Know Your Madisonian: Musician expects more lifetime achievement

May 12, 2019

The past year has been a rewarding one for Hanah Jon Taylor, who in September opened his dream jazz club, Cafe CODA, on Williamson Street.

In January, he was appointed to the Overture Center Foundation board of directors, and last month Taylor learned that he’s being honored by the Madison Area Music Association Awards.

Better known as the MAMAs, the organization is recognizing Taylor with its 2019 Musicnotes Musical Career Achievement Award June 9 in the Capitol Theater at Overture Center for the Arts. The recognition will be part of the organization’s 16th annual Grammy-style MAMA Awards.

“Frankly, when you receive a lifetime achievement award, some people have the notion that means that you are kind of finished,” said Taylor, 69, laughing.

“And under no uncertain terms am I finished, you know. I might be considered, at this age, one of the over-the-hill gang, but I can tell you if I am, what I’ve discovered is that on the other side of the hill is another hill.

“It either gives you a sense of achievement or gives you a sense of urgency to continue, and the latter is the case with me.”

Taylor is known in international jazz circles for his improvisational style on the saxophone, flute and wind synthesizer.

He earned an undergraduate degree in design at Southern Illinois University, studying under the influential architect, designer, inventor and futurist Buckminster Fuller. Taylor did his master’s at SIU in music therapy, with research centered on the positive effects of musical activities as a deterrent to juvenile delinquency.

Taylor lived and performed in Europe from 1983 to 1989, moving to Madison in 1993 to be closer to his 8-year-old son, Jonah, in Chicago. When his second son, Gabriel, was born in Madison in 1996, he decided to stay.

“I relish the importance of being a father,” Taylor said.

Gabriel, 23, stayed in Madison and works at Zimbrick Mercedes Benz, delivering cars, while Jonah, 33, is an executive with Yelp in Chicago. Taylor has a 2-year-old grandson, August Ali Taylor.

Taylor had a few false starts with CODA, 1224 Williamson St., in which leases or potential leases in other locations didn’t work out. CODA is Taylor’s third arts space in Madison. His first, in 1996, was House of Soundz, a 20-person room at 951 Williamson St., known as “the smallest house on Willy Street.” Then, from 2003 to 2007, came the Madison Center for Creative and Cultural Arts, which he co-founded with Susan Fox at 306 W. Dayton St., near Overture Center.

“The thing that was memorable about that is that back when the Overture Center was just being conceived, there was talk about a space necessary to be used as an incubator for young artists and dancers, actors and poets, musicians to cultivate their arts, their skills,” Taylor said.

The Overture Center promised that, but before Overture, “there was the Madison Center for Creative and Cultural Arts that was right around the corner from the place. And in my opinion, it did more of that than the Overture Center did on a more consistent basis,” Taylor said.

From 2007 to 2014, he taught contemporary American music, 1922 to present, at Madison Media Institute.

Taylor plans to finish his next CD this summer and market it in Europe in the fall. He has a concert on May 25 at Roulette in New York City, which is a tribute to the late Joseph Jarman, an instrumental figure in helping Taylor establish himself in the avant-garde community.

Through his Kuumba Renaissance organization, Taylor runs Culture Coach, contracting with the Chicago Park District to bring a mobile stage to parks and underserved neighborhoods. Taylor has 27 shows lined up in Chicago this summer.

How does it feel after so many years of trying to secure a location for CODA that you’ve found a home on Willy Street?

Well, it’s important to acknowledge that this is a very fine space. Probably of the three places that I’ve had in the past 25 years, this is probably the space that is most conducive to being a real jazz room. But realistically, nothing is permanent. When I think about the Jazz Showcase in Chicago, in my lifetime, the Jazz Showcase has had a half a dozen manifestations, half a dozen places.

I know you like to say that nothing is permanent, but do you feel as though Cafe CODA has been well received?

What makes for a permanency of any art space — which is really what this is, it’s not really a bar, it’s like a listening room — is the acceptance and support that the community offers it. And so I’m more excited about the place being in this neighborhood, or just as excited about that as I am about the place itself ... I’ve lived in this community for 25 years and I would like to think that that’s part of the reason the community has received this project so well.

Because you have a degree in design, are you responsible for the hip look of the club?

Well, the look of the club is actually a hybrid of places that I have played in, in different parts of the world. If you come into CODA, you will see visual remnants of New York, Paris, Chicago, for the most part.

Are you responsible for the design or did you bring someone in to do that?

I’m responsible for the design. But I also had Peter Ostlind from Sol-Terra Designs and Ed Kuharski, my architect, help me make these decisions. But the aesthetics of the place are basically from what I had seen in other places in the world.

Has the response been what you expected at CODA in terms of getting jazz fans to see shows?

I think the response, it’s been as expected. I never expected all the little fires that I seem to have to put out as a club owner. I want to say that I never intended to forgo my artistry to be a club owner and I’m finding out that unless I get up very, very early in the morning and come here and practice, which I do from about 8 o’clock until 11, unless I do that, I don’t get a chance to practice myself.