Madison has earned its reputation as a place where you can find live music every night of the week, and jazz is just as prominent a player today as it was when aficionados flocked to the Wisconsin Union Theater to see Ella Fitzgerald. 

Our scene is inspired by a long list of influential clubs and world-famous musicians: Miles Davis played Isthmus Jazz Fest. Ben Sidran began—and continues—his storied career here. And Duke Ellington fulfilled his longest university residency at UW-Madison. But there's a strong movement from Madison musicians and venues focused on the philosophy that jazz is about moving forward, too. When you listen to live jazz in Madison, you’re immediately immersed in a culture that celebrates open-ended music designed for open minds. 

Vibrant Venues 

Whether you like your jazz slow and sentimental or prefer bebop that won’t stop, you’ll find an impressive cadence of jazz performances at many Madison music venues.  

  • Café Coda, owned by jazz legend Hanah Jon Taylor and located in the heart of iconic Willy Street, is the place to find performances, workshops and masterclasses. It’s a regular venue for festivals but also a spot to catch improvisational jazz jams. 

  • North Street Cabaret is a cozy, intimate venue dedicated to the presentation of roots music, including jazz and Latin Jazz. It’s a place where all are welcome and the friendly staff gets rave reviews, too. 

  • With seven state-of-the-art performance spaces and a calendar filled with national and international touring acts, Overture Center for the Arts is a spectacular place to experience jazz performances.  

  • Many Madison culinary hot spots add live jazz to their menu of offerings, including The Cider Farm which hosts music in its open-air tasting room and Amara Madison, where jazz duos dot the calendar as part of its Amara Society series. 

  • Behind the scenes is where you’ll find BlueStem Jazz—one to watch if you love discovering leading-edge artists in intimate venues. This nonprofit has been bringing experimental, avante-garde jazz to Madison since 2016.

Connect to all Madison concerts and clubs. 

Best Fests 

Plan ahead to linger a bit longer in Madison for don’t-miss festivals and fairs that pay homage to local and international jazz musicians: 

  • Madison Jazz Festival (formerly Isthmus Jazz Festival) is an annual event featuring eleven days of performances at an array of venues, culminating in free concerts at UW-Madison’s Memorial Union Terrace and Shannon Hall. It's been taking place since 1987 and has featured notable artists including Miles Davis, Ray Charles, Betty Carter and Willie Pickens.

  • Make Music Madison is a one-day, city-wide festival where Madison comes alive with free live music at coffee shops, restaurants, churches, porches and parks in celebration of the summer solstice. 

  • Madison’s iconic summer festival, La Fete de Marquette, is free and features dozens of musical acts right in the heart of Madison’s vibrant Wil-Mar neighborhood. 

  • This summer, Jazz at Five is celebrating 30 years of free live Jazz on Wednesdays on the outdoor stage where State Street meets the Capitol Square.  

Find all festivals and fairs in Madison. 

Campus Connections 

In addition to Duke Ellington’s lengthy residency at UW-Madison’s School of Music, legendary jazz bassist Richard Davis, whose performance and recording credits include Sarah Vaughn and Miles Davis, was a faculty member there for nearly 40 years. His students performed in theaters that have been part of Madison’s jazz scene since the beginning—and the school is proud to welcome some new venues, too: 

  • The Wisconsin Union’s historic theater has an enduring tradition as a jazz venue, including Madison Jazz Festival and its Jazz Series subscription, which includes performances by today’s popular jazz artists as well as up-and-comers. 

  • The brand-new Hamel Music Center is home to a wide variety of student Jazz Ensembles, and its state-of-the-art performance spaces host community concerts throughout the year. 

  • The  Arts & Literature Laboratory is a community-driven arts center that regularly partners with UW-Madison arts disciplines on initiatives including its jazz artistic development program and live performances.