“I could only find so many photographs, talk to so many people, and include so much information. And so, I would like to acknowledge every soul that has ever been a part of the Milwaukee jazz scene but is not in this book.”
That’s Milwaukee writer Joey Grihalva at the top of his new book, Milwaukee Jazz, the latest entry in Arcadia Publishing’s Images Of America series. Grihalva’s disclaimer may be necessary—not everyone and everything is in the book—but it may be overly modest, too. Because what he has assembled in his 127-page paperback is impressive: a riveting, illuminating, and wonderfully alive pictorial history of Milwaukee’s jazz scene from the 1920s to the present day. For novices and veterans alike, it’s a must-read. You can buy it now.
The book was born out of a piece on the history of local jazz that Grihalva wrote for 88Nine Radio Milwaukee in 2016. (Note: Grihalva is a Milwaukee Record contributor, too, and we appreciate him occasionally ducking down to our level to write about, say, seeing ’80s pop star Tiffany in a rural Wisconsin bar.) The 88Nine piece centered around the reopening of The Jazz Estate; Milwaukee Jazz casts a much wider net, collecting an impressive amount of pictures (more than 200) from past and present clubs like the Flame, Thelma’s Back Door, the Jazz Gallery, the Main Event, and more.
And then there are the musicians themselves. Page after page of photos (many drawn from personal collections, the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, and the Wisconsin Black Historical Society) depict visiting legends like Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, and Wynton Marsalis, but also local favorites like Berkeley Fudge, Loretta Whyte, Al Jarreau, Scat Johnson, and more. Every photo is accompanied by a detailed caption, giving the who, where, and when of the local scene.
In his introduction, musician Jamie Breiwick (“the ‘OG’ of the Milwaukee jazz history archive game”) lays out the book’s game plan: “Much of the driving force of the Milwaukee Jazz Vision (and this book) has been to shed some light on the contributions of the unsung heroes, the unrecognized masters, and the regional icons of past and present. My hope is that this book will not just be a nostalgic look at our rich past, but a compass pointing to what might be possible in our future.”
Happily, thanks to the efforts of Grihalva and a host of others, that compass is strong, and the future looks bright.
Grihalva will give a solo talk on Wednesday, August 7, 6 p.m., at Historic Milwaukee. On Friday, August 9, 5 p.m., at City.Net Jazz Cafe, he’ll be joined by cafe owner and drummer Sam Belton for a talk, performance, and fish fry. On Saturday, August 10, Grihalva will be selling books outside of the Jazz Gallery during Center Street Daze. A supplementary book featuring even more photographs and interviews is in the works.