This first blog is dedicated to Tommy Ponce, who brought jazz home to me and who dubbed me Al of the Universe. To Bill, the owner of Piano Man, who had the vision of turning a long-time neighborhood tavern into a world class jazz bar. And of course, brother Benjamin who is forever seeking a higher ground.
In the 1980’s I got involved with The Piano Man (2 blocks north of Wrigley Field). The goal was to be the best jazz and blues bar possible. In the beginning there was Dixieland on Sunday afternoons. Added more music on weekends. Eventually the Sunday afternoon Dixieland turned into a regular jazz jam led by Chicago’s multi-instrumentalist Tommy Ponce and his quartet.
In no time, jazz increased to seven days a week with the addition of The Sons of the Blues (3-time Grammy nominee Billy Branch and Lurrie Bell, the son of the legendary blues man Carey Bell) on Sunday nights.
The Piano Man was an incredible scene, after a five-year run, the music stopped in 1985 because of lease issues. I thought that it was a once in a lifetime experience, that the magic couldn’t possibly be repeated.…fast forward thirty-two years and North Street opens.
As we celebrated our first anniversary on June 9, I reflect on our achievements and imagine what is yet to come. We’ve had some great talent on our young stage; we opened with Quebec band Les Poules å Colin and soon after hosted Septeto Santiaguero from Santiago, Cuba. But really, it is the local talent that is so amazing. Per capita, I can’t think of a more talented city than Madison. We are most fortunate.
This summer we have had the good fortune of booking the newly inducted into Afro Pop Hall of Fame Zimbabwe’s Mokoomba and the sound of Sahara legend Vieux Farké Toure from Mali.
Thank you for supporting live music.