Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Revolving Door of Local Jazz Venues

Fat Kid Wednesdays at the Ice House
 © Andrea Canter

Last night I enjoyed my first visit to the new Ice House, a restaurant/bar/club in south Minneapolis housed in, yes, an old Ice House. JT Bates is booking cutting edge jazz every Monday night, on the order of his gig at the old Clown Lounge but in a much larger and definitely more upscale setting.  James Buckley is booking weekends which for now include bass/piano duos anchored by Adam Linz. My inaugural visit featured Fat Kid Wednesdays, a trio of local geniuses (Linz, JT, and sax giant Michael Lewis) with a reputation that extends way beyond the Midwest to New York (where they’ve played The Stone) and Europe. Since the closing of the Clown two years ago, FKW gigs here have been few and far between. Judging by the crowd response to their bop-heavy opening set last night, we’ll be seeing them more often. And nothing brings in a cross-generational audience better than Monk and Parker filtered through sensibilities that run from Coltrane to Ornette to the Shaggs.  Bathed in glowing purple light shafts on a perfectly raised stage, FKW sound better than ever, eliciting not only enthusiastic applause but generally rapt attention. Sure, there were very few of us AARP-eligible patrons but, somehow, no one made us feel old. And any bar that stocks Brau Brothers Milk Stout is on my A-list.

"Three Flights Up" at The Nicollet
Yet tonight, I will make my last visit to The Nicollet, a coffee house just a few blocks down Nicollet from the Ice House. After about a year offering up great coffees, pizzas, and music—jazz on Tuesdays booked by Maryann Sullivan and Rhonda Laurie, The Nicollet will close this weekend, making tonight the finale of the Tuesday series. The main fare at The Nic has been swing—swinging small ensembles, vocalists, and usually a swarm of swing dancers who manage to find the beat even when the musicians on stage take a post-modernist direction. Mostly this no frills, no bar, no cover venue has hosted talented up-and-comers like Emily Green (who is on stage tonight) and Maryann herself, and established but under-presented veterans like Rhonda and Vicky Mountain. And we’ve heard some of the most popular instrumentalists in the area as well, including Rick Carlson, Chris Lomheim, Doug Haining and Dave Graf. Maybe the lack of a liquor license proved fatal. And this corner location has not proven successful since the Acadia moved to the West Bank. 

Rhonda Laurie and Maryann Sullivan

Over the past few years, it seems the jazz scene has gone through continuous cycles of openings and closings. But each venue makes a unique contribution to the community. The loss of The Nicollet is not compensated by the opening of The Ice House. They each support the music in a different way, and we need both. Best wishes to The Nicollet owner Jeremy –maybe he will find a way to bring his ideas to another venue. And best wishes to JT, James, and the crew at The Ice House to sustain their initial success.

All music venues need audience support. Get out to the concert halls and theaters, the long-time jazz clubs, and especially the smaller scale venues in your community that often offer top-rung talents at little or no cover. Let’s keep jazz alive – all of it, everywhere.

The Ice House is located at 2528 Nicollet; Monday night jazz sets at 9:30 and 11:30; weekend sets at 8 pm, cover $5 if any. Hear the final Tuesday jazz night at The Nicollet (corner of Franklin and Nicollet) with vocalist Emily Green, no cover, 7:30-9:30 pm.