Chapter 15 More Milwaukeeans

Chapter 15

More Milwaukeeans


For someone who has been on the Milwaukee scene for as long as he has, recordings of Kaye Berigan are perhaps surprisingly difficult to find.  However, a fine showcase for Berigan is the duo album he made with guitarist Steve Lewandowski in 2007, From the Curve (Mobius Trip).  The intimacy of a duo setting allows for plenty of playing from both principals.  The repertory is largely modern jazz classics, with a few originals.  Kaye is also featured on five tracks on Gary’s Christensen’s All-Star Superband’s 2008 release Live at the Miramar.


Frank DeMiles gave me three of his albums.  Live at Stefano’s was recorded in 1959 at the Milwaukee club.  Frank’s trio at that time included bassist Wendy Halverson and drummer Marlie Waak.  The album was released on CD by Pug Productions (Belgium, Wisconsin) in 1994.  That same year DeMiles recorded a new trio CD (also released by Pug) with a basic trio with son Peter Dominguez on bass and drummer Randy Gillespie.  But guest musicians on the album included family members James and Thomas Dominguez on percussion, Susan on violin, Paul on cello and John on bass.  Another Pug release came out in 2000 with son John on bass, drummer Andy LoDuca and percussionist Johnny Rico.  All of these feature DeMiles very individual  style on piano and vocals on a wide variety of standards, with a couple of arrangements of classical music on the last album.


Peter Dominguez made an album in 2008 (How About This) with his brother-in-law, the distinguished Milwaukee to New York pianist Rick Germanson (see Chapter 7), and the great jazz drummer, Billy Hart.  In instrumentation it is a “piano trio,” but this program is more bass-centric than the run of the mill piano trio.  Not only does Dominguez solo frequently and at length, but he also showcases his superb “classical chops,” especially on Japanese film composer Ryuichi Sakamoto’s “Bibo No Aozora.”


Jack Grassel has recorded voluminously, with others, but mostly as a leader.  In 2018, there were 13 albums on his website on which he was leader or co-leader.  In addition, there were four Jack and Jill albums.  He has made others that are no longer available, but can be found in the used bins of record stores around Wisconsin.  When I first asked Jack (in 2011) about a few albums that would give a good picture of his musical career, he emailed me the following:  “If you want to get three CDs of mine, I would suggest,  1. Solo Burner (1993), which is me solo, 2. Ghost Ridge (2006), which is my superax trio with Dane Richeson and Kirk Tatnall, 3. It’s About the Music (2006), with 23 musicians including vocalist Jill Jensen which has big band tracks.”  All of these are on Jack’s Frozen Sky Records label.  Jack was also able to supply me with a 1999 album under Mel Rhyne’s name, Tracks, which while no longer available, is a wonderful document of music-making in Milwaukee, with the keyboard legend Rhyne, Grassel, trumpeter Jeff Pietrangelo and drummer Andy Lo Duca.


I knew Jeff Pietrangelo for many years, and he was never happy with his playing on recordings (which he expressed to me again in 2011).  Nonetheless, he has very fine solos on all of the Matrix albums, including those that are currently available, Wizard, Tale of the Whale (both from the 1970s; originally on Warner Brothers, re-released on Wounded Bird), Proud Flesh (2002, Summit Records) and a recent download only release, Live at Lawrence (Mixart, 2017).  One “Milwaukee record” on which he shines is Hot Tracks:  Best of the Paul Spencer Band in Concert!  This 2003 release (Straight Ahead Records) is essentially a recorded jam, with many of the tunes up-tempo, and in either Latin or rock feels.  It features unfettered Pietrangelo.  Note the Mel Rhyne Tracks record listed under Jack Grassel, above, on which Pietrangelo also shines.


Luis Diaz self-released one album with his 1996 quintet, with Mike Plog, Rick Germanson, Jim Paolo and David Bayles.  Luis still has copies of On the Edge (LMD), a fun and exciting Latin jazz album.  For Diaz’s appearance with Buddy Montgomery on Montgomery’s Remembering Wes, see the Chapter 11 discography.


From Juli Wood, I got three albums.  1998’s Movin’ and Groovin’ featured her quintet of the time:  Mike Plog, Dave Bayles, percussionist Dumah Safir and the great Melvin Rhyne on organ.  It features standards and originals.  Blues for Earma Jean (Wooju, no date) features the legendary Chicago figure Earma Thompson on piano, with Dennis Carroll on bass and Mike Schlick on drums.  5 4 3 2 1 (Wooju, 2012) begins with a quintet, then reduces the size of the band through quartet, etc. until the final track is solo Juli.  It features top Chicago players (including former Milwaukee drummers Mick Schlick and Todd Howell).


Connie Grauer organized a sampler of Mrs. Fun releases for me in 2015 to pass along to readers.  1991’s They Are Not a Trio, is a sort of microcosm of the duo’s work, ranging from originals of various different styles to Thelonious Monk’s “I Mean You,” and Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man.”  There is funk, jazz, children’s music, electronic, and vocals by Grauer and superstar guest k. d. lang – as well as spoken vocals by Kim Zick and a long narrated story from Grauer.  Grauer and Zick recreate their old band The Rhythm Club on one selection, with vocalist Robyn Pluer and saxophonist Juli Wood.  (Both guests appear separately on other tracks as well.)  Ennui, from 1994, is more of the same, with a little more spoken word (not really rap, however).  k. d. lang and the Indigo Girls make cameos on background vocals.  There is another interesting Monk interpretation.  1998’s Groove is yet more of the same; lots of vocals, many spoken, with a guest spot by the ubiquitous Milwaukee star jazz trumpeter, Brian Lynch.  Connie wanted me to hear Mrs. Fun do material that was not their originals, so got me Christmrs. Fun (1999), which is made up completely of traditional Christmas tunes.  The tunes are done, of course, with the Mrs. Fun sensibility, from burning straight ahead jazz to almost lounge piano; there is also some of Connie’s usual “spoken word.”  2000’s Funsville is something different.  Connie and Kim sat down and improvised for an afternoon.  Later, a large amount of this jam was divided into 18 different tracks, all with evocative titles.  This is probably the most daring and progressive music (at least from a jazz listener’s perspective) the band has recorded.  There are no vocals.

All of these albums were self-released (except the last), with Lulu numbers (001, 004, etc.), which the Christmas album also has, although it says Funtime Records.  Funsville, however, is on Daemon Records.


Eric Schoor co-led an album with Eric Jacobson (see Chapter 17) in 2013, Combinations:  Live at the Jazz Estate (Hollistic MusicWorks).  The album features the two leaders with guest Brian Lynch (see Chapter 9) and a crack Milwaukee rhythm section — Barry Velleman, Jeff Hamann and David Bayles.  They play jazz standards and one Jacobson original.


Andy Schumm can be heard playing cornet with the excellent Chicago traditional jazz group The Fat Babies on their 2013 Delmark release 18th & Racine.  He also wrote the title track and arranged all of the selections on the album.