For the past 10 years, a small basement club on University Avenue has been the epicenter of improvised music in the Twin Cities.
Located downstairs from the Turf Club in St. Paul, the Clown Lounge doesn’t even have its own sign. Either you know where it is or you don’t. Depending on whether you approach from the east or the west, you’ll pass a new but boring CVS pharmacy or the older, seedier, far more eye-catching Love Doctor sex shop.
The Clown’s online calendar is frozen on March 2005. For a while there was an attempt to rename it the Clown Lodge, but that seems to have faded.
Fat Kid Wednesdays (Adam Linz on bass, Michael Lewis on saxophones, JT Bates on drums) is the house band; you can hear it most Monday nights starting around 10 (actually more like 11) and going late. A short list of other bands that have played the Clown within recent memory: Chris Morrissey Quartet, percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani, Slide Huxtable, Ingo Bethke, Jim Ryan’s Forward Energy, Atlantis Quartet, Volcano Insurance, Poutums.
Starting today, the Clown will offer jazz two nights a week, on Mondays and Tuesdays. On two nights you can pay a token cover (usually $5), grab a beer and a bar stool or, if you’re lucky, a booth, and settle in for some of the most inventive, exciting jazz you’ll find anywhere. The Clown seats about 50, so arrive a bit early if you don’t want to stand.
“The Clown is a tremendously important venue for the Twin Cities jazz scene,” says guitarist Zacc Harris, a member of several bands (including the Atlantis Quartet and Monk in Motian) who’s helping out with Tuesdays. “It has always been completely dedicated to adventurous, honest improvised music.
“In many ways, it’s the only venue in town wholly dedicated to continuing the growth of jazz in Minnesota rather than the preservation of jazz. It’s about pushing the envelope.”
The music will start a bit earlier than on Mondays, which may bring more of us out of our warm hidey-holes on wintry nights. “We’re going to try to start promptly at 10,” Harris says, “and Tuesdays will always have two bands.”
“The overall aesthetic might be slightly more straight-ahead than Monday’s, but will still focus on the edgy, modern side of instrumental jazz.”
Here’s the calendar for December, with a few comments from Harris:
- Today, Dec. 1: Fat Kid Wednesdays and the Bryan Nichols Quartet. “Nichols’ new quartet is basically Bryan and Fat Kid Wednesdays playing Bryan’s original tunes. This is the official debut of that group.”
- Dec. 8: Ingo Bethke and Frankhouse. “A cool horn-centric night.”
- Dec. 15: The trio of Dave King, Adam Linz, and Scott Fultz, followed by the Zacc Harris Quartet with Bryan Nichols, Chris Bates, and JT Bates.
- Dec. 22: The John Raymond Project and Nick Videen. “A couple of out-of-towners. John Raymond will be back from New York City for the holidays; Videen is a saxophone player, also out of New York, and an acquaintance of Bryan’s. That show will start at 7:30.”
- Dec. 29: Poutums (Chris Thomson, Adam Linz, Alden Ikeda) and trumpeter Adam Meckler’s group.
Coming in January: the Fantastic Merlins, James Buckley Trio, Atlantis Quartet, and guitarist Luke Polipnick’s quartet.
As long as we’re on the topic of the Clown, I asked JT Bates for a heads-up on Mondays. Here’s what we know so far:
- Dec. 7: Fat Kid Wednesdays and Volcano Insurance.
- Dec. 14: Happy Apple, with Adam Linz and JT Bates deejaying.
Dates not confirmed, but also coming in December: a Michael Lewis/Eric Fratzke/Davu Seru trio, and a Paul Metzger/Adam Linz/JT Bates trio.
The Clown Lounge in the basement of the Turf Club, 1601 University Ave. W., St. Paul; 651-647-0486. Jazz on Mondays around 10:30 p.m., Tuesdays at 10 p.m.