No Limit on Catching Jazz at the Trout

LaChazz_LatinJazz_11-11BY George Halas

Even for The Inquisition, the math is pretty easy…

Great jazz + great art + an idyllic setting = one fabulous Thursday night.

As it enters its sixth season, The Jazz at The Trout series has become a must-see/hear for a growing number of music fans.

The series was conceived initially by John and Susan Toussaint.

“The original concept was to create a jazz series in the Appleton area that would showcase national jazz talent,” Sue Toussaint said. “With John Harmon agreeing to act as the Artistic Director, we were assured that we would be able to attract the most talented musicians to perform in our community”

“We had a vision to create the type of jazz club environment that is found in larger metropolitan areas,” she continued.  “The Trout Museum main gallery has excellent acoustics. We offer wine and beer in the intimate gallery space and this helps to create a nightclub ambience. We have professional help with expert sound balancing and superb lighting for each performance.” 

“We asked the Trout Museum of Art if they would be interested in hosting such a series. They were excited about the opportunity to attract an audience that appreciated musical and visual arts,” she added. “We put up the seed money to get the series off the ground, ensuring that each musician was paid for their performance. The Trout has been an excellent partner, and they have benefitted from increased memberships and attendance to their exhibits.”

The series became a perfect complement to Trout Museum President Pamela William-Lime’s vision and mission to “empower all areas of the arts,” in the Fox Cities.

“This was definitely Sue and John’s idea,” Pamela said, “but it gave us an opportunity to bring people interested in music and introduce them to the visual arts while surrounded by great jazz.”

It’s been a great program for the Trout for increasing memberships and traffic into the museum. Jazz at the Trout has evolved into a community asset.”

“We have reduced our financial contribution, and the community has stepped up to make up the difference,” she added. “We now have season sponsorships and individual concert sponsorships available, and we are continuing to seek funding sources to maintain this great programming.”

Consistent with her vision of empowering all the arts, it was Williams-Lime who suggested “The Evolution of Jazz” as the theme of this year’s series.

“We are very proud of bringing in world class talent for the last five years,” Harmon said. “Pamela thought that people would like to be more educated about jazz and that would create even greater interest. I thought it was a great idea!”

“This won’t be a total overview,” he continued, “but we will be hitting many of the high points.”

The series opens on October 29th with pianist Rod Blumenau playing ragtime and stride piano.

“I have watched Rod play with jaw-dropping appreciation,” Harmon said.

Fred “Soulful Si” Savion will travel from Beaumont, Texas, to Appleton on November 19th, when the focus will be on the influence of the blues on jazz.

“Blues is a major spoke in the jazz wheel,” Harmon noted. “Many of the concepts and articulations of blues vocals greatly influenced the development of jazz. Si was my first choice. He’s a master of the blues and he has a great personality.”

On January 21st, 2016, the Bob Levy Little Big Band will shine the Trout lights on the Swinging 30’s and big band jazz. In addition to Levy, one of the best trumpet players in the area who led the Big Band Reunion for 22 years, the program will feature saxophonist/flutist Jose Encarnacion.

“This is one of the best bands around,” Harmon said. “This era was probably the height of jazz and both Bob and Jose are very knowledgeable.”

The Dave Sullivan Quintet will showcase BeBop Guitar on February 18th.

“I’ve known Dave for 40 years and he is the master of bebop guitar,” Harmon said. “He takes the standard jazz repertoire and writes totally new, complex melodies.”

Janet Planet will join Harmon on March 17th when the emphasis will be on the development of jazz vocals.

“We’ll be starting with the contributions of Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith,” Harmon said. “Janet embraces these traditions through her vocalese.”

“It’s always great to play with John. I love him very much and his playing is a perfect example of why people embrace jazz,” Planet said. “What is so magical about this series is that it is so up close and personal. That closeness is part of the tradition, feeling the vibration and even hearing the breath of the audience.

“I can’t wait for the educational side of the evening. I’m all over it,” she added. “They won’t be able to shut me up.”

When the economics of jazz changed, the jazz piano trio became a fixture in clubs and Dave Bayless brings his to The Trout on April 21st. The series closes on May 19th with an exploration of contemporary jazz and what the future may hold through the playing of pianist Bill Carrothers and cellist Matt Turner, both of whom teach at Lawrence University.

“We hope that greater understanding will help get people more excited about jazz,” Harmon said. “We truly hope they are entertained and uplifted.”

Harmon is also the artistic director of The Fox Jazz Festival. The Toussaints have created The Fox Jazz Fest Endowment Fund to benefit the festival and help promote jazz in the Fox Cities. Contributions can be made to the fund with cash or check written to: Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region. The address:  4455 W. Lawrence St. Appleton, WI 54912. Please put “Jazz Fund” in the memo line of the check.

For those who simply can’t wait until March to hear Planet and Harmon work their magic, the duo will be performing a special show on October 24th at the St. James Lounge in the Town of Menasha – also known as Michelle’s – in celebration of Harmon’s 80th birthday. Starts at 8 p.m. and there is no cover.

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