David hazeltine returns to milwaukee, gives back entertainment wisconsingazette.com health benefits of an apple

“I was supposed to go to engineering school,” admits david hazeltine, an accomplished pianist speaking on the phone with me from new york city.

“I was registered and ready to go to milwaukee school of engineering. At the last minute I told my parents I didn’t want to do it. I wanted to go to the conservatory and study music.”

“believe me, there have been many times where I’ve thought back on that decision and said, ‘damn, I should’ve stayed with electronics!’ you know, have a nice living and lead a normal life. Instead, I’m doing this jazz musician thing.”

“but I’m happy that I’ve been able to make a living doing this. It’s brought me and many other people joy, probably much more than wiring a house. On some level it seems a more noble cause.”

Following two nights at blu atop the pfister hotel, hazeltine headlined the all-day " pianofest!" march 4 at the jazz gallery center for the arts, a fundraiser for the nonprofit riverwest artists association, which runs the iconic venue.Doing this


Contributing his time and talent to the benefit was a no-brainer for hazeltine, who came of age at the club in the early 1980s. During that time, the milwaukee jazz gallery was one of the premier clubs in the country, ran by chicago-native chuck lapaglia.

“chuck hooked me up with all these great cats and believed in me when I was such a young guy,” hazeltine says of lapaglia’s decision to enlist him in the gallery’s house rhythm section, in which he backed such legends as eddie harris, charles mcpherson and pepper adams.

“I was so awestruck and just trying to make it through, just trying to make him happy. After we played a set he was very enthused and we went upstairs on the break,” recalls hazeltine of lapaglia’s apartment above the gallery, the club’s de facto green room.

“I’ll never forget this — chuck had a desk and a swivel chair up there. Sonny was sitting in that chair and I was across from him.Just trying it was like meeting an attorney or something. He asks me if I know ‘between the devil and the deep blue sea.’ I was pretty green and didn’t know it, so he says, ‘check it out,’ and plays the melody for me.”

“then he plays the changes and it was the most magnificently flowing, melodic solo. It couldn’t have been more clear by the way he was playing. Right after that we went down and played that tune to start the next set and he was so happy. That was a defining moment."

Hazeltine recalled this experience during his "pianofest!" set, explaining how that first gig, and all that followed at the gallery, gave him the confidence and knowledge he needed to make a career out of jazz.

The audience at "pianofest!" was a who’s who of the milwaukee jazz scene — a bustling crowd of performers, writers, radio djs and fans, harking back to the club’s heyday. The all-day affair was live-streamed on riverwest radio 104.1.Doing this hazeltine was joined by the young drummer mitch shiner, as well as veteran bassist and former student jeff hamann.

The trio performed a mix of hazeltine’s originals and standards. They also played a somewhat obscure track with a local connection called "hob nob with brother bob." the song was written by then milwaukee resident buddy montgomery in honor of the local drummer bob hobbs. Hazeltine told the crowd how lucky he was to see montgomery at the marc plaza hotel (now the hilton city center), where montgomery played six nights a week.

Hazeltine — whose mother was a musician — began playing organ at the age of eight. He was taught by blind pianist will green before his death. As a teen, hazeltine switched to piano because he felt it was “a more expressive instrument.”

While a student at the wisconsin conservatory of music, hazeltine was practicing 16 hours a day. He landed a steady gig with the singer penny goodwin before graduation.Doing this when the jazz gallery opened, the conservatory moved their jazz jam sessions there and hazeltine became a regular.

The great trumpeter and vocalist chet baker famously implored hazeltine to move to new york city following a rehearsal at the gallery. Hazeltine took baker’s advice — though that first move lasted less than two years. He returned home, got a degree in education at UW-milwaukee, then designed courses for and taught at the conservatory. On election day 1992, mark davis — who also played " pianofest!" — drove hazeltine out to the big apple, where he has lived ever since.

As for the jazz gallery, lapaglia moved to california in the mid 1980s, after the club’s storied six-year run. Now run by the non-profit riverwest artist association, the venue maintains the community spirit and educational mission lapaglia instilled during his tenure.

“what that place means to me you can’t imagine,” says hazeltine.Just trying “the confidence it gave me, the belief in what I was doing, so much valuable playing time with these icons and with the help of chuck, it all made me aware of the depths of this music.”

The hazeltine trio finished its "pianofest!" appearance with dizzy gillespie’s "manteca." rather than highlight the honed chops of hazeltine, the song featured the skillful drumming of shiner. It was a fitting way to end the set, a symbolic passing of the torch from one of milwaukee’s greatest jazz exports to one of its most promising young stars.