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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014

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In Music

Derek Pinkham has written the book -- or at least a book -- on Milwaukee's jazz scene. (PHOTO: Kevin Remington)

Profiling Milwaukee jazz: new book charts Cream City scene


Derek Pinkham spent a little time in Milwaukee, where he got to know a lot of jazz musicians. He interviewed many of them for his new book.

"Milwaukee Jazz Profiles: Lives & Lessons of Musicians from the Cream City," published in paperback by Marquette University Press, goes right to the source to learn more about the history of jazz in Milwaukee and the state of the scene as it stood in recent years.

While he was here, he studied with local legend Berkeley Fudge and worked at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music.

We caught up with Pinkham via e-mail from Lexington, Va., where he works at the Center for Leadership and Ethics at Virginia Military Institute and where he plays, repairs and builds saxophones.

OnMilwaukee.com: Can you tell me a bit about your Milwaukee connection?

Derek Pinkham: My wife and I moved to Milwaukee as part of her internship -- kind of like a residency for medical students -- for her Psychology doctorate in 2000. It was not a random selection, but it was done as a computer match. We were really excited for our move from central New Jersey. The internship was only a year long, but we stayed two extra years because we loved it.

Eventually we needed to get back to family on the East Coast ... and to the post-doc job. At the beginning, it was a hard transition for me; hard to find a job as a chemist, my heart wasn't really in the work anymore. As the first chapter of the book suggests, I got hooked up with the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music and was introduced to guitarist Paul Silbergleit. He is responsible for much of my interest in Milwaukee jazz people.

Eventually I found work at the Conservatory. I spent so much time there practicing anyway; I think they felt bad for me. I ended up as the Branch Coordinator out in the Fox Point satellite before we left for Boston.

OMC: What was your reaction to the jazz scene here when you arrived? Did it feel vibrant or wanting? And in comparison to other places?

DP: It is hard to remember; I guess the scene is "beneath the surface". That is, once you know a few people and places, you start to realize that there is a lot going on. Early on, once I started taking music lessons at the WCM, I was introduced to many of the great players in town. You go to their gigs, and you learn who else plays and where.

I was curious to know about the history of the scene and that is one of the reasons for the book. I also lived on Prospect Avenue, so I wasn't too far from The Estate, and they had really great music every night. When I moved to Milwaukee, I had not lived in another city, big or small, with any jazz scene to speak of, so I cannot compare. I lived close to Newark and New York City and was able to visit and sample jazz, but never consistently like in Milwaukee.

OMC: Do you think there is an appreciation of the local jazz scene among non-musicians?

DP: Yes, to a certain point. It is jazz after all, not pop or R&B or hip-hop. There is support for the musicians who consistently play the music well.

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