Friday, July 30, 2010

Downsizing: The Healdsburg Jazz Festival

© Andrea Canter

When my brother moved well north of San Francisco to the outskirts of Healdsburg, I only knew about the vineyards that surrounded him—the Dry Creek, Russian River and Alexander Valley regions of Sonoma County. I didn’t know about the jazz festival that got underway at about the same time, 12 years ago. But by 2004 I had discovered this gem of the West Coast, held each summer during the first week weeks of June, and featuring artists of the caliber typically seen at the major festivals like Monterey, Chicago, Detroit, Montreal. Not as many of course, typically there are a half dozen or so “major name” artists along with hot up-and-comers and a number of talents from the fertile Bay Area. I managed to get to the festival in 2004 and 2006, each time in a quandary as to which weekend to make my reservations, ultimately picking the second weekend which included a grand finale double or triple header at the Rodney Strong Winery. The intimate Raven Theater in the town center usually hosted two consecutive nights of stellar music, and other performances were scattered throughout the intervening week at smaller venues and wineries. Jazz outdoors in the gardens of a winery, by the way, is quite sublime. No matter what you’re drinking.

You could probably run up a good tab if you attended every event, but if you picked three or four ticketed shows, the cost was still under $100. And typically events did not overlap—you did not need to decide if you were going to hear McCoy Tyner or Charles Lloyd; you could do both. Venues are not that far apart in Healdsburg. In my two festivals, I saw Fred Hersch, Charles Lloyd, Geri Allen, McCoy Tyner, Roy Haynes, Kenny Garrett, Frank Morgan, Billy Hart, and a young Julian Lage. The line-ups in the past three years have been amazing, and it was a great disappointment that I could not schedule my California vacation to fit the festival calendar.

And now it may be too late. I just received a notice from the Healdsburg Jazz Festival organization that due to all-too-common budget problems, the annual festival will not be held in 2011. But there is more to Healdsburg Jazz Festival than the festival itself—the Board sponsors jazz education programs throughout the year, which in fact was its original mission. The education show will go on while the Board considers how to reorganize a viable jazz festival in the future. I hope they succeed. There are less extravagant options for bringing live jazz to wine country, such as scaling back the number of performers and events, limiting “headline” artists and filling more slots with new and area talent. Such a scenario helped the Twin Cities Jazz Festival crawl back from the abyss, and in fact helped stimulate new sources of support, leading to an expanded festival after that first retrenched year.

Too many jazz festivals are floundering with loss of sponsors and rising costs. It’s not a bad thing to think more locally, and to build a festival around a program of jazz education. Not only does such an emphasis promote the talents that might one day appear on a festival stage, but if aimed broadly, jazz education builds a future festival audience, a future source of festival donations. Hopefully the Healdsburg Jazz Festival has meant enough to fans in the Bay Area and beyond that there will soon be a swell of support to ensure the festival’s return.

Photos (top to bottom): Frank Morgan at the 2004 festival; Julian Lage at the 2006 festival, at about age 17; Billy Hart was a frequent performer throughout the festival's history, here with his quartet in 2006. (Photos by Andrea Canter)

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, July 30 - August 4

© Andrea Canter

Maybe we should just dub this Reynold Philipsek Week—you have three opportunities to see/hear one of the area’s premiere guitar talents, including his CD Release Party on Saturday night and in the company of two of his primary outlets, Sidewalk Café and East Side.

Philipsek is a veteran acoustic guitarist and composer, and sometimes vocalist as well. His latest recording (I lost count, maybe this is number 36? 37?) brings diverse elements of his personal and ancestral journey together—the folk traditions of his central European heritage, his alter boy days growing up in central Minnesota, his discovery of the music of Django Reinhardt and studies with Joe Pass and Mike Elliott, his affinity for the poetry of Edgar Allen Poe. It’s all wrapped in Philipsek’s multi-lingual guitar on his All the Things You Are, which he celebrates at the 318 Café in Excelsior tomorrow night (7/31). First, tonight (7/30), he is on the Lake Harriet Bandshell stage with vocalist Rhonda Laurie and Sidewalk Café—violinist Gary Schulte, bassist Jeff Brueske. Later this week, at Hell’s Kitchen, catch Reynold with East Side (8/5), a quartet bridging the music of Astor Piazzola and Miles Davis, featuring chromatic harmonica whiz Clint Hoover, bassist Matt Senjem, and percussionist Michael Bissonnette. Expect many of his cohorts to turn up for the CD release party.

There’s more great guitar from all ends of the jazz spectrum this weekend, with David Roos out in White Bear at the Ingredients Café (7/30); Joel Shapira on the Brunch gig at Hell’s Kitchen on Saturday (7/31); James Allen weaving lines for vocalist Vicky Mountain at First Course Bistro (7/31); Zacc Harris and his trio at the Riverview on Sunday (8/1); Robert Bell with the elegant French 75 supporting the riveting charm of singer Maud Hixson at the Dakota on Tuesday (8/3); and singer/guitarist Robert Everest brings his “world on seven strings” to the Dakota on Wednesday (8/4).

More bright spots of song on the calendar – the always entertaining Debbie Duncan holds the weekend spotlight at the Artists Quarter (7/30-31); songstar Patty Peterson makes the last night of jazz at Crave in the Galleria memorable (7/30); new singer Jackie Moen sweetens things at Honey with the Old House Quartet (7/30); sassy Nichola Miller swings with Rick Carlson and Steve Pikal at Mill City Farmers’ Market (7/31); Charmin Michelle joins Rick Carlson for brunch at Crave in the West End Shops (8/1), holds her usual gigs with Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza in Richfield (8/2 & 8/4), and joins up with the Twin Cities Seven in Hopkins Downtown Park (8/5); Arne Fogel croons with the Acme Jazz Company Big Band at the Shorewood (8/3); Dan and Reuben Ristrom keep the northwest burbs swinging at Sawatdee in Maple Grove (8/4).

With the Artists Quarter hosting the National Poetry Slam all week, there’s less instrumental options than usual, but still, good jazz happens all around us. Coming north from Iowa (before relocating to St. Louis), young saxophonist Joel Vanderheyden and Koplant No perform at the Fine Line (8/4). This edgy ensemble played last winter at the Artists Quarter and just released an exciting CD of all original music. They’ll be joined at the Fine Line by Lulu’s Playground, featuring trumpeter Adam Meckler, and rock band Unsound Logic, headed by Joel’s cousin Nick. Other good bets around the metro this week include Fantastic Fridays at the Black Dog, presenting Nathan Hanson, Rahjta Ren & Brian Roessler with Lisa Brimmer (7/30); JoAnn Funk on the keys at Luna Rossa (7/31); two nights with the contemporary grooves of Acoustic Alchemy at the Dakota (8/1-2); avant garde experiments at the Clown Lounge (Fat Kid Wednesdays this week?) (8/2-3); Jack Brass Band at Favor Café (8/3); the Wolverines Trio roars at Hell’s Kitchen (8/4); Alicia Wiley entertains at Barbette (8/5).

Coming Soon!
• August 7, Nancy Harms with Bryan Nichols, Anthony Cox and Jay Epstein, Nancy’s farewell gig at the Artists Quarter
• August 8, Bloomington Jazz Festival (Normandale Lake Bandshell)
• August 9-10, Bettye LaVette at the Dakota
• August 12-13, Dr. John and the Lower 911 at the Dakota
• August 11, Zacc Harris Quartet at the Artists Quarter
• August 13-14, Kelly Rossum Quartet at the Artists Quarter
• August 18-20, Greg Skaff at the Artists Quarter
• August 20-21, Burnsville Art and All That Jazz Festival (Nicollet Commons Park)
• August 22, Connie Evingson, Jazz at the Jungle
• August 29-30, Karrin Allyson at the Dakota
Photos (top to bottom): Reynold Philipsek with Sidewalk Cafe cohort Jeff Brueske; Maud Hixson sings with French 75; Joel Vanderheyden leads the band Koplant No. (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Night in Tunisia With Roy (and Ray)

© Andrea Canter

“Lionel Hampton gave me my first set of mallets when I was five,” Roy Ayers told the Dakota audience at the start of his first set Wednesday night. The rest, they say, is history, and in this case, more of a soul/R&B story than a straight-line jazz story. But we got some of everything last night when Ayers and his quintet fired up the Dakota stage, two sets of keyboards facing each other with Ayers’ electronic vibes in between.

Ayers started out in the footsteps of Hampton but rose to fame with such funk classics as “We Live In Brooklyn Baby” and “Everybody Loves the Sunshine.” The opener, Roy’s “Woodpecker,” covered the gamut of jazz and soul lines. With red mallets in his right hand, white mallets in his left, 69-year-old Ayers left a lot of space to the band, and particularly to wailing saxophonist/keyboardist Ray Gaskins. But Ayers’ not-so-secret weapon was his own voice which shined in front or behind John Pressley, first on “No Stranger to Love,” then “Searching” and “Baby You Got It.” So far, it was pretty much an R&B set. But then came “A Night in Tunisia.” Ayers announced it would be a showcase for drummer Lee Pearson, who did not disappoint. But it was Ray Gaskins who tore into his alto solo as a man possessed by the demons of bebop, calling up licks from “It’s All Right With Me,” “My Favorite Things,” and rather humorously, “Caravan.”

The final “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” could be renamed “Everybody Loves Roy Ayers,” a confident showman, a competent vibes player and singer, and most of all, an engaging entertainer. It’s a slick show, and it is a “show,” not a gig in the jazz sense of the term; it’s a lot of fun for an hour if not all that memorable beyond. What I will remember is Ray Gaskins turning “Tunisia” inside out. And for that, I truly thank Roy Ayers, talent scout.

A longer version of this review will appear at

Photos (top to bottom): Roy Ayers on vibes; Roy Ayers sings cool and sweet; Ray Gaskins cuts loose on “A Night in Tunisia.” (Photos by Andrea Canter)

High School Reunions

© Andrea Canter

Summer is the traditional time when high schools (and colleges) hold reunions. Often schools as well as alums delay organizing or attending a reunion until at least ten or more years have passed. My high school (so far) has stuck with the decades, 10, 20, 30, 40, etc. Fortunately, this summer I have had the opportunity to attend high school reunions for which grads waited as little as a year to reconvene, and I didn’t even have to graduate with the class! These “reunions” involved former high school classmates/colleagues who together honed their evolving jazz chops in school and community ensembles, and who took advantage of summer vacation to collaborate on some new music.

BFGS, Jake Baldwin Quartet, and MPA
I’m sort of lumping three ensembles together as there is a common core of musicians who played together in varying combinations through high school and who continue to make some very sophisticated music whenever college schedules permit. Trumpeter Jake Baldwin (entering his second year at the New England Conservatory of Music), pianist Joe Strachan (transferring from Lawrence to the University of Minnesota this fall) and bassist Cory Grindberg (entering his second year at Northwestern in Chicago) are the common denominators of groups known as the Jake Baldwin Quartet, BFGS, and Metropolitan Port Authority (MPA). Jake didn’t wait for summer break to bring his quartet (with Joe, Cory and still-in-high school-at-the-time drummer Cameron LeCrone) to the Late Night series at the Dakota last spring, and with drummer Rob Fletcher (and sans bass) to Honey in early July. BFGS is the quartet with Fletcher, starting his sophomore year in Chicago at DuPaul, and the elder statesmen of the Youth Stage at the 2010 Twin Cities Jazz Festival. MPA has been around for a couple years, with Jake, Cory and Joe, along with saxophonist Remi Taghavi (heading into his junior year at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music) and drummer Isaac Zuckerman (going back to Boulder, CO for his second year at UC). The group recorded a CD which they released last summer at The Beat Coffeehouse, where they reassembled just a few weeks ago.

These young and highly talented musicians had various connections in high school, with Jake, Cory and Joe teamed together in the Dakota Combo, and all the above had connected through various community jazz camps and all-state ensembles. During their senior year, Isaac led a quartet with Joe, Cory and Jake that opened for the KBEM REEL Jazz film series.

With, in most cases, only one year of college experience, the evolution of the music of these young artists is rather jarring. Each was an exceptional high school musician, not just in terms of chops but in his commitment to music generally and to original composition and arrangements more specifically. The commitment has only solidified in the past year, while individual styles seem more fluid as each explores the daily influx of new experiences, new sounds, new ideas. Even compositions that were well formed a year ago (such as Cory’s “Faded”) have morphed in new directions, bringing new moods and rhythms into play. There’s a new level of confidence that is fully audible, that we’ll hear more and more over time. And Joe Strachan, who now seems as comfortable with modern improvisation as with swing and bop, has relocated to the Twin Cities fulltime in order to find more gigging opportunities. Listen for him. And listen up for the next high school reunion with BFGS and MPA.

Javier Santiago Quartet
Back around 2003 I first heard a group of middle schoolers playing a jazz gig at the Twin Cities Jazz Festival, and over the next few years I caught The Eggz a number of times at various venues. Three became classmates at Minneapolis South High School—Javier Santiago (piano), Chris Smith (bass) and Miguel Hurtado (drums). Miguel and Chris were a year older; Javier was still around for the first edition of the Dakota Combo where he connected with bassist Daniel Duke, from St Paul Central. Over the next few years, these insatiably curious musicians worked together through varying connections—Javier joined Chris as part of the Brubeck Institute Quartet; Javier, Chris and Miguel ended up in music schools in Manhattan and playing together at the 2008 Twin Cities Jazz Festival with other pals as Neoterik; Daniel, when on vacation from William Paterson University in New Jersey, collaborated with Javier and Miguel for summer and winter gigs at his mom’s “house party” gatherings. Javier pulled together the trio (with Chris or Daniel on bass) a few times at the Artists Quarter and Dakota Late Night.

Now summer 2010, Miguel recently graduated from the Manhattan School of Music, while Javier and Daniel have about a year to go. Last week they performed the opening gig at the new Jazz Central, a private listening club headed by pianist Tanner Taylor, one of Javier’s former teachers. Joining them was another past cohort, Pawan Benjamin, a classmate of Miguel’s at Manhattan who blows a wickedly beautiful soprano sax. The music this evening showcased each musician’s talent and development, and particularly Javier’s sophistication as composer of sparkling melodies and ingenious harmonies. These “eggz” are fully hatched.

Dan Musselman Quartet
I first heard Dan Musselman at the 2008 Twin Cities Jazz Festival, when he was a newly minted graduate of McNally Smith College with a new solo piano release, Ruminations. He’s since collaborated with vocalist Rachel Holder on another recording, Save Your Love for Me, and become a mainstay of the local jazz scene, gigging with his own quartet, backing vocalists like Rachel and Lee Engele, and filling the piano chair weekly at the Artists Quarter as a member of the Cory Wong Quartet. But Dan is not a local product, growing up in Jefferson City, MO where he first honed his skills with some like-minded teens—Hermon Mehari (trumpet), Zach Beeson (bass), and Brent Steever (drums). Zach and Brent, the younger of the group, are continuing studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Hermon, a recent graduate of UMKC still based in Kansas City, won a national trumpet competition and, in early July, was awarded second place in improvisation at the International Trumpet Guild Competition in Sydney.

Rather than a homecoming, the performance of the Dan Musselman Quartet at the AQ on July 22 was more of a field trip for Dan’s three Jefferson City cohorts. And the foursome had a field day working through original works, delivering fiery solos, luscious melodies and grandly swirling improvised discussions; Mehari is certainly one of the most intriguing trumpeters I’ve heard. The notion that old friends pick up where they left off was reinforced as these old friends seemed to be deep into intense conversation at the first note, a conversation that grew wings and took flight well before the first set ended. It might be a lot easier to continue the story in Kansas City, but hopefully the Artists Quarter vibe was sufficient to entice Hermon, Zach and Brent to come north again for another round with pal Dan. And maybe a stop in a recording studio?

High school reunions aren’t just about who came the longest distance or who made good on their “most likely to succeed” promise, but also about opportunities to renew connections and add new contexts to old themes. Or to take those old songs and write new arrangements, to build symphonies from fragments of melody.

New partners make for some exciting new music. But so do old friends. And those reunions can never come about too soon, or too late.
Photos (Top to bottom): Metropolitan Port Authority (MAP), with Remi Taghavi, Isaac Zuckerman, Cory Grindberg, Jake Baldwin and Joe Strachan at The Beat; the Javier Santiago Trio (earlier this summer at the Dakota with the John Raymond Project), with Javier, Daniel Duke and Miguel Hurtado; Dan Musselman; Dan's quartet with Zach Beeson, Brent Steever and Hermon Mehari at the Artists Quarter. (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, July 23-29

© Andrea Canter

Ever since Hurricane Katrina, the music of New Orleans has had its own tidal wave of popularity as clubs like the Dakota and venues like Orchestra Hall have made it a priority to bring the best of the Delta up north, initially to ensure employment for displaced musicians, but now it seems more to ensure ongoing appreciation for the culture and history of the birthplace of jazz. I don’t think Dr. John, Irvin Mayfield, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, or Evan Christopher are having trouble getting gigs. But each time they perform, they gain some new fans and solidify their connections with the already faithful. Maybe that will enhance NOLA tourism. But from a purely musical standpoint, I am eager to here bands from other regions, like Bulgaria or Tel Aviv or Tokyo or even Denver, just to broaden my horizons and keep it all interesting. American jazz has spilled into every corner and every culture, and in turn, every culture has injected some new sounds into American jazz.

Tonight (7/23), however, I’ll go back to New Orleans for a couple hours in the company of Evan Christopher, one of today’s masters of clarinet (and soprano sax) as well as musical spokesman for Crescent City’s heritage. Christopher, who made a splash at the Dakota last fall in the company of a swinging local quartet, returns with the Minnesota Orchestra to perform the world premiere of his work, Treat it Gentle Suite. In addition to the backing of one of the world’s top orchestras, Christopher will be joined by Irvin Mayfield (the orchestra’s Artistic Director for Jazz), guitar/banjo virtuoso Don Vappie, and one of Preservation Hall’s most revered performers, drummer Shannon Powell. A bunch of local artists who perform with the Jack Brass Band will also lend support, so consider this a melding of artists from both ends of the Mississippi. Christopher is worth seeing regardless of the program, an agile performer who can give traditional jazz a modern edge. The first part of the program at Orchestra Hall offers another treat, the fine voice and songwriting of Lizz Wright. It’s been a few years since her Dakota debut, and I am eager to hear the current directions in which her luscious voice is moving.

Sticking to the northern end of the Mississippi, the Artists Quarter hosts the Laura Caviani Quartet this weekend (7/23-24), and this time the local queen of jazz piano offers something a little different with Chris Olson on guitar. Jeff Bailey (7/23) and Chris Bates (7/24) trade off bass duties while longtime Caviani cohort Phil Hey handles the drums. Laura has hinted that some vocals will be on the set list. Whatever, it will be serious fun. Serious fun is also on the menu at the Dakota where the always entertaining Ben Sidran delivers original piano music and commentary, 7/23-24. Maybe there will be room late for anyone coming from Orchestra Hall tonight? Out in the north burbs, Ingredients Café hosts a sublime and swinging pairing of Maud Hixson and Tanner Taylor, perfect for that Saturday date night (7/24).

Long a hot house for experimental music, the Black Dog Café in Lowertown hosts the Lowertown Block Party on Sunday, 2-9 pm, featuring an eclectic mix of jazz, blues and beyond---Irv Williams, Davina and the Vagabonds, Ursus Minor, the Fantastic Fridays House Band, and more. The Black Dog kicks off the weekend with its Fantastic Fridays music series, tonight (7/23) featuring a special sax and piano summit, with Pat Moriarty and Ellen Lease with "excellent bassist Josh Granowski and young trumpet sensation Noah Ophoven-Baldwin" (quoting Pat).

The Clown Lounge hosts some of its favorites, including two bands that provided a sampling of their creative exploits at last weekend’s Dakota StreetFest—Fat Kid Wednesdays (7/26) and the Atlantis Quartet (7/27); Fat Kids share the bill with the James Buckley Trio. More on the edge music can be found at Studio Z where Anti-Gravity defies the Earth’s pull on Thursday night (7/29), thanks to Dean Granros, Jaqueline Ultan, Steve Goldstein, Scott Fultz, Pat O’Keefe and guest vocalists Viv Corringham. (So, what do you get when you mix guitar, cello, clarinet, sax, lap top and voice?)

Midweek also brings jazz turned jazz/funk/R&B vibraphonist Roy Ayers to the Dakota (7/28-29) for what should be two exciting nights of vibes magic. Meanwhile, a veteran never-turned-away-from-bebop saxman, Gary Berg, brings his own magic to the Artists Quarter (7/28), followed by the monthly blowout from Pete Whitman’s X-Tet (7/29).

More blazing instrumental jazz can be found around the metro every night—young keyboard whiz Micah Fitch brings an energetic band to Ginger Hop, which is just starting its music calendar tonight (7/23); Zacc Harris takes his trio to the Dakota for Late Night tonight (7/23) and back to the Riverview Wine Bar for the usual Sunday night gig (7/25); Patrick Harrison brings his accordion to the Aster Café tonight (7/23) and again on Tuesday night (7/27); also tonight, at Café Maud, you’ll find one of the most unusual bands in the area, Adam Levy and Liminal Phase (complete with cello, guitar, bassoon and harmonium); Joann Funk tinkles the ivories at Luna Rossa (7/24); Cory Wong Quartet opens for the funky Tuesday Night Band at the AQ (7/27).

Singers’ gigs are plentiful—Nichola Miller has a big week, starting out tonight (7/23) with Tanner Taylor at Hell’s Kitchen where they return for Sunday brunch (7/25); the sassy swinger is back at Spoonriver with Rick Carlson on Thursday (7/29). Charmin Michelle joins the Real Thyme Trio tonight (7/23) at Crave in the Galleria, one of the last gigs before the restaurant discontinues live music at the end of the month; Charmin also has her regular gigs at Crave in the West End Shops with Rick Carlson on Sunday (7/25) and at Fireside Pizza with Denny Malmberg, Monday and Wednesday (7/26 & 28). Sophia Shorai adds pizzazz to Hell’s Kitchen Saturday Brunch (7/24) and returns Tuesday night (7/27); Vicky Mountain sings Saturday night (7/24) with James Allen at First Course; Christine Rosholt returns to the Dakota on Monday night (7/26); Reuben and Dan Ristrom pair up at Sawatdee in Maple Grove (7/28); Maud Hixson sings in the very comfortable company of the Wolverines Trio at Hell’s Kitchen on Wednesday (7/28) while Arne Fogel banters and croons with the Tanner Taylor Trio there on Thursday (7/29).

Coming Soon
• July 30-31, Debbie Duncan at the Artists Quarter
• July 31, Reynold Philipsek CD Release at the 318
• August 9-10, Bettye LaVette at the Dakota
• August 13-14, Kelly Rossum at the Artists Quarter
• August 19-21, Guitar Hero Weekend at the Artists Quarter with Greg Skaff

Photos: (top to bottom), Evan Christopher; Laura Caviani; Fat Kid Wednesdays (on the Starkist Stage at Dakota StreetFest); Nichola Miller with Tanner Taylor at Spoonriver in May, this week at Hell’s Kitchen. (All photos by Andrea Canter)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Preserving Jazz Is Now in Fashion!

© Andrea Canter

They don’t call it “Preservation Hall” for nothing. The first time I set foot in what might be the world’s tiniest commercial jazz venue in 1981, I recall my wonder that five or six musicians could make such vibrant music night after night for an audience crammed wall to wall. Back then, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band was comprised of a handful of septu- and octogenarians, meaning they could have been cohorts of Louis Armstrong in his early days. Now the popularity of the PHJB extends far beyond the early 19th century building on St. Peter Street in the French Quarter, and there are perhaps more than a dozen jazz musicians who rotate playing in the hall or on tour. One of those tours brought the band to the Dakota Jazz Club, a much larger venue than their home base, and a much smaller venue than their usual tour stop. In the Twin Cities, PHJB has appeared at the old Guthrie Theater (where they recorded their first commercial album) and at Orchestra Hall, but this week was their first club gig here. And it was an ideal way to enjoy the band and their deep reverence for the birthplace of jazz.

The contrast with Preservation Hall was rather extreme—the Dakota stage is larger than the entire Hall; Dakota patrons sit at tables and order food and drink, while in the Hall, mostly tourists line against the walls or sit on the floor with no amenities beyond the music and the smell of history. But regardless of context, this was purely New Orleans music, and most of the tunes have been in the PJHB repertoire since the band first formed in the early 60s. The musicians themselves spread across more generations than the original band, with bassist/tuba player/director Ben Jaffe apparently the youngest (in his late 30s). The son of the Hall’s founders, Jaffe grew up literally on the knee of the Hall’s band members and joked that one of his former students is none other than trumpeter Irvin Mayfield, now artistic director for jazz at Orchestra Hall and in the audience for Tuesday night’s late set. Well, he was not in the audience for long, coming on stage to join the band and duke it out with the other horns.

The Dakota has promoted New Orleans music (beyond jazz) to a degree since it relocated to downtown Minneapolis, and extensively since Hurricane Katrina. But perhaps no other NOLA band has brought this level of passion and authenticity to the Twin Cities, and the audience responded with its own passion, particularly as the PHJB began its Second Line march through the club and dining room, returning to the stage with an entourage of fans and a final chorus of “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In.” The saints of jazz were on stage, and they were marching, and singing, and blowing.

There’s an unusual spread in the August issue of Playboy, a fashion spread featuring the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. With the musicians decked out in designer suits and their instruments, photographer Danny Clinch captured the camaraderie of a New Orleans brass band but with the extravagance of high fashion that seems miles and miles away from the French Quarter and particularly far from the heart of jazz. But maybe this is a milestone for the music—a jazz band, and a traditional one at that, portrayed as an elegant art form in a publication that is at once very familiar and just a bit tawdry. Sort of like the French Quarter and the origins of jazz.

What's this I hear about a Bay Area "Preservation Hall?" Apparently Ben Jaffe has plans to bring NOLA's legendary music to San Francisco, with a deal expected shortly to open a 200-seat space. Preservation Hall West? I hope they give it a different name. The music might have universal appeal, but there is only one Preservation Hall. See:

Photos: (Top to Bottom) Irvin Mayfield joined the front line of the PHJB; saxophonist Clint Maedgen and --who is the trumpeter?--provided vocals for much of the set; Frederick Lonzo managed to take apart his trombone, and then kicked up his heels with a young lady from the audience after the band's Second Line March around the Dakota. (All photos by Andrea Canter from the final set at the Dakota on July 20th)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Hoops, Whoops and Music: The First Dakota StreetFest

© Andrea Canter

Celebrating the Dakota’s 25th anniversary year, and armed with sponsors and an enthusiastic staff, Lowell Pickett brought a full day of music, food and family fun to Nicollet Mall yesterday, dubbed the Dakota StreetFest. There were four stages of music—a Main Stage outside the club at 10th and the Mall, a smaller Starkist Stage (yep, that’s Charlie the Tuna!) on the north side of 11th and the Mall, the indoor club stage, and the simultaneous Target-sponsored Sommerfest stage on Peavey Plaza. All along the Mall between 10th and 11th, Dakota staffers and other merchants manned booths offering iced teas and coffees, margarhitas, beer and wine, “Dakota Dogs” and more. Starkist's “Kidsville” offered youngsters (and not so youngsters) face painting, hula hooping, juggling and other arts and movement activities with entertainers from the Heart of the Beast Puppet Theater, Mystik Toyz and Funtime Funktions. In short, it was a block packed with as much activity, fun and music as one would expect to find in a much larger festival venue.

Mostly the weather cooperated—hot and sunny til late afternoon when a sudden downpour did little to dampen the music of the Dakota Combo on the StarKist Stage; an approaching and potentially dangerous storm cut short Charmaine Neville on the Main Stage and brought crowds streaming into the already-full club. It was already a long-enough day for me but I gather trombone master Glen David Andrews moved into the club for the late set. By then the Dakota StreetFest was already a big success. And it was more than an opportunity to introduce a wide audience to jazz, blues and beyond, and to enjoy a free night at the club, but another way to support both musicians and the broader community of New Orleans and the Gulf through NOLA musicians (Neville, Andrews and trombone ensemble Bonerama) and some fund raising music on either end of the StreetFest.

What I enjoyed most about Dakota StreetFest was the opportunity hear bands I knew nothing about, particularly ensembles with very unique instrumentation—Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles, for example, play an interesting blend of jazz, blues, soul and more with vocals, cello, various guitar/uke instruments and accordion, together dubbed an “acoustic explosion” and that fits. Liminal Phase with Adam Levy includes bassoon, harmonium and cello, which the Honeydogs’ guitarist describes as “chamber-electronica-folk.” I was primed for trombone, having recently heard Valves Meet Slide and Locally Damaging Winds, so Bonerama made perfect sense to me. With three trombones on the front line, they swing and cry and otherwise shake you with the vibe of the Delta.

And I enjoyed the opportunity to hear musicians I don’t see enough: Patty Peterson and Debbie Duncan reminded us why they are among the premiere vocalists in the region; Peter Schimke and Irv Williams repeated their Happy Hour of bop and class; and Charmaine Neville (returning after two years back-to-back headlining the TC Jazz Festival in 2007-08) worked herself and the crowd into a frenzy with high voltage singing and swaying and all-but praying. (Enough to make the skies open up!)

Down the block in “prime time,” the Atlantis Quartet and Fat Kid Wednesdays played the too-small Starkist Stage, not the center of attention that the music deserved but hopefully drawing enough of the curious to add to their fan base. Earlier on the Starkist Stage, we heard a wide range of youthful talents, from the jazzers of Doug Little’s Twin Cities Jazz Workshop and Adam Linz's Dakota Combo to the stunning vocals (Chantal) and “energizer bunny” hip hoppers of the High School for Recording Arts.

And throughout the afternoon and early evening, the Mall was filled with giant puppets and kids of all ages whirling colorful hula hoops and mugging their brightly painted faces. It was summer in the city, music on the mall, fun in sun or rain. It was the sort of event that makes you proud to live in our urban cultural center.

Watch Jazz Police for a somewhat expanded review (

Photos: Scenes from Dakota StreetFest on July 17th (top to bottom): Still sunny, a large crowd gathered to hear Lucy Michelle and the Violet Lappelles; face painting was not just for kids; Lowell Pickett was certainly the "top dog" on the Mall; hula hooping was as popular as face painting; Charmaine Neville (before the storm); Peter Schimke and Irv Williams inside the club; the Twin Cities Jazz Workshop's young front line. (All photos by Andrea Canter)

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, July 16-22

© Andrea Canter

Twenty-five years ago, Lowell Pickett started a jazz club in what would become one of St. Paul’s biggest flops of retail space, Bandana Square. But by the time the club escaped extinction with its move to downtown Minneapolis in 2003, it was already on the map of “must play” spaces of touring jazz artists and local talents. Now, seven years into the downtown entertainment scene, the Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant has only expanded its reputation as a destination, not only for touring musicians but also for the local jazz cognescenti, foodies, roaming tourists, conventioneers and a wide array of the rich and famous. Successfully maintaining a jazz club at a time when jazz is hardly popular and when the economy is in a tailspin comes with compromises, most notably booking music that will appeal to a wider audience that would never consider spending an evening with Ahmad Jamal or McCoy Tyner. But if it is that mix of music that allows Pickett to book “real jazz,” so be it.

Pickett has been touting the 25th anniversary since January and has been booking favorites throughout the year, like Ahmad Jamal, Hiromi, Christian McBride, Dave Holland and more, and today the Strib announced McCoy Tyner—the Dakota’s first major national act—would return in early December. But to really kickoff the celebration, Saturday (7/17) marks the first Dakota StreetFest, a day-long extravaganza of music, food and family fun along the 1000 block of Nicollet Mall, inside and out. Like the jazz club, Dakota StreetFest is more than jazz, and as emphasized in the past few years, there’s a New Orleans flavor to much of the event. Charmaine Neville (daughter of Charles and a Crescent City icon in her own right) provides a preview tonight (7/16) on the club stage, with all of the $15 covers going to support families impacted by the Gulf Oil Spill. Ditto Sunday night (7/18) when trombonist/entertainer Glen David Andrews (Trombone Shorty’s cousin) provides an encore at the club to cap the weekend.

But the big event is Saturday, with music on four stages from noon til well after dark. Of particular interest to jazz fans—Patty Peterson, Bonerama, Neville and Andrews on the 10th Street Main Stage; Debbie Duncan inside on the club stage; three accomplished youth bands—the Twin Cities Jazz Workshop directed by Doug Little, the High School of Recording Arts band, and the Dakota Combo directed by Adam Linz on the Starkist Stage at 11th and Nicollet, followed early evening by our own acclaimed ensembles, the Atlantis Quartet and Fat Kid Wednesdays; Nachito Herrera on the Peavey Plaza stage. And in place of the usual Late Night series, there will be a big jam on the club stage at 11:30 pm. So get some sun, buy a t-shirt, taste some Crescent City –flavored treats, and hear a lot of music…. All free. And watch as more exciting event unfold in honor of the Dakota’s 25th anniversary.

Seems the Artists Quarter is always in the shadow of the Dakota, but the music on the AQ stage is second to none, including this weekend’s special presentation of Mulligan Stew (7/16-17). Led by area favorite Dave Karr, the quartet is dedicated to the music and influences of Gerry Mulligan’s piano-less quartets of the 1960s, and features the best local musicians of the 21st century – Dave Graf on trombone, Gordy Johnson on bass, and Phil Hey on drums. The Stew only performs a time or two each year so this is a weekend to savor. If it’s hot outside, it is always cool in the AQ, although the music (always jazz!) has been known to sizzle and burn, especially when Dave Karr and friends are in the house.

The spirit of New Orleans continues during the week with the unusual club appearance of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, two nights at the Dakota (7/19-20). I remember my amazement when, in 1981, I first stepped into Preservation Hall and realized that, with two more steps, I would be out the door. I am really looking forward to hearing this famed ensemble on a stage larger than its entire home venue. PHJB reminds all of us where the music came from, and by touring and recording, PHJB keeps alive both that history and the venue that has become synonymous with New Orleans jazz.

You can go from accomplished veterans to brash upstarts in a mere 24 hours at the AQ this week. Phil Hey brings his sterling quartet back to the club for their monthly blow out (7/21), while young pianist Dan Musselman reunites with high school buddies from Jefferson City, MO the next night (7/22). His pals include Hermon Mehari, who earlier this month won second place in improvisation in the International Trumpet Guild competition in Sidney, Australia; adjudicators included former Twin Citian Kelly Rossum. The world is small (and round).

A special note about Hell’s Kitchen on Saturday (7/17). With the Dakota StreetFest in full swing around the corner, it might be easy to miss what’s going on below street level on 9th. But it’s a marvelous triple header—and it would be pretty easy to stop in for a while to escape the heat on the Mall: Nancy Harms for brunch; early evening with Frankhouse, an edgy ensemble led by trumpeter Dan Frankowski; and the nightcap with the James Buckley Trio, an even edgier band led by the innovative bassist.

Some hot instrumental music this week—Fantastic Fridays curated by Nathan Hanson at the Black Dog (7/16); accordion flash Patrick Harrison at the Aster Café (7/16 & 7/20); more accordion with Dan Newton’s Café Accordion at Honey (7/16); Steve Roehm Trio at Café Maude (7/17); the Zacc Harris Trio at Riverview Wine Bar (7/18); trumpet monster Charles Lazarus and his quartet at the Old Log Theater (7/19); something avant with Fat Kid Wednesdays and/or friends at the Clown Lounge (7/19-20); an ensemble of free-wheelers at Art of This featuring Davu Seru, Milo Fine, George Cartwright, Brice Beverlin, Audrey Chen and Luca Marini (7/20); the Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the AQ (7/20).

You can always find great songs around town—Erin Schwab at Hell’s Kitchen (7/16); Christine Rosholt at the Hat Trick (7/16); Charmin Michelle everywhere—on Peavey Plaza with Charmin & Shapira & Friends (7/16), at Crave in the West End Shops with Rick Carlson (7/18) and at Fireside Pizza with Denny Malmberg (7/19 & 21); Arne Fogel with the Acme Jazz Company at the Shorewood (7/20); Moore by Four in a rare freebie at Plymouth Congregational Church just off Eat Street (7/20); Paula Lammers with the River City Jazz Orchestra at the South St Paul VFW (7/20); Reuben and Dan Ristrom at the Maple Grove Sawatdee (7/21); Maud Hixson with Dave Singley at Ingredients Café (7/21); Nancy Harms at the Lake Harriet Bandshell (7/22).

Coming Soon!
• July 23 – Lizz Wright and Evan Christopher with the Minnesota Orchestra at Orchestra Hall
• July 23-24—Laura Caviani Quartet at the Artists Quarter
• July 23-24—Ben Sidran at the Dakota
• July 28-29—Roy Ayers at the Dakota
• July 28 –Maud Hixson at Hell’s Kitchen
• July 28—Gary Berg Quartet at the Artists Quarter
• July 29—Pete Whitman’s X-Tet at the Artists Quarter
• July 31—Reynold Philipsek CD Release at the 318
• July 8 – Bloomington Jazz Festival featuring the JazzMN Big Band
• July 9-10—Bettye LaVette at the Dakota
• August 18-20—Guitar Hero Weekend with Greg Skaff at the Artists Quarter
Photos: (top to bottom) Charmaine Neville (at the 2007 Twin Cities Jazz Festival); Phil Hey, Dave Graf and Dave Karr with Mulligan Stew; Charmin Michelle at the 2010 Twin Cities Jazz Festival (photos by Andrea Canter)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Out of Bill's Dreams: Frisell and Company Build With Layers of Imagination

© Andrea Canter

I’m never sure what to expect from a Bill Frisell ensemble, other than confidence that it will be interesting, unique and full of surprise. His Beautiful Dreamers Trio thus did not disappoint when they took the stage last night at the Dakota Jazz Club for the third of their scheduled four sets over two nights. I’ve seen Frisell, perhaps the most inventive guitarist on the current jazz scene, in a variety of configurations over the past ten years, from quintet with cello, winds and percussion to quartet with trumpet to his recent Bagdhad/Seattle Suite trio with viola and oud. Beautiful Dreamers continues his collaboration with violist Eyvind Kang (Badghad/Seattle Suite) and drummer Rudy Royston (Quartet). It’s an aptly titled ensemble, bringing forth dreamy trances and melodic floatations as string experiments ride in tandem with dark and stormy percussion, hints of nightmare ultimately washed away by celestial resolutions. The music expands as the trio adds layer upon layer as if building an organic onion of sound.

The first composition (which I suspect was largely improvised in the moment) moved along for about thirty minutes, initially suggesting a modern classical form with Middle Eastern themes inserted. All three musicians engaged in continuous music-making, guitar and viola often in odd harmonic partnership while Royston added layers of shimmering sound curtains over a throbbing rock-like beat, creating at one point a haunted “House of the Rising Sun” feel. Kang provided a wide assortment of both acoustic and electronic sound effects, one minute like crunchy static, the next minute a string calliope. Frisell and Kang ultimately fell into a sequence of scale-based patterns, intermodulating until reaching a sudden stop.

The second composition began in a vein more consistent with “Beautiful Dreamers,” but conventional melodicism soon gave way to alternating viola and guitar solos, then Royston’s fiery display of technical wizardy fed by an insatiable artistic drive. The strings added often-humorous decorations with electronic loops, conjuring outer space static and gurgling gasps a la Dave King’s walkie-talkie toys. As if emerging from an Aaron Copland-Meets-Pat Metheny-Meets Willie Nelson symphony, waltzing strains of “Out of My Dreams” came into focus, folding into, what else, “Beautiful Dreamer.”

Unlike any other project from Frisell or anyone else, the Beautiful Dreamers redefines sonic beauty as much as it redefines the jazz trio. Not one to hold on to labels, Bill Frisell adds yet another idiom to his unique musical lexicon. Call it free quasi-tonal electro-jazz/folk/global mania.

Or just call it oddly beautiful.

Photos: Bill Frisell; Eyvind Kang; Rudy Royston; Kang and Frisell. (All photos by Anrea Canter at the Dakota, July 13, 2010).

Monday, July 12, 2010

Jazz as Reinvention: Kendra Shank at the Artists Quarter

© Andrea Canter

There may be no agreement on the definition of “jazz” beyond the concepts of collaboration and improvisation—even “swing” in the modern era seems to defy definition. What does seem to pervade all discussions of jazz is the notion of reinvention—taking a melody and altering the rhythms or harmonies or scales to reinvent the tune, or more overtly inventing a new melody and then making further alterations. The music of vocalist Kendra Shank is all about reinventing—recomposing, reharmonizing, revisiting lyrics. Her life, as well, has been a sequence of reinventions—from visual artist to folk singer to jazz singer. And no matter how many times she gives us “Blue Skies” or “Throw It Away” or “Beautiful Love,” she reinvents the song.

In her weekend gig at the Artists Quarter, we witnessed the magic of ongoing creation, of a free spirit open to fellow travelers in that artistic space we call jazz. And for her AQ debut (she has been at the Dakota twice in the past decade), she was reunited with bassist Terry Burns and drummer Phil Hey, her supports at the first Dakota gig in about 2001, and introduced to a very simpatico pianist, Bryan Nichols. This might have been the first time these three Twin Cities artists shared the stage, and hopefully there’s more to come—and even better, a reunion of the full quartet. All versatile inventors, perhaps the novelty of this first collaboration inspired individual as well as collective performance. I’ve observed few bands, and certainly very few “new” bands, with broader smiles.

Kendra has described her approach to music as “sound painting”: She brings a broad palette of colors to each new canvas, merging with the palettes of her collaborators to create more colors, more textures and new brushstrokes, such that each “painting” is a new and spontaneous work no matter how many times she starts with that same paint set. And with her endless variations of color she literally brings a new language that expands a song’s lyrics—not simply the repetition of syllables of scat, not only the instrumental patterns of vocalese, but combinations of near-words with their own rhythm and syntax that somehow convey meaning at an emotional level that English fails to adequately translate.

[Full review posted at ]

Photos: Kendra Shank at the Artists Quarter, July 9th. (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, July 9-15

© Andrea Canter

Normally musicians are pleased to have gigs around town, but I know several vocalists who are disappointed that work will keep them from the Artists Quarter this weekend (7/9-10) when Kendra Shank holds a belated Twin Cities CD release party for her acclaimed 2009 recording, Mosaic. Shank was last here in 2006, shortly after releasing her tribute to Abbey Lincoln, A Spirit Free. This time, instead of her touring quartet, she will join forces with Bryan Nichols, Terry Burns and Phil Hey, talents up to the task of supporting one of the most creative improvisers in vocal jazz. It will be a first meeting for Kendra and Bryan, and while Bryan is far less known than Kendra’s usual keyboard partner, Frank Kimbrough, I think there’s some basic similarity in the way the two pianists approach their craft—with big ears and fertile imaginations. Perfect foils for Kendra Shank. Shank has been immersed in the arts since early childhood, delving in theater, painting and later folk music before discovering Billie Holiday and the wide world of jazz. Kendra describes her approach to music as “sound painting—using instruments (including drums) as colors, creating sonic environments and moods. And using space/silence as one of the colors.” And one of the instruments is her voice, be it reinventing something as common as “Blue Skies” or creating new lyrics or new melodies. Her recent projects have included acapella ensembles and tandem experiments with a modern dance company. And with every new turn, her metaphorical palette of color and shape expands, as if adding a new substance to her personal Sonic Table of Elements. With three new cohorts at the AQ, Kendra will no doubt create new colors and shapes.

Speaking of improvisers with diverse projects, here comes Bill Frisell with his Beautiful Dreamers Trio, featuring two cohorts from other ensembles, violist Eyvind Kang and drummer Rudy Royston, at the Dakota for two nights (7/12-13). It’s just one many string projects (he’s worked with Jim Hall, Hank Roberts and Mark Feldman, among others) for the restlessly talented Frisell, who was here (at Walker) last spring with Kang and world renowned oud player Rami AlHaj. Royston too is making a quick return, having been on stage at the Dakota in late May with sister in law Tia Fuller. It seems that the only requirement for a Bill Frisell gig, aside from immense talent, is to have established credentials across diverse projects. And that’s more than enough.

And back from New York, but only long enough to pack up, Nancy Harms will sing at the Bloomington Hilton this week (7/15) in the fine company of Phil Aaron and Graydon Peterson. Harms, who has literally been on a rocket ride over the past year since the release of her outstanding debut CD, In the Indigo, spent June in the Big Apple, sitting in and gigging and particularly fronting a gig at The Bar Next Door with guitarist Paul Bollenback and bassist (and former Twin Citian) Michael O’Brien. It must have felt right as Nancy will be moving to New York in September. So don’t waste an opportunity like this one to hear her take apart standards with the aplomb of a veteran improviser.

You can hear some other fine voices this week: Charmin Michelle is back at Crave in the Galleria with the Laura Caviani Trio (7/9), at Crave in the West End Shops with Rick Carlson for brunch and at Cinema Ballroom with the Jerry O’Hagan Orchestra, both on Sunday (7/11), and with Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza Monday (7/12) and Wednesday (7/14); Christine Rosholt kicks off the weekend on Peavey Plaza today (7/9), at Como Park Pavillion Sunday night (7/11) and with Beasley’s Big Band at Wabasha Street Caves (7/15); Aaron Keith Stewart sings at Tryg’s Saturday night (7/10); Debbie Duncan and Mary Louise Knutson hit the stage of the Lake Harriet Bandshell on Sunday (7/11); Maud Hixson performs with the Wolverines Trio at Hell’s Kitchen on Wednesday (7/14) and Arne Fogel fills that singer’s space the next night (7/15).

Instrumental jazz keeps coming hot and steamy all week long: Julie Johnson and Friends are featured on Fantastic Fridays at the Black Dog (7/9); Gordy Johnson and Tommy O’Donnell are on stage at Roman Anthony’s (7/9-10); the Zacc Harris Trio holds their usual spot on Sunday nights at the Riverview Wine Bar (7/11); guitarist Rick Stack has a Sunday gig at the Black Dog (7/11); the Southside Aces swing at the Nomad (7/11); visiting experimental music makers Gerry Hemingway (percussion) and Terrence McManus (guitars) do a double header, Sunday at Rogue Buddha Gallery (7/11) and Monday at the late set at the Clown Lounge, following the open set by Fat Kid Wednesdays (7/12); Milo Fine freely improvises at Homewood Studios (7/12); The Bryan Nichols Quintet and Atlantis Quartet perform for Tuesdays at the Clown (7/13); Cory Wong Quartet and the Tuesday Night Band are at the AQ (7/13); Max Weinberg, of Conan O’Brien fame, brings his big band into the Dakota on Wednesday (7/14); master drummer and vibest Marv Dahlgren brings his quartet back to the AQ on Thursday (7/15).

Coming soon!
• July 16-17, Mulligan Stew at the AQ
• July 17, DakotaFest, about 12 hours of nonstop music and fun on Nicollet Mall, featuring Bonerama, Charmaine Neville, Glenn David Andrews, Patty Peterson, Debbie Duncan, Nachito Herrera, Davina & the Vagabonds, the Dakota Combo and more on Nicollet Mall and Peavey Plaza
• July 19-20, Preservation Hall Jazz Band at the Dakota
• July 21, Phil Hey Quartet at the AQ
• July 23, Lizz Wright & Evan Christopher at Orchestra Hall
• July 23-24, Ben Sidran at the Dakota
• July 23-24, Laura Caviani Quartet at the AQ

Photos: Kendra Shank (at the Dakota a few years ago); Bill Frisell (at the 2009 Iowa City Jazz Festival); Nancy Harms. (All photos by Andrea Canter)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Letter From Summer (Jazz) Camp

© Andrea Canter

Dear Mom and Dad,
This letter is late, I know. Actually, I was really late getting to summer camp. Nearly 50 years late? You encouraged me to go, I remember, but I thought all possible fun activities were right there in my own backyard, or at least down the street on the playground. Maybe there weren’t any jazz camps in the 50s or 60s. Anyway, I quit flute after four weeks and piano after five years, never getting anywhere close to playing something as interesting as jazz.

So I am happy to tell you that I finally did get to summer camp, and jazz camp! Not with an instrument. Just a camera and a notebook. But I had fun, even if I was about 45 years older than the other campers. I learned plenty about the passion of young musicians and the older musicians who share their passions and experience. I even learned a few things about jazz!

My first camp this summer was here in the Twin Cities, the second session of the Twin Cities Youth Jazz Camp directed by trumpeter Bernie Edstrom. I was surprised to see more than 70 students at the F.A.I.R. school setting in Crystal. Apparently there were another 70 or so the first week in south Minneapolis. The students were middle and high schoolers at varying levels of skill and experience. But they all started the day clapping out rhythm patterns and then singing along before picking up their instruments and running through some general exercises. I saw some old friends and acquaintences among the instructors—saxophonist Dean Brewington, bassists Bruce Heine and Ron Evaniuk, guitarist Joel Shapira, drummer Eric Gravatt, trumpeter Greg Lewis, young pianist Javier Santiago, himself probably a camper just a few years ago. I wonder if campers realized that their instructors are among the jazz elite of the Midwest and beyond? That Gravatt, for example, still tours internationally with the legendary McCoy Tyner?

Next I had trouble deciding where to go—with the saxophones, the keyboards or the drummers? I tried to sample many of the instrument clinics, then spent some time observing the combos as students learned about interacting, listening, keeping time. I watched Dean Brewington, the saxman, work hands-on with a young drummer. I watched Javier Santiago share some music via I-Pod with his keyboard students and tell them about the importance of listening and finding your own voice. What is more inspiring to a 14-year-old than the attention of a 21-year-old?

Although I did not hear the end result for this session of jazz camp, just the weekend before, I heard Bernie’s “third level” ensemble play at the Twin Cities Jazz Festival. I thought they were the top group given their tight and inspired performance. Those kids could swing—and they had only been together for four days before showtime.

Then last week I drove up to Shell Lake, Wisconsin, for the long-running Shell Lake Jazz Camp. This was their second session of jazz big band and combo camp. Also for middle and high school students, Shell Lake is a residential camp—like the old fashioned summer camps you suggested I attend. No tents—students stay in rather spartan dorms adjacent to the school complex, a cavernous maze of hallways and old classrooms that once served the Shell Lake Public Schools. I felt like the new kid who could only find her way around if always starting from the office.

And there was a lot to find. I arrived in time to sit in on part of Kelly Rossum’s listening/composing class. I didn’t catch the band on the CD, but it was a free improv group—what I would expect from Kelly! “What did you hear?” he asked. “This will give you some ideas for what you can do to mess up your own music!” He talked about the deep traditions in jazz and how these traditions inform original music, how this background helps the composer write for his or her own ensemble. “Build your playground for the people who will be playing in it.. so they will have more fun!” said Kelly.

There’s a number of concurrent sessions every day, six periods each day from 8 am – 5 pm, and each afternoon started with some sort of Listening class, maybe a dozen students in each class. From Listening class students went off to big band rehearsals and smaller instrument clinics, all grouped by skill level and led by one of the large faculty of performing artist/educators. Mornings included workshops for similar instruments—imagine a classroom filled with 40 saxophones or trumpets! More big band and small ensemble groups followed. Particularly fun was a small class of about a half dozen students, all playing vibes!

I found each of the instructors I visited to be not only obviously dedicated to music but also to passing it on, and generally with a large dollop of humor. I might have missed a lot of the punchlines if I was in middle school! But humor seemed to allow the instructors to capture young imaginations and help focus attention to critical concepts. As Dominic Spera told his big band students, “Halsitosis is OK as long as you breathe in rhythm!” Generally colorful statements seemed to hit home, that “ahah” moment—“Everything we play in music mimics life”…. “Never run home in music” (don’t rush at the end!)… and pushing students to be the best—“Blend! Be like the Royal Philharmonic!”

Saxophonist and jazz camp director Greg Keel used a unique confabulation of English, French and Spanish to invent terms that conveyed key concepts to his woodwind ensembles. And I learned something about how to use air, watching his students practice long tones to climb the scale, listening as Greg demonstrated what happens to the pitch when breath control fails, when and how to use “slurring” like Coltrane, and when not to use it.

Camp wasn’t all work. I was invited to come to this session because of the annual Faculty Big Band concert on the night I arrived. In addition to teaching multiple clinics and classes each day, the Shell Lake Faculty rehearse and then perform at this fund raising, community-centered event. And these are among the best musicians in the Midwest and beyond. The gymnasium transformed into a concert hall with bleachers, the big band night was a glorious revue of the great bug band arrangers with ample opportunity for each faculty member to solo. In addition to the 100+ students enrolled this session, the gym was filled largely by members of the Shell Lake community, and the reception afterwards offered an opportunity for relaxed discussion with instructors, Board members and area music fans.

I didn’t stay in a dorm--one of the advantages of going to camp in middle age rather than middle school. My host Mary, a member of the Shell Lake Board, lives on a maple syrup “farm” a few miles outside of Shell Lake.

But if I was 12 again, if I played any instrument, I’d sign up for jazz camp. And I’d be begging you to send me to more than one. Each camp has its own personality and approach, and I think I would learn a lot just from the diversity of approaches and the varied experiences of the instructors and my fellow students.

Even after my short visits this summer, I think I am a lot smarter about jazz. So please send me back next summer. I promise to take out the garbage and clean my room.

FYI, I am on the Board of the Dakota Foundation for Jazz Education. One of DFJE’s projects is summer jazz camp scholarships, which we provide currently to six area jazz camps. I visited several last year, and this summer visited TCYJC and Shell Lake. Visit the DFJE website for links to area jazz camps (
Photos (from top to bottom): Dean Brewington works with young drummer at the TCYJC; trumpet student at TCYJC; Shell Lake instructor Dominic Spera emphasizes a point to his big band ensemble; students share good vibes at Shell Lake Jazz Camp. (All photos June-July 2010 by Andrea Canter)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Taking My Jazz on the Road

© Andrea Canter

I’m not that keen on driving long distances. If it was really possible, I’d just say “Beam me up, Scotty” and instantly reappear at my destination. Driving, unless on a truly scenic route with no traffic, is just like sending time into a black hole, at nearly $3/gallon. And in the summer, you always have the added displeasure of detours for road construction.

But one positive note about car travel, for me, is the opportunity to spend a few hours or more of uninterrupted listening. Not that my car’s CD player is state of the art audio, but I’m not about to base a review solely on what I hear behind the wheel. Rather, on a long drive, I can get acquainted with a new release or revisit favorites. I always take at least one or two vocal recordings and at least one or two brand new releases, fully loading my six-CD changer. I can’t wait to get out of the metro area and into a more listener friendly environment.

This week I drove the relatively short 110 miles to Shell Lake, WI to visit the jazz camp at the renowned Shell Lake Arts Center. More on the visit later. My musical companions on this trip were quite diverse, including vocalists Maud Hixson and Tessa Souter, legends Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden (their first joint project in 30+ years), the delightful piano duo of Bill Charlap and Renee Rosness, Geri Allen’s amazing new quartet, and the student ensemble, The Dakota Combo, via a low-fi “home” recording.

On Jasmine, Jarrett and Haden sparkle on standards and ballads that recall Jarrett’s Standards Trio of the past three decades, but without drums, the set is far more intimate. Almost too delicate for car stereo! I’m eager to hear this now in my own intimate (and stationary) listening environment. The two pianos of Double Portrait, Charlap and Rosnes’ first duo recording, make for more orchestral excitement without sacrificing the elegance of enticing compositions and collaborative improvisation. I do miss the visual component, though, the clues as to which pianist is doing what, the little nearly invisible signs of communication between them. Geri Allen’s new quartet release (Geri Allen & Timeline Live) is very high on my “best of the year” list. I have played the disc a dozen times and each listen is a revelation, the tapping feet of Maurice Chestnut playing off the “traditional” percussion of Kassa Overall to give the music nuances of sound and rhythm unlike anything I’ve heard before, while Geri’s compositional and improvisational skills suggest there is nothing more natural.

I attended the Dakota Combo’s spring concert in the beautiful Antonello Hall at MacPhail and was pleased to learn that pianist Quentin Tschofen captured it on his digital recorder. The result has many limitations in sound quality, the first being that you have to crank up your CD player to its highest volume level to actually hear it, and then the sound balance –given only one mic for the septet—is far from what we heard at the concert, with the drums overwhelming the rest, the violin nearly disappearing. But that inspired energy remains, and while this is not the best reflection of the music created by this group of 15-18 year-olds, it does preserve some incredibly rich and sophisticated compositions, particularly from Quentin and saxophonist Danny Hupp. I’m glad I have a copy of this concert, and only wish there was a studio version. The music, and its young performers, deserve a more faithful record.

The two vocal recordings were the best company on the road—it helps to have lyrics to engage the brain in another dimension when stretches of highway become too long and too dull. I first heard Tessa Souter on her 2009 release, Obsession, and then live at the Artists Quarter in May. I already considered her startling interpretations and original lyrics to be on par with the best of a small group of vocalists carrying the inventiveness of Betty Carter and Shirley Horn to the next level—Tierney Sutton, Judi Silvano, Kendra Shank, Norma Winstone, Kurt Elling. Then I got my hands on her earlier (2004) release, Listen Love. That was May and the CD is still in my car stereo, so of course it made the trip to Shell Lake. Each song takes a very personal turn, Souter’s voice the instrument of creation. There’s one original composition (including lyrics) but every track is original in its execution and the material unlike set lists from even the best vocalists—covering Jimmy Rowles, Pat Martino, Jon Lucien, Mal Waldron, Pharoah Sanders and Sting. There’s the standards—Ellington/Strayhorn’s “Daydream” and Jobim’s “Insensatez”—but they seem like new songs. Souter wrote the lyrics for Martino’s “Willow” and her version of Sting’s “Fragile” is a knockout.

Maud Hixson/Rick Carlson offer a very different approach to song on Love’s Refrain, released a couple years ago and still one of my favorite vocal recordings. Each time I listen, I am drawn into a quiet corner of the world where I am the only audience, where Maud and Rick serenade me, just me. In fact I am not even sure I am supposed to be there, they could be performing just for each other. When I reviewed this, I noted that Maud can whisper on pitch, no easy feat. Each song is delivered conversationally, gently, straight forward, yet with subtle personal twists and accents that suggest each song is the most important, the most treasured of the set. That means there are ten highlights on the CD. Yet I am able to pick my favorite, Billy Strayhorn’s “Lotus Blossom.” Seems hardly anyone sings it. Maud doesn’t just sing it. She wraps herself in it. It’s beautiful, heartbreaking, and utterly seductive.

Maybe you shouldn’t drive while listening to this.

Photos: Tessa Souter at the Artists Quarter; Maud Hixson at the Dakota a few nights ago. (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, July 2-8

© Andrea Canter

With the 4th of July holiday, it seems there might be more time for fun in the sun and a bit less going on in the dark corners of jazz venues, but that can be a plus—fewer conflicts in scheduling your music. But it’s going to be short-lived breather so enjoy it.

The Artists Quarter is closed for the weekend, so stay on the west side of the Metro and nenew your appreciation for the great baritone of Bruce Henry, back in town for the weekend at the Dakota (7/2-3). Since he left for Chicago about a year ago, we’ve had the good fortune to remain on Bruce’s travel schedule with Dakota and other gigs every couple months. Not only a rich and passionate singer of standards, blues and more, Bruce always brings a good show to the stage, from his loyal local band to frequent guests and warm interaction with the audience. And at some point in the evening, you can be sure he will have you on your feet! And stick around either night for the marvelous expatriate Minnesotan, New York-based bassist Chris Morrisey and his Quartet doing back to back Late Night shows. On the gig—New York guitarist Nir Felder, Fat Kid Wednesdays/Happy Apple saxman Michael Lewis, and Bad Plus/Happy Apple drummer Dave King. Hey, try to find a better line-up in New York! (And hear these guys again at the Clown Lounge, first set on Monday night, 7/5.)

Two youthful bands of note at Honey on Saturday night (7/3): At 7 pm, it’s the Jake Baldwin Quartet (aka BKFS) with four of the area’s finest college students on summer break—Jake Baldwin (trumpet), Joe Strachan (piano), Daniel Duke (bass and very competently filling in for the usual Cory Grindberg) and Rob Fletcher (drums). Jake is gong into his second year at the New England Conservatory of Music and will be a force to be reckoned with well before graduation. Joe just finished his first year at Lawrence but found gigging opportunities a bit sparse in Appelton, WI so will be back in the Twin Cities this fall at the U of M. Daniel will be back for a third year at William Patterson University in New Jersey, and Rob will be returning for his second year at DePaul in Chicago. Last weekend it was a Late Night at the Dakota gig, and I would be we will hear more from this guys over the summer. Stick around, at 8 pm it’s The Penguins, playing jazz, R&B and more. I’ve heard (many times) two from this band, saxophonist Stephanie Weisler (on break from the New England Conservatory) and bassist Jordan Jenkins, maybe the youngest out there this evening, ready to start his senior year at Apple Valley High School.

Innovative sounds come from all directions this week, starting with the Fantastic Friday show at the Black Dog and moving over to the Clown Lounge on Monday and Tuesday night. Saxophonist Nathan Hanson and bassist Brian Roessler collaborate at the Black Dog tonight (7/3); Chris Morrissey’s Quartet up first at the Clown followed by Fat Kid Wednesdays (7/5); the Vinnie Rose Quartet and Zacc Harris Quartet go back to back at the Clown on Tuesday night (7/6).

For the best in Latin percussion, or just Latin jazz generally, the great conguero Poncho Sanchez comes into the Dakota for two nights (7/6-7). For the best in regional brass, it’s another round of Valves Meet Slide at the Artists Quarter (7/7) with the added attraction, the trombone quartet Locally Damaging Winds--Michael Nelson and Wade Clark joining Dave Graf (slide) and Brad Bellows (valves). Chris Lomheim, Gordy Johnson and Mac Santiago round out the VMS ensemble. It’s a Minnesota Bone-a-Rama!

Not on holiday break—Charmin Michelle sings at Crave in the Galleria with the Laura Caviani Trio (7/2); at the West End Shops on Sunday (7/4) and at Richfield’s Fireside Pizza on Monday (7/5) with Joel Shapira and Wednesday (7/7) with Joel and Bruce Heine; Christine Rosholt does a short set for Sample Night Live at the Minnesota History Theater on Wednesday (7/7); Nichola Miller is back at Spoon River on Thursday (7/8) with Rick Carlson; and Nancy Harms (fresh from a month in NYC) sings at Barbette (7/8). And among our area’s finest instrumentalists, Gordy Johnson and Tommy O’Donnell entertain at Roman Anthony’s (7/2-3); the Zacc Harris Trio at Riverview Wine Bar (7/4); Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the AQ (7/6); the Wolverines Trio at Hell’s Kitchen (7/7); Dave Karr and his quartet return to the AQ on Thursday night (7/8); Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church hosts a “Singin’ Community Picnic” on 7/8 with Maxine Sousé and the Souset (aka Maryann Sullivan, Doug Haining and Kent Saunders). And if you want something for the family, outdoors in the wilds of the Minnesota Zoo, have some fun with Trombone Shorty and Tab Benoit—Shorty was the surprise delight at the 2009 Iowa City Jazz Festival, a real showman but also a terrific trombonist. (And no, he is not all that short either.)

Coming soon:
• July 9-10, Kendra Shank at the AQ (one of the best modern vocalists you will hear)
• July 12-13, Bill Frisell’s Beautiful Dreamers trio with violist Eyvind Kang and drummer Rudy Royston (in town a month ago with sister-in-law Tia Fuller)
• July 16-17, Mulligan Stew at the AQ
• July 17, DakotaFest on Nicollet Mall with Charmaine Neville, Bon-a-Rama, Nachito Herrera, Davina and the Vagabonds, Youth Stage and more (and free)
• July 23, Lizz Wright and Evan Christopher with the Minnesota Orchestra at Orchestra Hall

Photos: Bruce Henry; Chris Morrissey; Jake Baldwin (Photos by Andrea Canter)