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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

New Jazz Estate Managers Bring Change but Keep the Jazz

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For more than 30 years, the Jazz Estate on Milwaukee’s East Side has been a gathering place for jazz musicians and enthusiasts. Its dimly lit, intimate space and the rhythms and melodies of the live acts it hosts most nights of the week have seduced many residents into becoming regulars at the lively little spot at 2423 N. Murray Ave.

Those regulars were understandably concerned, then, when they learned last fall that co-owners Brian Sanders and Michael Honkamp had put the business for sale. For months they waited for news of what would become of their favorite spot, and whether it would remain a home for live music.

This winter word came that made everybody happy: Honkamp bought out his partner and opted to keep the business open, handing over managing responsibilities to longtime employee Matthew Turner, a member of the club’s longtime house band The Erotic Adventures of the Static Chicken, and Jamie Fraters.

“Some of the regulars learned that the business wouldn't be closing, and as we’ve moved forward, they’ve been happy to know that the business will continue," said Honkamp.

The revamped Jazz Estate has made several changes, emphasizing national acts on weekends, changing the layout of the bar and updating the liquor selection while giving younger artists the chance to play their hearts out in front of a live audience. While Turner, Fraters and Honkamp continue to book jazz, they are also allowing other genres to perform at the Estate as well.

“We are not reinventing the wheel,” Turner said. “We are just trying to expand upon what each of the owners has done throughout the years. We’re not turning our backs on jazz.”

Along with the new emphasis on touring acts on weekends, the Jazz Estate has altered its weekly music lineup. Most noticeably after more than a decade playing free shows at the club every Tuesday, The Erotic Adventures of the Static Chicken have retired from that weekly gig, handing it over to newcomers Future Porn, a group that shares the Static Chicken’s improvisational mentality.

The club will also roll out a new cocktail menu on May 1. The managers say they are shooting for a comfortable vibe.

“We are making it more of a relaxed environment so all feel welcomed here,” Fraters said. “Whether you’re in a suit and tie or in a T-shirt and jeans, it doesn’t matter.”

So far the regulars have been open to the changes.

“If you liked it before, you are going to like it even more. All of the old regulars are very supportive of what we are doing,” said Turner.

“Every business has to evolve. We are trying to make the best Estate it can be. Business is enduring and there are some exciting things happening. People should stay in touch with it,” said Honkamp.

A complete calendar of acts and events, hours and contact information can be found at jazzestate.com.