Overture Center’s Promenade Hall. 

From professor to artist

Born in 1954 in Havana, Juan de Marcos González is the son of Marcos González Mauriz, a vocalist who performed with prominent Cuban bandleader Arsenio Rodriguez. The elder González stressed a non-musical career for his son, who earned a Ph.D. in agricultural engineering from the Universidad de la Habana and taught there for 12 years.

But González was always interested in music, citing the influence of U.S. pop, rock and jazz traditions on the early part of his musical education. He finally launched his musical career in 1990 following his father’s death.

“I was a rock and roller as a kid,” he says. “I played the Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Grand Funk Railroad and others.”

González studied Spanish classical guitar, eventually picking up the tres, a Spanish guitar with three sets of double strings, as a way to better explore the music that had evolved in his homeland. Cuban music is the result of multiple influences, he says, including American big bands that have contributed to the full, almost orchestral sounds of many Cuban ensembles.

“Cuban music has evolved over the years and we have kept it alive even during those periods when we were unable to play the drums,” says González. “We were not able to play the congas until the late 1940s, because they were considered primitive instruments for second-class citizens. But we were able to preserve our music and it’s even stronger today than ever before.”

González adds, “The most important thing for anyone who wants to perform Cuban music to remember is to understand the two bar-pattern called clave, because we don’t use beats. They also have to put their spirit into the music to transmit to listeners, and they should dance, if not on stage then inside of themselves, to feel the taste and flavor of the music.”

The recent warming of relations between the United States and Cuba gives González and other Cubans confidence that things will improve. But the musician sincerely hopes that Cuba will be able to retain its culture and not suffer from homogenization as more and more U.S. citizens and corporations take an interest in the island nation.

“I hope we can preserve our spirit, our nationality and our freedom,” González says. “People are waiting for change, but it doesn’t really matter who sits at the top because Cuban politicians are a social class. I predict that Mariela Castro, Raúl Castro’s daughter, will take over when Raúl and Fidel are gone.”

Change is definitely in the wind, González says, but most Cubans have a wait-and-see attitude. How life on the Caribbean’s largest island will change is a frequent topic of discussion, but one thing most expect not to change is the music, which González calls one of Cuba’s most important exports to the world. It’s a spirit he hopes to pass along to his UW students.

On Stage

Juan de Marcos González will perform multiple times during his residency, including at the Overture Center and Sharon Lynne Wilson Center with the Afro-Cuban All-Stars Oct. 2 and Oct. 3, respectively, and a final performance at the Memorial Union Dec. 8. Visit artsinstitute.wisc.edu/iarp or afrocubanallstarsonline.com for a full schedule.

Local jazz musicians to play Summerfest grounds

Organizers announced that the Summerfest Grounds will host a free one-day jazz festival, Visions on the Lake, from 2 to 6 p.m. on Aug. 2.

Co-presented by Milwaukee World Festival and Milwaukee Jazz Fusion, a community group dedicated to advancing jazz in Milwaukee, the event is the second installment of Visions on the Lake, which debuted in 2013.

Milwaukee Jazz Fusion also presents the annual Bay View Jazz Fest in conjunction with Bay View Gallery Night.

Local performers include the Sam Belton Quintet, Opus and Manty Ellis and the Jazz Foundation of Milwaukee.

Overby pursues ‘Higher Ground’ of world music

It’s not unusual this time of year for Wisconsin residents to escape the state’s wintry weather for the Caribbean’s sunny climate. Milwaukee native Jonathan Overby is no different, but the ethnomusicologist is traveling with a purpose greater than mere tourism.

Overby is host and executive producer of Wisconsin Public Radio’s Higher Ground, a show broadcast weekly on Saturday nights from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. from the UW-Madison campus that “celebrates music with African roots, and more.” An average playlist may include artists as diverse as Senegalese pop singer Baba Maal, The Egyptian Orchestra, a cappella vocalists Chanticleer, jazz giant Duke Ellington or bluegrass banjo-picker Bela Fleck, all of whom Overby says have their roots in traditional African rhythms.

Overby left on Feb. 6 for a 10-day cultural research trip to Cuba. While there, he says, he’ll be exploring the music of Santeria, a religion that blends Old World Catholicism with Yoruba, an African religion brought west by slaves from Nigeria, Benin and Togo. 

Overby holds a Ph.D. in administrative leadership in higher education from Madison’s Edgewood College, but he is making the trip as part of his Edgewood postdoctoral studies in sacred world music. It’s one of nine trips he will make over the next three years to countries around the globe, all while expanding the scope of his radio program.

“What’s powerful about Cuban music, which has been heavily influenced by African motifs, is that it has had a major influence on American music, particularly jazz,” Overby says. “Africa went through the middle passage to this part of the world, particularly to Cuba, where they allowed their enslaved citizens to make musical instruments. That didn’t happen in the U.S.”

Ironically, African-influenced Cuban music made it back to Africa in the 1930s and ‘40s, Overby added, resulting in a unique and influential fusion dubbed “Afro-Cuban jazz.” 

The power of diverse music is nothing new for Overby. He grew up on the corner of Second and Burleigh Streets in Milwaukee’s Harambee neighborhood, the son of a white mother and a black father. His father owned the Club Chateau Lounge on what is now Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, which opened Overby’s eyes to the depths and variations found in African-American music.

“All that music ignited a fire in my soul,” says Overby, who holds an undergraduate degree in voice and choral conducting from San Francisco State University and a master’s degree from Edgewood with an emphasis on African-American sacred music. “I wanted to unpack that music and flesh it out.”

What Overby found is that access to various forms of music, like much of mid-20th century society, was highly segregated by culture and race. That was an issue already in the forefront of Overby’s mind, growing up in Milwaukee, still ranked the second-most racially segregated city in the United States, behind Detroit. 

Music both sacred and secular formed a cultural bridge for Overby, a trained lyric baritone who loved going to church as a child and is a gospel artist and former music director for the Madison Campus Ministry. The power of music to cross between cultures provided a setting that helped him decide where he would land in service to the global community, he says.

“That is the underpinning of why I do the radio show and what the content of the show includes,” Overby says. “I don’t overtly say what music can do in terms of reducing human hated of things that are different. I don’t say, for example, that the Bible and Quran have been marginalized to justify the killing of certain people. And yet these are two amazing documents that, in my view, offer lessons on how to live life and worship a higher being in the process.”

Overby lets the music speak for him. The show’s name, taken from a spiritual that Overby himself wrote that serves as a theme song, speaks to how music functions to better integrate a society of diverse individuals and cultures that too often is driven by unfamiliarity, fear and hatred.

Higher Ground is centered on music with African roots, but examples of musical integration are legion among every musical genre and origin point. A single example: When Czech composer Antonín Dvořák composed his Symphony No. 9, “From the New World,” in 1893, he integrated the spiritual “Goin’ Home” after hearing it performed by African-American singer Harry Burley. 

Rather than segregating their art, many musicians integrate their influences to communicate across cultures. This became the thesis for Higher Ground, which is broadcast throughout Wisconsin and streamed online for listeners as far off as the U.K., Germany, Iran and Morocco. That sense of humanity also drove a lifetime of study and defined a sense of purpose for Overby.

“I believe there is something viable to the idea of playing a role, even marginally, in reducing human hatred,” Overby says. “That’s where I have landed and that’s where I want to spend some time studying, learning and embracing these other traditions.”

As Overby pursues sacred music in his postdoctoral work, he hopes that the ideas and influences found in the show rub off on his listeners.

“If in listening to the show people find it in any way, shape or form transformative in what they have learned, enjoyed and found educational, then that would be an enormous gift to me,” Overby says.

Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society is creative explosion

Anyone who thinks chamber music is stately, stodgy and, in some cases, somnolent has never seen the seasonal performances offered by Madison’s Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society. 

This year’s program, dubbed “23 Skidoo” to celebrate BDDS’s 23rd year, is offering performances of 28 compositions by 22 composers from Brahms and Mozart to Antonin Dvořák, Arnold Bax and film scorer Nino Rota, with a healthy dose of Impressionists sandwiched in between.

In addition to co-founders and co-artistic directors Stephanie Jutt on flute and Jeffrey Sykes on piano, this year’s iteration of BDDS includes 15 other musicians from around the world giving 12 performances over nine days in three different venues, including the historic Hillside Theatre at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin estate outside of Spring Green. All of that activity in less than a month must make this group the state’s most energetic traveling band.

“Wow, I never counted it all up before,” says Jutt, who also serves as principal flutist for the Madison Symphony Orchestra and as faculty member at the UW-Madison School of Music. “Putting together the season is like putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle, except the pieces change size and shape as you work with them, and you don’t know what picture you’re aiming for.”

The concert series will be held over three consecutive weekends — June 13–15, June 20–22 and June 27–29. In addition to the Hillside School, The Playhouse at Madison’s Overture Center for the Arts and the historic Stoughton Opera House in Stoughton will hold performances.

In terms of content, BDDS has centuries of artists to choose from, ranging from Baroque master J.S. Bach, for whom the group is named, to contemporary names in composition. This year’s program includes the “Quartet in A minor for Flute, Viola and Piano” by Carl Phillip Emmanuel Bach, one of J.S. Bach’s 20 children, in honor of C.P.E. Bach’s 300th birth anniversary.

The playlist over the three weekends also includes four compositions by Maurice Ravel, three by tango composer Astor Piazzolla, and one each by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Dmitri Shostakovich, Witold Lutoslawski, Aaron Jay Kernis and a host of others. Variety is one of the things that gives BDDS its momentum, says Jutt.

“We’ve never been big fans of the ‘wall-to-wall Mozart’ types of concerts,” says Jutt. “Maybe Jeff and I don’t have the patience, but maybe we just love variety, juxtaposition of styles, and unusual elements in new combinations — just the way a great chef does in your favorite restaurant. It makes for a concert-going experience that is constantly surprising while being at the same time comforting and familiar.”

Of course, there is a bit of Mozart on the program. His “Piano Concerto in A Major, No. 23” will be performed at the Stoughton Opera House on Friday, June 20, and then again at the Hillside Theatre on Sunday, June 22. Mozart’s work will share the stage with compositions by Brahms, Piazzolla, Antonio Vivaldi and 19th-century American composer Amy Beach.

BDDS draws its name from the original Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society that still performs in Half Moon Bay, California, south of San Francisco. Jutt is from the Bay Area, and Sykes currently calls it home. He serves as a department of music faculty member for both the University of California, Berkeley, and California State University, East Bay. 

The California BDDS, which offers performances throughout the summer, has evolved to include jazz, blues and hip-hop. But this year the program also is sharing several musicians with its Madison counterpart, according to Jutt.

“Pianist Jeffrey Sykes, violinist Axel Strauss and cellist Jean-Michel Fontaneau have a separate chamber music group called the San Francisco Piano Trio, because they all live and work in San Francisco,” Jutt explains. “We try to make a special place for this ensemble within our festival, and they will be performing trios by Shostakovich and Dvořák this year.”

A relatively unknown Charlie Chaplin silent short, The Count, is to be shown during two of this year’s concerts. During the four-minute film, BDDS members will accompany live with Darius Milhaud’s “Le boeuf sur le toit for piano four-hands.”

“We’re very interested in any kind of collaboration with other artists, which is why we’ve had visual artists every single year of our festival,” Jutt says. “We’ve done several collaborations with video artists with varying degrees of success. Some of the audiences love to see abstract images floating past while listening to music and some people just can’t stand it.”

Milhaud’s work originally was a film score written to accompany a Chaplin film, one of many he wrote for French cinema primarily during the 1930s, ’40s and even as late as 1970. (A version of the work for violin and piano matched to a 16-minute version of The Count can be viewed on YouTube

Jutt and Sykes see the blend of music and cinema as one more arts hybrid that fits neatly into BDDS’s creative esthetic.

“We agree with the old French expression chacun sa chance, which simply means ‘everyone gets a chance,’” Sykes says. “We want see how we can combine art forms and come up with something new and wonderful, as Milhaud did with his film score.”