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Full Compass Swings

While it might be difficult to believe that a Big 10 school like University of Wisconsin had gone without a proper jazz program for the better part of a decade, it’s even more difficult to believe how its rebirth came about.

Enter Susan and Jonathan Lipp, owners of Full Compass Systems in Madison, Wis.

“I went to a University of Wisconsin women’s basketball game,” Susan Lipp said. “And it was a boring game. So, I started talking to this guy sitting next to me. I said, ‘You know we’ve got a million young band members in this state. And all of these jazz players from colleges all over the United States. Why don’t we have a jazz program in Madison?’

“His name was John Peterson. He got a little excited about it and said, ‘You’re right. We need a jazz program.’”

It turned out that Peterson was a local philanthropist with a love for jazz. He donated $1 million to the school to endow a jazz faculty position within the Department of Music, thus ensuring the development of a permanent jazz curriculum. The university matched that donation and hired Professor Johannes Wallman as the first John and Carolyn Peterson Chair of Jazz Studies.

And that’s how it came to pass that, on a beautiful fall Sunday in the rolling hills of greater Madison, the local jazz community gathered at Full Compass for “Jazz Junction,” a celebration to honor the new program. Appreciative fans packed Full Compass’ performance space, welcoming a healthy array of 13 acts from the area to perform. A large contingent of local educators were also invited the enjoy the festivities.

During the celebration, John Schaffer, a professor and chair emeritus of the School of Music, noted that the Lipps have been strong supporters of the arts at UW. “Susan has always been a huge fan of the School of Music and been on the board with Jonathan. She was on the phone instantly saying, ‘This guy’s going to call you, John. Make sure you don’t screw this up.’”

The celebration was sponsored by Full Compass and The Greater Madison Jazz Consortium, and was one of about 10 charitable events Full Compass hosts for free each year to help various not-for-profit organizations. The Lipps take a hands-on, community approach to helping good causes donating space, time and staff.

Unfortunately, the festivities were missing one important guest. Peterson died in September, at the age of 83, before the jazz program officially launched — though he was able to meet Wallmann in July. The celebration served as not only a launch of the new program, but also a tribute to Peterson’s philanthropy and love of the arts. MI