With the recent return to Milwaukee of native-born jazz singer Tierney Sutton and now with 23-year-old Greenfield pianist Dan Nimmer arriving this week as part of Wynton Marsalis' prestigious Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, perhaps it's time to reassess Milwaukee's contribution to jazz.
Nimmer, born and raised in Greenfield, became enamored of the piano early on.
"Dan heard his musical calling sitting on a piano bench in front of one-hundred year old honky-tonk piano and he never looked back," his dad Jeff Nimmer has said. "(Now) He is making the most of his incredible gift."
It's hard to argue that. At just 23, Nimmer is the youngest member of the Marsalis-led orchestra, which arrives in Milwaukee on Thursday, Jan. 26 for a Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra-staged concert at the Marcus Center.
We recently talked to Nimmer to ask about his roots, his move to New York and his coveted spot as pianist in the orchestra.
OMC: You're from Greenfield, right? Should we be looking for other undiscovered jazz talent in the shadow of Southridge?
Dan Nimmer: I did indeed grow up in Greenfield. However being from somewhere does not determine who someone becomes. It is more a result of what they are exposed to and how they are supported. As in my case, when I first became interested in music my parents were supportive enough to expose me to good music by taking me to hear it live. Eventually this turned into them taking me to sit in with musicians around the city.
Playing and interacting with people that are older, wiser and better than you is the best way to get better. So to answer the question about finding undiscovered jazz talent in the shadows of Southridge: I want to believe that there will always be new generations of people to continue this great American art form. So, I would say yes, be on the look out for kids with a great imagination. If exposed to the right things and supported well, these are the ones that will bring something to this music.
OMC: Why the move to New York two years ago? Did you have a job prospect or did it just seem like the place for a young jazzman to be?
DN: I knew that New York was the place to be for what I wanted to do. I had wanted to move there for some time. After gigging in Chicago nightly I thought that it was time to take the next step. That step was moving to New York City and trying to make it. I had no jobs or job prospects. I only new a few people. Pretty scary. I knew in my heart that New York was the place I should be and that there were many more opportunities there.
OMC: Did you see any opportunities in Milwaukee for a jazz musician to work? What's the state of the scene here?
DN: I believe that in any city there is work for musicians. The question always is, how much work is there? Take New York for instance: There are so many musicians living in New York that there will never be enough work for everyone. There is work in Milwaukee for musicians. There are quite a few people in Milwaukee that are working steadily. I have seen a lot of people combine playing gigs with teaching to make a living.
OMC: Tell us about how you landed the spot in Wynton Marsalis' orchestra. Where did you meet him?
DN: I first met Wynton in 2001 when he was a guest artist with the NIU jazz ensemble -- which I played piano in -- at the 28th annual IAJE conference held in New York. It was just a brief encounter. In the summer of 2004 I started playing in the house band for a jam session that was held weekly at this club in Brooklyn called Pumpkins. The session was run by an alto player named Brad Leali. There were a few weeks in which Brad could not make the gig so he got a sub. That sub happened to be the alto saxophonist who played in Wynton's band, Wess Anderson. We had a ball playing.
A few months later I got a call from Wess. He told me that the piano player in the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra was leaving and that he (Wess) recommended me to Wynton for the position. I was amazed. Around the New Year of '05 I went over to Wynton's apartment to play for him. We played together and had a lot of fun. In March I got called to go on tour with the Quintet. In August I got the call to be a part of the Orchestra.
OMC: Are you excited to return home in such illustrious company?
DN: Yes I am very excited. I couldn't be more pleased.
OMC: What's next for you? Do you have other projects in the works?
DN: Well, I want to keep playing forever; keep learning and creating. I have my own trio that I play with a lot. I just released an album for a Japanese record company. I just want to play!
Dan Nimmer performs with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra on Thursday, Jan. 26 at the Marcus Center for Performing Arts, 929 N. Water St., at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $30. The MSO Web site is milwaukeesymphony.org or call (414) 291-7605.
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 has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.