Friday, August 27, 2010

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, August 27 - September 2

© Andrea Canter

Summer may be ending but jazz in the Twin Cities continues to run hot. And showing plenty of stamina over a career spanning about 7 decades, Minnesota’s First Family of Music matriarch Jeanne Arland Peterson helps kick of this weekend with her 89th birthday bash at the Artists Quarter (8/27-28), surrounded by most of her jazzy offspring and assorted friends. Jeanne’s career is a history of Minnesota music, from her days singing and playing piano for WCCO to performances with the likes of Bob Hope and Sonny Stitt. Last year, Jeanne released a retrospective recording, 88 keys, and proceeded to play all 88 in high fashion at her birthday/CD release party. We can expect similar energy and agility at the keyboard this weekend when she’s joined by Billy, Patty, Linda, Paul and more Petersons.

Never on stage enough, Ginger Commodore and her GCQ return to the Dakota for one night (8/27) of velvety vocals backed by one of the tightest bands around—Lee Blaske on keys, Mark Weissburg on bass, husband Bobby on drums, and frequent guest Kathy Jensen on sax and Deevo on guitar. Ginger’s range of both notes and emotion in always a source of inspiration.

Sunday night (8/29), it’s really the final farewell performance for vocalist Nancy Harms, who will be heading to New York City for new adventures by the end of the week. It’s hard to believe Nancy has only been seriously pursuing her singing career for a few years, and her growth in style and repertoire has been exponential. She’s still young, has big ears and considerable passion to both learn and perform—so I predict we will soon see her on the schedules of major East Coast venues. Pick up a copy of her In the Indigo before she leaves! This last gig will be held at the new Northeast Minneapolis club/studio “for the cats, by the cats,” Jazz Central. Headed by pianist Tanner Taylor and drummer Mac Santiago, the former Glacier Studios space has been booking under the radar, but will holds its first Rent Party jam on Monday (8/30). Tanner and Mac have lots of talented friends, so expect a showcase of the best! Check out the website, learn about lessons and gigs, at

A vocalist who spent some time in the Twin Cities early in her career, Karrin Allyson is now as much of a household name as anyone on the jazz planet, thanks to multiple Grammy nominations and a dozen remarkable recordings. And she plays one mean piano as well! Her latest release is a “best of” compilation, as was her last gig at the Dakota in spring 2009. And Karrin’s “best” is a very deep well to draw from, from French and Brazilian repertoire to Coltrane, Shorter and Porter. And she’s evolved as much as an entertainer as artist, giving us a show that sparkles and sizzles every time. She’s back for two nights at the Dakota (8/29-30).

Less known locally, singer Joyce Lyons returns to the Dakota on Thursday (9/2). Joyce is a veteran vocalist who moved here from New York about a year ago, and is slowly but surely gaining a reputation as one of our best vocal jazz assets. She swings hard with sure intonation and guarantees that everyone, from the band on stage to her audience, has a lot of fun while enjoying first-class music.

Then there’s the usual, long list of jazz gigs around the metro. Vocalists: Maud Hixson with Rick Carlson soothes sublimely at Ingredients Café (8/27) and joins Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza in Richfield (8/30); Sophia Shorai, hot off her CD release, takes it to Hell’s Kitchen (8/28); Charmin Michelle has her usual busy week, with Rick Carlson at Crave in the West End Shops, and later at Cinema Ballroom on Sunday (8/29), then Wednesday (9/1) with Denny Malmberg (international night) at Fireside Pizza in Richfield; Lee Engele with the Moonlight Serenaders for Music in the Parks at Como Park on Sunday (8/29); the Steele Family (all of them!) are “unplugged” at the Dakota on Wednesday (9/1).

hot spots: Fantastic Fridays at the Black Dog (8/27); Patrick Harrison’s semi-weekly “Experience” at the Aster Café on Friday (8/27) and again Tuesday (8/31), and a late night gig at Clubhouse Jager (8/27); Eric Gravatt in a rare gig at Café Maud (8/27); James Buckley Trio adding zing to Sea Change at the Guthrie (8/27-28); young drum phenom Sean Carey, solo CD release at the Southern Theater (8/27); Jack Brass at Favor (8/28); Joann Funk at Luna Rossa (8/28); the ever-exciting George Maurer at the Dakota (8/28); the monthly Free Music Society gig at the Acadia Café (8/29); Fat Kid Wednesdays or a reasonable alternative at the Clown on Monday (8/30) and more TBA excitement on Tuesday (8/31); Cory Wong Quartet followed by the tireless Tuesday Night Band at the AQ on Tuesday (8/31); Big Band Night at the Shorewood (8/31); the Wolverines weekly gig at Hell’s Kitchen (9/1); the Dean Granros Trio with Billy Peterson and Kenny Horst at the AQ (9/1).

Labor Day Weekend: I’ll be at the Detroit Jazz Festival and assume some area jazzers will be at the Chicago Festival. But if you stick around town, you will have a few rewards:

• September 3-4, the Phil Hey Quartet in a rare weekend gig at the AQ
• September 3-4, Nachito Herrera at the Dakota
• September 4, Vicky Mountain and James Allen at First Course Bistro
• September 5, Rene Marie in a very rare and long overdue appearance at the Dakota
• September 6-7, a rare small club gig with the Ramsey Lewis Trio at the Dakota

Coming Soon
• September 9, REEL Jazz, “Straight No Chaser” at the Trylon cinema
• September 9, Connie Evingson and the Hot Club of Detroit at the Dakota
• September 10-11, Kyle Asche Trio with Melvin Rhyne at the AQ
• September 10-11, Concrete and Grass Lowertown Festival at Mears Park
• September 11, Dakota Combo open auditions at MacPhail
• September 12, Turtle Island Quartet at the Dakota
• September 15, Chris Lomheim Trio, Tribute to Bill Evans at the AQ
• September 16-17, Joe Sample and the Jazz Crusaders at the Dakota
• September 17-18, Atlantis Quartet at the AQ
• September 21-22, Esperanza Spalding at the Dakota
• September 24-25, Ben Thomas with the Laura Caviani Trio at the AQ
• September 26, CC Septet at the Bloomington Center for the Arts
• September 30, Charles Lloyd Quartet at the Dakota
• October 7, Anat Cohen at the Dakota
• October 7, Dave Douglas & Keystone at the Walker Art Center
• December 8-9, McCoy Tyner at the Dakota

Photos (top to bottom): The ever virtuosic Jeanne Arland Peterson (at her 88th birthday gig); almost a hometowner, Karrin Allyson; savvy newcomer Joyce Lyons. (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Jazzin' Up Community Education

© Andrea Canter

With schools starting fall terms, the big school known as “community education” will soon get underway as well, bring a wide range of learning opportunities to teens and adults. In Minneapolis, St. Paul and beyond, you can take a class in Indian cooking, salsa dancing, genealogy, home financing, digital photography, iPhone apps, or sign up for weekly volleyball or grown-up field trips. And thanks to KBEM radio, this fall you can expand your jazz horizons with your favorite Jazz 88 hosts through two month-long series of classes on America’s indigenous music. This is a new venture for KBEM, and a welcome one for those of us who have been hoping for a revival of the jazz appreciation classes at MacPhail.

The October series, held 7-9 pm at Washburn High School in southwest Minneapolis (201 W. 49th Street), includes “REEL Jazz: Jazz in Film and On Stage” presented by Morning Show host Ed Jones (10/6); “The Big Band Scene” with (who else?) Minnesota’s big band guru Jerry Swanberg (10/13); “Hillbilly Jazz” with Phil Nussbaum (Bluegrass Saturday Morning) and Kevin Barnes (String Theory), an exploration of bluegrass (10/20), and “Women in Jazz” with Maryann Sullivan, host of Corner Jazz, and local songbird (and jazz scholar!) Maud Hixson.

The November series, also 7-9 pm, will be held at Northeast Middle School in the heart of northeast Minneapolis (2955 Hayes NE): “Jazzin’ the Blues” with Blue Friday host Calvin Worthen looks at the birth of the blues (11/3); “Bing, Frank and How the Microphone Changed Singing Forever” with renowned vocalist, radio host and jazz historian Arne Fogel (The Bing Shift) provides insight into the transformation of vocal jazz once amplification came along (11/10); and Michele Jansen (KBEM Station Manager) and Steve Blons bring their weekly “Jazz and the Spirit” to life (11/17).

One of the cool things about the KBEM series is that you can register for each session separately, $15 each ($10 for KBEM members). Registration opens August 30th, online at

KBEM is more than a jazz radio station, but also a jazz and broadcasting education program that will celebrate 40 years of service to the community later this fall. In addition to a long list of invaluable original programs like Corner Jazz, The Bing Shift, String Theory and Jazz & the Spirit, KBEM broadcasts such syndicated programs as Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz; sponsors the REEL Jazz film series, scholarship programs, “Jazz After Work,” “Gallery Grooves,” “Restaurant Tour” gatherings, and a long list of music events; and provides high school students with training and live practice opportunities as radio broadcasters. And along the way, those students learn a lot about jazz.

Staffer Kevin Barnes has been the driving force behind the Community Ed series. “We've been working on more partnership potentials with MPS Community Ed over the past year,” he told me in a recent email. “They're a perfect partner fit to KBEM's Educational Mission. In the process of brainstorming with Brenda Eccleston [MPS Community Ed], I threw out the concept of a Jazz88 Community Ed Series taught by the show hosts. Brenda loved the concept and pulled together the logistics, venues, scheduling, etc. It's wonderful awareness outreach for Jazz88 as well.”

And it seems like a perfect way for KBEM to bring its 40th anniversary celebration to the larger community. Educating the public about jazz in an informal, low-cost context such as the new community ed series can only expand the base of support for the music by enhancing the perspective of those who are already on board and intriguing those who have been wondering what it’s all about. And merely offering classes in jazz within the large catalog of options adds a mainstream legitimacy, which every art form needs these days.

If you are not already listening to KBEM regularly, check it out at 88.5 FM and visit the website at

Photos/images (top to bottom): The Jazz 88 logo banner; Maryann Sullivan; Michele Jansen; Maud Hixson; Arne Fogel (photos by Andrea Canter)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Craig Taborn's Piano Magic

© Andrea Canter

Hey kid, wanna hear some cool piano? Go to:

Some of You Tube is, naturally, poor quality in both video and audio. Not so, this 7+ minute recording of Twin Cities’ native pianist Craig Taborn in a solo, live radio broadcast last spring in Amsterdam. Not only is the sound quite decent (after all, it was a live radio broadcast), but someone with a steady hand and good eye held the camera which often closes in on Taborn’s flying hands, offering a much better view than one would get from even the front row.

This is the Craig Taborn I love most, solo acoustic piano. He might be designated the Downbeat “Rising Star Electronic Keyboards,” but frankly, to me anyway, he is one of the true monsters of the acoustic piano. This snippet of his recent solo work suggests the trajectory of Bach had Johann Sebastian time-travelled into the 21st century, retaining his mastery of improvisation and invention while gathering the harmonic and rhythmic sensibilities of one coming of age on 80s rock, hip-hop and the likes of Schoenberg and Cecil Taylor (to say nothing about teen years jamming with Reid Anderson, Dave King and Adam Linz).

Craig’s name keeps popping up on highly regarded recent and upcoming releases, from David Binney, Chris Lightcap, Roscoe Mitchell, Michael Formanek and more. He’ll be in Chicago next month, first for the Jazz Festival with Nicole Mitchell and later at the Jazz Showcase with saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa. It’s worth the drive to the Windy City. Maybe he’ll get a gig at home soon?

Photo: Craig Taborn on acoustic piano at the 2009 Iowa City Jazz Festival with Chris Potter's Underground. (Photo by Andrea Canter)

Jazz Guitar Heroes

© Andrea Canter

About once each year, AQ owner Kenny Horst hosts a “Jazz Guitar Hero” weekend, assembling a handful of the area’s best pickers and pluckers who perform individually and in varying combinations over the weekend. This year that weekend stretched out as New York guitarist and longtime AQ favorite Greg Skaff headed a diverse line-up from Wednesday through Friday; the encore tonight, sans Skaff, includes an awesome threesome of our own Dean Granros, Cory Wong and Billy Grazcyk.

Skaff noted that it is one thing to be a good guitarist, another to be a “hero.” But he has earned that status among the local audience, dating back to his days performing with the band for the touring production of Rent, back when the AQ was located in the McColl Building on Jackson Street. Seems that some members of the company, in residence for two months, were housed in makeshift apartments above the basement jazz club. The story, straight from Kenny Horst, is that young Skaff asked for the whereabouts of a jazz club, and was told to simply take the elevator down to the basement. Greg and his guitar became regulars over the course of Rent’s run. Now he returns nearly annually. That qualifies as a guitar hero.

I missed Greg’s opening night in trio with Billy Peterson and Kenny Horst. I did catch the late set Thursday night in organ trio format with Kenny and “Downtown” Bill Brown, spiced up for a few tunes with the surprise (well, not really) appearance of organ hero Joey DeFrancesco and his drummer, Byron Lanham, who were in town for what seemed to be an unannounced appearance backing David Sanborn at the Minnesota Zoo Amphitheater. (Why a surprise? Their collaboration with Sanborn has been active all summer, but did any press mention it? Imagine the turnout at the zoo if the Strib or even the Zoo’s press had listed Joey?) Skaff himself was among the surprised, but in true hero fashion, let serendipity take its course, and the result was cool if not all-that-tight music; everyone had fun, most of all, I think, the band. Joey is one of the legends of Hammond B-3, but hearing him back-to-back with Bill Brown reminds us that we have incredible local talent. Anyway, Bill sort of looks like a slim Joey D. Maybe we are due for an “Organ Hero Weekend.” (I’m sure Joey would come back!)

Last night (Friday) was Greg’s last gig this trip, and this time it was a round robin with Billy Peterson and Kenny doing extended duty, backing, in turn, Loren “Wally” Walstad, Chris Olson, and Skaff, each doing a short set before giving the band a break. Three very different styles hung together via a common theme of melodic explorations over jazz standards and original tunes--Wally most songful on “I Hear a Rhapsody;” Chris offering a poignant blues composed for ailing Dean Magraw (“Blues in Dean”) while puzzling some in the crowd with his “traveling guitar,” which looks like a piece of hand-shaped black tubing attached to a cast-off fretboard; and Greg touching on all that I like about acoustic-based modern guitar with a couple of Monk tunes (“Little Rootie Tootie,” “Epistrophy”) and the too-seldom played “Lotus Blossom.” Sometimes, I find 21st century jazz guitarists either mired in ambient noodling or overindulging in high-tech wizardry, more feats of engineering than art. My guitar heroes use technology to elevate, not eviscerate, the music. Chris Olson walked that fine line with graceful balance, using loops and pedals that allowed his music to dance.

On the subject of “guitar heroes,” it was coincidental but timely that the Twin Cities Jazz Society’s August offering of its “Young Artists Series” was pushed into this week and put a guitar trio in the spotlight. Veteran guitar heroes start early. On Thursday night, playing the opening set, three recent high school grads brought us Three-Way Stop. Two just graduated in June—guitarist Keefe Tarnow (St Paul Central) will spend the coming year jamming around town before going on to Berklee in Boston; bassist Ted Olsen (Como Park) takes off next week for studies at Luther College in Decorah, IA; and drummer Lars Johnson is the elder, a year into studies at McNally Smith. The trio has only been together a few months, but they offered tight arrangements of great jazz classics from Wayne Shorter and Freddie Hubbard as well as original compositions, from boppish to funky. Watch out for these guys.

And one can not conjure “guitar hero” in the Twin Cities without thoughts of Dean Magraw. Dean’s been out of commission, recovering from a bone marrow transplant, so we’ve been missing his marvelously eclectic music and humor, his trio, his Red Planet, and other projects, and of course his contributions to Jazz Guitar Hero weekends. We can all be heroes for Dean tomorrow, August 22nd, at the benefit hosted by Celtic Junction, which runs from noon til dark and features a growing list of performers across all genres associated with Dean’s music. Which is just about everything with notes. So, “Do the Dean.” (Visit for more information about the benefit, for updates about Dean, and more.)

Jazz guitar—the Twin Cities are filled with heroes. Last night, New Yorker Greg Skaff, ears fixed on Chris Olson at the moment, leaned over and whispered, “I can’t believe the talent you have here!” Sometimes, neither can I.

One more night of “jazz guitar heroes” at the AQ, tonight (Saturday) at 9 pm. Photos: Greg Skaff with Billy Peterson; Wally Walstad; Chris Olson; Keefe Tarnow of “Three Way Stop,” Dean Magraw (2008). (All photos at the AQ by Andrea Canter

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, August 20-26

© Andrea Canter

I spent a week without any live jazz and with a very weak signal from the Bay Area jazz radio station. It was a big week in many ways, too, with the deaths of ground-breaking vocalist Abbey Lincoln and jazz photographer Herman Leonard, and locally, on a much brighter note, with the return of Kelly Rossum for two nights at the Artists Quarter (I hear it was sensational). I’ll stick around this week for sure, to catch another night with Greg Skaff at the AQ, Ingo Bethke late night at the Dakota, another benefit for guitarist Dean Magraw, and Nancy Harms last Twin Cities gigs before becoming a real New Yorker.

The Artists Quarter periodically holds “Jazz Guitar Hero Weekends,” but this past week initiated an extended celebration featuring New York guitar whiz Greg Skaff, first in trio with Billy Peterson and Kenny Horst, last night in an organ trio format with “Downtown” Bill Brown and special guest Joey DeFrancesco for a few tunes during the late set. Joey will be at the Minnesota Zoo tonight (8/20) supporting saxman David Sanborn in the outdoor amphitheater; Patty Peterson and Friends opens. But guitar week continues at the AQ, with one last night with Greg Skaff and two local guitar heroes, Chris Olson and Loren “Wally” Wolsted. Skaff leaves town but the guitar extravaganza continues into Saturday (8/21) with a triple bill featuring Cory Wong, Dean Granros and Billy Grazcyk.

You can have your cake and eat it too Saturday night, by taking in the first set at the AQ and then heading over to the Dakota for Late Night with Ingo Bethke, one of the most unique ensembles in area music. There’s a tuba (Stefan Kac), for starters. Outside of New Orleans brass bands, we don’t get to hear much from the big horn in jazz circles. Then there’s the original music from band members, as intriguing as the ensemble’s name. Great fare for night owls. (And if you need a blues fix, come early for prime time with Davina and the Vagabonds!) Irvin Mayfield is back in town (maybe he never left?) for another performance at Orchestra Hall, this time with Los Hombres Caliente, the Latin/New Orleans band he coleads with percussionist Bill Summers (8/21).

If that does not sound like a sufficiently eclectic weekend, check out the Burnsville Art and All That Jazz Festival. Friday night features a ticketed show with guitar great Larry Carleton; Saturday is the free afternoon festival with the Jack Brass Band, Steve Clarke and the Working Stiffs, the young Penguins, and a smooth finish in the evening with Lao Tizer followed by Jesse Cook. Maybe this is really Art and All That Music but with concessions and art, it will be a day of fun. Hearing young jazz musicians is also fun as well as inspiring. For an indoor activity Saturday afternoon, consider the final performance of the Walker West Music Academy jazz camp's advanced ensemble, on the stage of the Dakota with special guest clinician Wessell "Warm Daddy" Anderson. Just an hour and no cover.

Sunday (8/22) brings another fund raiser at Celtic Junction for guitar hero Dean Magraw, on the road to recovery from lymphoma and a bone marrow transplant. The music starts early afternoon and goes on all day, bringing together a wide variety of musicians representative of Dean’s own eclectic career. More about Dean, the benefit and more at .

Sunday (8/22) also brings a preview of Connie Evingson’s new project, with "Summer Samba" at the Jungle Theater (two shows). Ever searching for new directions, this time Connie is focusing on the music of Normal Gimbel who wrote English lyrics for many popular Brazilian songs (e.g., “Girl From Ipanema). The recording will come out soon, but you can get a taste when Connie, Joan Griffith, Gordy Johnson and Dave Schmalenberger hit the Jungle Stage (4 & 7:30 pm).

You have three final opportunities to hear Nancy Harms before she moves to New York at the end of the month—brunch at Hell’s Kitchen on Sunday (8/22); a late dinner or cocktails at Barbette on Thursday (8/26), and at the new "musicians' venue", Jazz Central, on Sunday, 8/29. Sure, she’ll be back now and then, in fact she already has a commitment at the Capri Theater on October 9-10. But then she’ll be a visiting artist! Catch her as a local thrush while you can.

Oh yeah, the new Jazz Central is opening to the public. Headed by local jazzers Tanner Taylor and Mac Santiago, this little space in the former Glacier Studios on Central Ave (where Nordeast meets Southeast) is "for the cats, by the cats," a venue for performance and teaching. This coming week, young drum legacy Nic Bortolussi's trio with Tanner Taylor and Steve Pikal make some music (8/24) with special guest, saxophonist Don Jacques.

That’s just some of the great talent on call this week. More vocalists? Nichola Miller (with Tanner Taylor) at Hell’s Kitchen Friday (8/20); Charmin Michelle with Joel Shapira on Saturday (8/21) at Midtown Global Market; Charmin and Rick Carlson at Crave in the West End Shops on Sunday (8/22) and with Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza in Richfield (8/23 & 8/25); Lee Engele and Denny Malmberg at Pardon My French in Eagan Saturday night (8/21); Lee again on Monday (8/23) with Reuben, Diane and Dan Ristrom in "Jazz American Style' at the Old Log Theater and yet again for Pops on the Porch at the White Bear Lake Historical Society on Thursday (8/26); Reuben and Dan Ristrom at Sawatdee in Maple Grove on Wednesday (8/25); Arne Fogel at Hell’s Kitchen on Thursday (8/26).

Instrumental jazz is alive and well: Fantastic Fridays hosted by Nicholas Hanson at the Black Dog (8/20); Patrick Harrison at the Aster Café (8/20); JoAnn Funk at Luna Rossa in Stillwater (8/21); Alden Ikeda, Adam Linz and Chris Thomson experiment at Café Maude on Saturday (8/21); the James Buckley Trio brings music with an edge to Sea Change (8/21); Milo Fine with Aerosol Pike and Viv Corringham at Homewood Studios (8/22); Fat Kid Wednesdays does their Monday thing at the Clown Lounge (8/23); Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express pulls into the Dakota on Tuesday (8/24); Park Evans, Graydon Peterson and Jay Epstein bring fun and clamor to the Clown Lounge (8/24); Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the AQ (8/24); How Birds Work returns to the AQ on Wednesday (8/25); Gary Berg and his quartet bring life to Thursday night at the AQ (8/26).

Coming Soon!
• August 27, Happy 89th to Jeanne Arland Peterson at the AQ with Irv Williams and Cliff Brunzell
• August 29-30, Karrin Allyson at the Dakota
• September 9, Connie Evingson with the Hot Club of Detroit at the Dakota
• September 10-11, Kyle Asche Trio with Melvin Rhyne at the AQ
• September 11, Selby Avenue Jazz Festival (Gerald Veasley, local artists)
• September 12, Turtle Island Quartet (Music of Jimi Hendrix) at the Dakota
• September 15, Chris Lomheim’s Bill Evans Tribute at the AQ
• September 16-17, Joe Sample and the Crusaders at the Dakota
• September 21-22, Esperanza Spalding at the Dakota
• September 24-25, Laura Caviani and Ben Thomas at the AQ
• September 26, CC Septet at the Bloomington Art Center (TCJS “Jazz From J to Z”)
• September 30, Charles Lloyd Quartet at the Dakota
Photos (top to bottom): Greg Skaff (during Thursday nights' Guitar Hero set); Dean Magraw; Nancy Harms ("farewell" set at the AQ). (All photos by Andrea Canter)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, August 13-19

© Andrea Canter

I always have mixed feelings writing about the music I will miss when on vacation. On the one hand, it’s always gratifying to realize what a rich jazz community we have here; on the other hand, why does Kelly Rossum have to return the one summer weekend I am out of town?

Just about a year ago, Kelly moved to New York to expand his musical horizons, and if you look at his website and blog, you know that he has done exactly that. It’s not something that happens overnight in the Big Apple, but in the past year, Kelly has been sitting in, subbing, and finding his way, as well as launching a new project or two of his own. This summer he took a break from the Big Apple Hassle and taught at the Shell Lake and MacPhail jazz camps and went Down Under to Sidney, Australia as a guest artist and adjudicator for the International Trumpet Guild. After winding up the MacPhail camp, he’ll bring his long-standing quartet to the Artists Quarter on Friday (8/13) and a new quartet on Saturday (8/14), definitely gigs worth the nuisance of another weekend of highway construction! Friday’s band will be pianist Bryan Nichols, bassist Chris Bates and drummer JT Bates; on Saturday, Kelly and Chris will join up with the Atlantis Quartet’s Brandon Wozniak on sax and Pete Hennig on drums, each a stellar talent in his own right and in ensemble, it will be a monster mash of improvisation.

You only have a few more chances to hear Nancy Harms before she moves to New York. After her official farewell last weekend at the Artists Quarter, she still has a few smaller venues lined up, including Sunday night (8/15) at the Red Stag.

I’ll be back in time for the start of Guitar Hero Week at the Artists Quarter, featuring New York guitarist (and AQ favorite) Greg Skaff Wednesday through Friday (8/18-20) in three different configurations: On Wednesday (8/18), Greg bops and weaves with the great Billy Peterson on bass and AQ owner Kenny Horst on drums; on Thursday night (8/19), make it an organ trio with “Downtown” Bill Brown and Kenny Horst; on Friday ( night (8/20), Greg launches the Guitar Hero Weekend gigs with fellow six-stringers Chris Olson and Loren “Wally” Walstad. (Come back Saturday night for a local line up of Dean Granros, Cory Wong and Billy Grazcyk.)

And what about our future guitar and otherwise jazz heroes? Come down to the AQ for the free early show on Thursday (8/19) for a set with Three-Way Stop, a trio of just-out-of-high school musicians performing via the Twin Cities Jazz Society’s Young Artists Series. The band features Keefe Tarnow on guitar, Ted Olsen on bass and Lars Johnson on drums.

The Dakota this week presents a wide range of music, from the second night of Dr. John (8/13) and the New Orleans rockers The Radiators (8/14-15) to a night with pianist Benny Weinbeck (8/16), New York-based Twin Citian/trumpeter Charlie Caranicus (8/17) and a pair of Petersons, Linda and Jason (8/18). But the Dakota’s jazz act of the week will be the CD release party for young songstress Sophia Shorai and keyboard monster Tommy Barbarella. I hear a lot of the qualities I love about Karrin Allyson in Sophia, and pared down with just piano, this recording (As Long as You're Living) highlights both talents as performers and arrangers. (See for a CD review.)

More jazz around town: Vocals from Erin Schwab at Hell’s Kitchen (8/13); Roxy Cruz with Joe Cruz at Ingredients Café (8/13); Arne Fogel at Ingredients Café (8/14) and with the Acme Jazz Company at the Shorewood (8/17); Charmin Michelle at Crave in the West End Shops with Rick Carlson and at Cinema Ballroom (8/15); and with Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza on Monday (8/16) and Wednesday (8/18); Lee Engele at Lowell Park in Stillwater (8/17); Paula Lammers with the River City Jazz Orchestra at the South St Paul VFW on Tuesday (8/17); Dan and Reuben Ristrom at Sawatdee Maple Grove on Wednesday (8/18); the Women’s City Cabaret (presented by MPR) at the Fitzgerald Theater with host Jearlyn Steele, featuring Audra Suchy, Connie Evingson, Debbie Duncan and Carol Connelly (8/18).

And more instrumental jazz: Fantastic Fridays at the Black Dog (8/13); Joann Funk at Luna Rossa (8/14); Alicia Wiley at Hell’s Kitchen for Sunday Brunch (8/15); Dixieland with the Dick Ramberg Five at the Old Log Theater (8/16); Fat Kid Wednesdays at the Clown Lounge (8/16); Tuesdays at the Clown (8/17); Jack Brass Band at Favor Café (8/17); Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the AQ (8/17); Dan Newton’s Café Accordion at the Loring Pasta Bar (8/17); the Wolverines at Hell’s Kitchen (8/18).

Coming Soon!
• August 20-21, Guitar Hero Weekend at the AQ (Greg Skaff on 8/20)
• August 21, Burnsville Art and All That Jazz at Nicollet Commons
• August 21, Los Hombres Caliente at Orchestra Hall
• August 22, Benefit for Dean Magraw at Celtic Junction
• August 22, Summer Samba with Connie Evingson at the Jungle Theater
• August 27-28, Jeanne Arland Peterson 89th Birthday at the AQ
• August 29-30, Karrin Allyson at the Dakota

Photos (top to bottom): Sophia Shorai and Tommy Barbarella; Kelly Rossum (with his NY haircut) at the AQ last August; Greg Skaff at the AQ; Three-Way Stop--(from left), Ted Olsen, Lars Johnson, Keefe Tarnow. (Rossum and Skaff photos by Andrea Canter; Three-Way Stop amd Shorai/Barbarella courtesy of the musicians.)

I Don't Need What She Hasn't Got (But She Seems to Have It All!)

© Andrea Canter

At the end of Bettye LaVette’s first of two nights at the Dakota, my friend Marjorie noted that “she always gives 110%.” I have never seen Bettye go through the motions. I’ve heard her tell the same story, sing some of the same songs, play with the same band. But she never fails to put her entire soul into a show, into each verse. Dubbed “The Great Lady of Soul,” the title does not only refer to the genre of song and her talent, but indeed to her own soul, that heart that she nearly rips out and flings at the audience. We tend to be quick with our standing ovations in Minnesota. Bettye always earns hers.

The Dakota is a favorite for Bettye LaVette, and it’s not just the food and enthusiastic patrons. Bettye always mentions the Dakota as “where it all started” back in 2004 when she was starting to come back from years as a “talent receiving too little recognition,” victimized by the recording industry following brief, early triumphs. Lowell Pickett “took a chance on an old broad,” she is fond of saying. Well, that old broad has come back with a string of chart-topping albums, awards, national tours…. And last winter, a star performance at the Kennedy Center Honors. Now she has just released another recording, this time putting her soul into the canons of British rock (Interpretations on Anti).

Last night, we heard some of those songs as well as favorites from past outings. She mixed it up with down and gritty (“Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood"), bad and bluesy (“Isn’t It a Pity”), and gut-wrenching balladry (“Love Reign O’er Me”). She pranced across the stage (“They Call It Love”), she prayed to the heavens (“Nights in White Satin”), she sat down on the floor (“Don’t Let the Sun Going Down on Me”). Her voice stayed true and strong, our attention rivted, regardless, all the way through to the last stunning notes of “A Woman Like Me” and her signature encore, “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got.”

You don’t have to be a fan of soul or R&B or blues to appreciate Bettye LaVette. Just love music and have a beating heart. (Might want to keep a defibrillator nearby…)

Photos (top to bottom), Bettye Lavette and the band, and without, all at the Dakota on August 9, 2010. (All photos by Andrea Canter)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

We're Up in Harms! Nancy's Farewell at the AQ

© Andrea Canter

I’m always impressed when, each time I hear a performer, I sense a seismic shift. Not necessarily a quantum leap on the Richter scale, but a definite movement forward brought about by an artistic tremor, a sliding of musical earth as new ideas find light. Such has been my experience with singer, soon-to-be New Yorker, Nancy Harms. To her credit, Nancy’s approach is not easily described or compared. Her early pro gigs—about three years ago—suggested a cautious, sweet-voiced songbird searching for the story in each lyric from the Great American Songbook. And in the past year or so, that caution has dissolved, the songbook has grown to encompass modern jazz repertoire, the still-sweet voice has found new ways to deliver stories such that we hear new lessons in old tales-- just listen to her debut recording, In the Indigo. And if a career’s journey can be defined by the company one keeps, Nancy Harms is on a trajectory that will surely bring her into the realm of the best of modern improvisors.

Last night at the Artists Quarter, Nancy held her “official” farewell bash surrounded by the area’s best support system—pianist Bryan Nichols, bassist Anthony Cox, drummer Jay Epstein, each a formidable and exceptionally creative talent. They had never performed together as a quartet. It was music that bears repeating and recording, from the singular stunning instrumental solos (both Bryan and Anthony—arco and pizzacato-- on “Blue Skies,” Bryan’s staccato passages on his arrangement of “Mood Indigo” and desconstruction of “It Could Happen to You,” both Bryan and Anthony again with their ascending and descending scales on “Night and Day,” Jay’s multi-layered percussion on “How High the Moon”) to the high-kicking ensemble exchanges (the altering light and dark passages of “It Could Happen to You,” the swinging interplay of “How High the Moon,” the exquisite cohesion of “If I Were a Bell,” the abstract haze of “Bye Bye Blackbird”), to Nancy’s well-crafted, heart-stopping interpretations (“Cry Me a River,” “Softly As In a Morning Sunrise,” “My One and Only Love” and in duet with Anthony on “Blue Skies”). The closing tune of the night was also a first for Nancy, a tune sung in Portuguese,"Ciranda Do Mundo" by Edu Krieger. True to her description, the song had a circular motion, sizzling solos from Nichols and Cox, an underlay of samba-swing percussion from Epstein, and Nancy bid us farewell on a very up note.

Nancy has a few more gigs (at the Red Stag, Olive Lounge of the Bloomington Hilton, Hell’s Kitchen) and will return in October to reprise last year’s “Blue” revue at the Capri. But I suspect she will soon be on stage at prime vocalist venues in Manhattan. She won’t be just another wannabe on the New York scene. This young artist from Clara City, Minnesota has big ears and plenty of original ideas to sustain her quest to grow in the Big Apple. In the past few years we’ve seen Michael O’Brien, Kelly Rossum, Jeremy Walker, and now Nancy Harms head off to the jazz center of the universe. We only send the best.

Photos: Nancy Harms; Nancy and the band; Bryan Nichols; Anthony Cox; Jay Esptein. All at the Artists Quarter, August 7, 2010 (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, August 6-12

© Andrea Canter

This week is a great example of the eclecticism of Twin Cities jazz. You can hear (at least one more time) the evolving, exciting voice of Nancy Harms before she moves to New York; you can hear New Orleans brass, dance hall swing and modern big band interpretations in a suburban park; at perhaps the purest jazz club in the Midwest, you can observe the finale of the National Poetry Slam, and at the Midwest’s classiest jazz club, you can hear Texas Swing, the “Great Lady of Soul” interpreting British rock, and one of the grandads of New Orleans, Dr. John.

If you can only get out once this weekend, find your way to the Artists Quarter Saturday night (8/7) for Nancy Harm’s official “Farewell” gig. After developing a very personal style over the past few years, including the release of one of the most exciting jazz projects of 2009 (and beyond), Nancy is taking the plunge into the deep pool of New York. Her June gig in Manhattan at the Bar Next Door and new connections in the Big Apple made the move too enticing, and come the end of the month, Nancy will be on her way. But not before a few more gigs around the Twin Cities, including Saturday night. And just to make the transition easier, she’s on stage with a band that could easily make those folks in Manhattan jealous—pianist Bryan Nichols, bassist Anthony Cox and drummer Jay Epstein. It’s a new configuration for Nancy which only means she’ll find new ideas with every song. (And if you miss Nancy tonight, or want another dose, catch her on Thursday, 8/12, at the Olive Lounge of the Bloomington Hilton.)

Bettye LaVette offers another, albeit very different opportunity to enjoy the human voice when she returns to the Dakota for her annual “soul revue” (8/9-10). She’s not dubbed The Great Lady of Soul for nothing! A teen sensation back when, her career stalled for a couple decades before she came back with a vengeance, performing in 2004 at the Dakota when few clubs would hire her, only to find a new audience. Now she’s had a string of top-ranked recordings and her following grows with each tour. Her new release (Interpretations) finds her grabbing the passion from classic hits of British rock. Did Lennon and McCartney ever dream there was this much emotion to be mined from their book?

And you can cover pretty much the history of jazz in one Sunday afternoon at the Bloomington Jazz Festival at Normandale Lakes Park (8/8). Start out at noon with the New Orleans sounds of the Southside Aces, move on (with your dancing shoes) to the swinging beats of Steve Clarke and the Working Stiffs, and cap your fun with the modern charts of the JazzMN Big Band, with featured vocalist, Connie Evingson. The setting is park-perfect, the music and parking are free, the food vendors on target throughout the afternoon.

Wednesday marks the prime time AQ debut of the Zacc Harris Quartet, featuring some of the hottest talents in town—Zacc on guitar, Bryan Nichols on piano, Chris Bates on bass and JT Bates on drums. Sort of the Atlantis QT, trading sax for piano. These guys are so versatile, they can come together in any number of configurations and make new music.

What else this week? More song: Arne Fogel and the Wolverines at Hell’s Kitchen on Friday night (8/6) and with Jennifer Eckes at Honey on Sunday night (8/8); Vicky Mountain with Chris Lomheim at First Course Bistro (8/7); Dennis Spears at Crave in the West End Shops (8/8); Charmin Michelle at Cinema Ballroom (8/8), at the Old Log Theater (8/9) and with Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (8/11); Maud Hixson with Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza (8/9); Reuben and Dan Ristrom at Sawatdee Maple Grove (8/11); Sophia Shorai at Barbette (8/12)—and plan to join her celebrating her duo CD release with Tommy Barbarella next week (8/19); it’s a winner.

More instrumental jazz: Fantastic Fridays at the Black Dog with Full Moon Rabbit (8/6); Nachito Herrera at the Dakota (8/6-7); Milo Fine at the West Bank School of Music (8/6); Joann Funk at Luna Rossa (8/7); Food Team Trio’s electronic mysteries at Café Maude (8/7); Rick Stack Quartet at the Black Dog (8/8); the “Minnesota Jazz All-Stars” at the Old Log (Cliff Brunzell, Irv Williams, Jeanne Arland Peterson and Percy Hughes with Charmin Michelle) on Monday (8/9); Fat Kid Wednesdays or a reasonably insane alternative at the Clown Lounge (8/9) and Tuesdays at the Clown (8/10); Cory Wong Quartet (early) and Tuesday Night Band (later) at the AQ on Tuesday (8/10); The Wolverines at Hell’s Kitchen (8/11); New Yorkers Jesse Stacken (piano) and Kirk Knuffke (trumpet) at the AQ on Thursday (8/12).

And the hard to classify—Texas swing masters Asleep at the Wheel at the Dakota (8/8) and the one and only Dr. John and the Lower 911 at the Dakota (8/12-13).

Coming Soon!
• August 13-14, Kelly Rossum Quartet at the AQ
• August 18-20, Greg Skaff at the AQ
• August 19, Sophia Shorai/Tommy Barbarella CD Release at the Dakota
• August 22, Connie Evingson and Friends, preview of “Summer Samba” at the Jungle Theater
• August 29-30, Karrin Allyson at the Dakota
Photos (top to bottom): Nancy Harms; Bettye LaVette; the Southside Aces; Zacc Harris with Chris Bates. (All photos by Andrea Canter)

Monday, August 2, 2010

All The Things He Is, And More

© Andrea Canter

I recall a conversation with guitarist Reynold Philipsek about six months ago. Somehow we got onto the topic of our ancestors. Reynold knew a lot more about his central/east European roots than I did, and in fact had recently delved into this part of his past as he contemplated his next recording project. We share some common cultural background—his grandparents came to this country from Upper Silesia, part of Poland. My father's parents came to this country from Poland, although I am not sure exactly where from; I know my mother's family has one branch going back at least to 17th century Czechoslovakia, likely passing through modern day Poland enroute to western Russia where my maternal grandfather was raised. Maybe my affinity for some of the folk melodies Reynold incorporates in his original music reflects that ancient common history.

Last Saturday night, Reynold held a CD release party at the 318 Café in Excelsior to celebrate All the Things You Are. Considering he has put out maybe 40 recordings in 30 years, it's perhaps naïve to say this is his most personal to date. Yet even Reynold makes that claim, and it would be hard to dispute it—in addition to original tunes reflecting that Silesian heritage, the disc includes Latin-titled tunes in honor of his altar-boy experiences in St. Cloud, his love of the poetry of Edgar Allen Poe, reflections on the Northwoods; even the one cover reflects the album's theme, "All the Things You Are." And all the things he is came through with passion and gusto before the sell-out crowd at the 318.

Reynold started the evening solo on the title tune and a few more before inviting his swinging colleagues from East Side and Twin Cities Hot Club to join him in varying combinations. The recording is a mostly solo project but, on many tracks, Reynold duels with himself via overdubs. At the 318, of course, solo meant solo, meaning fewer layers of texture but a more intimate sound. And all the things he is, alone, is quite perfect, perhaps giving his Joe Pass influences more focus. (Reynold noted he took two lessons from Pass, and that those lessons still serve him well.)

Reynold alone is a guitarist of masterful technique, passionate swing, and inventive melodies and harmonies. But add in bassist Matt Senjem and violinist Gary Schulte (TC Hot Club cohorts), and you have the finest of gypsy jazz interplay. Then add in East Side colleagues Michael Bissonnette on percussion (including instruments he has constructed himself) and Clint Hoover on chromatic harmonica, and let bop and swing weave together with a whirling dervish excitement. Bring on some more guitar with local gypsy jazz stalwart Glen Helgesen and young master Kyle Tennis. That's about as many musicians as you can squeeze onto the small stage space at the 318, and as much energy and musical ideas as one can absorb! And an incredible melding of talent for one night in a suburban bar joint.

Special mention re Gary Schulte: Jazz violin is still somewhat of a novelty despite the popularity of the music of Stephane Grappelli and the international acclaim of Regina Carter and Mark O'Connor. If there was artistic justice, then Gary Schulte's name would be mentioned in the same breath. Each time I hear Gary (with the Twin Cities Hot Club, Sidewalk Café or other projects), he reinvents violin for me, and you will never see or hear anyone more passionate about the music or his instrument. Had he pursued Bach or Beethoven, he would be a regular at Carnegie Hall.

In many ways, the Saturday night gig was a gathering of talents deserving wider recognition. I suspect that, had I been flying over the Twin Cities area that evening, I would have spotted a golden glow emanating from a little speck on Lake Minnetonka, a glow like a never-ending sunset, and a glow bright enough to light a path from Excelsior to Upper Silesia where our ancestors were dancing.
Photos (top to bottom): Reynold Philipsek, solo; three guitars--Glen Helgesen, Kyle Tennis and Reynold Philipsek; Kyle and Gary; grand filale with Glen, Kyle, Gary, Reynold and Matt (Michael too far stage right in the percussion loft!), all photos at the 318 Cafe on July 31st. (Photos by Andrea Canter)