Major print music publisher Hal Leonard Corp. has been publishing and distributing publications for most every type of instrument and ensemble for over 60s years out of its Milwaukee home base, where it doesn’t have to go far for quality instructors.
“Milwaukee has a lot of musical talent that’s very diverse,” says Hal Leonard’s executive VP Jeff Schroedl. “We have experts on everything from guitar and saxophone to ukulele, mandolin, banjo, guitar and harmonica.”
Indeed, Milwaukee is the home of Jim Liban, one of the country’s finest blues harmoncia players, who has recorded tracks for Hal Leonard harmonica instructional texts. Another top bluesharp player is Brew City's Steve Cohen, who has penned three harmonica publications for the company.
Schroedl notes that local ukulele ace Lil’ Rev has “evolved into a big name on the ukelele scene” after writing Hal Leonard Ukelele Method titles. Other name Milwaukee musicians regularly called upon include saxophonist—and new WAMI (Wisconsin Area Music Industry) Hall of Fame inductee Warren Wiegratz, a founder of the acclaimed 1970s jazz/fusion group Sweetbottom; drummer Ben Hans, jazz pianist Mark Davis, bassists Tom McGirr and Chris Kringel, and guitarists Greg Koch, Jack Grassel, Doug Boduch, Pete Billman, Kirk Tatnall and Mike Butzen.
“We get to know many musicians in town and try to determine their strengths, and if they’re available we try to use them in different ways,” says Schroedl. “That might be authoring instructional books, which is certainly a big deal, or doing session work for audio accompaniment for the books. We’ve also done some instructional videos using Milwaukee musicians as sidemen, and have also employed them all the way to the bread-and-butter work of editing, proofreading, transcribing and things like that.”
Besides its stable of well-known Milwaukee players, Hal Leonard finds others through word-of-mouth, says Schroedl, or via local schools and teachers who proffer proficient students.
“Some read music real well and are suited to one area, others don’t and are utilized in other ways,” he says. “But we’re always on the lookout, and it’s easy to work with local people.”
Schroedl adds, of course, that Hal Leonard works with musicians from around the world. It also drafts players from nearby Madison, where it uses Paradigm Productions studio for recording purposes.
“We had our own studio in Milwaukee years ago, but we outsource now,” says Schroedl.
And Milwaukee being America's beer town, he notes that one of the Milwaukee studios used is Wiegratz’s Beathouse Music, located downtown in the historic Blatz Building.
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