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Live jazz is hurting, but there’s hope; Walking Shadow to present ‘Beowulf’ online

ALSO: Virtual performances by the Miró Quartet, Theatre Pro Rata, Theater Mu and more.

Crooners, which stayed open until it no longer could, today announced an ambitious plan to livestream concerts five nights a week from its otherwise (mostly) empty club.
Photo by Kathleen Tauer

All the arts are hurting, and this is no time to play favorites. But our original MinnPost beat was jazz, and we have always felt close to that music – its variety and energy, constant reinvention, reverence for the elders and commitment to improvisation. Every jazz performance is one of a kind, in the moment and never to be repeated. Jazz is full of surprises and miracles, emotion and powerful human connection.

There are many great jazz recordings, but the music is best experienced live. The way to hear jazz is in a crowded room (thankfully, no longer a smoky crowded room) as close to the stage, if there is one, as you can get. Jazz and social distancing are not compatible.

So these are tough times for live jazz, jazz musicians, jazz presenters and fans. Clubs and bars have closed their doors. Festivals have been canceled. Locally, we lost our Twin Cities Winter Jazz Festival. The Black Dog, Crooners, the Dakota, Icehouse, Jazz Central Studios, Khyber Pass and Studio Z, all places where jazz was regularly or often heard, are dark.

Until recently, the coming weeks were filled with many jazz performances by touring artists. At the Dakota, Chris Botti, who would have played eight shows over four nights, has been rescheduled from early April to October. Stanley Clark, Benny Green, John Pizzarelli, Kandace Springs, Kurt Elling and José James have all been rescheduled or postponed. The Maria Schneider Orchestra’s highly anticipated concert at the Hopkins Center for the Arts has been canceled and cannot be rescheduled. Both Gregory Porter and Brad Mehldau were set to appear at the Fitzgerald; postponed.

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In an interview with NPR’s “Morning Edition,” jazz writer Nate Chinen said, “Just like countless workers in the service economy, musicians are looking at a terrible hit to their livelihood. The scale of the disruption is almost unfathomable. For improvising musicians who generally don’t have big record sales, touring revenue is absolutely crucial and this is the time of year when that would usually be ramping up.” And: “Especially for improvising musicians, the connection with an audience is a lifeblood.”

The question now is, can we create and sustain that connection virtually? That’s all we’ve got at the moment, and it’s worth a try. Cecile McLorin Salvant, Chick Corea and Emmet Cohen, to name just a few, have all performed concerts (and, in Corea’s case, practice sessions) from home and streamed them live over their Facebook pages.

Crooners, which stayed open until it no longer could, today announced an ambitious plan to livestream concerts five nights a week from its otherwise (mostly) empty club – and pay the artists market rates. Partnering with the Twin Cities Jazz Festival, Jazz88 (radio station KBEM-FM) and Jazz Central, it will launch a series called “Keep Music Live” on Friday, April 3.

A fund administered by the Twin Cities Jazz Festival will underwrite the concerts with the help of viewers willing to contribute. An initial commitment of $25,000, led by local music supporters Mike and Donna Wolsted, is already in place.

Jazz88 will simulcast the shows, which will be broadcast from the stage of the intimate Dunsmore Room, and archive them for later on-demand viewing. Listeners will be able to donate online. Crooners will provide its staff and facilities at no cost and will derive no income from the livestream performances, which will all be performed without an audience.

“We put out a call for support to our patrons to get this started, and the response has been amazing,” Twin Cities Jazz Festival Executive Director Steve Heckler said in a statement. All participants will be asked to follow health protocols. Crooners owner Mary M. Tjosvold owns Mary T. Inc., a health care line of businesses. She said that participants “will be screened when they arrive, and we will observe social distancing on stage and off when the shows are produced.”

There will be a lot of jazz, but the series won’t be all jazz. Said Crooners music director Andrew Walesch, “The artists we are programming are among our favorites at the club. They perform with us regularly, are familiar with our operation, and are beloved in town … [We] thrive on a mix of styles, sensibilities and generations. That diversity is what we’re striving for with ‘Keep Music Live.’”

At the time of this writing, the initial schedule hadn’t yet been released. Watch for it on the Artscape Facebook page.

The picks

Daily at noon on Facebook Live: Fred Hersch: Tune of the Day. Starting last Sunday (March 22), the great jazz pianist, composer and improviser Hersch has played a solo mini-concert each day at noon from his home in Pennsylvania. He has said he’ll continue “for the duration,” and we quickly formed the habit of welcoming this midday music break. He’s taking requests, too. We last saw Hersch here at the Dakota in October, with the brilliant young guitarist Julian Lage. 12 p.m. at this link. At midweek, they were still working out some kinks with the whole Facebook Live thing. Be patient, it’s worth it.

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Streaming now: “The Ballad of Fred Hersch.” This music-filled 2017 documentary by Charlotte Lagarde and Carrie Lozano charts the remarkable musical and personal journey of Hersch, one of the first openly gay jazz musicians and a long-term HIV/AIDS survivor who spent two months in a coma, then relearned piano and today plays better than ever. Did we mention he’s enormously prolific? Here’s his discography. Watch here for free, courtesy of the directors.

Tonight (Thursday, March 26) on Facebook Live: Twin Cities Drum Collective Presents: An Evening Solo Performance with Dave King. Two words: Heck yes. If you think solo drums are boring, you haven’t heard King. He’s fierce, he’s strong, he’s endlessly inventive, he’s funny and he plays with toys, like a Playskool Happy Apple and an ET walkie-talkie. 6 p.m. at this link.

Tonight via the 92nd Street Y in New York City: Jonathan Biss. Known here for his series of Beethoven/5 concerts commissioned by the SPCO, in which he plays a Beethoven piano concerto and a new concerto by a living composer written in response to Beethoven, Biss was scheduled to play the 92nd Street Y. Instead, he’ll play at home and the 92nd Street Y will stream it. The program includes Beethoven’s final three piano sonatas, #30, #31 and #32. 6:30 p.m. CST (7:30 p.m. EST) at this link.

Starts tonight on Facebook Live: Walking Shadow Theatre: Charlie Bethel’s “Beowulf.” John Heimbuch, Walking Shadow’s co-artistic director, will perform Bethel’s one-person adaptation of the Old English epic poem about a warrior who battles monsters and becomes king. Directed by Amy Rummenie, this 2019 Fringe favorite won the Staff Pick Golden Lanyard Award. 60 min., no intermission, ages 10 and up. There will be six performances in all: tonight, Saturday and Sunday this week and next. Pay-what-you-can. Here’s a trailer. 8 p.m. Thursdays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays at this link.

Meghan Kreidler, Leaah Nanako Winkler, Eric Sharp
Courtesy of Theater Mu
The Mu-Tini Hour featuring, left to right: Meghan Kreidler, Leaah Nanako Winkler and Eric Sharp.
Friday on Facebook Live: Theater Mu: Mu-Tini Hour. A virtual hangout with Leah Nanako Winkler, award-winning playwright of “Two Mile Hollow” and “Hot Asian Doctor Husband,” and popular Twin Cities artists Meghan Kreidler and Eric Sharp, who both starred in “Hot Asian Doctor Husband.” It will be hosted by Mu’s Artistic Director Lily Tung Crystal, who recently made her Twin Cities acting debut at Mixed Blood in “Interstate: A New Musical.” When else would you get the chance to chat with these four? The hour will include some social-distancing-inspired games and survival tips for life in isolation. 7 p.m. at this link. RSVP here.

Saturday on Zoom: Theatre Pro Rata: Lauren Gunderson’s “Silent Sky.” A one-night-only, actors-only encore performance of Pro Rata’s recent production of Gunderson’s play about Henrietta Leavitt, one of the women “computers” who worked at Harvard College Observatory in the early 1900s. The original run at the Bell Museum’s Planetarium nearly sold out. This time, the actors will perform in their own living rooms in front of their own computers. This is a ticketed event; purchase here (pick-your-price from $14-84) and you’ll receive instructions and a password by email. Here’s a play guide. Here’s the program.

Starting Sunday on the Schubert Club’s website: Miró Quartet. A virtual encore performance of the September 2018 Music in the Park series concert, in its entirety. The program includes works by Schumann, Mendelssohn, and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Kevin Puts (Quartet No. 3 Credo). The performance will be posted at 4 p.m. and will remain available for a week at this link.

U2 performing on the First Avenue in 1982.
Photo by Greg Helgeson
U2 performing on the First Avenue stage in 1982.
Monday on TPT/Twin Cities PBS: “First Avenue: Closer to the Stars.” TPT is celebrating First Ave’s 50th anniversary with a new documentary about the club’s colorful history. Since we can’t be there in person, tuning in to TPT at 9 p.m. Monday for the premiere is the next best thing. The film will also be available for streaming on the PBS Video app and TPT’s website. Here’s a trailer.