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Jazz finds steady rhythm and soul in the Twin Cities

Maybe it's just artsy civic pride, but I've heard local jazz enthusiasts boast that there are more live jazz venues per capita in the Twin Cities than anywhere else in the United States.

I haven't done the math but it is true that if you're so inclined, you can attend a live-jazz performance here any night of the week, including Sunday, with the occasional exception of a holiday. If you want to attend more than one show a night, you can do that, too.

We have three nationally known jazz clubs (the Dakota, the Artists' Quarter and Rossi's), the annual Northrop Jazz Season, and the JazzMN Big Band, a professional orchestra now in its ninth full season. You can hear jazz at Orchestra Hall, the Walker Art Center, the Cedar Cultural Center, the Hopkins Center for the Arts, Mears Park in St. Paul's Lowertown and the Lake Harriet band shell.

The University of Minnesota's jazz ensembles give free public performances. MacPhail Center for Music sponsors Jazz Thursdays. The Twin Cities Jazz Society has an annual "Jazz from J to Z" concert series. Earlier this year, the Minneapolis Central Library hosted a six-part program on jazz with live music. At some of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra's Friday evening concerts, you can spend the second half in the Ordway lobby listening to jazz instead of returning to the seat you paid for, something I don't quite understand but there it is.

When you make a restaurant reservation, you may get a side of jazz — at the Times, Babalu, the Birchwood and more recently Crave and Café Maude, to name a few. On Saturdays at D'Amico Cucina in Butler Square, there's jazz in the bar; on Mondays, you can enjoy jazz with your pepperoni at Fireside Pizza in Richfield beneath the spreading boughs of its faux indoor tree. And we haven't even gotten to the small cafés and coffee shops (like the Acadia, St. Paul's Amore, and the Beat in Uptown) that give jazz musicians a place to play.

Each year brings a series of jazz festivals: the Twin Cities Jazz Festival (previously the Hot Summer Jazz Festival) in June and a Winter Jazz Festival in February. The Minnesota Sur Seine, conceived as a jazz festival for regional and international musicians, has expanded to include other forms of music. But the festival (formerly held in October, now moved to May) is still a lively showcase for the experimental and avant-garde. And Burnsville has its own jazz festival each August.

In the 1920s, jazz was branded the devil's music, but today in Minneapolis you can hear it in church. The Soul Café series at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church serves poetry with jazz. Mercy Seat Church in northeast Minneapolis offers a jazz liturgy.

Why is Minneapolis-St. Paul such a thriving jazz community? We know it's not the climate or the late bar hours. Michele Jansen, station manager at KBEM and host of "Jazz and the Spirit," notes that "the music community in general thrives here." She credits the jazz programs in our schools and says that "jazz touches people's souls."

Kelly Rossum is a jazz artist, composer, and educator at MacPhail, where he coordinates the jazz program. He not only hears a lot of jazz, but he also performs a lot of jazz in the Twin Cities and elsewhere, seeing a bigger picture than most of us do; he'll spend much of this December in New York City. He believes "the support for the arts here is arguably at the highest level of any metropolitan area in the country." Minnesotans, "specifically here in the Twin Cities," have a deep commitment to culture and the arts. Many fine musicians live here, and our music scene is strong enough to support different kinds of music, even different kinds of jazz.

One thing we don't have is a major music label. "The national spotlight still follows the outdated model of the '90s," Rossum says, "which is to follow the releases and careers of signed artists." With more artists starting their own labels or breaking away from the big ones, that might not matter for long.

Find jazz calendars online at the Twin Cities Jazz Society, KBEM, the Artists' Quarter and the Dakota.

 

Pamela's picks

Tim Ries's Rolling Stones Project: Ries plays saxophone and keyboards with the Stones when they go on tour. With the blessing of the Glimmer Twins, he has created jazz arrangements for several Stones tunes including "Satisfaction" and "You Can't Always Get What You Want." It's not only rock 'n' roll and people like it. The Dakota: Friday, Nov. 9 and Saturday, Nov. 10, 7 p.m. ($18) and 9:30 p.m. ($12).

Frode Halti
Photo by C.F. Wesenberg

Frode Haltli Quartet: The Norwegian accordion player (right) is part of the Walker's New World Jazz mini-series, programmed by Philip Bither, which is turning out to be an umbrella for all sorts of surprises. Haltli could play anything from waltzes to Albert Ayler-inspired free jazz, and he's bringing a singer with him, and a trumpet player, and a violist. Please, no accordion or viola jokes, and don't call him Frodo. Walker Art Center, McGuire Theater, 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10. ($25; $21 Walker members).

Rondi Charleston: She's a classically trained Juilliard grad who sang chamber music and opera until she "broke free" (as one bio put it) and made the switch to jazz. Along the way, she was an investigative reporter for "Prime Time Live." She's playing top venues, getting good reviews, and touring for her third CD, "In My Life." She's with a stellar band including Bruce Barth on piano and Joel Frahm on saxophone. The Dakota, Monday, Nov. 12 and Tuesday, Nov. 13, 7 p.m. ($22) and 9:30 p.m. ($15).

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Comments (5)

Innova, the recording label of St. Paul's American Composers Forum is nationally and internationally recognized as one of the best (if not the best) contemporary new music labels in the country. Jazz is very well represented in the catalog including releases by George Cartwright, Bill Banfield, Douglas Ewart and the Fantastic Merlins, to name a few. New York trumpet and Flugelhort player Kiku Collins is a semi finalist for a Grammy nomination.

Innova is not your standard major label. Rather than keeping most of an artist's earnings from a release, 100% of the money goes right back into the artist's pocket. Rather than seeing their money go through some mysterious and ultimately usurious payback process, the artist decides how, when and where to spend his marketing dollars, his management fees and all the rest that's part of putting out a CD. It's more involvement than a major label would allow an artist, and for some maybe it is easier to pay someone else to do it, but everyone from Prince to local jazz musicians will tell you how they got ripped off by their label.

In addition to financial control, the artist also retains all phonographic copyright, so if they want to re-release on a different label, they're free to do so.

The major label system is all but dead. There are some exceptions to the scenario of record label as agents of evil (EMI comes to mind), but in this DIY and special interest record labels world we find ourselves in, I for one will not shed a single tear for an industry that's only in it for a buck.

Though often overlooked or marginalized by fans of mainstream and modern jazz, traditional jazz -- Dixieland, if you insist -- has been a strong presence here, too, for decades. It's the roots of American popular music -- the fusion of African-American blues, gospel and European marches, a musical gumbo cooked in New Orleans in the early 20th century. Today you can hear local musicians playing trad jazz in a number of locations -- the Mainstreet Bar and Grill in Hopkins on alternate Sundays (the Mouldy Figs, but this Sunday it's the Pig's Eye Jass Band), Casper & Runyon's Irish Nook on W. 7th in St. Paul on the other Sundays (Mouldy Figs); the Bill Evans New Orleans Jazz Band, descendant of the Hall Brothers band, on the last Tuesday monthly at Bennett's on W. 7th in St. Paul; the Godfrey Danioel Jazz Band at the Roseville VFW on the third Tuesdays; the Emperors of Jazz on the Andiamo boats at Stillwater in the arm months; the Fred Richardson Trio at Kozlak's Sunday brunch in Shoreview; the Figs, Twin Cities Hot Club and others at the Times. I've probably overlooked a few... National impact? Google Doc Evans. Butch Thompson cut his teeth (and piano fingers) with the Hall Brothers band, initially mentored by Doc Evans, at the Emporium of Jazz in Mendota, where for 25 years (1966-91) Minnesotans could seecv and hear the last of the okld New Orleans originals while they were still alive. The Mississippi Rag, published in Bloomington, has been an authoritative monthly journal on ragtime and traditional jazz, circulated in about 25 countries, for 34 years.

Just wanted to put in a plug for my favorite kind of jazz, not seeing it mentioned above.

Sarah, thanks for your note about Innova. I know some of the musicians you mentioned and will learn more about this label. I'm sure you know about Artistshare as well? I can't speak for Kelly Rossum but I'm pretty sure he was talking about how artists who sign with major labels are more likely to get national coverage. Which is probably more a comment on the coverage than on our need here for a major label.

Dick, you are so right about my omission, and I'm eating my beignet right now. I'm a great admirer of Butch Thompson and I remember the Emporium of Jazz. Watch for coverage of trad jazz in the future.

Thanks, Pamela! Please excuse my typos!