Friday, November 9, 2007

Jazz finds steady rhythm and soul in the Twin Cities

Originally published on on Friday, November 9, 2007

Maybe it's just artsy civic pride, but I've heard local jazz enthusiasts boast that there are more live jazz venues per capita in the Twin Cities than anywhere else in the United States.

I haven't done the math but it is true that if you're so inclined, you can attend a live-jazz performance here any night of the week, including Sunday, with the occasional exception of a holiday. If you want to attend more than one show a night, you can do that, too.

We have three nationally known jazz clubs (the Dakota, the Artists' Quarter and Rossi's), the annual Northrop Jazz Season, and the JazzMN Big Band, a professional orchestra now in its ninth full season. You can hear jazz at Orchestra Hall, the Walker Art Center, the Cedar Cultural Center, the Hopkins Center for the Arts, Mears Park in St. Paul's Lowertown and the Lake Harriet band shell.

The University of Minnesota's jazz ensembles give free public performances. MacPhail Center for Music sponsors Jazz Thursdays. The Twin Cities Jazz Society has an annual "Jazz from J to Z" concert series. Earlier this year, the Minneapolis Central Library hosted a six-part program on jazz with live music. At some of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra's Friday evening concerts, you can spend the second half in the Ordway lobby listening to jazz instead of returning to the seat you paid for, something I don't quite understand but there it is.

When you make a restaurant reservation, you may get a side of jazz — at the Times, Babalu, the Birchwood and more recently Crave and Café Maude, to name a few. On Saturdays at D'Amico Cucina in Butler Square, there's jazz in the bar; on Mondays, you can enjoy jazz with your pepperoni at Fireside Pizza in Richfield beneath the spreading boughs of its faux indoor tree. And we haven't even gotten to the small cafés and coffee shops (like the Acadia, St. Paul's Amore, and the Beat in Uptown) that give jazz musicians a place to play.

Each year brings a series of jazz festivals: the Twin Cities Jazz Festival (previously the Hot Summer Jazz Festival) in June and a Winter Jazz Festival in February. The Minnesota Sur Seine, conceived as a jazz festival for regional and international musicians, has expanded to include other forms of music. But the festival (formerly held in October, now moved to May) is still a lively showcase for the experimental and avant-garde. And Burnsville has its own jazz festival each August.

In the 1920s, jazz was branded the devil's music, but today in Minneapolis you can hear it in church. The Soul Café series at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church serves poetry with jazz. Mercy Seat Church in northeast Minneapolis offers a jazz liturgy.

Why is Minneapolis-St. Paul such a thriving jazz community? We know it's not the climate or the late bar hours. Michele Jansen, station manager at KBEM and host of "Jazz and the Spirit," notes that "the music community in general thrives here." She credits the jazz programs in our schools and says that "jazz touches people's souls."

Kelly Rossum is a jazz artist, composer, and educator at MacPhail, where he coordinates the jazz program. He not only hears a lot of jazz, but he also performs a lot of jazz in the Twin Cities and elsewhere, seeing a bigger picture than most of us do; he'll spend much of this December in New York City. He believes "the support for the arts here is arguably at the highest level of any metropolitan area in the country." Minnesotans, "specifically here in the Twin Cities," have a deep commitment to culture and the arts. Many fine musicians live here, and our music scene is strong enough to support different kinds of music, even different kinds of jazz.

One thing we don't have is a major music label. "The national spotlight still follows the outdated model of the '90s," Rossum says, "which is to follow the releases and careers of signed artists." With more artists starting their own labels or breaking away from the big ones, that might not matter for long.

Pamela's picks

Tim Ries's Rolling Stones Project: Ries plays saxophone and keyboards with the Stones when they go on tour. With the blessing of the Glimmer Twins, he has created jazz arrangements for several Stones tunes including "Satisfaction" and "You Can't Always Get What You Want." It's not only rock 'n' roll and people like it. The Dakota: Friday, Nov. 9 and Saturday, Nov. 10, 7 p.m. ($18) and 9:30 p.m. ($12).

Frode Halti
Photo by C.F. Wesenberg

Frode Haltli Quartet: The Norwegian accordion player (above) is part of the Walker's New World Jazz mini-series, programmed by Philip Bither, which is turning out to be an umbrella for all sorts of surprises. Haltli could play anything from waltzes to Albert Ayler-inspired free jazz, and he's bringing a singer with him, and a trumpet player, and a violist. Please, no accordion or viola jokes, and don't call him Frodo. Walker Art Center, McGuire Theater, 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10. ($25; $21 Walker members).

Rondi Charleston: She's a classically trained Juilliard grad who sang chamber music and opera until she "broke free" (as one bio put it) and made the switch to jazz. Along the way, she was an investigative reporter for "Prime Time Live." She's playing top venues, getting good reviews, and touring for her third CD, "In My Life." She's with a stellar band including Bruce Barth on piano and Joel Frahm on saxophone. The Dakota, Monday, Nov. 12 and Tuesday, Nov. 13, 7 p.m. ($22) and 9:30 p.m. ($15).

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