Jean's Jazz Series
Graphic illustration by Dan Talsky, daniel.talsky@journaltimes.com

When Tony Castaneda comes home to Racine on Jan. 7, he’ll bring with him the warm, festive rhythms of his Latin Jazz Band to share with music fans here.

The six-piece band — featuring Castaneda on congas, Anders Svanoe on saxes, Dave Stoler on piano, Henry Boehm on bass, Louka Patenaude on guitar and Tom Mattioli on timbales — will be one of two acts opening Jean’s Jazz Series 2017 that night at the Racine Theatre Guild, 2519 Northwestern Ave. And the Racine native said he is definitely looking forward to performing here for the first time in years.

“I’m hoping to see some old friends and new friends alike,” said the 1974 graduate of Walden III High School, who still has family in town.

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Drummer at heart

Having enjoyed music since childhood, Castaneda said he grew up playing the trumpet and other horns and took up the congas after moving to Madison to attend the University of Wisconsin, where he majored in art. He began taking the drums seriously when some friends of his started a “Carlos Santana style” Latin jazz/rock band in the late ‘70s and ... “We started hanging out, and the next thing you know, I was in the band,” he said.

Fast forward to 1998, when Castaneda’s Latin Jazz Band first came together “kind of on a whim,” he said. It started out as a trio and quickly grew to a sextet, as various instruments were added and they developed a devoted following with weekly gigs at Madison’s Cardinal Bar.

Through the years, his band has opened for and played with famous Latin jazz musicians including Tito Puente, Giovanni Hidalgo, Los Lobos, Eddie Palmieri, Roberto Vizcaino and Jerry Gonzalez, of the Fort Apache Band, just to name a few. They have also been voted Madison’s favorite jazz band 15 times in the annual Isthmus readers’ poll, and have won several Madison Area Music Awards. And they are in the process of recording their third album, “Five Minutes to Now,” which is due to be released in spring of 2017.

Timeless music

When asked about the secrets to their success, Castaneda said “We all get along and everyone really appreciates the music we play.”

A big part of their repertoire is classic, Latin jazz music from the 1950s and ’60s, he said. But their play book also includes some original compositions and has enough of a mixture that it appeals to everyone.

“It’s Latin music, but it’s also jazz,” Castaneda said. “And we can expand on it and do the jazz thing. There’s a lot of improvisation.”

Castaneda — who works by day as a client services manager with Madison’s Housing Initiatives organization — said he’s excited to perform on the Theatre Guild stage, which he’s heard good things about as a concert venue.

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“We are happy to come back to Racine,” he said.

More to come

The other act featured on Jan. 7 will be the duo of vocalist Janet O’Mahony and pianist Mark Thierfelder — married musicians who each have a wide range of worldwide performance experiences that include everything from collaborations with symphony orchestras to sharing the stage with acts from Kenny Rogers to Paul Schaffer.

The Milwaukee-based duo’s shared repertoire ranges from jazz and blues standards to R&B classics, rock and pop. And, together with Castaneda’s Latin Jazz Band, they will kick-off the 16th season of JJS, which series organizer Joe Mooney described as an eclectic mix of music.

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While two of the four concerts will feature double bills, the others will each focus on one group. The Feb. 18 show will bring back audience favorite Paris La Nuit, featuring French vocalist Marielle de Rocca-Serra; and the final show, on April 15, will be “An Evening with The Rhythm Rockets,” one of Chicago’s top jump/swing bands.

Mooney said he likes to finish the series each year with a swing band, because that style of music is always a big hit with Racine audiences. And, when the series polled audience members about their favorite acts through the years, Paris La Nuit took second place as the band most-often requested for a return performance, he said.

In between those two concerts, the March 25 show will feature the Nine Worlds Ensemble, offering a new approach to chamber music; and the Ivy Ford Band, which will change the evening’s musical gears with its Chicago-style rhythm and blues (see accompanying box for more about all artists).

Series success

Mooney said he knows he’s stretching the limits of jazz a bit. But giving the audience the opportunity to hear many different interpretations of jazz has always been one of his objectives with the series, he said.

It must be working, as not only has JJS lasted 16 years, but its audience continues to grow, with the number of sold-out shows increasing each year.

Mooney created JJS in 2001 in memory of his wife, Jean, who died of ovarian cancer, with a goal of not only honoring Jean’s memory, but raising money for the Theatre Guild, where she had been a devoted volunteer. Since then the series has grossed more than $100,000 to benefit the RTG. And none of it would be possible, without support from the series’ sponsors — Educators Credit Union, Landmark Title and Maresh-Meredith & Acklam Funeral Home — as well as a team of volunteers, Mooney said.

Season tickets for Jean’s Jazz Series cost $56 and tickets to individual concerts cost $18 for adults; $16 seniors and $5 for students. For tickets and more information, go to www.racinetheatre.org or call 262-633-4218.

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