"Like Chet Baker, Cooper stays on an even keel, although he'll surprise you with twists and leaps into the upper register or blistering high note patterns. No matter what he tries, he never looses his balance."

Isthmus Magazine

David Cooper is an Eclipse Artist and plays Eclipse trumpets and flugel horns exclusively.

Is this the end of an era musically as well as politically?

Written by Dave Cooper
Thursday, 11 December 2008 14:10

 As many of you know, the New Breed Jazz Quintet has held a jam session at the Concourse Hotel Bar every Wednesday evening for the past seven years.  Last Wednesday, November 19th, the hotel management told the group that they were going to close the doors for a month for renovation and when it re-opens in January, it will be a sports bar with no live music.  …Yes, no live music on any night of the week and yet another sports bar…  It confounds me that the management would think this is a wise strategy.  It seems to me that sports bars generally cater to local folks gathering together to be in a space of like-minded fans.  (Generally drinking cheap beer and shouting at tv’s.)  The Concourse is trying to be one of Madison’s premier hotels and cater to a national, if not international clientele.  It would seem to me that those type of travelers would much rather go downstairs from their $150+ rooms to a more sophisticated room and have a glass of wine or scotch.  If they really wanted to see a game they could very conveniently walk around the corner to State Street and have their pick of sports bars.  Besides, I just don’t see the typical Madison sports-bar-goer wanting to watch a game in a hotel bar when there is State Street right there.  

Cal Worrell was the manager and “artistic director” of the Concourse for decades and a very good friend to me, and the musicians of Madison.  In fact he was voted Madison Jazz Personality (MJP) one year.  His vision was to make the Concourse “the” spot for live music most notably jazz. Over the years the live music was scaled down to three nights a week, the New Breed Wednesday night jam session and local rotating jazz acts Fridays and Saturdays.  It particularly saddens me to see Cal’s vision cast away which will have a dramatic and depressing effect on the Madison live music scene.

Jazz is a social music that reflects social issues and is passed on to generations largely through the aural process of listening and doing.  Jazz jam sessions are where players of varying abilities get to interact together on stage and hone their musical dialog.  The older players take on the role of leading and the younger players get a chance to work out the bugs in the music and techniques they have been working over in preparation for the session.  It is the ultimate learning environment for this particular art form.  Over the years of playing this session there have been “regulars” that come and sit in every week and I and I’m sure the audience has been witness to their musical development. 

Another wonderful thing about these jam sessions is that you never know who would be coming by to play.  The Concourse often housed the out of town acts from the Overture Center and Union Theater and these out of town musicians would often come by after their concert.  These moments would be a fantastic treat for everyone present.  Out of town musicians would constantly comment on what a rare and wonderful thing to have a weekly session and sometimes how they had heard about it through musical grapevines and if they were in the area, make a point to stop in.  

I would estimate that we could count on the same 10 – 30 people being at our gig every week, which made the gig feel very comfortable.  It truly felt like we were all playing and hanging out in someone’s living room.  All of these elements made for a wonderful environment and social network.  People discussed the intricacies of the latest jazz improvisation technique, watched or participated in very high-end chess matches, discussed politics, found musicians for other jobs and in general had a community gathering; all in the atmosphere of the truly improvisational and sincere nature of jazz music.

For a number of years in the 80’s Cal Worell and the Concourse employed my wife, Kelly DeHaven (another MJP) and her group to play six nights a week!  Prior to Kelly, her father Doc DeHaven (another MJP) played jazz three-four nights a week for 16 years at the Pirate Ship Bar, which was also located at the top of State Street.  Madison has had a tradition of maintaining a jazz presence and it looks like it may be threatened. 

It is my sincere hope that Madison can find a place for live jazz to be cultivated once again.  The arts in general are taking a beating in this economic and recent political climate.  Jazz is more than a style of music or art form that was created in the United States.  It is a culture, albeit fringe, and needs to be nurtured.