Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Real Jazz Club: Talents from Near and Far at the Artists Quarter

© Andrea Canter

What’s happening to jazz clubs? The question comes up more and more often as I talk with local (and not local) fans and musicians alike. Even top clubs like Yoshi’s in the Bay Area and our beloved Dakota seem to be booking an increasingly eclectic array of music despite their “jazz club” monikers and reputations. The truth is that jazz is neither sustaining record labels or jazz clubs these days. We can debate the many reasons why but the bottom line remains—fewer quality music venues are presenting real jazz.

Fortunately, at least for the audiences and musicians, there are still a few clubs like the Artists Quarter in St. Paul, where it is rare indeed to see a booking that can not be defined under the jazz umbrella. Long a haven for local talents (a club run by musicians, for musicians), the AQ used to book more national acts, and that trend is slowly but surely returning as owner Kenny Horst is booking artists like Eddie Gomez, Christian Howes, and, in October, Wallace Roney. And tickets are not much more than the usual for weekends—usually around $20. To keep his costs down so that he can offer these artists at an affordable price, Kenny looks for artists who will play with a local supporting band or who are touring nearby with an open date.

The great Bill Evans alum, bassist Eddie Gomez and his touring trio brought virtuosic excitement to the AQ a few weeks ago, followed by violinist Christian Howes and most of his touring band. Howes picked up Chris Bates to fill out his quartet, hardly a downside to two electrifying evenings. October finds a one-night stand with the Wallace Roney Quintet on October 19th. Acclaimed trumpeter Roney has toured and recorded extensively with ex-wife pianist Geri Allen and brother/saxophonist Antoine Roney. Making it a jazz-errific week, on October 21-22, the AQ also hosts young drummer Matt Slocum and his trio with pianist Sam Yahel and bassist Massimo Bialcati, with whom he has toured and recorded for the past few years. Slocum is a Twin Cities native now based in New York. After two nights of performing, Matt will hang around to present a free master class on Sunday, also at the AQ (12:30-2 pm).

And augmenting Chicago-based, St Paul native saxophonist Pat Mallinger’s annual Thanksgiving weekend, the AQ welcomes home another restless native, internationally renowned pianist Bill Carrothers (November 25-26). Carrothers fills clubs (real jazz clubs) all over Europe. Kenny snags him every chance he gets.

Of course in between the national acts, the AQ continues to present the best of the Twin Cities, be it Pete Whitman’s X-Tet or Phil Hey Quartet for their monthly Thursday night gigs, the weekly funky blues and grit of the Tuesday Night Band, the weekend blasts with Bryan Nichols, the Atlantis Quartet, Red Planet, Debbie Duncan and more, or the bimonthly presentation of “Young Artists.”

Jazz is alive at the Artists Quarter, from coast to coast and from down the street.

For updated calendar and more information, visit

Photos: (Top to bottom) Eddie Gomez at the AQ in September; Matt Slocum (coming October 21-22); Wallace Roney (coming October 19); Bill Carrothers (coming with Pat Mallinger on November 25-26) (all photos by Andrea Canter)