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Dakota Jazz Club hosts one big birthday bash

Something extraordinary happened Saturday night at the Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant. No, it was not some hot jazz combo. The club was closed on a Saturday night for a private birthday party for two key people.

In October 2003, the Dakota moved out of St. Paul’s fading Bandana Square to 1010 Nicollet Mall, thanks in part to the partnership forged between original owner Lowell Pickett and Richard Erickson, the tall, white-haired and relentlessly sockless actor and arts supporter.

Pickett and Erickson both turned 60 this month. Their birthday bash drew a crowd of 250 invited guests including U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minneapolis Downtown Council President Sam Grabarski and Lisa Meyer, Chris and Stew Widdess, and Archie Givens and Carol Meshbesher. Vocalists Patty Peterson, Christine Rosholt, Fred Steele and Prudence Johnson mixed and mingled.

As a gift to Erickson from his wife, Julie Corty, Debbie Duncan sang the Etta James hit “At Last,” accompanied by Cuban pianist Nachito Herrera. Pittsburgh-based trumpeter and composer Sean Jones played “Happy Birthday” over the phone. Benny Green, Roy Hargrove, Dr. John, McCoy Tyner and Irvin Mayfield sent greetings.

Other birthday wishes included opening remarks by Grabarski, a proclamation from Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, affectionate and roasty tributes from friends, and a touching thank-you from Herrera, who credits Pickett for getting his wife and daughters out of Cuba.

Then the guests got down to the serious business of the evening: dining on dry-aged rib-eye steaks the size of Wisconsin. Blues shouter Luther Kent and his nine-piece band Trick Bag made music. Out came a saxophone-shaped cake ablaze with candles.

Since its founding in 1985, the Dakota has brought the Twin Cities more than 7,000 nights of live music. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a jewel in the crown of our arts and entertainment scene, known and respected internationally. Other cities wish they had a jazz club like ours.

Now that the party’s over, the doors are open to everyone again.

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