By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Mar 16, 2005 at 5:17 AM

{image1}A Milwaukee musical legend, jazz pianist Claude Dorsey, is waving goodbye to local audiences with a "final show" at Panache on Sunday, March 20, according to his agent Barbara Wagner. Dorsey, who released his debut CD, "What A Wonderful World," just two years ago, has been a fixture in Milwaukee clubs since the 1940s.

According to Wagner, the split of Dorsey's trio -- which also included bassist Gary Christensen and soprano saxophonist Scott Van Domelen -- seemed like a good time for Dorsey, 91, to call it quits.

"We've known for a while that the Trio would be breaking up," Wagner says, "at the end of March. Scott Van Domelen will be going on the road with the Glenn Miller Orchestra. When you're as good as he is, you are in demand, and they called him to re-join the orchestra and he accepted.

"So, I was seeking a final trio gig date. But, then, about two months ago, Claude began to have some minor health problems and I had a couple of phone calls with him, where he indicated he didn't really care to accept any more gigs. His last gig, he had seemed in excellent spirits and played extremely well, as usual, so these conversations alarmed me. Claude wasn't sounding at all enthusiastic about playing again, anywhere and it alarmed me. Not one to give up easily, I pursued the issue."

And that pursuit is what led to the solidification of this gig, which was itself in doubt.

"One of Claude's health problems had him a bit discouraged, and I asked him to think it through and see how he felt about playing, when I'd call him back a few days later. Claude and Mary discussed it and Claude agreed to play the final gig, and I set it up for March 20. He is up for this and I have every reason to believe it will be Claude as usual ... awesome."

Even in the past few years, despite his age, Dorsey has been playing gigs on an astonishingly regular basis. But Dorsey's days as a hard-working, regularly-gigging cat are behind him, sadly. However, although Dorsey is bowing out for now, neither he nor Wagner has ruled out future performances now and then.

"If Claude feels up to it, and on his 92nd birthday next January, wants to play publicly again, sure, I'd help him book a Caroline's birthday gig or whatever. There may be the occasional special private gig or whatever. I can't say right now. It's just not likely to happen with any frequency, and given his age, who knows when or if, he will play publicly again?"

Wagner, whose father was also a jazzman and did time with the Miller Orchestra a half-century ago, says that in the short term, Dorsey's health and his reluctance make booking gigs too iffy to pursue.

"To book him, a few weeks in advance, then have him maybe change his mind, or be unable to meet a commitment, gets too risky, for me, acting as his manager/promoter. I'm uncomfortable with that," she says.

The final gig will be at Panache, 4210 W. Good Hope Rd., a venue that has also had a lengthy span (it was previously the Red Mill East), with numerous changes. It's a fitting venue for Dorsey's finale, says Wagner.

"Panache is an elegant place for him to play his 'final' trio gig, and they are supposed to be bringing in a grand piano for the occasion. This one will happen and I can be sure it will bring in a crowd who will want to be there for what might end up being an historical performance."

Dorsey performs from 7 until 10 p.m. and cover is just $5. Call (414) 228-0444.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.