Leopold’s Books Bar Caffe holds the unique distinction of being both a bar, bookstore and cafe. It also acts as a live music venue and underground sanctuary for jazz performers.
Opened in 2021 by Sam Brown, Leopold’s has hosted many jazz artists since.
The Madison jazz community suffered setbacks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With venues closing, artists out of work and a lack of audiences. Leopold’s emerged near the end of the pandemic as a place where artists could perform and feel like their craft was respected and appreciated.
“[Madison’s jazz community] is a small but fantastic community,” Brown said. “We’re just lucky to be a part of it.”
That sentiment is shared by the jazz groups that perform at Leopold’s, including Gian Compuesto, who heads Madison’s Gypsy Jazz Jam.
“Sam is super cool,” Compuesto told The Daily Cardinal. “He's so supportive of what we do.”
Brown said Leopold’s has been lucky enough to partner with “some of the best” jazz musicians in Madison. These groups attach themselves to Leopold’s because there are not many venues or bars that consistently provide gigs on weeknights.
Sam said Leopold’s draws crowds by providing local jazz groups a place to perform on weeknights.
Many customers are surprised when greeted with jazz music while entering Leopold’s. But Brown has found that when they do start to listen, customers enjoy the atmosphere jazz music creates.
Brown described Leopold’s jazz scene as “transformative” and said it gives people a reason to go out and commune during the week.
“It’s one of those things that you don’t expect necessarily,” Brown said. “I think we offer experiences that other places don't offer.”
It’s the metropolitan atmosphere created by both the bookstore and the jazz that drives customers to Leopold’s for weeknight jazz, Compuesto said. It’s also something that pushes performers toward Leopold’s as well.
Compuesto said that he feels the atmosphere of Leopold’s mixes well with the environments in which jazz is meant to be played in. He described it as having a “French cafe” feel and said it all works together to transport the audience to a different place.
In creating an inviting experience for customers, Brown’s attitude and appreciation for the music also create a welcoming experience for artists. Compuesto said, in contrast to Leopold’s, some venues will “throw” jazz artists into a corner and tamp down the volume of their music.
“It's almost like a borderline inconvenience that we're there,” Compuesto said.
The partnership between Leopold’s and jazz groups creates an experience that both artists and customers can enjoy.
“It's one of those things that you don't expect,” Brown said. “It's transformative.”
Anna Kleiber is a state news reporter for The Daily Cardinal.
Gabriella Hartlaub is an arts editor for the Daily Cardinal. She also reports state politics and life & style stories. Follow her on Twitter at @gabihartlaub.