A performance by the George Maurer Group is always so much fun. That’s why Monday night will be their 21st holiday show in a row at the Dakota.
What’s the Maurer magic? A mix of wit, sophistication, humor and keeping it fresh. Musical knowledge both deep and wide. And Maurer’s personal commitment “to be innovative always.” A pianist, composer, arranger, producer, restless seeker and serious biker – come February, he’ll be pedaling across Patagonia – Maurer has said, “I’m not just contained to one style of music. I’m not contained to one way of being an artist.”
And he’s not contained to one country. His current projects include working with a Greek theater company in Cyprus, an indie Russian filmmaker, and musicians in Berlin and Mexico City. Plus he’s starting a song cycle based in part on Will Steger’s journals from the Antarctic and the North Pole.
With Monday’s show coming up, we talked about that.
MinnPost: Has the group stayed essentially the same for all these years?
George Maurer: Absolutely. Muggsy Lauer [guitar], Jeff Engholm [bass], Scott Chabot [drums], Ann Michels [vocals], Richard Witteman [trumpet], Rich Manik [saxophone], Jim ten Bensel [trombone, bass trumpet]. For this show, we’re adding Al Asmus on bari sax and alto flute.
MP: What keeps you together?
GM: The fact that we don’t perform with each other year-round. When we get back together, it’s like a family reunion. We all have other projects, and we’re in each other’s projects, but we never wanted to do just this. Everybody has always brought a different angle on jazz or music to the group. Those styles have only grown and amplified.
MP: For people who have never seen the George Maurer Group before and are coming on Monday, what are some highlights of the show?
GM: We treat Christmas music with a certain degree of irreverence. We’ll mesh Herbie Hancock’s “Driftin’” with “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” We’ll mix Miles Davis’ “So What?” with “O Tannenbaum.” We found that “Sleigh Ride” fits over Thelonious Monk’s “Well You Needn’t.” We call that “Sleighride With Monk.”
Four songs are so popular we have to do them every year. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” “My Favorite Things” with different time signatures, “The Grinch Song” – we play the hell out of that. And Joni Mitchell’s “River,” with three-part vocal harmonies and just piano. [Note: That song should come with a warning label. Bring Kleenex.]
MP: For fans who return year after year, what’s new?
GM: Rockabilly. We’ll do JD McPherson’s “Hey Skinny Santa” from the Christmas album he released last year. We’ll be dialing him in more and more in the next couple seasons.
We’ll also do a Christmasfied “My Baby Just Cares for Me,” with new lyrics. “My baby don’t care for snow … My baby don’t care for Donner or Blitzen, Donald or Nixon.” Kenny Loggins’ “Celebrate Me Home.” Claude Thornhill’s “Snowfall,” which I’d never heard before. The Temptations’ “This Christmas.”
And the official debut of [local artist] Jim Payne’s “Christmas at the Cabin.” It’s a beautiful original about folks who go up North to the cabin, but somebody is missing this year. We’ll cover a lot of different song styles.
The George Maurer Group’s 21st Annual Holiday Show will take place at the Dakota on Monday, Dec. 23, at 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($30/25/20). They’ll be back Feb. 13 for their Annual Valentine’s Show. Those tickets are on sale now.
Why is Maurer going to Patagonia? This will be his seventh long-distance adventure bicycle trip in memory of Carolyn Held, a close friend who died of cancer in 2012. Each year starting in 2014, he has traveled a different route to raise money for cancer research. His trips have taken him across the lower 48 states, from San Francisco to Denver and Vancouver to San Francisco, to Iceland, Sri Lanka, Canada and Vietnam. So far, he has raised more than $50,000.
Liquid Music announces first event at the Parkway
We were hoping this would happen, but we thought it would take a lot longer.
On Sunday, Jan. 12 at the Parkway, a little over three weeks from today, Liquid Music will present its first event in Minneapolis as an independent LLC. The innovative series was formerly part of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, which discontinued its sponsorship earlier this year due to cutbacks in corporate funding.
And what an event it will be: an evening with Finnish violinist/conductor Pekka Kuusisto and American composer/pianist Nico Muhly. The two have been close friends for years. Both will already be in the Twin Cities for a series of concerts with the SPCO, where Kuusisto is an artistic partner. One of the pieces on that program is Muhly’s Violin Concerto, “Shrink,” which will have its U.S. premiere here.
When the SPCO dropped Liquid Music, it allowed series creator and curator Kate Nordstrum to take over ownership of the brand. During its seven years with the SPCO, Liquid Music often included SPCO musicians and guests in its programing. This concert signals that relationship can continue. Why compete when you can collaborate?
In conversation Thursday, Nordstrum noted that Nico Muhly was the first artist she ever programmed. That was back in fall 2007, when she was working for the Southern Theater. “In some ways, I credit that first show for guiding the way I started seeking out people,” she said.
Though the Jan. 12 program hasn’t yet been decided, Nordstrum says to “expect some Muhly and some Glass and some traditional folk music Pekka will bring to the table. And Bach. It’s going to be a really cool program that’s traditional classical and new music, beautifully blended.”
And expect some personality. “They have such fun banter,” Nordstrum said. “They’re hilarious people.”
“Liquid Music Presents: An Evening with Pekka Kuusisto & Nico Muhly” will take place Sunday, Jan. 12, at the Parkway. Doors at 6 p.m, show at 7. The Parkway is general admission. FMI and tickets ($19 advance, $24 door).
The next Artscape column before we go on holiday break will be a year-end wrap-up on Dec. 24. The column after that will appear Jan. 2.
Tonight (Friday, Dec. 20) at Orchestra Hall: “Merry and Bright with Charles Lazarus.” Minnesota Orchestra trumpeter Lazarus puts on his jazz hat and gathers his jazz ensembles for his big, brassy Christmas concert, an Orchestra Hall tradition since 2015. This year’s guests include vocalists Bruce A. Henry, Tonia Hughes and Cameron Kinghorn. 8 p.m. FMI and tickets ($36.75-$99.75).
Today (Dec. 20) and Sunday (Dec. 22) at Highland Park Community Center: “Hanukkah Lights in the Big Sky.” Based on true events that occurred in Billings, Montana, in 1993, Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company’s production of Buffy Sedlachek’s play is a story of tolerance and peace. 9:45 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. Friday, 1 p.m. Sunday. FMI and tickets ($20). Closes Sunday.
Today (Dec. 20) and Saturday (Dec. 21) at the Fitzgerald Theater: A Christmas Celebration with the Steeles. “The first family of Twin Cities music,” siblings J.D., Fred, Jearlyn, Jevetta and Billy are beyond compare. This will be their 35th annual Christmas show. Doors at 6, show at 7. FMI and tickets ($40.50).
Saturday (Dec. 21) at the O’Shaughnessy: “A Nutcracker Story (2019).” In St. Paul Ballet’s “Nutcracker,” Marie has a brother, Frank, T. Mychael Rambo is our guide, and the dancers include the company of the James Sewell Ballet. Performances at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. FMI and tickets ($22-44).
Monday (Dec. 23) at Icehouse: Mankwe Ndosi Presents Great Black Music Mondays. Ndosi is having a very good run of Monday nights at Icehouse this month. Tonight’s musical centerpiece features New York City-based cellist Tomeka Reid, spoken word artist Tish Jones, multi-instrumentalist Douglas R. Ewart and Ndosi on vocals. Out-of-towner Reid is a fast-rising star, and this will be a rare appearance. 8 p.m. FMI and tickets ($15 advance/$20 door). Note the time change: This series was previously announced for 9 p.m.
Wednesday (Christmas Day, Dec. 25) at the Film Society’s St. Anthony Main Theatre: “Little Women.” Writer-director Greta Gerwig’s (“Lady Bird”) adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s novel is being hailed as a new classic. The cast includes Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Timothée Chalamet, Laura Dern and Meryl Streep. FMI including trailer, times and tickets.
Thursday (Dec. 26) at Crooners: Peg Carrothers “Beyond the Blue Horizon” CD release. Her voice is like a watercolor, both vivid and translucent. Her accompanists are her husband, the superb pianist Bill Carrothers, bassist Billy Peterson and guitarist Dean Magraw. The songs on her new album – only her third in 20 years – include jazz standards, gems from the Great American Songbook, and a reinvention of Trent Reznor’s “Right Where It Belongs.” Doors at 4:30, show at 6. In the Dunsmore Room. FMI and tickets ($20).