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Nancy Harms coming to Crooners; Skylark names Neu interim artistic director

Photo by Nick Barr
Nancy Harms

 Jazz singer Nancy Harms is returning to Minnesota, briefly – via Copenhagen, Rome, Torino, more stops in Denmark, sold-out shows at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola in New York City (part of Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Center), Chicago, Indianapolis, Kalamazoo and South Bend. She’s in the Dunsmore Room at Crooners for one night, then Willmar.

Harms is touring with her exceptional new album, “Ellington at Night,” its dozen songs honed to perfection at a series of live shows in New York’s Metropolitan Room in 2015. Here’s the teaser video.

Why Willmar? Because it’s just 20 miles from Clara City, Minnesota, population 1,318, where Harms grew up. By 2005, after graduating from Concordia College in Moorhead, she was teaching music at an elementary school in Milaca. But something happened at Concordia she couldn’t shake. It was there she discovered jazz. In 2006, she quit her job and headed for the nearest jazz mecca: Minneapolis.

Harms isn’t the first person to let jazz lead her astray, but she’s one of the few who seem genuinely made for the music and its demands. She’s a true original, with her own remarkable voice, style and poise, an undeniable presence, uncanny instincts for storytelling and interpretation and a rock-solid sense of herself. In 2009, she recorded and released her first CD, “In the Indigo,” produced by Minnesota guitarist and bandleader Robert Bell, with the advice and assistance of Arne Fogel, a Twin Cities jazz singer and longtime host of “The Bing Shift” on jazz radio station KBEM. Fogel and Harms first met in 2006 at a showcase for new and aspiring jazz vocalists. She has called him her mentor and meant it for years.

In September 2010 she moved to New York City. She loved Minneapolis, but a month in New York earlier that year had shown her a far bigger and busier scene, with famous names and music everywhere, and many more opportunities to sit in and perform. She also wanted to tour and knew her chances would be better from there.

Fast forward to today and here’s what’s behind her: Italy, France, Norway and Denmark, starting her own record label, two more CDs of her own (co-produced and co-written by Fogel), successful ventures into songwriting, several series of house tours (and two CDs) with the respected jazz pianist/composer/arranger Jeremy Siskind, a CD with singer Emily Braden and bassist Steve Whipple (as the band Double Bass Double Voice), rave reviews in the Wall Street Journal (“after hearing her just once, you’ll never want to let her go”) and the New York Times (“a complicated enigmatic woman of mystery forging her own path”), and countless performances. What’s ahead: London’s Royal Albert Hall, the West Coast, Paris. And beyond.

But first, her “Ellington at Night” CD release shows Monday in the Dunsmore Room with Siskind on piano, Gordy Johnson on bass and Jay Epstein on drums. 7 p.m. ($20 ticket/$40 dinner show) and 9 p.m. ($15 ticket). Tickets here. In Willmar, she’ll be at the Barn Theatre Saturday, April 30. Call 320-235-9500 or visit the box office.

Skylark Opera appoints interim director

After canceling its 2016 season in mid-March because of financial challenges, Skylark Opera last week announced the appointment of an interim artistic director – someone who knows the company well.

Robert Neu directed eight Skylark productions in the past eight years including “Don Pasquale,” “Candide” and “The Fantasticks.” Nationally, he has more than 80 operas, musicals and plays to his credit. Neu also has considerable management experience; from 1995-2014, he served as the Minnesota Orchestra’s vice president and general manager, and before then managed the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

Neu said in a statement, “I have always believed in Skylark Opera’s place within the Twin Cities’ arts community and I think its future can be bright and promising.” Over the next six months, he and Skylark’s management team will work with local artistic and administrative experts to re-establish itself as an artistically and financially strong organization.

Neu replaces Steven Stucki, Skylark’s AD for 27 years, who recently retired. 

The picks

Tonight at the Galaxie Library in Apple Valley: Club Book presents J.A. Jance. Yum, summer reading. Nothing like a good mystery, or ten. Jance is the creator of three hot series: the one with retired Seattle police detective J.P. Beaumont, the one with Arizona sheriff Joanna Brady, and the one with news-anchor-turned-sleuth Ali Reynolds. Her latest, “Clawback,” is the 13th Ali Reynolds book. 7 p.m. Free.

Tonight at the St. Anthony Main Theatre: “The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble.” Performance footage, personal interviews and archival film clips tell the story of the international music collective created by cellist Yo-Yo Ma. 7:15 p.m. FMI and tickets ($13). Part of the 35th Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival (MSPIFF).

Photo by Dan Norman

Tonight at the Jungle: “Constellations.” Nick Payne’s intricately crafted play asks us to accept that this life isn’t our only life, our universe isn’t the only universe and “we have all the time we’ve always had,” even when we’re out of time. Marianne (Anna Sundberg) is an astrophysicist, Roland (Ron Menzel) a beekeeper. They meet at a barbecue, then meet at a barbecue, then meet at a barbecue, with each version taking a different turn, because the play takes place in the quantum multiverse, where the possibilities are endless. It’s not as confusing as it sounds. You’ll catch on quickly, thanks to sound and lighting cues, then watch various outcomes unfold. Any play with Sundberg (last at the Jungle in “Detroit” and before then “Venus in Fur”) is worth an evening out. In a talkback after Saturday’s performance, someone asked how she made her way through a script that includes 61 “changes in universe.” Her reply: “You just let go and ride the play.” Gary Gisselman directs. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($30-$40). Ends May 29.

Friday at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul Campus: Irish poet Tom French. A reading by the winner of the 20th annual Lawrence O’Shaughnessy Award for Poetry of the University of St. Thomas Center for Irish Studies. (How do they fit that on a plaque?) The $5,000 award honors Irish poets. 7:30 p.m. in the first-floor auditorium of the John R. Roach Center for the Liberal Arts. Free.

Friday through Sunday at Orchestra Hall: Rilling Conducts A German Requiem. With soprano Letizia Scherrer, baritone Mathias Hausmann and the mighty Minnesota Chorale, esteemed German conductor and Brahms expert Rilling leads a two-part program centered on Brahms’ glorious masterwork “Ein deutsches Requiem.” It begins with an illuminating lecture-demonstration and ends with a full performance. Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. FMI and tickets ($25-$63; $12 student; $20 under 40).

Photo by Jon Christopher Meyers
Helmuth Rilling

Friday and Sunday at the Ordway Concert Hall: VocalEssence: “Listener’s Choice Live.” The votes (more than 1,200 nationwide) are in, and now it’s time to learn the top 15 a cappella and piano-accompanied choral pieces. What’s your favorite? Will you hear it or not? Did Aaron Copland’s “Simple Gifts” make the cut? Chosen by fans through a vote on, the winners will be performed countdown-style, so the excitement will build. Some composers will be in attendance, and Sunday’s show will feature a special guest. 8 p.m. Friday, 4 p.m. Sunday. FMI and tickets ($20-$40). If you go on Friday, kindly keep your lips zipped until Sunday night.

Sunday at Lakewood Memorial Chapel: “Abide in Bach.” On solo Baroque violin – in the gorgeous domed chapel modeled after the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, lined with mosaics and ringed with stained-glass windows – Jin Kim plays music by J.A. Bach and those who influenced him. 3 p.m. Free.

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