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50 Years of Jazz at UW-Madison

News release
March 13, 2018
Katherine Esposito  608.263.5615


Celebrating a milestone with students, faculty and special guest, trumpeter Marquis Hill


This April, UW-Madison’s annual Jazz Week will celebrate the 50th anniversary season of the UW Jazz Orchestra, the first jazz ensemble at UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music.

Jazz Week 2018 will feature performances by the UW Jazz Orchestra, the UW Jazz Composers Group, the UW Contemporary Jazz Ensemble, the UW High School Honors Jazz Band, and a faculty jazz quartet, all to be joined by special guest trumpet soloist Marquis Hill, the winner of the 2014 Thelonious Monk Competition.


Hill is a Chicago native who now makes his home in New York City. “His music crystallizes the hard-hitting, hard-swinging spirit of Chicago jazz,” writes Howard Reich of the Chicago Tribune. “Hill commands a nimble technique, a fluid way of improvising and a pervasively lyrical manner.”


Marquis Hill

UW’s Jazz Week 2018 features three concerts:

  • Tuesday, April 24: Marquis Hill with the UW Jazz Composers Group and the UW Contemporary Jazz Ensemble. Morphy Hall, 7:30 PM. Free concert.
  • Thursday, April 26: Marquis Hill with a faculty jazz quartet led by pianist and Director of Jazz Studies Johannes Wallmann with Les Thimmig, saxophones; Nick Moran, bass; and Matt Endres, drums. Morphy Hall, 8:00 PM. Ticketed concert: $15 adults, $5 non-music majors.
  • Friday, April 27: Marquis Hill with the UW Jazz Orchestra and the UW High School Honors Jazz Band. Music Hall, 8:00 PM. Ticketed concert: $15 adults, $5 non-music majors.

The UW High School Honors Jazz Band is an auditioned 18-member big band for high school students from about a dozen Madison-region schools who are looking for an additional opportunity to perform advanced jazz repertoire.

To buy online, click this link.

You may also purchase in person or at the door. For more information about ticketing and parking options, click here.

“We don’t want THAT word uttered in OUR school”: Listen to our audio stories about the history of jazz at UW-Madison and at American colleges. With university saxophonist and professor Les Thimmig, who arrived at UW-Madison in 1971, just as the jazz program was getting off the ground.

Episode 1 focuses on the origin of the UW Jazz Orchestra; Episode 2, how jazz got started in American colleges; Episode 3, jazz over the years at UW-Madison; Episode 4, descriptions of the six UW Jazz Ensembles. Episode 5 includes Prof. Thimmig describing his early career in Chicago and New York City; Episode 6, what it was like to gig in the 1960s.

Jazz at American colleges has a unique and colorful history, with UW-Madison no exception. In 1968, the music school created an informal swing band, a “Big Band,” that played dance music of the 1930s and 1940s. When composer and saxophonist Les Thimmig arrived in 1971, he changed it to a jazzier big band playing music more akin to the new Duke Ellington style.

Our 2016 Jazz Week with the High School Honors Jazz Band, the UW Jazz Orchestra, professor Johannes Wallmann, and guest Bob Sheppard on saxophone.

Through the decades that followed, the band survived in one form or another, through staff transitions and musical tastes. Following the arrival of jazz studies professor Johannes Wallmann in 2012, the UW Jazz Orchestra became a core component of the expanded jazz ensemble offerings in the School of Music’s new jazz studies major. The orchestra now performs eight to ten times a year, playing classic and contemporary big band repertoire, often with visiting guest artists.

We invite you to join us for one or more of our Jazz Fest concerts!

Les Thimmig. Image by Amelia John.

We thank the Vilas Trust, the Anonymous Fund, and our many donors for supporting these concerts and other activities at the School of Music.

About Marquis Hill – Chicago Tribune

Marquis Hill review – Chicago Tribune


Podcasts produced by Kyle Johnson and narrated by Katherine Esposito. Many thanks to Les Thimmig for his thoughtful insights.