All That Jazz

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By Katie Vaughn for Madison Magazine
February, 2009
Photography by Martha Busse

She might be bathed in a spotlight onstage or crooning softly in a dimly lit restaurant. Wherever jazz is revered in Madison, you'll find Jan Wheaton.

While she arrived in Madison in 1964 to work as a microbiologist (and later, a teacher and administrator), Wheaton has made as big of a mark in the local music scene, where she's shared her love of Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McRae and Nancy Wilson.

Not surprisingly, she's garnered a following over her forty-plus years of performing. She can always count on seeing familiar faces. "They've become my friends," she says. "When I see them in the audience, they get a hug."

Her audiences play a role in choosing her repertoire; she watches to see which songs strike a chord. Yet her favorite part of performing is making connections with individual listeners. "I can do the stage thing," she says. "But I like the small-room approach better."

It seems others do, too. In 2005, Wheaton earned two Madison Area Music Awards nods: Best Female Vocalist designation and the Lifetime Achievement Award. She's often asked why she never left town for success in a bigger city, but Wheaton's happy she has stayed put.

"What is the big time?" she asks. "The big time for me is here."

Catch Wheaton on Valentine's Day in Madison Ballet's An Evening of Romance. To find where else she's performing, visit

Contact Katie Vaughn of Madison Magazine at 608-270-3625 or

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