Last Call at the Jazz Estate

Photo via onmilwaukee.com
Photo via onmilwaukee.com

The Jazz Estate has satisfied Milwaukee’s jazz fix for the past 36 years, but soon the music will come to an end, the venue will go up for sale and one of the city’s favorite acts will play its last show.

Before you walk into the compact dark space of the Estate, you’re immediately greeted by the sounds of the band filling the building and sidewalk. The walls are lined with pictures of jazz legends recalling the music’s golden age. It’s a venue that makes for an intimate show with a bar right as you enter and one row of seats directly in front of the musicians, which is either great or too close depending on your stances on noise and saliva.

Though the Jazz Estate first opened in 1977, the venue’s owner and bartender, Brian Sanders, took over the landmark after it first went up for sale in 1999.

“I’m a jazz lover and also on top of that, I wanted to own my own business as well, and it just kind of happened that I was in the right place at the right time because it closed in 1999 and sat vacant for a while and was for sale and, you know, I bought it,” Sanders said.

There is no doubt Sanders helped preserve the musical history of Milwaukee, keeping local acts alive with the club’s most regular (and irregular) players, most notably the weekly Tuesday mainstay: The Erotic Adventures of the Static Chicken.

The Chicken has become an institution in Milwaukee’s music scene, meeting every week at the Estate for a jam session full of improvisation, acid jazz and wild antics, always teetering between order and chaos.

The Erotic Adventures started around 14 years ago on a road trip.

“(We) went to New Orleans in 2000,” bassist and founding member Matt Turner reminisced. “We saw a band named Garage a Trois and ate a lot of mushrooms and we decided we should put together this weird band.”

Improvisation is what the Chicken does best with unconventional samples mixed in that give the band a psychedelic sound like they’re about to take off into space.

The band’s ever rotating membership is a reflection of its basic mission. Just like the music, the Chicken’s lineup is always in flux.

“The band has always just been about getting together and helping each other do whatever you want musically,” Turner said. “Our mission statement is we get together, we’ve never rehearsed, we have fun. Egos are left at the door, there’s been 15 members of the band in the past 14 years.”

Brian Sanders is the current owner and bartender at the Jazz Estate. Photo via expressmilwaukee.com
Brian Sanders is the current owner and bartender at the Jazz Estate. Photo via expressmilwaukee.com

For audiences, a big plus to the Tuesday night shows are the absence of the bars usual $5 cover charge and the chance to be a part of the tradition, but come the new year, the erotic adventure will come to an end and the Static Chicken will move on after its steamy 12-year journey through jazz at the Estate.

“Well the bar is for sale so we picked an endpoint for the band so as to not end it on some strange time,” Turner said. “New Year’s is cool and it happened to be on a Tuesday, so we figured why the f*** not and that’s about it. We’ve been doing it for 14 years and it’s been awesome and I would do it for forever if I could, but some of us are moving away and some of us are doing stuff….so that’s it, we picked a cool time all of us could get together.”

The Estate’s owner is also moving on after his 14-year tenure at the club.

“I think that Brian is ready to do something different,” Jeremy Kuzniar, drummer and one of the founding members of the Chicken, explained. He’s got a physics degree, he’s got things swimming around in his brain and other things he wants to do.”

The band’s last show is set to be a spectacle for fans who have found a haven at the Jazz Estate all these years.

“There’s gonna be all sorts of guests. There’s people flying in, the band started with a guitarist and sax player that live in California right now, they’re more than likely gonna be here for it. We might have a bunch of monkeys and flaming topless hookers and blow,” Turner effused in perfect Static Chicken fashion.

The future of the Jazz Estate is uncertain, but until New Year’s Day, it will continue giving Milwaukee great music. The Estate’s final act, like the place itself, will not be easily forgotten.