Madison gypsy jazz band Harmonious Wail is not slowing down

Two albums from the band will be released in July
Harmonious Wail
Photo courtesy of Nick Berard

Harmonious Wail — standard-bearers for Americana-infused gypsy jazz/swing music in Madison and beyond for 30 years — had a May 8 gig at Stoughton Opera House postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. And the band’s appearance at Summerfest was canceled like all other bookings for the event.

Also postponed for the trio — spouses Sims and Maggie Delaney-Potthoff on mandolin as well as ukulele and guitar (Sims) and cardboard box percussion and vocals (Maggie), and Jeffo Weiss on upright and electric bass — was an annual bus tour of Ireland with a small group of fans. That trip as well as one to Scotland, originally set for this July and August, won’t take place until 2021.

“We’ll play on the beach or in rooms of a castle,” Maggie Delaney-Potthoff says of the 9- to 10-day bus tours. During previous tours, Irish musicians joined them to put on nightly private concerts. “It’s really laid-back and cool. It’s a tour for people who hate tours.”

Still on the docket is the Midwest Gypsy Swing Fest that Harmonious Wail hosts and headlines back at home in Wisconsin. The festival, which draws high-caliber musicians and loyal fans of the genre from other countries, is planned for Sept. 11-12 at Art in the Barn in Fitchburg and in February at The Brink Lounge.

Harmonious Wail has livestreamed several house shows in recent months, but the band is unsure if they’ll get to put on a CD release party for not one but two new albums. Since January, the band has released on Spotify and iTunes one song per month from “The Wailing Allstars,” an album of standards recorded in part at Stoughton Opera House; and “Beyond the Pale,” an album of original songs and covers. Both albums will be released in July. One of the band’s new songs, “Move,” already won Best Acoustic Song from the Independent Music Awards in April.

The Delaney-Potthoffs are particularly proud of the song they released in March, “Just Gone on Ahead.” Sims Delaney-Potthoff says he co-wrote the song in June 2015 with his son — who had died a few months earlier from a tragic shooting accident. But Sims Delaney-Potthoff says he knows Henry (who died at 30 years old) had a hand in the lyrics, which include, “I’ve always been a trav’ler, on the road and in my head. Now I’m not gone forever, I’ve just gone on ahead.”

Five years after Henry’s death, Sims Delaney-Potthoff says their son’s legacy — he, too, was an accomplished jazz and folk guitarist — lives on through the Henry Mac Fund, which awards money annually through the Madison Area Music Association to young local musicians.

Harmonious Wail continues to play uplifting music strongly inspired by Django Reinhardt,
a Romani-French jazz guitarist and composer who first merged American jazz with traditional European music in the 1930s and 1940s.

“We picked Django and gypsy jazz as a point of entrance and also the point of departure,” Sims Delaney-Potthoff says of Harmonious Wail’s original and enduring approach to its music.

Joel Patenaude is associate editor of Madison Magazine.