Friday, January 31, 2014

Faces of the Artists Quarter #48

Steve Kenny (2012)

© Andrea Canter

Some veteran musicians would think it beneath their dignity to be an opening act. Trumpeter Steve Kenny recognized the opportunity to develop a band, hone a body of music, build an audience and mentor young talent with a weekly opening act at a world-class jazz club. For the past few years, Wednesdays at 7 pm belonged to Steve Kenny and the Bastids, yielding midway through 2013 to a new configuration known as Steve Kenny's Group 47. (Why 47? That's Steve's position on the iconic 1999 poster that greeted patrons entering the AQ in the lower level of the Hamm Building--sort of an indoor version Art Kane's famed jazz photo, "A Great Day in Harlem.")

Steve Kenny and his flumpet (2012)
Steve was a young lion himself back in the day -- in the early 90s when he was a founding member of the Illicit Sextet, then one of the most popular jazz ensembles in the Twin Cities. That band recorded Chapter One... and soon disappeared. As did Steve himself, and he is often quick to explain his absence and time spent doing time for some bad choices. But that was then. Steve's paid it back in more ways than one. The Illicit Sextet resurfaced about four years ago, and soon went into Chapter Eleven-- their long-awaited second recording and an intermittent series of gigs at the AQ, Jazz Central, the Twin Cities Jazz Festival and beyond. And there's still more to come.

But Steve Kenny's living legacy is that series of Wednesday nights at the AQ, putting the spotlight on some young guys just breaking into the jazz scene like pianist Jesse Mueller, bassist Adam Tucker, drummer Aaron Rupar, saxophonist Dejen Tesfagiorgis, and somehow fitting that description that always ran on the AQ website -- "part jam session, part stand-up comedy, and part game show."  Steve and the band could be as entertaining as they were musical. And it was an open set -- it was part jam session, with invited guests each week as well as the opportunity to sit in. High school pianist Will Kjeer sat in -- and when Steve reorganized the band as Group 47, Will signed on. UW-River Falls saxophonist Thomas Strommen sat in early with Group 47 and now is part of the band. Their first recording, Straight to Vinyl, is in the can.

Wednesday nights are dark at the AQ and so far there is no weekly replacement gig for Steve Kenny, but I suspect it won't be long. There's too much music, too much energy, and too many young talents who need that "jam session, stand-up comedy and game show" opportunity. And too many of us who miss it. As for the Illicit Sextet, they will come together somewhere soon - and maybe record Chapter 47?

Steve Kenny's Group 47 (2013)