Jazz renaissance in the Twin Cities — in new places, new ways; ‘The Magic Flute’ at MN Opera

Photo by Andrea Canter
The Illicit Sextet will perform as part of the All Original Jazz Series starting in July.

Some days it seems like jazz in the Twin Cities is in sad and sorry shape. The Dakota in Minneapolis programs a lot less jazz than it used to. The Artists’ Quarter in St. Paul closed at the end of December; when it reopens later this year (in August?) under the Dakota’s management, it will no longer be exclusively a jazz club featuring mostly area musicians. (Dakota owner Lowell Pickett told MPR’s David Cazares last week that jazz “will certainly be a part of” the mix at the new club, and local musicians will “certainly … be part of that”). Northrop reopened with no mention of the great jazz series it once presented. (The last we heard about that was in 2011, when then-director Ben Johnson sent a letter saying the series had been “postponed.”) Orchestra Hall reopened with occasional jazz performances but no jazz series.

But jazz in the Twin Cities has rarely been healthier, more alive and exciting than it is right now. It’s just happening in different places, in different ways, and increasingly at the initiative and under the control of the artists themselves. There’s less reliance on bookers and venues, more taking charge of everything from scheduling gigs to renting rooms, raising money, making records, getting grants, arranging tours and handling publicity and promotion.

Earlier this week, trumpeter Steve Kenny announced a new series that could serve as a poster child for jazz today. Starting July 10 at Studio Z, continuing Thursdays through Sept. 11, funded in part by a grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, the “All Original Jazz Series” will feature 10 weeks of concerts by local jazz ensembles playing their own original compositions.

Kenny’s series follows guitarist Zacc Harris’s MRAC-funded monthly concert and workshop series “Jazz at Studio Z,” which continues Saturday, April 19, with the Cory Healey 4tet. Soon after the AQ closed, Jazz Central, a nonprofit performance-rehearsal-recording space owned and operated by drummer Mac Santiago and pianist Tanner Taylor, stepped up its game; it now features live jazz five nights a week, from small ensembles to big bands and vocalists. Last Sunday, bassist Chris Bates held a private concert at Creation Audio to celebrate his new recording, “Good Vibes Trio”; his official CD release is Monday night at Icehouse. Tonight (Friday) at Bethel’s Benson Great Hall, Jeremy Walker holds the CD release for “7 Psalms,” his self-made album of ambitious and beautiful original music, complete with jazz quartet, soloist and choir. Earlier this year, several Twin Cities jazz ensembles formed Shifting Paradigm Records to sell their music and boost their visibility locally and nationally.

“The closing of the AQ is not a requiem for our jazz scene,” Kenny told MinnPost on Wednesday. “The audience has to be a bit more savvy about the locations, more willing to look up where events are on given nights. But the gigs are still happening. The year after year increase in the quality of local jazz is palpable. Each year, the scene has better and better musicians … What’s happening now is as good or better than previous years. In a couple of months, every night of the week will have a compelling jazz performance at a good venue with compensated musicians and decent audience development.” Call Kenny an optimist, or call him a realist. Just don’t call jazz in the Twin Cities dead.

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If you have a smartphone, a video camera, or any way to capture video, you can be part of “One Day in the Twin Cities.” Taking place simultaneously in 10 U.S. metro areas, this daylong event invites anyone and everyone to document stories and investigate questions about the future of where we live. The films will be showcased in an interactive geo-tagged archive and a TV series. Visit the website to learn more. Come to a meet-up at the Crooked Pint on Monday, April 21, from 5-7:30 p.m. and hear project advisor Don Shelby talk about the importance of capturing meaningful footage. (Shelby will speak around 6 p.m.) Take a free two-hour workshop offered by the Twin Cities Daily Planet on Tuesday, April 22, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Common Table, 2001 Riverside in Minneapolis. Pre-registration is required. Seriously, everyone should do this. Lu Lippold, our local producer, told the Line, “If I were just starting out in video, I would see this as a huge opportunity.” All contributions are credited by name and location, so each participant “instantly becomes a documentary filmmaker.”

The American Composers Forum has launched a new national program for composers as young as 14. The NextNotes High School Composition Awards invites students in grades 9-12 to apply with a single composition in any genre or style. (“Any” means “any”; there are no limits on style or content.) Six composers will each receive $1,000 scholarships and paid travel to Minneapolis-St. Paul for a two-day workshop with professional composers and musicians. The workshop will be followed by an awards ceremony and a concert of the winning works. That’s one we won’t miss. Application deadline: Jan. 12, 2015. Interested composers should visit the website and connect via Twitter (@NextNotes), Facebook (ACF Ed), and on Tumblr, Instagram and Vine (all acfnextnotes). The founding sponsor of NextNotes is the Knight Foundation.

The Loft will receive $75,000 each year for the next three years to support spoken word artists of color through its Spoken Word Immersion Fellowship and its Equilibrium (EQ) series. The grants are being given by the Surdna Foundation in New York, which was founded in 1917 by businessman and former U.S. congressman John Emory Andrus. The Foundation has supported programs in the arts since 1994. Guidelines for the next round of the Loft’s Immersion Fellowship will be available in late summer.

The Walker has launched its own signature coffee blend. Why not? Developed with D’Amico and Partners, dubbed “Catalyst” after the Walker’s mission as “a catalyst for the creative expression of artists and the active engagement of audiences,” it’s a mix of beans from Mexico, Guatemala and Sumatra, locally roasted, fair trade and organic. A “transformative blend” in an artsy package, it’s now being served at the Garden Café and Gather, available in the Walker shop and online.

On sale today (Friday) at 10 a.m.: An Evening with Jackson Browne. The singer-songwriter, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and human rights advocate brings his new acoustic tour to the State Theatre on Friday, July 18. Playing guitar and piano, he’ll perform songs from his entire body of work. Visit the website or call 1-800-982-2878 ($57.50-$104).

Our picks for the weekend

Today (Friday, April 11) through Sunday at the St. Paul RiverCentre: the American Craft Council (ACC) Show. For lovers of craft and collectors both avid and picky, this annual event is a must. For the curious, it’s an education in America’s finest contemporary craft. More than 225 of the nation’s top artists will present their latest handmade creations: jewelry, clothing, furniture, home décor and more. This year’s ACC features 10 rooms by local designers showing how to use craft to create a warm, welcoming space ideal for entertaining, plus a tap room serving nine Minnesota-brewed craft beers from Bang Brewing, Dangerous Man, Fulton Beer, and more. Friday 10 a.m. – 8 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. FMI and tickets ($11 one-day pass, $26 three-day pass).

Courtesy of the American Craft Council
A room designed for the ACC show by Forage Modern Workshop (South Minneapolis).

Tonight and tomorrow in Eden Prairie and St. Paul: The SPCO performs Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring.” Now that spring has finally arrived, you’ll want to stand up and cheer for this joyous work. The program also includes Haydn’s Symphony No. 90, Fung’s Violin Concerto and Ortiz’s “Vitrales de ambar.” Stephen Schick conducts; rising star violinist Kristin Lee joins the SPCO for the first time. At Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie 10:30 a.m. and 8 p.m. today, and St. Paul’s United Church of Christ at 8 p.m. tomorrow. FMI and tickets ($5-$25).

Tonight through Sunday at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage: “A Chaste Maid in Cheapside.” Written in 1616, rarely performed today, Thomas Middleton’s bawdy satirical comedy is having its Twin Cities debut, thanks to the Classical Actors Ensemble. Tonight at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. Running in repertory: “Romeo and Juliet” on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets here ($15-$30; name your price, sliding scale).

Courtesy of the Minneapolis Theatre Garage
Friday through Sunday at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage: “A Chaste Maid in Cheapside.”

Saturday at the Capri Theater: Spirit Reach: A Twin Cities Tribute to Imamu Amiri Baraka. A co-founder of the Black Arts Movement, the immeasurably influential poet, playwright, fiction writer, essayist, educator and activist Imamu Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones) died on Jan. 9. Many members of the Twin Cities’ literary, visual and performing arts communities will gather to celebrate, remember and honor Baraka at this special event hosted by Alexs Pate and Arleta Little. Performers will include Douglas Ewart, Toki Wright, Shá Cage, Bao Phi, J. Otis Powell, Lisa Brimmer, Bill Cottman, Truthmaze, Donald, Faye and Kevin Washington, and more. 2-4 p.m., preceded by a catered reception. Free and open to the public.  

Saturday at the Ordway: The opening of the long-awaited, highly-anticipated, much-ballyhooed “The Magic Flute” in a new staging featuring projected animations, revolving trap doors and singers on platforms 25 feet above the stage. Aimee Tritt of Theoroi, a young professionals’ group sponsored by the Schubert Club, wrote this preview for MinnPost: “I learned in music history class that ‘The Magic Flute’ is the most famous example of Singspiel, a German opera form that incorporates spoken dialogue along with music. This genre-bending form usually includes romantic and comic themes and magical events, and is an ideal springboard for the highly stylized production that will premiere this weekend at the Ordway. A production of the Komische Oper Berlin, presented in co-production with LA Opera, this cutting-edge version of one of the best-loved, most-performed operas incorporates hand-drawn animations and a silent-film-meets-Tim-Burton vibe. A New York Times review of the LA Opera production says, ‘Both the humor and seriousness of The Magic Flute are done full justice by the production’s gleefully yet gently macabre aesthetic.’ I’m thrilled to be attending a performance this weekend with Theoroi. It’s sure to be more exciting than music history class.” FMI and tickets ($20-$200). Tip: check Wednesdays or closing weekend.

Saturday at the Walker: MSPIFF 3D. If you don’t mind wearing those goofy glasses, the Walker is screening films in 3D as part of the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival. At 1:30 p.m.: “Beyond the Edge,” the story of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s 1953 ascent of Everest. In 3D? Yikes. At 4 p.m.: “3X3D.” Directors Jean-Luc Godard, Peter Greenaway and Edgar Pêra explore 3D and its evolution in cinema.

Saturday and Sunday at Orchestra Hall: Doc Severinsen’s Solid Gold. Still blowing hard, still a sharp dresser, the Minnesota Orchestra’s beloved Pops Conductor Laureate tells his life story in music he has performed over his decades as a bandleader, conductor and trumpeter. Doc and the Orchestra will be joined by soprano Vanessa Thomas and tenor Joseph Wolverton. 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. FMI and tickets ($35-$70).

Courtesy of Gallery 5004
Thomas Cowette, “Phenomenon Over the Old City #2”
(1999, pencil).

Sunday at Gallery 5004 in Robbinsdale: Thomas Cowette: A Concise Retrospective. A new gallery off Main Street in the heart of Robbinsdale, Gallery 5004 features work by prominent Minnesota artists of the past and present and emerging artists of today. Their first special exhibit, opening Sunday, includes drawings, paintings and collages by Thomas Cowette, a longtime member of the art faculty at the University of Minnesota. Many depict aerial views of imagined landscapes and historical sites. 2-5 p.m. Sundays, 4-7 p.m. Fridays, 12-5 p.m. Saturdays. Through Saturday, May 3.

Sunday at Aria: Liaisons: Re-Imagining Sondheim from the Piano. Ever since we first heard of this project in 2010 (or thereabouts), we’ve been hoping it would come to the Twin Cities. Thanks to Schubert Club Mix for making it happen. It all started when concert pianist Anthony de Mare had the idea to invite 36 of the world’s great contemporary composers to “re-imagine” a song by Stephen Sondheim. The result: a new piano repertory that accomplished pianists will perform for years. Sondheim was tickled by the project and found it “both flattering and aesthetically fulfilling.” Audiences and critics have raved about the music. At Aria, the enchanting performance and event space where the Jeune Lune used to be, we’ll hear works by Steve Reich, Fred Hersch, Nico Muhly, Ethan Iverson of The Bad Plus, and Twin Cities composer Mary Ellen Childs, among others. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($25 plus $3 fee). Watch a video about the project here

Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Don Berryman on 04/11/2014 - 11:16 am.

    Not a new AQ

    You stated that the Artists’ Quarter reopens later this year (in August?) under the Dakota’s management – this is not quite the case – the old Arists’ Quareter location will be remodeled and used to open a new music venue, but it will not be the Artists’ Quarter.

    • Submitted by Pamela Espeland on 04/11/2014 - 01:50 pm.

      The Artists’ Quarter

      Sorry, I stated that poorly. I should have written “when a new venue opens later this year … under the Dakota’s management.”

  2. Submitted by Nelson Devereaux on 04/11/2014 - 01:45 pm.

    TC Jazz Renaissance-Courageous Endeavors

    Among the new and fresh in the Twin Cities is the Quartet Courageous Endeavors who are performing at the Studio Z series on July 17th!

    Watch out for the new album “Prototype” which is being released on May 9th at Icehouse!

    New Minneapolis jazz music!!!

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