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Jazz U II, and this week’s picks

Soon after last Friday’s post went live, I received the catalog of fall classes offered by the University of Minnesota’s “Learning Life” program at the College of Continuing Education. On the list of short courses (formerly Compleat Scholar): “The Birth of Jazz.”

Johan Dirks will lead a class that begins in New Orleans around 1900 and continues through the music of Miles Davis in the 1940s. Much of the music featured will be played on 78s from Dirks’ personal collection, spun on a 1950s Emerson record player.

Dirks has a Ph.D. in theoretical physics, with graduate work in quantum mechanics; he previously taught higher mathematics at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.

Wondering about the connection between physics and jazz? Ask pianist/composer Vijay Iyer, one of today’s most acclaimed young jazz musicians. (Iyer just released his first solo CD, which everyone is lavishing praise upon. His 2009 recording, “Historicity,” was named the year’s top jazz album by critics in the United States  and Europe. He recently won the Jazz Journalists Association’s 2010 award for Musician of the Year. Et cetera, et cetera.) Before Iyer was a jazz star, he was a physics major at the University of California at Berkeley.

I like the idea of a physicist playing 78s and talking about Louis Armstrong, Sydney Bechet and Bessie Smith.

The Birth of Jazz, Tuesdays, Oct. 5-19 (3 meetings), 7 to 9 p.m. College of Continuing Education, Continuing Education and Conference Center, 1890 Buford Ave., St. Paul campus ($125). FMI: 612-624-4000.

Jazz picks for the weekend:

Friday and Saturday: Kyle Asche Organ Trio. Chicago guitarist Asche was a semifinalist in the 2005 Thelonious Monk International Guitar Competition and has released two CDs as leader, “The Hook Up” (OA2, 2005) and “Blues for Mel” (Tippin’, 2009). The “Mel” in the latter is Mel Rhyne, elder statesman of the mighty Hammond B-3 and alumnus of the Wes Montgomery Trio. Rounding out the trio with Asche and Rhyne will be drummer George Fludas, who toured with bassist Ray Brown. Asche’s sound has been described as “soulfully shaded mainstream jazz.” Listen on his website. 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Sept. 10 and 11, Artists’ Quarter (basement of the Hamm Building), St. Paul ($12).

Saturday: Twin Cities Seven. Founded by Doug Haining in 1999, this stellar group of area musicians specializes in relaxed, communal small-group swing — think Count Basie’s Kansas City Seven and Duke Ellington’s sideman ensembles. Haining leads the way on saxophone and clarinet, with Steve Wright on trumpet, Scott Agster on trombone, Rick Carlson on piano, Vincent Rose on guitar, Keith Boyles on bass, Dick Bortolussi on drums, and special guest Arne Fogel. Sample their sweet, swinging, foot-tapping sounds here. 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 11, Dakota, http://www.dakotacooks.com 1010 Nicollet Mall ($10).

Sunday: Turtle Island Quartet: Have You Ever Been...? The Grammy-winning classical crossover group — violinists David Balakrishnan and Mads Tolling, violist Jeremy Kittel, cellist Mark Summer — is also an improvising group, which allows them to play things the Guarneri and Juilliard quartets can’t: Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” for example, and Monk’s “Who Do You Think We Are?” Founding member Balakrishnan has been a Jimi Hendrix fan since his teens; the quartet’s just-released latest recording, “Have You Ever Been...?” (Telarc, 2010) has been a lifetime in the making. It includes a suite of pieces from “Electric Ladyland,” an original work by Balakrishnan inspired by Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species,” Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” and other delights. Here’s a video introduction. The quartet gave a splendid performance at the Dakota last November; I hope we’re becoming a regular touring stop for them. One night, one set. 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 12, Dakota, 1010 Nicollet Mall ($30).

Finally: With fall approaching and the Fair over, festivals are winding down. One of summer’s last hurrahs, the Selby Avenue Jazz Fest promises a full day of crowd-pleasing entertainment. Head over to hear Dick & Jane’s Big Brass Band, Brio Brass, bassist Gerald Veasley, Salsabrosa, and more local, regional and national acts. 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. Saturday, Selby & Milton, St. Paul (right outside the Golden Thymes Coffee Café). Free.

Pamela Espeland keeps a Twin Cities live jazz calendar, blogs about jazz at Bebopified and tweets about jazz on Twitter.

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