|Good Vibes Trio, live at Creation Audio|
© Andrea Canter
I could join others and come up with a top ten recordings list, or a top ten gig list-- although it seems that, save Pamela Espeland, I would probably be alone in the local media in naming a best of anything in jazz for 2014. Instead, I am going to try to recap what I think are the year's jazz highlights more generally.
Despite starting on the very down note of the closing of the Artists Quarter, on balance, 2014 was really a bright year for the local jazz scene:
Although we lost the Artists Quarter, the only fulltime "jazz club" in the area, a handful of local entrepreneurial artists were largely responsible for maintaining, even increasing, the number of jazz performances, as well as opportunities for building audiences and supporting student musicians:
Jeremy Walker. Jeremy has long earned the title of Jazz Impresario, since founding
Brilliant Corners more than a decade ago, followed by Jazz Is Now. In addition
to composing music and releasing the recording for his 7 Psalms
this past spring, Jeremy successfully proposed a jazz concert series at
Orchestra Hall, in the Target Atrium,
which got underway in early December and continues through spring 2015.
|Jeremy Walker, 7 Pslams|
· Zacc Harris. The versatile guitarist and busy bandleader is into a fourth season curating Jazz at Studio Z, putting on a nearly monthly concert and accompanying master class with the top artists and ensembles in the region and sometimes well beyond. Early in 2014, he presented England-based bassist Michael Janisch and his all-star ensemble. Watch for Bill Carrothers and his Irish trio on January 10th.
After a hiatus as a curator (since the closing of the Clown Lounge), JT picked
up where he left off when the Icehouse
opened in 2013, and his Monday night Jazz Implosion series keeps the avant
garde end of the local jazz scene front and center. And he occasionally brings in artists from
the international scene as well, like Tom Rainey and Ingrid Laubrock.
Steve Kenny. Trumpeter and bandleader Steve Kenny brought new jazz programming to two
venues in 2014: With a state arts board grant, he presided over a ten-week "All
Originals" concert series at Studio Z, bringing a different band every
Thursday night to perform original compositions. And starting in late
September, Steve launched a weekly Saturday Night Jazz at
the Black Dog series that is on the calendar for every Saturday in 2015. In
many ways this series recreates the weekend gigs at the Artists Quarter,
featuring many of the same ensembles and same artists who defined the AQ's
music. The space is small and the jazz crowds overflowing, but watch for
expansion (of both!) in 2015. (Sara Remke, owner of the Black Dog,
has increased jazz programming in general -- add her to our hero list!) Another
contribution from Steve is his support of young up-and-comers. As he did for
five years with his Bastids at the AQ, Steve pulls in young talents and
nurtures them a la Art Blakey, currently via his Group 47 ensemble which
includes three college students. He is also booking young and new ensembles for
many of the opening sets on the Black Dog series. And if all the above was not
enough, a few weeks ago Steve and Illicit Productions released the Twin Cities Jazz
Sampler, highlighting thirteen recordings from thirteen bands from the
past few years. There's no better documentation of the vitality of the Twin Cities
Jazz Scene. And Steve calls it Volume One.
. Mac Santiago. Mac and Tanner Taylor opened Jazz Central Studios about four years ago, and for a couple years struggled to find an audience and a rhythm to the nonprofit space's programming. The space is relatively small, the sightlines relatively poor, and parking challenging. But over the past year things seem to have fallen into place, even as Mac took over sole management with Tanner relocating to Iowa. Jazz Central can now claim to be the only full-time jazz space in the metro, with live music at least five nights per week, and with programming that covers pretty much the full range of jazz, from mainstream featured artists to big bands to improvising ensembles to vocal jazz. And Friday nights offer the Bridge Series, "bridging the gap" left by the closing of the Artists Quarter. Many of the Friday night artists were regular performers at the AQ. Often these Bridge gigs are followed by high school and college student jams. Visiting artists often perform at JC on Saturdays, and the space is used for workshops during off-hours. Mac is like a Jazz Santa with a crew of super elves who curate Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights-- Anthony Cox, Pete Whitman, Chris Bates and Graydon Peterson (Wednesday New Music), Maryann Sullivan (Thursday Vocal Jazz), and Zacc Harris (Friday Bridge Series).
· Steve Heckler. Producer of the Twin Cities Jazz Festival since its inception, Steve has greatly expanded the opportunities for local and national artists to perform, adding venues throughout the general downtown Saint Paul area and beyond. The 2014 festival had more bands and venues than ever before, and even more is promised for 2015. A few months ago, Steve announced that the festival was awarded the largest of the Knight Foundation grants to support festivals in 2015 and 2016, and named drummer Francisco Mela as the festival's first Artistic Director.
Pippi Ardennia. There are a lot of jazz artists devoting part of their careers to
educating the next generation but few, if any, have taken the approach of PipJazz
Youth. Vocalist Pippi Ardennia doesn't just invite young artists to
perform. She puts them into her concerts as guest artists with her house band.
They are paid for the gig, expected to rehearse with the band, solo with the
band, and otherwise function like professionals while receiving on-the-job mentoring
from seasoned veterans like Billy Peterson and Glenn Swanson. And once a student musician has appeared
with Pippi, there's a strong probability that he or she will be invited back
and receive more performance and mentoring opportunities over time.
· Jeff Whitmill. Jeff directs the arts programs at St. Barnabas Lutheran Church in Plymouth, and for the past ten years or so, has curated a monthly "Jazz @St. Barney's" concert series that brings the best of mainstream jazz to the west suburbs. Jeff's guest artists form an extensive "who's who" in metro vocal and instrumental jazz, including the likes of Connie Evingson, Maud Hixson, Rick Carlson, Travis Anderson, Phil Mattson, Butch Thompson, Rhonda Laurie, Mary Louise Knutson and an annual holiday blast "Big Band Christmas." The west metro maintains an active, high quality jazz presence thanks to Jeff.
· Jazz Musicians. This is really not a cop out. Anyone who performs and/or teaches this music is not in it for fame or money, but to support the art form. For those of us who take a more passive role in the jazz community, you are our heroes every night.
Can't talk about jazz highlights without mentioning the music that went onto CD or vinyl in the past year. And the easiest way to cover the most music is to point to the Twin Cities Jazz Sampler, produced by Steve Kenny (see above). Of the included tracks recorded in the past year, we enjoyed debut releases from the Adam Meckler Orchestra (When the Clouds Look Like This), Good Vibes Trio, Courageous Endeavors (Prototype), and Group 47 (Straight to Vinyl), as well as the first release from the Chris Lomheim Trio in 20 years (Timeline). But there were more worthy recordings in 2014, including the long-awaited debut from Firebell (Impossible Vacation); the just-last-week December release of Aaron Hedenstrom's A Moment of Clarity; a duo guitar release from local veteran Joel Shapira and New York partner Jack DeSalvo (Inherence); another duo guitar release from local artist David Martin and his Portland, OR cohort Mike Doolin (Tough Commute); a mythical duo of Eric Kamau Gravatt and Dean Magraw (Fire on the Nile); the broadly appealing release from Peter Vircks (What You Believe Is True); a fun-for-all swingfest from Patty (Patrick Harison) and the Buttons (Mercury Blues); an intriguing assemblage of improvisation and original composition from Steven Hobert (Ocean Eyes); the original epic work from Jeremy Walker, 7 Psalms; and a stunning vocal/piano release from Barbara Meyer and Phil Mattson (Down and Up With Love). Although he now lives in Chicago, Bruce Henry's Live and Natural was recorded while he was a Twin Citian, and we have every reason to claim it. And perhaps most remarkable of all, 95-year-old Irv Williams gave us one more, Then Was Then and Now Is Now. In jazz, in the Twin Cities, Now Is Now.
Every year we are blessed with diverse events, gigs, and moments in jazz that linger long after the final notes. 2014 was no exception. In chronological order, and hardly exhaustive, some highlights of the year:
|Adam Linz, Fat Kid Wednesdays at Studio Z|
· Studio Z Winter Jazz Fest (February 15). Another Zacc Harris brainstorm, this night of nonstop jazz included sets from five of our best modern ensembles-- Atlantis Quartet, Zacc Harris Group, Fat Kid Wednesdays, Bryan Nichols Quintet and Graydon Peterson Quartet.
Dakota's "Vocal Showcase" (February-March). During a four-week stretch, the
Dakota presented three of the hottest voices in modern jazz-- Kurt Elling
(February 13), Gregory Porter (February 16) and Cecile McLorin Salvant (March
9). Any one of these artists makes for a memorable night, but hearing veteran
Elling and then two of the most lauded newcomers within such a short period of
time was inspirational and jaw-dropping.
|Cecile McLorin Salvant|
Good Vibes Trio, CD Celebration at Creation Audio (April 6). One of the landmark band debuts of
the past couple years was the launch of Chris Bates' Good Vibes Trio (with Dave
Hagedorn and Phil Hey), a modern Modern Jazz Quartet minus piano. The trio
released its first recording this spring, starting with a small celebration at
Creation Audio where the recording was made. It's an intimate space run by Steve
Weise, and the interaction among musicians and audience was the one thing that
could not be captured on the recording.
|Chris Bates Good Vibes Trio|
Matt Slocum and Friends at Landmark
Center (April 9-10). Twin Cities native drummer Matt
Slocum returned with his trio (Sam Yahel and Massimo
Biolcati) for two nights at Landmark
Center, celebrating his
acclaimed CD, Black Elk's Dream. But this was not just a Slocum showcase, as
each night included not only Slocum's trio but also sets from local pals. Both
nights included a drum duel between Matt and mentor Phil Hey; the Phil Hey
Quartet appeared on the first night, with a solo set from Bryan Nichols and another from the
Dave Karr Quartet on the second night. It was two nights of pure pleasure .
Ragmala Dance with Rudresh Mahanthappa at Walker Art Center (May 15-18). Jazz often finds its way into
multi-media productions, perhaps because it is a relatively elastic art form
that can be interpreted to fit diverse contexts. The acclaimed Ragmala Dance
company collaborated with Rudresh Mahanthappa (sax) along with guitarist Rez
Abbasi for a spectacular run of Carnatic movement and music, Song of the Jasmine. Then they took it
on the road.
|Rez Abbasi and Rudresh Mahanthappa|
|Jazz Central All-Stars|
· Jazz Central All-Stars (May-September). A new addition to the Twin Cities Jazz Festival was this ensemble of six musicians connected to Jazz Central Studios. Their mission was to take jazz on tour throughout small towns in Minnesota, to build an outstate audience for jazz and to provide some educational experiences for young musicians as well. Wherever they went (including Sauk Center, Luverne, Montivideo, Fairbault), the all-stars were well received; for many in the audiences this was a rare opportunity to hear live jazz.
· Twin Cities Jazz Festival (June). With Steve Heckler leading the way (see above), the Twin Cities Jazz Festival is becoming more widely known and more widely attended. The fest continued its Jazz in the Library collaboration with St Paul Public Libraries, whetting jazz appetites with popular performers gigging in the weeks leading up to the festival itself. There were four outdoor stages this year, each with its own corporate sponsor; there were more than 20 small indoor venue throughout downtown St Paul and, for the first time, along the "Green Line" LRT corridor of University Avenue. Final night rains caused some chaos but all headliners found other venues and the sets with Melissa Aldana, Joe Krown and Dianne Reeves took place in smaller, indoor settings. It was a textbook study of flexible logistics.
Zeitgeist Composers at the Festival (June 26-28). A new feature of the jazz festival
was a two-night series of Zeitgeist's commissions, granted to four local jazz
composers for new works that were presented during the festival. These
composers included Zacc Harris, Chris Bates, Steve Kenny and Davu Seru.
|Pat O'Keefe, Steve Kenny premiere new work|
Francois and Sylvan Rabbath (July). Noted bassist and educator Francois
Rabbath was in town for the Twin Cities Bass Camp at McNally Smith, and gave a
magical performance at the History Theater. A couple nights later, his son,
pianist Sylvan Rabbath, gathered some local heavyweights for a gig at The
Icehouse. The French Connection was stunning in both settings.
Irv Williams 95th Birthday (July 26, August 17). Taking a break from his weekly
happy hour gig at the Dakota, the elder statesman of Twin Cities jazz
celebrated his 95th birthday twice this summer: In late July, he released That Was Then, This Is Now with a party
at the Russian Museum of Art and with live music from his trio (with Steve
Blons and Billy Peterson). A few weeks later, Irv held a birthday party at the
Dakota with a lot of surprise guests, including Bobby Lyle. We should all have
so much energy in our 60s and 70s let alone 90s.
|Chris Lomheim Trio|
· Chris Lomheim Trio, CD release at Studio Z (October 18). There were a lot of CD release gigs in 2014 but this one was special in many ways. First, the Chris Lomheim Trio had not recorded an album in nearly two decades. Second, Lomheim himself had done very little composing in nearly two decades. Armed with a state arts board grant, Chris set to work on a set of compositions, gathered old pals Gordy Johnson and Jay Epstein, and spent a few sessions at Wild Sound Studios, yielding Timelines. The celebration took place at Studio Z where it sold out in advance. More chairs were squeezed in and the overflow crowd was treated to an night of gorgeous compositions from a threesome that can stand up to any contemporary comparison.
· Jazz in the Target Atrium, series launch (December 2). Jeremy Walker's new series began as a late set following the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra concert with Cecile McLorin Salvant. So it was already a great evening. Walker played with his "Atrium Jazz Ensemble" (Anthony Cox and JT Bates), alongside three JALCO horns (Marcus Printup, Ted Nash and Vincent Gardner), standards and original Walker tunes. With an audience of about 100 and surrounded by windows opening to Peavy Plaza, it felt a little like Dizzy's at JALC.
Dean Granros live! Once a busy performer in the area, over the past few years,
guitar master Granros has been seldom heard, typically with How Birds Work. But
in the past year, we have seen a lot more of Dean, in particular in duo with
Joel Shapira (CD coming next week!) and heading his own double guitar quartet
with Zacc Harris, Chris Bates and Jay Epstein, at the Black Dog and Jazz
Central. Keep the magic coming, Dean!
Kenny Horst, unretired. Although he is certainly playing less than when he owned
the Artists Quarter, any fears that Kenny would retire from the trapset were
unfounded. We've had the pleasure of hearing Kenny over the past year at Jazz
Central, The Nicollet and the Black Dog, with his own quartet and with Steve
Kenny's What Would Monk Do. He's keeping his sticks sharp and there is no more
joyful drummer in town.
Leigh Kamman (1922-2014). The passing of Leigh Kamman gave us a chance to remember
his lengthy list of contributions to both the local and national jazz scenes
through his extensive interviews and broadcasts. We'll start 2015 with a
tribute to Leigh and The Jazz Image
at the Saint Paul Hotel (January 25).
Coming in 2015
Based on where we left off in 2014, we can expect another banner year in local jazz, including:
. Opening of the new club in the old AQ space (Vieux Carre') with some local jazz programming
· More Jazz in the Target Atrium (three more concerts scheduled through May)
· More top-notch recordings, including a release from Joel Shapira and Dean Granros in January and from the Atlantis Quartet later in the year
· More expansion of the Twin Cities Jazz Festival, including shows in the new Saints Stadium
· Great gigs from touring jazzers, including Chris Potter, Dianne Reeves, Jack DeJohnette, Tierney Sutton, Jason Moran and Robert Glasper, Delfeayo and Ellis Marsalis
· More opportunities for performers and listeners at the Black Dog (every Saturday and more), Jazz Central (at least five nights per week), Studio Z, Dakota, Walker Art Center, and Orchestra Hall
Happy New Year!