The Twin Cities music scene lost a good man this weekend. Larry Englund died Saturday afternoon at Our Lady of Peace hospice in St. Paul, the final stop on a years-long journey with cancer. We can’t imagine – we don’t want to imagine – the Dakota, Crooners, Jazz Central, the Black Dog, the Twin Cities Jazz Festival and countless other venues and events around town without his genial, gentlemanly and dapper presence. He never said a mean thing about anyone.
A wholehearted and deeply knowledgeable supporter of music, its makers and presenters, Englund grew up in the Bronx and ended up here. Starting in 1979, he hosted a series of shows on KFAI: “Shake Up Southside” on Monday mornings, “Streetlight Serenade” on Wednesdays and finally “Rhythm & Grooves,” which debuted in July 2002 and continued until Dec. 30, 2017. He interviewed countless local, national and international artists.
In the 2010s, Englund produced a series for KBEM called “St. Paul Live!” featuring live music performances recorded in several venues. Making all the arrangements and schlepping the equipment himself, he recorded more than 100 musicians in 24 groups in 11 venues, plus the 10th annual Selby Ave. Music Festival. “There’s more going on in this city than people realize,” he said at the time. He would have known. A St. Paul resident since 1997, he served on the Downtown District Council for 10 years.
Englund wrote about music for City Pages, interviewing artists like James Brown and Joseph Shabalala and reviewing albums and performances. He wrote about local musicians for The Villager, a neighborhood newspaper, for 15 years. Most recently, he wrote about Sheila Jordan for the Star Tribune. He booked bands for the Hat Trick Lounge. He deejayed often and widely and for much of his life, spinning vinyl from his extensive and eclectic collection of LPs and 45s at the Hat Trick, the Amsterdam, Icehouse, Palmers (where he called his show “Vinyl Tap”), Café Maude, Tin Whiskers and, since Feb. 2014, the Nightingale.
Starting in Dec. 2010, he blogged, posting his interviews with artists and a weekly list of jazz, blues, roots “and other” performances, embellished with his own informed notes. He sent out the list as an email to subscribers. He chaired the Dakota Foundation for Jazz Education. He got around, and with his equally turned-out wife of 23 years, Liz Englund, by his side, he showed up. That’s always the main thing, if you call yourself a music person: showing up. That, and listening. And applauding. And repeating.
Each year, the Jazz Journalists Association names several Jazz Heroes from states and local jazz communities. Englund was the 2018 Twin Cities Jazz Hero and received his award at Crooners last year in April, just before a performance by the Emmet Cohen Trio with Tootie Heath. Englund was nominated by Janis Lane-Ewart, who wrote, “He has so much music in his being, which he loves to share – he just does that.”
A Facebook post about Englund’s death on Saturday opened a floodgate of surprise, sadness and memories. Many people didn’t know he’d been ill. There were frequent references to his kindness, generosity, warmth, positivity and unflagging support. A sampling: “Larry, our world was a better place with you in it.” “One of the sweetest guys around.” “His laugh was spectacular.” (It was.) “He made me feel validated when he would come out to listen to a show.” “Music aficionado, spirited community member, friend to all, a consummate gentleman who sought humor and excellence in all he pursued.” “He loved all kinds of music and reached across boundaries.” “One of the hippest dudes on the scene.” “No music venue in the Twin Cities will be quite the same without Larry’s omnipresence. The streetlights are truly dimmed.”
And this from Steve Kenny, trumpeter, composer, bandleader and the man behind the Saturday Night at the Black Dog series:
Larry was part of the infrastructure of our community. He published a regular and important blog. His vinyl performances and weekly supportive radio shows were steady, informative, and entertaining. He gave a great interview. His participation in committees and working groups helped shape many events and scenes. And his ubiquitous attendance at performances, while always being a kind presence and a sharply dressed man, will be missed. I will miss our conversations.
The last live performance Larry and Liz attended was Nancy Harms’ concert at Crooners on Jan. 9. The second-to-last email newsletter Larry sent out arrived Saturday, Jan. 19. “I am temporarily suspending publication of my music newsletter,” he wrote. “After being hospitalized twice for complications with some newly discovered cancer, I am completely spent. The good news is that I start a new treatment regimen tomorrow. … In the meantime, there’s always good music out there to Lift Your Spirit.”
The last email newsletter Larry sent out arrived Monday, Feb. 4. He had written his own obituary. It began “Dear friends: Well, it appears that I’ve died.” You can read the rest on his blog.
A memorial/celebration will be held at the Hook and Ladder in early March. Englund met with the Hook’s Jackson Buck last week and dictated detailed plans for the event. We’ll let you know when we learn more about that.
The picks, WWLD edition
These are events Larry Englund would have enjoyed. The quotes are from his blog. They’re not about these particular events, of course, but they’re about the artists and why he thought they were worth going out to see and hear. Two on Saturday? As Englund titled his newsletter more than once, “Choices, choices!”
Tonight (Tuesday, Feb. 5) at the Black Dog: First Tuesday with Dean Magraw and Davu Seru. LE: “This monthly gig is always impressive, as Magraw on electric guitar, and Seru on drums and percussion, use their vast knowledge of jazz, rock, and world musics to create enlightening and inspiring music.” 7 p.m. FMI. No cover (tip jar).
Thursday at Vieux Carré: Richard Johnson Trio plays Dave Brubeck’s “Time Out.” The evening will include a full performance of Brubeck’s landmark 1959 recording. Its “Take Five” is the highest-selling jazz single in history. LE: “Pianist Johnson has been a member of Wynton Marsalis’ Septet and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, and has also been a member of the groups of Russel Malone and Irvin Mayfield.” 7:30 p.m. (sold out) and 9:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($17 table, $12 bar).
Saturday at Icehouse: Joe Strachan and Graydon Peterson. Englund was always a big supporter of the young jazz artists. Pianist Strachan graduated from the U of M in 2013 and was the pianist for the third edition of the Dakota Combo, a group Englund kept his eyes and ears on. LE: “Bassist Peterson is an A-list player here in the Twin Cities, just as likely to be accompanying a vocalist as playing with a Latin Band, Big Band, or combo.” 6 p.m. No cover.
Saturday at the Black Dog: Saturday Night Jazz at the Black Dog: Pat Moriarty/Ellen Lease Quartet with Michael Attias. LE: “Pianist Ellen Lease and saxophonist Pat Moriarty have been musical and marital partners for over 30 years, resulting in seamless musical communication during their improvising. Moriarty is the freer of the two, but Lease follows his twists and turns with alacrity.” Attias is a critically acclaimed NYC-based saxophonist. 8:30 p.m. FMI. No cover (tip jar), but you can reserve a table online.
Sunday at the Dakota: The Travis Anderson Trio Plays the Music of Oscar Peterson. LE: “Sometimes all you need is a bit of swinging music to put some snap in your step. Travis Anderson, piano, Steve Pikal, bass, and Nathan Norman, drums, can do that for you, whether they’re playing jazz standards or putting some swing to Chopin or video game music.” 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($20/15).
Monday at Crooners: Guitar Greats: Sam Miltich Plays Jazz Guitar Favorites. Miltich will debut a new program highlighting the masters of jazz guitar. LE: “Miltich was already a young lion of gypsy jazz when he burst into our jazz scene as a teenager …” “Ace guitarist …” “Always swinging and satisfying.” 7 p.m. Tickets here ($10).