Midweek jazz comes to ‘the Shaw’ downtown
‘Fessor Hurst’s burst of musical energy part of being in community, culture


August 18, 2016


Playing at Bernie’s Tap Room and Restaurant in downtown Waukesha are intheSHAW band members, from left, David Jensen of Waukesha on trombone, Stephen Trenier of Milwaukee on trombone, Mitch Borchardt of Bowling Green, Ohio, on tenor sax who subbed during the summer, Melissa Hillmer of Waukesha on alto sax, Gary Huber of Waukesha on drums, Craig Hurst of Waukesha on trumpet, Ben Malone of Waukesha on tuba and Brett Meyer of Waukesha on trumpet.
Submitted photo

WAUKESHA - In a fertile period for jazz in downtown Waukesha, a.k.a. “the Shaw,” Craig Hurst started four bands in four months, beginning in February.

First, back up eight months when the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha music professor’s ‘Fessor Hurst and His Windy Hill Wizzards Ragtime and Jazz Orchestra started playing downtown.

“When we started at Fixture Brewing in June (2015), our mission was to get live music out in the community,” the trumpet and flugelhorn player said of the band he had formed about five years ago. Windy Hill is a moniker for UW-Waukesha and community members formed the heart of the pre-1930s ragtime band.

“And that was the only group I had playing out at the time, then I decided to expand. IntheSHAW started playing at Mardi Gras in February and then I got the idea to have a different group every week. Instead of playing once a month, I wanted to be playing every week. HORNZZ was the third group. And I needed a fourth one,” he said of his three-piece The BIG FOUR, which refers to the name of a New Orleans-born rhythm, not the number of instruments or players, although he’s open to adding a drummer.

“As a personal interest, I started picking up some of these different groups. I started asking friends of mine if they were interested in playing. We don’t make a lot of money, but we enjoy playing.”

Craig Hurst of Waukesha on trumpet with Gary Huber of Waukesha on drums.
Submitted photo

A musical gelato

Hurst has played about 20 years in the Waukesha Park, Recreation and Forestry Band. Several members in his jazz bands at Bernie’s have played in the Park and Rec Band.

Hurst has also played in the local Jazz Express Big Band and has tapped several of its members to play in his midweek jazz bands.

The midweek jazz bands reflect different styles. IntheSHAW is a brass band that plays standard New Orleans tunes.

“The name has nothing to do with New Orleans. It has everything to do with Waukesha. I hear people say, ‘What’s going on in the Shaw?’”

The eight-piece HORNZZ, with five horns, explores straight-ahead jazz, funk and Latin music.

In the meantime, they lost their place to play when Fixture Brewing, 716 Clinton St., closed in March. Hurst started looking for another musical playground. He found it at Bernie’s Tap Room and Restaurant, 351 W. Main St., where he has had a band playing jazz every Wednesday night since April 20.

Bob Bernhardt, who owns Bernie’s with his brother John, said Hurst sent him an email, and it was a quick discussion to decide to bring in the bands.

“It’s great to have every Wednesday to have a different type of jazz come into Bernie’s and the music isn’t stagnant from week to week,” Bob Bernhardt said.

“We have seen an increase on many Wednesdays due to them and a lot of comments come to me saying that it's a great idea we’ve got going here. The relaxed, casual atmosphere makes it great for people mid-week.”

And for those months with a fifth Wednesday? Hurst tapped his wife, Nancy Van Brunt, also a longtime music professor, vocalist and pianist, not to mention No. 1 roadie in his other bands. They formed Brass and Ivory, a play on the album “Brass on Ivory” by Doc Severinsen and Henry Mancini.

“She also performs in a Renaissance recorder group, so we’re both very active in music. That’s a nice harmony in our lives. I can’t resist the pun,” he said.

Besides the early music group Hesternus at UW-Waukesha, she leads a handbell choir.

“We enjoy it so much. We do love to explore all kinds of music and the variety of styles we enjoy really keeps our minds fresh. I don’t think there’s too much of a good thing,” she said.

“Music is like gelato and it comes in a lot of different flavors and I’m never satisfied with one flavor. I like jazz and orchestra and polkas,” he said.

As young musicians infuse jazz with hip-hop, funk and other styles, he said, it’s an exciting time for jazz.

Global influences on jazz and jazz’s influences on global music have expanded the reach of an American original art form, Hurst said.

“It’s sort of like you have peanut butter in my chocolate and I’ve got chocolate in your peanut butter, and it just doesn’t matter,” he said.

Mitch Borchardt plays tenor sax for intheSHAW earlier this summer at Bernie’s in downtown Waukesha.
Submitted photo


Giving back to Waukesha

His wife also said they share a need to give back.

“We live in Waukesha and we enjoy our home, and we enjoy our community,” Van Brunt said. “As a musician you want to go on to greener pastures, but to help build your community is important.”

Bob Bernhardt said since Friday Night Live began in spring and summer months, there has been a resurgence of music downtown, and Hurst’s bands just upped the ante.

“Over the last five, six, seven years downtown has changed tremendously in that it is a destination place for a wide variety of venues. To have something like jazz on a Wednesday night is different than what you’ll have downtown. There is jazz, but not on a regular basis.”

Hurst said the focus on downtown is very intentional.

“I’ve been a Waukesha resident since 1993 and I am energized by what’s going on downtown. I like to feel part of the community that I live in,” he said.

“Music and all of the arts are important to the quality of the culture in a community and the quality of a community. I love to be involved in the arts and in my community and that’s my contribution to the community - being a musician.

“That’s one of the great things about Waukesha. We have an active music scene, and not only an active music scene, but an active arts scene.

“We have the art crawl with all of these galleries. We have active theater programs.”

In other words, there’s a lot going on in the Shaw.

Jazz on tap at Bernie’s Tap

Wednesday - The BIG FOUR

Aug. 31 - Brass and Ivory

Sept. 7 - The BIG FOUR

Sept. 14 - ‘Fessor Hurst and His Windy Hill Wizzards Ragtime and Jazz Orchestra

Sept. 21 - The intheSHAW brass band

Sept. 28 - Brass and Ivory

Oct. 5 - HORNZZ

Oct. 12 - ‘Fessor Hurst and His Windy Hill Wizzards Ragtime and Jazz Orchestra

Oct. 19 - The intheSHAW brass band

Oct. 26 - No live jazz

Nov. 2 - HORNZZ

Nov. 9 - ‘Fessor Hurst and His Windy Hill Wizzards Ragtime and Jazz Orchestra

Nov. 16 - The intheSHAW brass band

Nov. 23 - TBA

Nov. 30 - TBA

Dec. 7 - HORNZZ

Dec. 14 - ‘Fessor Hurst and His Windy Hill Wizzards Ragtime and Jazz Orchestra

Dec. 21 - intheSHAW brass band

Dec. 28 - The BIG FOUR