Who Are The Local Legends Of Jazz?

Berkeley Fudge poster

A poster advertises, with incorrect spelling, a Berkeley Fudge gig in 1967. via Milwaukee Jazz hide caption

itoggle caption via Milwaukee Jazz

It's been really heartening to read your nominations for "great unknown" jazz musicians, which continue to trickle in here and here. It's wonderful to see so many of y'all being moved by such a wide variety of musicians — that despite being underrated and underexposed, so many musicians still manage to connect with people via their art.

But much is left unfinished here. These names are barely any better known than when we asked you to name them. And this exercise raised more issues than it solved. Particularly, I'd ask you to pay attention to this comment:

... I would like to add Jeff Lederer, saxophonist, composer and arranger extraordinaire as well as Matt Langley, an amazing saxophonist who lives in Maine. He has been a collaborator with Charlie Kohlhase for years. I believe a profile on regional jazz hipsters who keep the message alive in their communities would bring many great folks to light. Guitarist Steve Grismore and crew in Iowa City? Saxophonist Fred Haas in Vermont. Craig Owens in Wichita, the hip cats in Austin, Madison and Reno, Paul Haar and crew in Lincoln, Nebraska. CJ Kocher in Vermillion, South Dakota, Nikki Whittaker in Galesburg, Ill, the list goes on. The importance of the regional jazz musician has seem[ed] to diminish but audiences need more than the occasional national act that may come through town. I believe the support and recognition of these folks should be a priority. They are definitely effective conduits to what is happening beyond [t]heir region. I encourage them that they should not worry about what is beyond though. They have the opportunity to generate imaginative and compelling music right where THEY are!

That's from none other than drummer Matt Wilson, whose extensive touring and clinic-giving has brought him into contact with many a "great unknown" outside his New York home base. I like his idea a lot: I'd like to find out more about the "regional jazz hipsters" scattered throughout the U.S. Who are the killer players anchoring their respective scenes? Who are the teachers, the well-connected sidemen, the griot-like figures who deserve recognition beyond their immediate vicinities?

Tell us in the comments: who are the local jazz legends where you live, where you have been, or where you're from? And what makes them legendary?

From your nominations (and those which have previously come in), I'll pick a small handful, get in contact with them and interview them here about their careers. And no, your community needn't be somewhere like rural Maine — though it would be really interesting if it were! I'm looking for anyone whose talents and leadership in some way make it possible for many others in their region to experience good live jazz, from behind-the-scenes Brooklyn/9th Ward New Orleans/South Side Chicago cats to, well, rural Maine. Who are these people?


Here's a personal example. I grew up around Milwaukee, Wis., where the jazz scene is — well, it's not huge, at least not any more. A lot of top-flight musicians came from Milwaukee, I gather: I'm thinking of drummer Carl Allen, pianists David Hazeltine and Lynne Arriale, trumpeter Brian Lynch, bassist Joe Sanders, alto saxophonist Bunky Green. One more thing unites all those folks: They had to leave town in order to gain any sort of wider recognition.

But what about the musicians who moved in, or didn't leave? I think, in particular, of the tenor/soprano saxophonist Berkeley Fudge. He's become something of a godfather of Milwaukee jazz: On the scene since the '60s, he now teaches at pretty much all the major institutions where one can learn to play, and has mentored countless students in the process. He's played with Lena Horne, Roland Kirk, Sonny Stitt; when he blows, you hear wisdom transmuted through burly lines and dynamic variation. For more information, here's an old profile from OnMilwaukee.com about him.

Fudge has no website or MySpace page. Because he teaches so much, he doesn't perform as much as he could — and in Milwaukee, there are only so many places to play, period. But he's one of the folks who seemingly everybody in town works with, or studies under, or usually both. As such, his presence has a lot to do with keeping the local scene viable and stocked with talent.

We almost only ever hear about musicians from a select few major metropolises, but there are really good jazz musicians dotting the entire U.S. They're coaching new talent, filtering ideas from the wide world of jazz and keeping the art form from becoming a phenomenon isolated in those nerve centers. And I'd like to help recognize them for it.

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