Wayne Groth steps into an antique-themed bar carrying a blue case that bears his most important possession: a trumpet. The trumpeter orders a drink from a bartender attired in suspenders and large round glasses, looking more like a bartender from the 1970s than from present day, while sounds from an old-timey register ring throughout the place every time a drink is purchased.
The bar is dimly lit, loud and makes one feel as though they’ve been transported back to the time of prohibition. And while the joint itself is both mysterious and inviting, Groth is there for much more than the aura and tasty drinks. He is there for the music.
For Groth and many others, the chic bar, The Jazz Estate, serves as a Milwaukee musical haven, providing a place to both listen to and play jazz. Originally opened in 1977, today, the place features a lot of the bar’s original fixtures despite various changes of ownership.
“(I’ve) probably been coming here for over a year and a half, on and off,” Groth said. “I’ll come and hear groups that I know, (and) I’ll come down on the jam night which happens the first Monday of every month.”
For Groth, jazz is more than just a hobby he partakes in once a month. Instead, he calls jazz his life, and one can easily see Groth’s dedication to music through the number of bands the Wisconsin native has been a part of throughout his lifetime.
Groth’s current band, Drive, plays primarily in the Kenosha and Racine areas but is looking to expand into Illinois and Milwaukee. He describes the band’s style as Jazz Funk or Motown.
“I’ve been playing for 35 years,” Groth said. “I learned from my dad, who was a professional musician, and he taught me. That’s the only formal training that I’ve had. I went on the road, (and) at that time (played) rock ‘n’ roll, and now I’ve got different interests, so that’s why I come down to The Jazz Estate. There are some really good jazz musicians down here and I really enjoy jazz now … I’m really trying to develop that.”
With a long history in music, Groth was definitely one of the older players at the show, though he wasn’t the only person who came ready to play jazz. Another trumpeter, Matt Heilmann, was back from college and eager to show musicians older than him at The Jazz Estate what he is all about.
“I’m on spring break right now. I go to school at Michigan State University in their jazz program,” Heilmann said. “But, whenever I come home, I like to come back (to The Jazz Estate). This is probably the third or fourth time that Mondays have worked out for me to be back here. It’s a super good time.”
Groth and Heilmann combined for a mellow trumpet medley that seemed something like the old guard passing the torch to the new guard. After the song was over, the two fist bumped and took a break to watch the rest of the jazz show that included saxophones, bassoons, guitars and a standing bass among other instruments.
Unlike Groth and Heilmann, not everyone who takes the stage at The Jazz Estate is a seasoned veteran in performing jazz music. Jack Cavanaugh has been playing piano for most of his life, but just started playing melodica with jazz a few months ago.
“This is actually my first time at The Jazz Estate,” Cavanaugh said. “(I’m) really excited to listen to other people play. I can’t wait to hear some really serious cats, I feel like they’re going to be pretty good.”
Cats, scats, tunes and all, one can find jazz musicians in their element at The Jazz Estate nearly any day of the week at their location at 2423 N. Murray Ave. Monthly Jam Sessions, in particular, can prove to be the perfect outing for jazz lovers and those new to the genre alike, with ample opportunities to see just what Milwaukee’s antique bars and blue trumpet case-owners have to offer.