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  • Writer's pictureElisabeth Gasparka

Local All-Star Jazz Musicians of We Six TO Reunite For Jazz in the park on August 17

We Six, the resident jazz ensemble of Milwaukee Jazz Institute, has been performing together in various iterations for decades. But when the pandemic struck, like musicians worldwide, its players, trumpeter Eric Jacobson, tenor saxophonist Scott Burns, guitarist Paul Silbergleit, pianist Mark Davis, bassist Jeff Hamann, and drummer Dave Bayles, were unable to perform together live and in-person. After several years' hiatus, on August 17, We Six will be making their glorious return to the stage as an ensemble for Jazz in the Park—a free music series from Milwaukee's East Town Association, and one of our community's most beloved longstanding jazz music events. I spoke with Mark Davis, the founder and artistic director of Milwaukee Jazz Institute and pianist of We Six, about the upcoming performance.

Images courtesy of We Six

The group is performing together publicly for the first time since the pandemic with this show at Jazz in the Park. How did you prepare?

We Six is a jazz group we officially formed in 2002, but some of us have been performing together since the 1980s –yes, since high school! Over the years, we've had several different trumpet and tenor saxophone players in the band, but the other members have remained the same. Our original line-up included Milwaukee tenor sax legend Berkeley Fudge—he appeared on our first album. We have a long history together, and we all continue to play together in different configurations. This makes it easier for us to pick up where we left off with this group. We just needed an excuse like Jazz in the Park to get back together!

How is the jazz scene in Milwaukee, and globally, different than before the pandemic?

The biggest change I see globally is the amount of live streaming that goes on now with performances. There was some of this before the pandemic, notably Small's Jazz Club in New York, but now there are many more opportunities to hear live-streamed concerts. We created the Milwaukee Jazz Institute in 2019, so the most significant change I see locally post-pandemic is the positive effects of MJI on our jazz scene. With all the opportunities MJI has created for students and listeners, we are seeing an amazing jazz scene develop.

You and other performers in We Six are also teachers of jazz music. What are you seeing in terms of the youth's engagement with jazz, today?

Yes, We Six is the resident ensemble of the Milwaukee Jazz Institute. The group teaches an annual summer camp, and the members of the group serve on our MJI faculty. We direct eight weekly ensembles, teach online courses and workshops, present an annual educational jazz festival, and lead a monthly jazz session. It's gratifying to see a lot of young players getting into jazz. There's a vibrant scene of young players starting to play professionally in Milwaukee. We're proud of this because most of them are our former students.

What will you be playing as a group at Jazz in the Park?

As a group, we draw inspiration from some of the great hard bop groups of the 1950s and '60s, but we also like to highlight our own compositions. Our most recent album, Vivid Dreams, was released in 2020 and featured all original compositions by members of the group. We'll perform some of these compositions along with some classic jazz repertoire.

Public, free musical performances are on the rise in Milwaukee. What kind of other free jazz offerings (playing/listening) are out there for folks to get into?

The Milwaukee Jazz Institute has a series that we call the Jazz Circle. We offer free classes and events for youth and adults who want to learn about jazz. These include our monthly jam sessions at the Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts and other events like our International Jazz Day Celebration that was held at the Saint Kate Hotel this year. People should subscribe to news and updates through our website, to stay updated on all our events.

Where can members of We Six next be seen in this group, and other iterations?

The members of We Six are some of the most active and in-demand jazz musicians in Milwaukee and Chicago, so wherever there is jazz, you are likely to see one of us. And stay tuned for more performances by We Six!

You can catch We Six at their show at Jazz in the Park in Cathedral Square on August 17 at 6 pm.


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