Hanah Jon Taylor holds out hope for his club

The unforeseen health crisis has the musician imagining an end to live music as he’s come to know it.
Hanah Jon Taylor
Photo by Larry Chua
Hanah Jon Taylor

Hanah Jon Taylor would have invited the public to celebrate the second anniversary of his Williamson Street jazz club, Cafe CODA, on Sept. 7 had a global pandemic not kept the business closed since March. Instead, the unforeseen health crisis has the musician imagining an end to live music as he’s come to know it.

Taylor says local jazz fans’ contributions to the “Keep CODA Alive” GoFundMe campaign — which raised more than $22,000 between March 15, when the club hosted its last live show, and early October — have paid for maintenance and some improvements. And a sympathetic landlord has agreed to abate the rent “until we’re able to sell booze again,” Taylor says.

All this has left Taylor optimistic that the club will reopen, even if that may not happen until next spring. “I’m not going to make the same mistake that I made before and try to open before it’s time,” he says.

His optimism is tempered by realism, however. “If the city opened up right now,” he said in August, “only half of our customers would come [to the club] because half of them would be paranoid about being with the other half. That’s the reality.”

In the meantime, Taylor says, “we’re trying to figure out how we can still maintain a sense of relevance. The music that we present is relevant to the well-being of people who come here. It’s not just entertainment, you know. People walk out of here feeling uplifted.”

Cafe CODA is livestreaming a wide variety of performances at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and hosting Cool School, a virtual improvisation workshop for middle school-age kids, at 10 a.m. on Saturdays. The club also served as a voter registration site on Saturday afternoons throughout the summer and into the fall.

Taylor, an accomplished jazz saxophonist and flute player, says he’s getting by on what he makes from the virtual private music lessons he teaches.

“I never really needed much, though,” he says. “I’m really quite fortunate because I have [the club], a place where I can come to practice every day. And because I’m practicing every day, my chops are getting tighter. Believe me, there are a lot of musicians less fortunate.”

He still wonders what the future will hold for musicians and the people who want to hear them play.

“The whole paradigm of a brick-and-mortar venue might be antiquated, you know? Think about that,” Taylor says. “But the notion that [livestreams of performances are] going to be a substitute for feeling the sweat coming off of James Brown’s brow or feeling the heat out of the end of Miles [Davis’] horn — we’re never going to have that again, man. … That’s something that keeps me up at night, to be honest with you.”

Joel Patenaude is associate editor of Madison Magazine.