The Jazz Orgy
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The Jazz Orgy

Oshkosh, Wisconsin, United States | SELF

Oshkosh, Wisconsin, United States | SELF
Band Jazz Funk




"APPLETON - The Wisconsin Area Music Industry (WAMI) gave its top award Monday night to a Fox Valley native at the 30th Annual WAMI Awards Show."

Appleton native Cory Chisel took home the Artist of the Year Award along with Album of the Year ("Death Won't Send a Letter") and Song of the Year ("Born Again") for his band Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons.

It was the first time in its three-decade history the WAMI awards were held outside of Milwaukee. Chisel made sure to recognize his hometown when accepting the night's final award before a crowd of several hundred people at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center.

"This is really nice to have this happen in Appleton," said Chisel. "I just want to thank a town that's been sweet to me since we first started playing in a band that was very, very terrible ... it was called Breathing Machine."

Chisel wasn't the only talent from the Fox Valley to go home with hardware.

Appleton based Grand Union took home the trophy for Country Band of the Year, and Appleton's Greg Waters and the Broad Street Boogie won Rock Artist of the Year.

Other familiar names called onto the stage included Jazz Orgy with Jazz Artist of the Year, Unity took the title of Reggae/ World/Ska Band of the Year, and Marc Golde's Rock Garden Studio received the honor of being named Recording Studio of the Year.

In addition to award winners, other local flavor included two members of the Fox Cityz Foxz roller derby team who handed out the trophies, and Len Nelson of WAPL-FM, who co-hosted the ceremony. WAPL, which broadcasts from Appleton, also received the award for Radio Station of the Year.

Musicians Jon Parish and Jerry Harris were inducted into the WAMI Hall of Fame. There was a special tribute to legendary guitarist and inventor Les Paul as well as other musicians who recently died. Country performer Geoff Landon delivered the tribute and credited Paul, a Waukesha native who died last year at age 94, with inspiring generations of musicians.

"All the things we work for, he did until his dying day," Landon said.

Live performances were the highlights of the show and included Grand Union, The Blueheels and New Artist of the Year winners Pezzettino of Milwaukee. The trio appeared on stage dressed as Winnie the Pooh, a wizard, and front-woman Margaret Stutt was decked out in a winged outfit that appeared to be inspired by the Tim Burton movie "Beetlejuice."

The show began with a performance featuring David Annania and Jeff Quay, two members of the Blue Man with Fox Valley connections. Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons closed out the night, which was followed up by an after-party at Mill Creek.

The Wisconsin Area Music Industry is a volunteer organization that has been honoring the work of musicians in the state since 1980. Learn more about WAMI by visiting www.
- Published in The Post-Crescent, April 2010

"Jazz Orgy drummer Mike Underwood named Drummer of the Year, 2013"

Drummer: of the Year of the Year Mike Underwood - Wisconsin Area Music Industry

"Jazz Orgy named Jazz Artist of the year, 2013"

Jazz Artist of the Year: Jazz Orgy - Wisconsin Area Music Industry

"Mike Underwood embraces his roll as a drummer for hire in Fox Valley music scene"

Mike Underwood rolls out of bed whenever he wants.

After all, it’s one of the cliché perks of being a full-time musician. However, the Illinois native and longtime Oshkosh resident didn’t carve out his career as a freelance drummer by oversleeping. Though it came with bumps in the road, Underwood, 29, found early on that dedication, practice and a game plan could land him his dream job.

Underwood cut his teeth on the drum set with the Fox Valley band Jazz Orgy when he was 19 years old; it was a Sunday night gig at Peabody’s Ale House in Oshkosh (a steady gig that Jazz Orgy has held for 13 years). Underwood was attending the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh at the time, pursuing a career as an orchestral percussionist. But after four years of schooling he decided he wanted to be a drum kit player in a band instead of finishing his degree.

In the meantime, he served as Jazz Orgy’s tour drummer, and since then has developed into one of the most notable set players in the area, having been nominated for Drummer of the Year by the Wisconsin Area Music Industry three times.

According to Underwood, he performed 361 shows in 2012 and has performed more than 300 shows of the past five years. Though he prides himself on being a call drummer, his main gigs are with three Fox Valley bands: Jazz Orgy, known for playing jazz standards super-fast; original, funky, neo-soul band Sly Joe and the Smooth Operators and original roots rock band Greg Waters and the Broad Street Boogie. Besides these and other local groups, Underwood also recently performed a mini-tour with Austin rockabilly up-and-comer Ruby James. If it’s not clear, Underwood plays the gamut of genres.

Known simply as “Wood” by his music pals, Underwood is one of the most versatile drummers in the Fox Valley music scene; you name it, he’ll play it.

P-C: You’re a full-time musician. Are you living the rock star life?

Underwood: It’s not as glamorous as everybody thinks it is. I wake up at noon or whenever I want to wake up, which is the best part, but a lot of being a musician is having organizational skills. I’ve got to answer emails and phone calls and all this stuff right off the bat when I get up and make sure I’m at the beck and call call for anybody. Then I practice for a while; anywhere from three to five hours a day just to keep my chops up because these kids are getting so good I’ve got to stay ahead of the curve. Then maybe I’ll do a lesson or two a week for one or two students and then it’s a gig seven to eight times a week. That’s pretty much every day.P-C: Do you have any go-to drumming exercises you use to loosen up before a show?

Underwood: I do, actually. There’s a thing called the Rudimental Ritual by a jazz drummer named Alan Dawson. It takes about 15 to 20 minutes to get through the whole thing. … You play with a click track and it’s essentially all of the major rudiments and a bunch of crazy ones like Swiss rudiments and crazy drum corps rudiments; it’s like the P90X for drummers. Your hands are going to be solid if you can do that, and the day of a gig, I try to submerse myself in whatever music I’ll be playing that night.

P-C: You play a variety of genres. What are the challenges of switching between different styles of music?

Underwood: That’s definitely the hardest part of my job, hands down. I’ll play a weekend full of rock with Greg Waters and I’ll have to play with big drumsticks and big cymbals and a big bass drum and hit really hard and then I have to sit down and play this jazz stuff where I’m not playing with my arm anymore; I’m playing with my wrist and everything is very bouncy and double stroke and finesse. Sometimes I’m not as good at it as other times. Sometimes I’ll sit down with jazz and just be bashing and then remember to play at the volume I’m supposed to be playing at. Being a versatile drummer is not only the thing that’s helped me out the most, it’s the hardest thing by far.

P-C: Tell me about the challenges of surviving in the local music scene.

Underwood: The real problem with surviving is you’ve got to play all the time. You’ve got to play so many gigs and it really takes a toll on your relationships. Fortunately I’ve got a lot of really good friends that understand, but it’s hard to constantly work. You’re not going to get a vacation and you can’t go to a Christmas party and you can’t go to your friend’s wedding and stuff like that. You don’t have time to do the standard things that people do. You’ve really got to love what you do or else it isn’t worth what you have to give up to make it happen. … Another thing is a lot of musicians are like, I just play rock or I just play country. Especially with jazz musicians, they think, I’m too good for that (genre); I just play jazz. Well, you’re not going to make any money then, man. You really have to play all of those genres. I’ve been really lucky in the fact that I don’t have a music preference at all, so I can play anything and have a good time doing it. When I was in the prime of trying to get gigs, I’d be the guy who you could call on Monday and I’d learn your three-hour set by Friday. The hard thing about that is I’ve got to make the band feel like I’ve been their drummer forever, so I’ve got to cop all of those licks in a week. It’s intense, man.
P-C: What is one quality you possess that separates you from other musicians?

Underwood: I think a lot of musicians lose sight of the fact that we’re there to entertain. We’re supposed to be entertainment and that’s got to be your number one priority, to put on a show for people. As many times as you do your signature lick or this really cool trick that you’re so tired of, you’ve got to think that there’s one person out there that hasn’t seen you do that yet. They haven’t seen you play a one-handed drum roll or twirl your drumsticks or something and as lame as I feel doing it, I still try to do that every night and make sure people are having a good time.

P-C: Tell me about your out-of-state experiences with music.

Underwood: Well, I started with Jazz Orgy when I was 19 and at the time one of (Jazz Orgy bassist) Andy Mertens’ friends had moved down to New Mexico. It started with just him and (Jazz Orgy pianist) Mark Martin but they wanted to bring a drummer along, so we started taking trips there once or twice a year. We’d tour our way down there and tour our way back and stop in places like Amarillo, Texas and Emporia, Kan., wherever we could get a gig. If we had a day off in town, we’d just stop at a bar and say hey, can we play here? Eventually we’d get a rolling gig wherever we’d go. We’d stop in small towns you’d never even think to stop at and now we’ll play there every time we’re on tour. It’s a pretty cool way to do it. We got a pretty good following in New Mexico and then we started doing big cabaret theater shows down there that this guy would hire us for. … I also just went on tour with Ruby James. Steve Cooper, the saxophone player from Jazz Orgy, moved down to Austin because he fell in love with Ruby, to get real romantic about it (laughs). She’s kind of a big deal in the Austin area. She has a record that’s produced by Charlie Sexton, who’s Bob Dylan’s guitar player, and she hasn’t toured the album yet, so I kind of put a band together for her. We just had to learn her stuff and play it at a bunch of showcase gigs.P-C: What is your ultimate goal with music?

Underwood: Hopefully there’s always another step, but I’ve been lucky so far. I’m not in a band, but this band picks me up and then that band picks me up and now I have several bands I can play with at any time and hopefully that continues to happen. We are extremely lucky here. There are so many places that are so starved for music. (Jazz Orgy) would just roll into some places like rock stars on our way to New Mexico because those cities didn’t have a ton of music, and here in the Valley, we’re saturated with awesome music. You can go see a band any night of the week. … I’ve had a lot of opportunities to play with a lot of cool people and go to a lot of cool places. If I can just keep that going, I think I’ll be in good shape. As a drummer, it’s one of those things; I would just hope for a call to go on tour. I’d rather be a freelance drummer that gets picked up to go on tour with random bands as opposed to the concept of “I’m going to be in this band and we’re going all the way.” That would be fine, but I’d rather be the call guy for like Alicia Keys and then go play with Stevie Wonder for a while. That sort of happens for drummers; there are a lot of call guys and I like to be that guy.

— Mike Thiel: 920-993-1000, ext. 526, or Follow him on Twitter: @foxcitieshub - Post Crescent Appleton wi

"Orgy five days a week"

Driven by an almost fanatical devotion to quintessential public service, The Inquisition once again reveals treasure hidden in plain sight in the Fox Valley.

In a given week, there is a minimum of five opportunities in an area ranging from Green Bay to Oshkosh to see one of the best live bands you’ve ever laid ears on. Unbelievably, there is no cover.

Celebrating their 12th year together, that band is The Jazz Orgy, winner of the 2010 Wisconsin Area Music Industry (WAMI) Award in the Best Jazz Artist category. The core trio is comprised of keyboardist Mark Martin, bass player/vocalist Andy Mertens and drummer Mike Underwood. For three of the five weekly gigs, the trio adds saxophonist/vocalist Steve Cooper, co-winner of the 2010 WAMI in the Best Reed/Brass Player category.

A Jazz Orgy week begins Sunday nights at Peabody’s in Oshkosh and includes The Paper City Pub in Neenah on Mondays, Mill Creek in Appleton on Tuesdays, Becket’s in Oshkosh Wednesdays and Heat in Green Bay on Thursday nights.

“A lot of rock bands would consider eight gigs a heavy month,” Mertens said. “We do 20 a month with occasional weekends and some double-headers.”

“You’d think there’d be over-saturation,” Underwood added, “but each city has its own spot to see The Jazz Orgy.”

The band’s 1,000+ song library includes classical and modern jazz compositions combined with member-written originals and jazz-accented R&B/blues, but it’s the band’s versatility and creativity that expands the list exponentially.

“The nice thing,” Underwood said, “is that the creativity level of the band is so high. We don’t have to play a song the same way twice. We can play any song as creatively as we want.”

“Having a ‘house’ gig is tough for a rock band because of the limitations of the song lists,” he added. “We do each song infinitely different, so when you go to see The Jazz Orgy, it’s always a different show.”

“The ultimate in jazz is what the ensemble produces collectively,” Martin said. “After 12 years, certain things get to be like mind-reading. There is a great openness that lacks ego, a lot of listening and contributing to the tertiary thing that is the music, where the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts.

“Does it coalesce? Is it cohesive?” he continued. “Is it an entity or is it just three guys playing together?

“We don’t overpower volume,” he added. “We realize that, in this era of amplification, that it is so easy to ‘make’ people listen,” he added. “We create an environment where people have the ability to have a conversation rather than just putting on a show.”

“We appeal to people who love to have fun, and that’s just about everybody,” Martin said. “Not drunken, hedonistic fun, necessarily. We’re a little more cerebral.”

The Jazz Orgy was the brainchild of Martin and Mertens.


“Mark and I had a church gig at St. Rafe’s (St. Raphael’s in Oshkosh) and we’d go hang out at Peabody’s afterwards,” Mertens said. “We hatched this plan to become better jazz players by having a gig where we’d invite guests who were better musicians than us and, by playing with them, it would make us better. And it worked.”

That plan gave birth to “The Formula.”

“When we got the Peabody’s thing going, we’d open up the second set to other musicians and we’d always have a special guest,” Mertens said. “That went well right away. That’s how PCP and other gigs came about. Places saw the success we were having and wanted it for themselves.”

Martin and Mertens were joined by drummer Pete Buxman , who was later replaced by Mark Powers before Underwood became a permanent member eight years ago.

The seminal Peabody’s performances on Sunday nights include a special guest who joins The Jazz Orgy for the first and third sets. The second set is open to anyone who wants to jam with the band.

“What keeps the crowd coming back is the formula for the shows,” Martin said. “The first and third sets create a set of bookends. The second set can be just pure chaos.

“Entire bands have come out of the second set,” Martin noted. “They met playing with us in the second set and just kept playing together.”

The event also gave the band its name.

“Peabody’s started calling the event ‘The Jazz Orgy’,” Mertens said. “I don’t remember what we decided to call ourselves, but after a while people knew us as The Jazz Orgy.”

“We knew we were taking a risk calling ourselves The Jazz Orgy,” Martin added. “But it paid off. The name is difficult to forget.”

The combination of creativity, consistent musicianship, special guests and chaos keeps the music and the band fresh.

“We never get tired of the gigs and we get to play with so many great players,” Underwood said. “One of the great aspects is that everybody around wants to come out and play with The Jazz Orgy. It’s fair to say that the endless combinations of music and players keep it interesting.”

The list of special guests who have played with The Jazz Orgy comprises a virtual Who’s Who of Wisconsin jazz. Mertens and Underwood were hard-pressed to single out favorites, but did mention guitarists Jack Grassel and Tom Theabo, drummer Steve Smith, Danny and Michelle Jerabek of Copper Box, Janet Planet and Tom Washatka as well as sax players Steve Johnson, Ross Catterton and Erik Bertaud.

“And lately, (vocalist) Erin Krebs and (guitarist) Jeff Johnston,” Underwood added, and Mertens agreed. “We’d love to play with them all the time.”

Johnston for many years fronted a band called The Swingin’ Johnsons; when combined, Martin, Mertens, Underwood, Cooper, Krebs and Johnston perform as The Swingin’ Orgy. If you see them booked anywhere, drop everything and go – they’re that good.

Martin has a different take on the guests.

“I like anybody new,” he said. “I do all the booking for the special guests, so it’s someone picked by me. It’s always fun to see how the guys react to someone new.”

“We’ve got a guy coming up, Evan Christian, a flamenco guitarist from Milwaukee who studies half the year in Spain,” he added, “but he also has modern sensibilities when it comes to the music.”

Martin, Mertens and Underwood were unanimous in their praise for Cooper and what he adds to The Jazz Orgy.

“He’s a fantastic singer, a fantastic sax player and adds another voice,” Mertens said. “We don’t have to work as hard as we do as a trio. Mark doesn’t have to take all the heads and I don’t have to sing as much so I can just lay back and play bass.”

“When he is with us, he is the clear leader,” Martin said. “The trio should pride itself as leaderless as we all lead simultaneously, but, when he is with us, he takes the helm and leads.”

Although the band has been together for 12 years, they see themselves as “closer to the beginning than the end.” They all agree that touring, playing festivals and constant improvement as musicians are mutual goals.

“We realize that there is no end in sight as far as improvement is concerned,” Martin said. “The music is in a constant state of improvement. When does music ever get perfect?”

The group is building its online presence and is putting together a live video, although “it’s a challenge to bring what we do, the live energy, and translate it to video,” Underwood said.

The Internet is going to be a major factor in achieving their goals. “You can’t just mail out a press kit anymore,” Mertens said.

The band also just finished a studio album with trumpeter and composer Bob Levy that will be released soon. Martin and Mertens contributed originals.

“It’s all about right now,” Martin said. “The band is the best it’s ever been and it’s a tribute to our commitment to getting better.”

If you’ve seen them, it’s hard to believe they can get any better, but it will be fun to watch and listen.

For more on the band, visit - The Scene

"The Jazz Greats of Oshkosh"

By Kris Larson

In a past life I was a musician. I was born and raised in Oshkosh, briefly pursued a mu- sic performance degree at UW Eau Claire, played in a touring band, worked in restau- rants, eventually started managing restaurants, and most recently returned to my hometown to open a restaurant of my own. Live music was not initially something that was planned at Becket’s, but it very quickly evolved into something that fits in very well with the other things we do. As we started booking music, I was completely amazed by the wealth of tal- ent that existed in my hometown.

We are truly blessed in the Fox River Valley to have so many great players in many different genres. The one that sticks out how- ever is jazz. I think it has always been here in many ways. I remember going to the Globe to hear the Arrangement (I was a particular fan of an amazing drummer named Peter Buxman), and I certainly remember hearing Janet Planet sing, so I am sure the jazz scene here has always been a strong one, but the one that exists currently really is incredible.

Certainly having a conservatory of music as impressive as Lawrence right up the road, as well as UW Oshkosh with its wonderful music and recording programs is very impor- tant to the local jazz scene. But this is a scene that seems driven by the players within it as much as external influences. In speaking to the musicians interviewed for this article, they mostly seem to stay in the area because it is a great place to raise a family and to practice their craft. Oshkosh has a relatively low cost of living, and as a community we seem to ap- preciate the arts enough to provide gigs and teaching opportunities to musicians – enough for them to stay here and make a living.

Any of the musicians you will read about here most certainly have the talent and drive to make it anywhere. They choose to stay because it is a scene that can support them (at least to some degree) in a financial AND musical way. And we should all be very thank- ful for that (as well as do our best to support them more, but more about that later). Being a nice place to live and having lots of talented players around does not, however, automati- cally make a particular style of music popular. Especially jazz. For that to happen, someone needs to get the word out.

Sunday evenings at Peabody’s are busy. And if you walked in not knowing what sort of band was about to start playing, you would

be hard pressed to guess jazz first. The Jazz Orgy started playing a regular Sunday night gig at Peabody’s 12 years ago. Currently they have standing weekly gigs at: Peabody’s in

Oshkosh on Sundays, Paper City Pub in Neenah on Mondays, Becket’s in Oshkosh on Wednesdays, and the Adams Street Pub in Green Bay on Thursdays. That’s a lot of jazz. And it speaks to their popularity that they are booked so regularly and consistently. If you haven’t seen them, you should, as it becomes easy to see why they are so popular and well received very quickly. They play so many different styles of music in so many dif- ferent ways; it is hard to classify it as strictly jazz. Drummer Mike Underwood describes it thusly:

“What is jazz? Jazz musicians themselves are reluctant to define the music they play. Equally, many are quick to judge if a song or a musician is ‘jazz’. Perhaps, it is easier to define jazz as a tradition rather then just a form of music. It is a tradition that encompasses, not only the music born in the American South in the early twentieth century, but also a tra- dition that is constantly evolving and creating hybrid musical styles all over the world. Of course, there are many aspects that make up the ingredients of the music. Improvisation, swing, collaboration, polyrhythms, and ex- tended harmonies are just a few of the things that can help us define it. However, let’s not limit ourselves to these defining characteris- tics of what we think is jazz. Doing so would be taking step backwards from what the con- cept of jazz really is…freedom; the freedom from the normality of everyday, the freedom to break the rules, the freedom to play from your heart, and the freedom to call it jazz. The bottom line is that jazz is in the eye of the beholder. Just as it was forged from the melt- ing pot of European harmonies and African rhythms, it has been adapted and twisted into styles that ring in the ears of every human willing to listen. Every note that a jazz mu- sician plays is a gift to the world and every emotion it evokes is a gift back to the musi- cian. In defining jazz, one finds out that some things are better left undefined. That is the beauty and the magic of this music we call JAZZ.”

On any given night you will hear the Jazz Orgy play jazz standards in a standard sort of manner. You will hear jazz standards played so fast and precisely it defies belief. You will hear funk and soul classics. You will hear modern pop songs played in a new way, or modern pop songs played to radio perfection. You may even hear, if you’re lucky, impersonations of Michael McDonald, Bob Dylan and Tom Waits…in the same song. You will also hear, at Peabody’s in particular, a special guest artist each and every week, part of what makes this

group so vital to the Oshkosh scene in general. The core group consists of: Mark Martin (pi- ano), Andy Mertens (bass), Mike Underwood (percussion), and Steve Cooper (saxophone and vocals), but in many ways is sort of a ro- tating cast. Other players routinely sit in, and up and coming players are often on stage with the band to hone their craft. I never would have known that UW Oshkosh Philosophy professor Larry Herzberg was such an incred- ible guitar player had I not heard him with this band. The inclusive role this band plays in the local scene really is one of the reasons for the popularity of jazz in this area. You really

should get out and hear them. And you can. There are lots of venues in

the Fox River Valley that host jazz often (see list below). And you should. This is a scene in the truest, purest and most inclusive of ways. It exists for, and in many ways because of the community that it both enhances and is sup- ported by. So go hear some. ?

Kris Larson is the owner of Becket’s restau- rant in downtown Oshkosh.

Andrew Mertens


Where/how did you get started in music?

My parents bought me an electric bass for Christmas when I was 13 and I played it constant- ly learning everything by ear. By 14 I was playing in a band and taking lessons with a local accordion player who taught me how to read music. When I was 16 I was playing 9 shows a week with a local theater company making more money in a week than I did in a month at my weekend job. After that show ended I reluctantly turned down a nine month tour at my parent’s insistence that I finish high school. At that point I decided that I would major in music.

Why Jazz?

The thing I like most about playing jazz is the variety of style and substance that is acceptable. I love playing with the purists who stay close to the style they like the most and I love playing with the bands that mix up their styles and eras. As a bass player that can read I am very lucky that I can play with singers, instrumentalists, big bands or sym- phonies. My main band, the Jazz Orgy, is very fun because we do everything. We can play the classic jazz, modern jazz, Latin jazz, funk, or pop tunes for the all night dance party.

Do you make a living playing music? How?

Music is a large part of my income but I do have other irons in other fires. When it was my main income I was in 10 bands and played every night. I would always have 15 to 25 students. In those days if I had a night off I called it a deficit spending night, and would worry about spending money if I wasn’t making money.

Why do you stay in the Fox River Valley?

When I graduated from college I thought about moving to a few different places but I decided to stay because of the gig opportunities I had in the valley, my friends and the affordable living avail- able. At the time I had a bassist friend living in New York City who was making about what I was making here but he was paying 7 times more for his apartment. At that time I had a small group of friends that were great musicians and nice peo- ple…that made it easy to stay. As the years went by I met more and more fox valley musicians who are great players and great humans. I think our scene here can hang with anyone musically but it greatly outshines everyone with friendliness.

Who are your most influential musicians?

There are so many bands and bass players that were influential to my playing but I think the big- gest influence is from the people I have played with: Tom Theabo, John Harmon, Peter Buxman, Tom Ditzler, Mark Tetai, Sims Delaney Pothoff, Mark Martin, Mark Powers, Mike Underwood, Steve Cooper, Noah Harmon, Joe Slyzalia, Brian

Gruiselle, and of course my teachers at Lawrence and UW Oshkosh.

How long have you been playing and in what bands?

I played my first professional gig at 14 and have been in and subbed for way too many bands to list. A quick short list from present to past: The Jazz Orgy, The River City Six, Salsa Manzana, Eric and the Andys, The big band reunion, The Arrangement, Le Jazz Hot, Dig, The Pipe Circus, Digstown, The Olive parade, The Boyled Olives, The Matt Golay band, The Janet Macklin band, Harmonious Wail, Uduudu, The Woodies, Sex (Psychedelic Euphoric Experience), Bad soup, The basic Food group, Sneaky Pete and The suspicious characters, Fastlane and Arson X. My apologies for the bands I forgot.

What is your greatest memory of playing music in the Valley?

The night the Jazz Orgy won the WAMI award for the best jazz band sticks in my mind as one of the best nights, not because of the music, but the whole situation. Being the house band for an award show is a lot harder than you would think. You have to play 15 seconds of 80 songs, it is very frustrating musically because you never get to settle in and have fun jamming. That night was special because I had no idea that we would win and the award was presented by my friend and mentor John Harmon. The absolute kicker was that my parents were in the audience to see their son’s band recognized by the WAMI organization. Very cool!?

Christine Grantella

ARTIST NAME: Christine Grantella INSTRUMENT: Voice

Where/how did you get started in music?

When I was very young my older brothers were already involved in music. My parents knew that music should play a large role in our lives and en- rolled me in piano lessons in elementary school. I played violin as well, but singing was inherently more natural for me. I remember singing to a “Disco Mickey Mouse” cassette tape when I was 4 or 5. I remember the feeling of wanting to be a musician and connecting with music on a level I could not describe.

Why jazz?

I was not exposed to jazz music until I was a teen- ager. Classical music seemed soothing, and pop music was completely engaging because I also loved to dance. In celebration of getting my first ‘boom box,’ my father bought me my first CD: “Count Basie Orchestra” with Oscar Peterson and featuring Sarah Vaughan on vocals. Something in that music was hypnotic. I was struck by ev- ery phrase Sarah sang, the notes she chose, and how she treated each with such thought and style. I delved into more big band music and eventu- ally discovered there was more than just the big band sound. I listened to vocal groups such as Manhattan Transfer, New York Voices and the like. I was friends with instrumentalists who were play- ing in small groups during my high school years, and teamed up with some of them to make record- ings of some jazz standards. They recommended a dozen or so instrumentalists I should be listening to, and did. My interest continued in jazz and I was encouraged by all around me to sing jazz and study the genre.

Do you make a living playing music? How?

I supplement my teaching income with playing music. Not just jazz alone, but classical, blues, and combinations of those. In this size market, I ap- plaud those who are able to make a living from playing alone. I enjoy teaching voice and piano as much as I like to perform. I think it’s a good com- bination and fit for me. I have a passion for both, and plan on continuing as they complement each other well.

Why do you stay in the Fox River Valley?

My husband (Matt) and I have two young chil- dren. The Fox Valley offers us a chance to hold a job, experience cultural diversity, reside in safe neighborhoods, and offer our children an educa- tion in a community that very much values the arts and arts education. We find that many people have the same values in this area and are willing to commit themselves to providing quality opportu- nities for the community to grow together in the arts.

Who are your most influential musicians?

Joni Mitchell, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McRae, Shirley Horn, and Karen Carpenter are at the top of my list. I would say that most of the sound that I have developed over the years has come from influences those ladies had. All masterful in their trade. There is much to be learned from these vocal icons. Currently, I am greatly influenced by the musicians I work with.

How long have you been playing and in what bands?

I began my musical career in another part of the state (La Crosse) and sang with “Three Beers ‘til Dubuque”, “Einstein in the Alley”, a blues group “Nautical Grin”, and a small jazz group “The Kitchen Jazz Quartet”. I moved to Indiana for a while to take a break from singing and focus on teaching more. When I moved back to Wisconsin I moved to Little Chute. It took a while to get back in the music scene as I married and had two children. My husband played a fundamental role in getting me involved in singing again. I was a vocalist for “The Swingtime Big Band” based in Appleton and met some incredible people before looking for gigs with small groups. I am currently working on a project with Noah Harmon, and have played with his father John. I have enjoyed working with many area musicians: Ryan Korb, Steve Cooper, Andy Sachen, Andy Mertens, Mike Underwood, Kurt Stein, Roger Teske, Jim Faz, John Pfeiffer, Rob McWilliams. I have great re- spect for the flexibility of all these folks and the talents they possess. Hence my journey of learn- ing jazz continues in this hidden gem we call “The Valley.”

What is your greatest memory of playing music in the Valley?

My greatest memory (ies) of playing are the ones where we engage the audience and have an op- portunity to interact with them. That’s another great reason to be in the Valley. The audiences are so appreciative and supportive of live music. Venue owners understand the importance of live music in the experience they provide their customers.?

Erin Krebs


Where/how did you get started in music?

I started playing music at age 10 when I took up the flute. I ended up loving music so I majored in Instrumental Music Ed at UW Oshkosh. Flute and

bassoon were my primary instruments, and I planned to teach band. Then one day the UWO Jazz Ensemble was holding auditions for a vocal soloist during a con- cert. No one else auditioned, so I won. Then I started singing with the group as a featured soloist regularly and started singing with the Jazz Orgy at Peabody’s from time to time. I guess people liked it, because I started booking gigs. I started singing with the Orgy more often, then I met Jeff Johnston, and he and I play 2 to 3 nights a week. I did graduate with my mu- sic education degree from UW Oshkosh, and have been teaching part-time music in schools for the past 8.5 years. I also teach private lessons.

Why jazz?

I’ve always enjoyed jazz- especially Big Band. Then in my Jazz Studies class in college one of the lis- tening assignments was to listen to Ella’s version of Misty (just her with piano) and I was totally amazed. I started getting hooked on anything and everything Ella did. I started listening to other Jazz ladies and got hooked. I just love the standards. All the Jazz stan- dards I sing are songs I love, and I love how jazz gives me the freedom to really sing out what’s inside. I can improvise and play around with the melody, and add my own way of doing things.

Do you make a living playing music? How?

My duo with Jeff and other singing gigs have enabled me to live in a nice place, drive a decent and reliable car, and actually put some money away. I chose to stick with teaching part-time, so that I could give the sing- ing thing a go and it paid off.I don’t just gig – I have a part-time teaching job at Wisconsin International School in De Pere and I teach private lessons as well. I gig 2-3 nights a week.

Why do you stay in the Fox River Valley?I

love it here. I’m from Monroe, WI (about an hour south of Madison) and I grew up on a farm. I did NOT Like small town living. I like it here because it’s not too big and not too small. The music scene is AWESOME, like a big city but the cost of living is like a small one. It’s great!

Who are your most influential musicians?

LOTS! But the main ones are: Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, Eva Cassidy, Bonnie Raitt, and Louis Armstrong.

How long have you been playing and in what bands?

My first paying gig as a vocalist was about 7 years ago. It was with some version of the Jazz Orgy. I’ve worked with them a lot over the years. Then when I met Jeff I started singing with Jeff ’s Blues band, The Swingin’ Johnsons. About 3 years ago Jeff and I start- ed our duo. I got to do a gig with The Groovehogs once- and sat in with them a few times… recently I even sang with a rock band called Bacchus Lotus! It’s been totally awesome.

What is your greatest memory of playing music in the Valley?

My favorite memory is a Monday at Paper City Pub in Neenah in the spring of 2006. I was singing some songs with Jazz Orgy, and we were going to do “Turn Me On”. Mike suggested that some guy named Jeff Johnston come up and play guitar on it because it is kind of bluesy. So he did and it was totally awesome, we just clicked.?

Helen Exner


Where/how did you get started in music?

My mom started me in piano lessons at 5, and I continued studying classical music through my

sophomore year at Lawrence University. I started singing as a soloist in high school, then gained confidence at LU in the Jazz Singers. After college, I sought out jazz piano lessons, started hanging out with Jazz Orgy players, and before I knew it, I was playing gigs in the Valley.

Why Jazz?

I love the freedom of improvisation. The classical tradition is a beautiful thing, but something about jazz better satisfies my desire to create new ideas. While I don’t write exclusively in a jazz style, the harmonies of jazz feel like home to my ears.

Do you make a living playing music? How?

Yes. I teach about 30 piano students in my private studio, and I’m music coordinator at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Appleton. At OSLC I play organ and piano, and I lead several ensembles. In a given month, I might be playing for a wedding, fu- neral, baptism, or other assorted private functions. I play at Cena Restaurant in Appleton about once a month.

Why do you stay in the Fox River Valley?

I never planned to stay here this long when I graduated from Lawrence, but I’ve been able to carve out a niche for myself as a church musician, private teacher and performer. I really enjoy liv- ing in the heart of downtown Appleton, where I can walk to the farmer’s market and other festivals through the year. I also appreciate the friendships and professional connections I’ve made over the years, thanks to the size of the Valley. I don’t feel like I’m in a tiny village, but I also feel a real sense of community. I have devoted fans who buy my albums and attend my gigs regularly.That’s a great feeling!

Who are your most influential musicians?

J.S. Bach, Ella Fitzgerald, George Gershwin, Harry Connick, Jr., James Taylor, Leonard Bernstein, Frederic Chopin, Samuel Barber, Jerome Kern, Carole King, Sheryl Crow, Lucinda Williams, Israel Houghton… I better stop there because my list is endless.

How long have you been playing and in what bands?

My experience as a jazz pianist began when I au- ditioned to get into a combo at Lawrence and was the only pianist not chosen. I had taken a few les- sons, but I knew I needed to immerse myself in jazz if I wanted to be a real player. So after gradu- ation I started studying with cellist/pianist Matt Turner, who encouraged both my playing and songwriting endeavors. By then I had much more free time to practice and explore styles that were new to me. I befriended bassist Jason Brown one evening at a Jazz Orgy jam in Appleton, and we worked together for several years, producing a CD. I also have collaborated extensively with guitarist Chris White; we play together pretty regularly at Cena. I don’t have an official “band,” but I do call certain players regularly because I respect what they do and enjoy playing with them. I have pro- duced 3 cds: “Helen Exner” in 2005, “Sunrise” in 2008, and a Christmas album “Christmas Belles” last winter.

What is your greatest memory of playing music in the Valley?

It’s a toss up between performing on “A Prairie Home Companion” in 2009 at the Performing Arts Center, and experiencing incredible support at the fundraising concerts I organized for my brother in 2010. He was paralyzed in a car acci- dent, and thanks to the people who came to the concerts, I was able to raise $3000 for him. It was awesome to share the stage with my childhood idol, Garrison Keillor, but equally humbling to feel so supported by people in my community when I needed their help.?

Janet Planet

ARTIST NAME: Janet Planet INSTRUMENT: Voice Where/how did you get started in music? Appleton, Wisconsin. I started singing as a young child and never stopped. The music chose me and before I knew it, it was a career.

Why jazz?

Because in my opinion, Jazz is like the internet… you never reach the end. Many other genres have stylistic, rhythmic, harmonic and spiritual limita- tions. Divine dissatisfaction is how the pursuit of Jazz thrives and since, like a “Planet” (sorry, had to do it), I’m ever revolving and evolving, I’d rather be dissatisfied and in motion, than satisfied and “ have arrived”. Plus, I can grow old with it. Like Johnny Carson once said, I can “sing until my vi- brato is so wide, you can throw a cat through it!” Do you make a living playing music? How?

Yes. Living within our means. Performing, record- ing, teaching ( Jazz vocal technique) voice over work, public speaking, commercial singing, radio work, yoga teacher.

Why do you stay in the Fox River Valley?

We have our business based here. We own and operate a recording studio and record label. The internet changed everything for many indepen- dent labels and when posed with the question of leaving, we assessed the advantages and disadvan- tages of moving to a larger city. It boiled down to economics. So we stayed, got a logo, a UPC code and started to produce. However, like many musi- cians, we’re never home.

Who are your most influential musicians?

Of course that’s a ridiculous question in that it is ever evolving, but here’s how I remember the order of influences from a time when I was most impres- sionable: Joni Mitchell, Frank Zappa, Bill Monroe, Bonnie Raitt, Aretha Franklin, Joe Williams, Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson, Nancy King. How long have you been playing and in what bands?

I’ve been professional (meaning surviving on mu- sic alone) since I was 23 years old. I’m now 54, do the math. I haven’t been in a “band”for quite some time. We’ve diversified and have a configu- ration for many musical situations. From duets to full Symphony Orchestra. I just go under “Janet Planet”.

What is your greatest memory of playing music in the Valley? Greatest is a big word. There are many memories. However, playing music in the “Valley”, I would have to site the time Tom Theabo and I were asked to perform in the VIP tent at EAA convention in Oshkosh. I had the honor of singing “God Bless America”to a room full of men and women that had served our country. Men and women who had served as far back as WWII to the present. There was one gentleman in the crowd who served several tours of duty in several wars. I don’t have the exact number or the exact wars but when he stood and put his hand on his heart, I felt a surge of emotion well up in my chest as I started singing. That was as real as it gets. These people standing there, listening to me, have seen it all, put their lives on the line and continue to define the mean- ing of what it takes to remain free. Love it or hate it, America, is the greatest country in the world and that room full of people, (and many like them)

is the reason Jazz “the true American art form” ex- ists today. ?

John Harmon

ARTIST NAME: John Harmon INSTRUMENT: Piano, Keyboards

John Harmon, whose professional life has deeply been involved with both music and teach- ing, may be one of America’s most prolific com- posers. Graduating with composition degrees from Lawrence University and the State University of New York, Harmon studied with Belgian compos- er Henri Pousseur and jazz pianist Oscar Peterson before creating a voice which is uniquely his.

Harmon returned to Lawrence University in 1971 and founded a jazz-studies program there. He served as the director of that program for the next three years. In 1974, Harmon co-founded a nine-piece band called Matrix. The group’s origi- nal music, most of it composed and arranged by Harmon, was at the forefront of the jazz-fusion movement and included elements of funk, rock and blues in addition to jazz. The group went on to record five albums over the next seven years.

The influence of jazz is present in most of Harmon’s compositions regardless of the en- semble or performer. Titles of pieces often reflect his love of the outdoors, Native American folklore, and twentieth century literature. Few people real- ize the breadth of music written by Harmon, but a glance at his repertoire will reveal a staggering amount of creativity over the years!

Although Harmon, an Oshkosh native, has traveled and performed extensively, the majority of his life’s work has taken place in his native state of Wisconsin. For his many accomplishments and a lifelong commitment to music, Harmon was made a Fellow of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters in 2005.

A widely commissioned composer, Harmon has written music for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, “The Orchestra” of Los Angeles, the Fox Valley Symphony and the Santa Fe Chamber Orchestra. His music contains elements of jazz, as well as Americana and Native American influ- ences. He recorded the exceptional solo album Rite of Passage in 2001 (Stellar Sound), which was featured on NPR’s Piano Jazz with Marian McPartland in 2005. (adapted from www.johnhar- and

Kevin Wells


Where/how did you get started in music?

I played bass on stage for the first time, as a sixth grader at Henry Horner Elementary School on the south side of Chicago, for the school Hot Pants Contest. It was a very hip grade school. And it’s been uphill ever since.

Why jazz?

An art created in the moment, through musical improvisation. It’s watching great painters paint, or sculptors sculpt, in real time. The great one’s make it look effortless.

Do you make a living playing music? How?

I guess it would depend on your definition of “mak- ing a living”. I’ve been playing professionally for a few decades. And the rewards and perks can and have been great. But, musicians, and especially Jazz musicians know, the old adage “don’t quit your day job” rings true. If you can make a living, as a local musician, from performances only, you’re a rare bird. To quote musician/producer/composer/friend Tom Washaka, “You’re either professional or local.”

Why do you stay in the Fox River Valley?

This is my home, I graduated from UW-Oshkosh, it’s a great place to work, grow and raise a family. Of course I wish the Fox Valley was more receptive to its great Jazz history both past and present. But with organizations like, UW-Oshkosh, WRST, Avenue 911, the Neenah and Fond Du lac Jazz Festivals, the Jazz Corner Society; and great venues like Beckets, Peabody’s, Gardinas’, and the Black Book in Depere, the future looks good.

Who are your most influential musicians?

I have so many, I’ll give you a few names, and it’s up to you to figure out why: Tom Theabo, Tony Taylor, Janet Planet, Tom Washaka, John Harmon, Andy Mertens, John Gibson, Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, Todd Rundgren, John Coltrane, Chick Corea, James Jamerson, Jaco Pastorius.

How long have you been playing and in what bands?

I’ve played all of my life… with bands including: Body Talk w/Janet Planet, Playtime, The Brenda Theabo Quartet, The Kevin Wells Project w/Jeni Funk , Tom Theabo Trio,and KWT4 w/Tom Theabo and Tony Taylor. As well as a number of Rock and R&B Bands, Max Gain, the Mario Bros Band, and more.

What is your greatest memory of playing music in the Valley?

A lifetime of listening. Playing is fantastic, but the joy is in listening, that’s “the cool”. ?

Kurt Stein

ARTIST NAME: Kurt Stein INSTRUMENT: Voice, Upright Bass, Electric Bass, Guitar, Tenor Banjo, Cello, Accordion

Where/how did you get started in music?

I have always had a love for music, performance, and entertainment since I was a small child. It is some- thing that has always been a part of me, and I can’t really remember wanting to do anything else. My pa- ternal grandmother turned me on to all kinds of fun music when I was little, always made me sing, and taught me a little bit about how it worked. I sang in choir and played in bands with my friends through- out my formative years, and then got serious and went to UWO for music. Music, entertainment, and edu- cating people about the arts are my livelihood, and my passion, I love it.

Why jazz?

In my personal opinion, jazz simply refers to the sonic melting pot of all forms of American music. Once you understand the complexities and limitless options related to jazz music theory, it is easy to see how absorbing all styles of music, textural ideas, and rhythmic options can be a benefit to the only true American art form. From old school jazz, to free jazz, to blues, hip hop, rock, funk, metal, world music, country, noise music, classical, electronic, etc…jazz is like a blob that swallows all genres up, and blends them into new sounds and directions.

Do you make a living playing music? How?

I make a living by gigging and performing, teaching music privately (currently at Sounds Alive Music and Art Education Center in Neenah), and doing clinical work with area schools. I also run a vinyl record label with friends of mine in NYC called Hundred Pockets Records.

Why do you stay in the Fox River Valley?

At first, I decided to go to college locally because of the amazing music-recording program at UWO, it is one of the best in the Midwest. After that, I stayed because my family was here, and I had started playing out a lot and teaching music. This area has allowed me to try many different things in the entertainment industry that I don’t think would be as easy to pull off in some larger cities. This is a reflection of the small, but close-knit, arts community we have in the Fox Valley, as well as a testament to the support of venue owners and city officials.

Who are your most influential musicians?

I am an audiophile, and enjoy almost every form of music, as long as it is compelling to me personally. That said, some of my biggest influences and personal favorites are: Charles Mingus, Tom Waits, Leonard

Cohen, Roy Orbison, Dean Martin, James Brown, Les Paul, John Zorn, Fats Waller, Howlin’ Wolf, Jello Biafra, Hank Williams, George Clinton, Chuck D, Raymond Scott, Dexter Gordon, Trey Spruance, Frank Zappa, and Glenn Danzig. The list could go on and on.

How long have you been playing and in what bands?

I have been playing music professionally for about 15 years. Currently, my personal projects are my solo work, my band Kurt Stein and The Conspiracy, Burt Klein Jazz Vampyre and His Arkestra of The Undead, and my student band, Kurt Stein’s School of Rock. I also do a lot of side work playing in duos, filling in with The Jazz Orgy, backing up vocalists, etc.

What is your greatest memory of playing music in the Valley?

There are so many great experiences I have had playing music in this area – too many to count. However, anytime Burt Klein Jazz Vampyre dons the cape, takes the stage, and grabs the mic, I know decadent, delicious, and disgusting amounts of fun will be had.?

Mark Martin

ARTIST NAME: Mark Martin INSTRUMENT: Piano, Keyboards

Where/how did you get started in music?

I do not remember when I started playing the piano, but my mom might. I began studying classical music with Ida Kuss when I was four years old. At the age of eight I won the MTNA’s composing competition, an accomplishment that gained national recognition and consequently created many opportunities to play piano competitively and improve my skills during my academic years. The beloved Mrs. Kuss was my piano teacher until I graduated high school. In college, I studied the masterworks of the great composers with several incredible professors.

Why Jazz?

Jazz combines the greatest elements of music. The best jazz is comprised of the extremes of musical the- ory, physical technique and endurance, and required the greatest amount of listening attention to the mu- sicians in the ensemble. Jazz embodies the cutting edge of modern style and wisdom of traditional mu- sical sensibilities. It is the greatest musical challenge and is also the most fun. That’s why.

Do you make a living playing music? How?

I have played over two-thousand gigs and have toured nationally with The Jazz Orgy well over a doz- en times. Currently, I perform at least four nights per week throughout Wisconsin’s Fox Valley. However, I am also well-known as a cyber-ninja for my work at Computer Corner in Oshkosh.

Why do you stay in the Fox River Valley?

There is a high density of talent here. Additionally, there are enough venues to support a thriving music scene, not just a jazz scene. I think that the venues that support live music in the Fox Valley deserve more credit.

Who are your most influential musicians?

My piano playing is most influenced by the master works of Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, and Schumann. My interest in jazz piano was the result of hearing recordings of Oscar Peterson at a very young age. After getting through about half of his discography, I moved on to the music Bill Evans. Please bare in mind that these are two massive undertakings. More recently I have studied the compositions of Dave Brubeck. My influences are not limited to jazz, nor

to piano. I am a huge fan of drum and bass, jungle, dub step, and most other electronic music genres.

How long have you been playing and in what bands?

Seriously? Please don’t make me do this.

What is your greatest memory of playing music in the valley?

I love Sunday nights at Peabody’s in Oshkosh. The Jazz Orgy is coming up on its thirteenth anniversary there. I have played music with nearly every jazz mu- sician in the entire Fox Valley there. The Jazz Orgy on Sunday nights is my definition of jazz, maybe even my definition of music. ?

Marty Robinson

ARTIST NAME: Marty Robinson INSTRUMENT: Trumpet

Where/how did you get started in music?

I did the very traditional thing of taking piano lessons in elementary school and then starting

trumpet in 5th grade. Neither of my parents were musicians, but I grew up in a household where we were always listening to good music and someone was always playing the piano, between me and my two older siblings.

Why Jazz?

When I was in middle school, I started playing in jazz groups and really loved it. Somewhere around then I realized that I not only was pretty good at playing trumpet (and piano), but that I really enjoyed playing all different kinds of mu- sic – jazz, classical, marching/pep band, rock, funk

- you name it. (My career has continued doing all of those things as well!) High School jazz camps soon followed, along with jazz lessons with John Harmon while a junior/senior at Neenah High School. John was great – teaching me improvisa- tion, jazz theory, jazz arranging, and jazz piano as well. What a great mentor for so many of us that grew up here in the Fox Valley. Now it’s fun for me to call John to join ME on a jazz gig!

Do you make a living playing music? How?

No – I don’t make a full-time living PLAYING music at this point in my life. As a college profes- sor, I’m certainly fully engaged as a music educa- tor, but I do as much performing and composing/ arranging as I can as a professional musician. It’s a balance that works for me for now. When I was in my mid-20s and living in New York, I did make my entire living as a musician – combining per- formances on jazz trumpet, jazz piano, classical trumpet, and studio musician along with many composing and arranging projects in jazz, classi- cal, film, TV, and the commercial worlds. It was a wonderful (and crazy) couple of years, but those are times that clearly informed my playing and teaching life in the ensuing years.

Why do you stay in the Fox River Valley?

I moved my family back to our roots in the Fox Valley in 2004 when I was hired to lead the jazz program and teach trumpet at UW Oshkosh. I had spent ten good years at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee teaching similar areas, but had al- ways hoped to get somewhere back in Wisconsin or the Midwest. My wife and I wanted to be closer to our extended families (in the Fox Valley and Milwaukee) and we just preferred the “midwest- ern” way of life. Why are we staying here? UW Oshkosh is a great place for me. Professionally, I’m able to stay active doing all of the diverse musical things that I like to do, while also being a profes- sor. Personally, it means everything to be close to quickly aging parents, and for my daughter to re- ally know her grandparents and cousins.

Who are your most influential musicians?

This is a tough one to answer briefly! My best mentors have been John Harmon, Fred Sturm (professor of jazz at Lawrence Univ. and also while I was at the Eastman School of Music), Bob Levy (trumpet professor at LU) – all Fox Valley folks, of course. I’ve had the great fortune of performing with some of the all-time jazz greats – including Dizzy Gillespie, J.J. Johnson, Bobby McFerrin, Wynton Marsalis, Michael Brecker, Clark Terry, Dianne Schuur, and Dianne Reeves, among others – and that has certainly been influential as well!

How long have you been playing and in what bands?

I’ve been playing trumpet, piano and jazz since a teenager – 30 years now. Professionally, you could say that I’ve been an active jazz musician and com- poser for over 20 years.

What is your greatest memory of playing music in the Valley?

Playing Mahler’s 1st Symphony with the Fox Valley Symphony last May was pretty cool. I’m sure that I’ll remember that for a long time! My UWO memories are strong as well – particularly

when we’ve had guest artists or special concerts. My UWO Jazz Ensemble has done Holiday Concerts with Janet Planet at the Grand Opera House that are always sold out. I usually do about half of the writing for those concerts and I often play trumpet on a tune or two as well. Those are great memories for all of my students as well.

As a student at Lawrence University, the high- light of many great concerts was when we played with Dizzy Gillespie on stage at the LU chapel. I was a freshman and fortunate to be in the top jazz ensemble. The place was standing-room only with some audience members on the stage behind and on the side of the band! What a thrill for a little college trumpet player. I’ll never forget the rush of emotion and thunderous crowd applause for everything that we and Dizzy did that night. I even had a few improvised solos next to Dizzy in the front of the stage. ?

Mike Underwood

ARTIST NAME: Mike Underwood INSTRUMENT: Percussion

Where/how did you get started in music?

In musical theater company as an actor and then as a pit musician.

Why jazz?

The creativity, the freedom, the amazing musicians.

Do you make a living playing music? How?

Yes, by playing in every band and style as much as possible.

Why do you stay in the Fox River Valley?

The abundance of great players, plenty of gigs, and affordable living.

Who are your most influential musicians?

Duke Ellington, Harry Connick Jr., Tony Williams.

How long have you been playing and in what bands?

20 years…Jazz Orgy, Sly Joe and the Smooth Operators, Greg Waters and the Broad St. Boogie

What is your greatest memory of playing music in the Valley?

All of them.?

Tom Theabo


Where/how did you get started in music?

After moving to Oshkosh in the middle 60’s, (was living on Air Force bases in California). I found drawing and playing guitar a way to make friends. Some early influences: Dylan; Peter, Paul and Mary; Beatles; etc.

Why jazz?

Sometimes I wanted to improvise.

Do you make a living playing music? How?

Yes, I have been playing, recording and teaching.

Why do you stay in the Fox River Valley?

Familiy and quality of life.

Who are your most influential musicians?

Initially I was influenced by guitarists in every style. In Jazz, I should mention, Wes Montgomery, George Benson, and in the last 10 years, Gene Bertoncini.. Local mentors and special influence from John Harmon, Tom Washatka, and Chris Swansen.

How long have you been playing and in what bands?

45 years … Jazz/ R+B bands or duets would in- clude: The Carrots, Funky Norman, Semi- Tough w/ Mike Meidl, Body Talk with Dave Janke and Janet Planet; Lifetime w/ Tony Wagner, Jeff Peitrangelo; Fire and Ice with John Harmon

, John Gibson,Tony Taylor, Sweet thunder w/ Duane Stuermer , Dave Wall and Woody Mankowski, Urban World, Janet Planet Band, KWT4. Band variations and individuals number in the hundreds and can’t all be mentioned here.

What is your greatest memory of playing music in the Valley?

WAY too many great memories to pick one… Well, I could start with the Carrots in ’72 at the Rathskellar…. ?

Tom Washatka

ARTIST NAME: Tom Washatka INSTRUMENT: Saxaphone

Where/how did you get started in music?

My mother taught me piano at age 9.

Why jazz?

I didn’t really choose jazz, it chose me. The impro- visational component seemed very attractive.

Do you make a living playing music? How?

Yes, by performing, teaching, recording, writing/ arranging.

Why do you stay in the Fox River Valley?

It’s my home. I like living here.

Who are your most influential musicians?

Difficult question because I’ve been influenced by so many. But my most influential would be, my Mother, Chris Swansen, the jazz tenor saxophone legacy and who I’m currently listening to.

How long have you been playing and in what bands?

I’ve been playing saxophone for 43 years. The band line-up: Big City Bob and the Ballroom Gliders, Anacrusis, Fire & Ice, Janet Planet Trio, Rhythm and Brews, Madisalsa, Brian Setzer Big Band, Matrix, Tom Washatka Quorum, among various free-lance groups – the Temptations, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Opened up for Spyro Gyra, Weather Report, Pancho Sanchez, Sonny Rollins.

What is your greatest memory of playing music in the Valley?

Making great music with great friends! ?

Tony Taylor

ARTIST NAME: Tony Taylor INSTRUMENT: Percussion

Where/how did you get started in music?

I’m self-taught, and started in my late teens. My Dad is a Jazz Buff, heard it around the house all the time.

Why jazz?

Major part of my childhood.

Do you make a living playing music? How?

Not any more – it’s a part time passion.

Why do you stay in the Fox River Valley?

Love the area for outdoor activites, and a wonderful place to raise a family.

Who are your most influential musicians?

Miles, Tony Williams ,Coltrane,Elvin Jones, Lenny White, Steve Gadd, and the list goes on and on!

How long have you been playing and in what bands?

Since my late teens. Fire and Ice with John Harmon, Chris Swanson & Janet Planet’s “Sweet Thunder” Sweet Davey J”s Body Talk.

What is your greatest memory of playing music in the Valley?

My first playing days with John Harmon and playing The Miller Jazz stage at Summerfest. ?

Local Jazz Venues:

Peabody’s (544 North Main Street Oshkosh, http://www.peabodysalehouse. com/)

Becket’s (2 Jackson st. Oshkoshh

Manila Resto (107 Algoma Blvd Oshkosh,

Gardina’s (448 n. main st. Oshkosh,

Mill Creek (417 W. College Ave. Appleton,

Paper City Pub (212 W. Wisconsin, Neenah)

Canova’s (113 E. Wisconsin, Neenah

Déjà vu (519 W. College Ave, Appleton,

Cena (125 E. College Ave., Appleton,

To learn more about some of the great lo- cal jazz talent, visit their websites below.


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- The Scene

"Jazz Orgy seeks to recreate group vibe with live recording"

The band formed in January 2000 as house band for the Sunday night jam sessions at Peabody's Ale House in Oshkosh. Those Sunday nights were known as Jazz Orgy, but the trio soon became the event. The original Jazz Orgy trio was Mertens, Mark Martin on keyboards and Peter Buxman on drums. Mertens and Buxman had worked for years together in The Arrangement and Uduudu, but when Buxman moved to Minneapolis in the spring of 2002, drummer Mark Powers replaced him.

"It's really awesome. The communication between the three of us is great," Mertens said.

"Playing in a trio, I have a lot of room to express myself with the bass, whereas in a larger setting you just play bass and don't get a lot of chance to solo," he said. "Now I get to play a lot and it's a lot of fun."

Mertens said the band has already recorded a live CD of material, but it was done with a mini-disc recorder. They decided to do a serious live recording and chose to do that at Mongo's Inner Mongolia Lounge, the upstairs music room and recording studio owned by Tim O'Connell, owner of Mongo's and lead singer/songwriter of the band Uduudu.

"We wanted to do a more professional studio thing with Tim and get a little better sound in a concert setting," Mertens said. "It's important to have a good vibe going. Having played there with Uduudu and The Arrangement so many years, I know it's just a great music room."

Mertens said rather than playing any one particular style of jazz, the trio likes to bring all their various tastes and experiences to the table.

"Before this Mark Powers was doing a lot of polka gigs," Mertens said. "He was the polka king drummer. Mark Martin comes from the classical world. I've done the orchestra thing, but I started out in biker bands, heavy metal. You name it, I've played it."

So expect a little of everything Friday, including five original tunes.

"We've got some funk," Mertens said. "We'll play some swing tunes. We've got a couple tunes in the gypsy swing vein, the Django Reinhardt style. We've got some Jimi Hendrix, some Pink Floyd, some Rush."

Mertens expects some of the Sunday night Jazz Orgy crowd to show up for the live recording.

"I hope people who remember The Arrangement and Uduudu come on down and check us out, too," he said.

- Published in The Post-Crescent, June 2003


The Jazz Orgy, featuring compositions of Bob Levy - 2012

Live @ Pi - 2007

The Do it Tour - 2006

Live @ the Twisted Vine - 2004

Live @ the Buffalo - 2004

Live @ Mongo's - 2003

The Jazz Orgy - 2002



The Jazz Orgy was named Best Jazz Band in Wisconsin by the Wisconsin Area Music Industry in 2013 and 2010. The band was formed by Andrew Mertens and Mark Martin in early 2000. Originally, the name referred to a weekly event - a jazz open mic that would feature a special guest for the first and third set, with the second set open for anything - the idea being "an orgy of music where all styles are fair game." When the popularity of the event led to more gigs they decided to name the band The Jazz Orgy. In 2003, the band began touring the Southwest to escape the brutal Wisconsin winter, playing their way to New Mexico and Arizona and back. Their unique attitude of ego-less playfulness has attracted many musicians to attend and join their performances. This has created a scene and a deep sub list that allows the band to play out of state while their friends keep the local weekly gigs happening. From the beginning, the band has maintained an impressive performance schedule, playing 6 to 7 nights a week at home and on tour.