Spotlight of the Week: Linda Binder

Linda Binder is a violinist and mandolinist whose performed with a number of ensembles in the Milwaukee and Chicago area. Among her groups have been Smith & Binder, PaVda, Toco Rio and The Lake Mandolin Quartet.

ME: How did you get involved with Wisconsin Music Ventures?

LINDA: Steve Smith, who I play in a jazz group with, contacted Allison about Wisconsin Music Ventures. I’m not sure how he heard about it but she asked us if we’d be interested in playing at a place called Zachariah’s Acres. Kudos to Allison for coming up with a really interesting idea that brings in a lot of different types of musicians and bringing live music into unusual places.

ME: My favorite story is how Wisconsin Music Ventures got Cullah a gig at Adventure Rock.

LINDA: I’m sure the acoustics in there were really good.

ME: Exactly (laughs).

ME: Tell me about the groups you’re playing with!

LINDA: The most active one is Smith & Binder, which had been a larger jazz group for a while. It started as a duo and now we’re kind of back as a duo. We play traditional jazz tunes and vintage pop tunes, which is really fun – we have a residency at Corvina Wine Company. I’ve also played with Seed Sounds, which has played once a month for years and years in Riverwest; I replaced Cody Steinmann because he moved to Minneapolis. My good friends Rick Ollman and Paul Westfahl picked me; I felt like I won the lottery that they’d consider a violinist to replace Cody (laughs). Once the pandemic hit, that kind of stopped, but there’s been some messaging about getting it going again. Then I play in PaVda with Hal Rammel, where we play experimental improved music together. Hal’s been such a wonderful inspiration and force in creative music; he was the longtime host of Alternating Currents and has curated music at Woodland Pattern Book Center for a long time. I also play with different string quartets sometimes, just doing gigging for events. I have The Lake Mandolin Quartet and I directed the Milwaukee Mandolin Orchestra for six years, which was pretty time consuming; I’m very fond of the people that were in it and I miss them. Occasionally I’ll go back and sit in on something with them. I also play choro music with my husband Jeff and with Ben Hogan in the group Toco Rio.

ME: Sounds like you’re in cahoots with a lot of great acts. All of that is so cool!

ME: What do you have to say about the Jazz Gallery in Riverwest?

LINDA: I love it! It was getting run down for a while; for a long time, there were buckets on the stage for when it’d rain. It’s got some amazing history, like they’ve got that book with all the ads of incredible people who have played there. You’d hear that and expect a vintage vibe but it’s not that; the art that they put up would be very contrasting from month to month.

ME: It’s a very warm and inviting space, plus you can see all kinds of experimental shows there.

ME: I saw that you were recently at the EAA. What’d you think?

LINDA: It’s mind-blowing! We went to the recent AirVenture week and it was fascinating. The homemade planes that they have there are amazing, and everything that they have there was flown in.

ME: Some of the contraptions there don’t even look like planes at all. Even if someone doesn’t know a lot about planes, it’s a cool place to visit because there’s so much vast history! I like the wall of propellers too.

LINDA: Yeah! The air show was a blast. These guys that fly those planes were doing those rolls in the sky where they just flip the plane upside down. Then they just swoop down and it looks like they’re just feet away from the airstrip going really fast. And they’ll tumble out of the sky like a piece of garbage!

ME: Truly some daredevil stuff. I couldn’t even fathom being in a plane doing those things.

ME: What are you working on now?

LINDA: Well, I make noise every day. I was thinking about what instrument I wanted to play and work on this morning and was really drawn to my electric mandola because I played it last night at Corvina. It sounded really nice in a way that I hadn’t played before so I was trying out different effects pedals with it. It’s always pretty planless but with just enough of a plan to develop something. I’ve been exploring jazz language more with violin; I was actually doing a saxophone course for a while with Bob Reynolds from Snarky Puppy (laughs). There’s always something new, so that’s fun!

Visit Linda Binder’s website here.

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