When the Edgar Knecht Jazz Trio performs in Waunakee Sept. 21, the show will be part of a sister county partnership between Dane County and Kassel County in Germany. The trio will play with the Madison College Big Band, which has also visited Kassel as part of the cultural exchange.
It’s thanks to Chuck Erickson, a County Board member who represents the near West Side Madison area, that the world-acclaimed jazz trio is coming to the Waunakee High School Performing Arts Center. Erickson grew up in Waunakee, and former Waunakee Middle School Band Director Jan Tweed said he approached her with the intent of having the Germany-based musicians make a stop in his home town.
“Chuck organized the different concerts,” Tweed said, adding he called her to ask if they could perform at the Waunakee Performing Arts Center. Originally the show was scheduled at the more intimate old high school auditorium, but the pianist wanted to play on a grand piano, necessitating the Performing Arts Center space.
In 2007, Dane County entered into a cooperative agreement with Landkreis Kassel in Hessen, Germany to form the sister county relationship.
The purpose was to exchange ideas and build partnerships on renewable energy, regional transportation systems, workforce training, continuing education and culture.
When it started, it was mainly transportation related, Erickson said.
“Dane County needs other options for transportation,” he added, noting the city has an excellent bus system that has expanded to Epic in Verona.
The city of Kassel and its namesake county have roughly the same population as Madison and Dane County, Erickson noted. There, rail and street cars are used.
County officials also liked the renewable energy initiatives in Kassel, and while there they toured manure digesters prior to the construction of Dane County’s facilities. Today, Dane County has partnered on two manure digesters in the Waunakee area.
Leaders in Kassel were also impressed with some of what they saw in Dane County, particularly its technical colleges.
“I’m really impressed with their apprenticeships,” Erickson said, noting that Dane County companies have a need for skilled workers.
One of Kassel’s strengths is manufacturing. Its main industries are systems technology for photovoltaics, manufacturers of train engines and automobile factories for Volkswagen and Daimler-Chrysler.
Every five years, Kassel has an international documenta art festival, with exhibits and concerts.
“It started as a book fair,” Erickson said, adding that in about 1948 or 1949, West German leaders wanted to show that they embrace artistic freedom following a regime that tried to destroy it.
Two Dane County artists, Jennika Bastian and Brenda Baker, also traveled to Kassel for the international art festival.
In 2014, Dane County partnered with Edgewood College to bring the Edgar Knecht Trio to perform here.
“The reason I wanted them to come back is because we thought about creating a CD at the Stoughton Opera House,” Erickson said, adding that a videographer is coming with the trio make a documentary. That concert was to be performed on Sept. 17.
A second concert on Sept. 20 at First Congregational Church in Madison is planned with con vivo!, and clinics are scheduled with jazz students at Sun Prairie and Oregon High School.
The Waunakee concert is free on Saturday, Sept. 21, at 2 p.m. Edgar Knecht has studied professionally as a pianist and composer and began performing in concert at age 14. According to a description of his work for the Stoughton Opera House, he has combined jazz and folk tunes from a variety of sources with folksongs of Germany.