Only at Cue can you hear Maud Hixson sing “Star Dust” and enjoy a wine flight chosen to complement her music — three “smooth, elegant and alluring whites.” Or, if you prefer, three “classic, soft and sultry reds.”
Pairing wine with food is done all the time, but wine with jazz? That’s attention to detail, and also a flight (pardon the pun) of imagination on the part of Cue manager Jeffrey Fisher.
Such pairings are part of the total experience he offers people who visit his restaurant: Fine food made with fresh local ingredients, served in a glamorous space with world-class wines accompanied by high-quality entertainment.
Fisher wants to engage all of your senses, filling your ears with music as tasteful as the food.
Located on the ground floor of the new Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, under the cobalt curve at the north end, Cue began featuring live jazz last summer and continued through New Year’s Eve. It resumed in mid-June with an ambitious calendar of music every Friday and Saturday through September.
Plans are under way for October through December and, if Fisher gets his wish, into 2009.
Rather than present a different act every weekend, Fisher chose a half-dozen singers and groups, then scheduled them in rotation. Hixson and singer Arne Fogel anchor the calendar; she’s booked for eight nights, he for seven. Others include singer/pianist Alicia Wiley, the Dean Brewington Quartet, singer Charmin Michelle and the R&B/soul/jazz/funk group BKS Vine.
All have their own wine flights chosen by Cue sommelier Jessica Nielsen.
Why jazz? “Our venue is stylistically great with jazz,” Fisher says. “People say our place feels sexy. Jazz is very synergistic with our architecture, lighting and décor.”
Cue is a sexy place, unless your idea of sexy is a room at the FantaSuite. Ceilings are high, tables well-spaced, appointments elegant, lights twinkly, surfaces luxe. The predominant color is blue. Floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the outdoors, pricey condos, and the giant head of playwright Arthur Miller on one of the building’s outside panels.
The kitchen itself is a kind of thrust stage, open to view.
The music is presented like a meal, with courses. The first course, scheduled for the earlier hours of the evening, is lighter, more subdued — music to dine by, chat by and enjoy as background, like the view. The second course, which begins after the dining room closes and once the lounge area begins filling up, is livelier and more assertive.
Some jazz fans will be horrified by the idea of music as ambience, and by a place that expects performers to keep it down for the dinner crowd. But upscale venues and steady gigs for jazz artists are few and far between. More common are places with cramped stages, crappy audio systems, and cranky bartenders. In one local club, the TVs above the bar are left on during live performances.
Hixson and Fogel both love Cue. They enjoy performing there. And they feel respected and appreciated by Fisher and his staff.
“Cue is a classic nightclub experience,” Fogel says. “Almost Hollywood-like in sumptuousness.”
“It’s gorgeous,” Hixson agrees. “I don’t mind at all fitting into what [Fisher and his staff] want us to do and being there for them. … We are treated as quality performers and considered special.”
Fisher’s willingness to schedule several months out offers singers like Hixson and Fogel the rare luxury of booking their bands in advance. “It’s been years since I’ve been able to pick a crew and work together on a regular basis,” Hixson says.
Her band includes her husband, pianist Rick Carlson, along with bassist Steve Pikal and Nathan Norman on drums; their repertoire is drawn from the 1930s and ’40s. You can hear them tonight, July 25. Fogel performs with the Tanner Taylor Trio; their music is drawn from the Great American Songbook. Their next Cue date is Friday, Aug. 1. For future dates, see the calendar on Cue’s website.
Don’t be intimidated by the address or the elegance. “We’re affordable and approachable,” Fisher says. “You can come down, enjoy the music, have a nice glass of wine — it’s a great value. You don’t have to spend a lot of money.”
“When more people know about Cue,” Fogel predicts, “it could rival some of the top music places, because it’s such a nice experience to be in there.”
Maud Hixson: Thoughtful, subtle, sophisticated music. Cue at the Guthrie, Friday, July 25, 8 p.m. (no cover).
Debbie Duncan: Fresh from her run in “Blues in the Night” at the Ordway, the magnificent Miss Duncan is back in the clubs. We’ve missed her. The Artists’ Quarter, Friday, July 25-Saturday, July 26, 9 p.m. ($10).
Rossum Electric Company: Personally, I can’t wait to hear the sounds Kelly Rossum makes with his “electrumpet.” Read a preview here. Late Night at the Dakota, Saturday, July 26, 11:30 p.m. ($5).
Find jazz calendars online at Jazz Police. Click on Twin Cities, MN in the black menu bar at the top.