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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Paul Silbergleit’s Wednesday Jazz Jam

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Like a good jellyroll, the heart of jazz is the jam. The organized spontaneity and free-spirited approach to familiar material that can ignite at a jam session has always been emblematic of the music. In healthy jazz scenes, players get together regularly to improvise with one another.

Milwaukee hasn’t had a regular jazz jam in years—until last November, when a weekly session debuted on Wednesday nights at Treats, 2221 N. Humboldt Ave. There had been blues jams and jam-band jams and occasional opportunities for musicians to leap in at other jazz clubs, but nothing comparable to Wednesday nights at this unassuming bar on the rim of Riverwest.

“When you go on a gig as a sideman, there are certain expectations,” says tenor saxophonist Jason Goldsmith, a regular at Treats. “When you’re not getting paid, that gives you freedom to explore boundaries in a way you might not normally do.”

The Treats’ session is organized by a well-known figure in Milwaukee jazz, guitarist Paul Silbergleit. A faculty member at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, Silbergleit leads trios and quartets and performs straight-ahead jazz in a variety of settings around town. His two CDs, Silberglicity (1996) and My New Attitude (2003), have earned a measure of national attention.

Silbergleit credits Treats’ owner Mark Anthony for originating the idea of the Wednesday night session. Although the bar’s front room looks like any local neighborhood tap, the back room has been refurbished with comfortable couches, photographs of jazz artists on the wall and a bandstand. The core of the project is a house band with Ethan Bender on bass, Dave Bayles on drums and Silbergleit on guitar.

“For me, this is not about performing,” says Silbergleit, who has been known to exit the stage as soon as another guitarist rises from the audience to take his spot. “I’m there to facilitate the event. I’m the host. I play guitar only as needed.”

To that end, Silbergleit tries to juggle the various players in the house so that musicians at various skill levels but comparable interests are grouped together. Everyone from big local names to students to unknowns have taken the Treats’ stage in improvised lineups.

“On busy weeks, we’ll have continuous music from 9 until closing,” Silbergleit says. “We’ll have so many musicians rotating onstage that the music never takes a break, even if individual musicians do.”

In addition to the Wednesday Jazz Jam at Treats, Paul Silbergleit performs with his quartet at Treats on Friday, June 6, and with his trio at Hilo Martini Lounge on Friday, June 20.

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