Tuesday, June 30, 2009

D'Amico Cucina: The second-to-last night

When: Friday, June 26, 2009 • Where: D'Amico Cucina, Butler Square

A few years back I took HH to D'Amico Cucina for his birthday. Last Friday's repeat performance was tinged with nostalgia. The fabled Italian restaurant would close the next day, a casualty of changing economic times, the proximity of the new Twins stadium, and various traffic and parking woes.

It's not that the company is failing--D'Amico and Partners owns Cafe and Bar Lurcat, all of the D'Amico & Sons restaurants, Campiello (although the one in Minneapolis has closed, there are others in Eden Prairie and in Naples, Florida for snowbirds), and Masa, the gourmet Mexican restaurant on Nicollet Mall. The closing is "proactive" and it's rumored that Cucina might relocate.

But the original location was special. It was beautiful, comfortable, and the food and service were amazing. It was also, for 22 years, a sophisticated jazz venue on the weekends and a constant gig for many area musicians. Think Bobby Short at the Carlisle in New York City.

The regulars came out on Friday, and many friends. We sat at the bar, where the music was. Adam Linz and Luke Polipnick were at the other end. Jeremy and Marsha Walker showed up. Benny Weinbeck was on piano, Gordy Johnson on bass, JT Bates on drums. The players changed throughout the evening: Adam briefly took over for Gordy, Phil Hey replaced JT, Tommy O'Donnell sat in for Benny. Scott Fultz brought his saxophone, Benny's brother Henry his cornet, and for a time it was a quintet.

From where we were sitting, we could see the musicians, and while they spent most of the evening playing, there were breaks when they stood and talked together, handsome men in suits and ties, class acts in a classy place. We ate ahi tuna and veal in a sauce and perfect seared scallops, lobster gnocchi and tiny green beens, beef tenderloin and chocolate. The place was packed, the bartenders worked at hyperspeed, it was noisy but fun. The music—classics, standards, swinging and sweet, the kind you can turn to and focus on, then turn away from to toast and kiss your husband, yet you're still hearing it and it's shaping your mood and making your wine taste even better—the music went on and on and then it stopped.

Photos by John Whiting. Top to bottom: Benny Weinbeck; Gordy Johnson; Phil, Gordy, Benny, Scott, Henry; Henry Weinbeck.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Live music outdoors all summer long

Links to schedules/locations/information for live music outdoors in the Twin Cities this summer. All of these series include some jazz performances.

Cedar Outdoors (Every Thursday from July 2 - August 27 on the patio at the Cedar Cultural Center. Patio opens at 6, music starts at 7.)

Summer at Northrop (noon - 1 pm, Mondays-Thursdays, Northrop Plaza at the U of M)

Minnesota History Center 9 Nights of Music (6:30 pm - 8pm, Tuesdays in July and August, Laura Jane Musser Plaza, Minnesota History Center)

Outdoors at St. Anthony Main (7 pm - 10 pm Fridays and Saturdays, 5 pm - 8pm Sundays, Minneapolis Riverfront District)

Peavey Plaza during Sommerfest (Friday, July 17 - Saturday, August 1; before each concert inside Orchestra Hall and after the Friday and Saturday night concerts)

Music in the Parks - Minneapolis (Over 200 free performances at Bryant Square Park, Father Hennepin Bluffs, Lake Harriet Bandshell, Minnehaha Falls)

Music in the Parks - St. Paul (Free concerts at Rice Park, Como Lakeside Pavilion, Mears Park, and Phalen Park. The schedule also includes Friday and Saturday evening theater-style musicals at Como Lakeside Pavilion in July and August that aren't free. I'll be ignoring those - not because they cost money but because they're musicals.)

Friday, June 26, 2009

The night Prince didn't play the Dakota

"The rumor had legs. It was all supposedly hush-hush but enough of a crowd gathered to fill the Dakota’s bar side and spill outdoors onto the patio. Fans, press, and out-of-towners came to see if the buzz was true: Would Prince play a late set at the downtown club?"

He didn't, but it was still a good time. Click here to read all about it on MinnPost.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Karrin Allyson at the Dakota

When: Tuesday, June 23 • Where: Dakota • Who: Karrin Allyson, voice and piano; Rod Fleeman, guitar; Larry Kohut, bass

"A performance by vocalist and pianist Karrin Allyson is less a concert, more an exchange of confidences...." Click here to go to MinnPost for the rest of the review. No photos there.

Last night's late show set list:
1 "I've Got the Blues" (Wes Montgomery)
2 "Desafinado" (Jobim)
3 "Everybody's Crying Mercy" (Mose Allison)
4 (something in Portuguese)
5 "Estrada Do Sol" (Jobim; Karrin sung this one for her mom, who as always was in the house)
6 "Sweet Home Cookin' Man"
7 "Night and Day" (fellow Karrin fan Bevyn Marvy thinks this should be her theme song, she does it so well)
8 "Moanin'" (Bobby Timmons, lyrics by Jon Hendricks; this was pianist Laura Caviani's arrangement, and she was there to play it; see the photo below)
9 "Nancy with the Laughing Face" (by Jimmy van Heusen, lyrics by Phil Silvers; Laura at the piano)
10 "Surrender the Soul" (Vinicius de Moraes)
11 "Give It Up or Let Me Go" (Bonnie Raitt)
12 Encore: "Guilty" (Randy Newman)

How eclectic is that? She looked and sounded beautiful. And her minimalist band--just Fleeman on guitar, Kohut on bass, occasionally Karrin on piano (and, in the photo below, her friend Laura Caviani sitting in)--was a perfect setting for a deeply personal evening of music.

Photos by John Whiting.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Kurt Elling talks about “Dedicated to You”

When: February 19, 2009 • Where: KFAI RadioWho: Janis Lane-Ewart, “Collective Eye” host; yours truly; Kurt Elling on the phone from NYC

Today (June 23) is the day Kurt Elling fans have been waiting for: the release of his latest CD on Concord, Dedicated to You: Kurt Elling Sings the Music of Coltrane and Hartman. Recorded in January 2009 in the Allen Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center, it features saxophonist Ernie Watts, the Laurence Hobgood Trio, and the ETHEL String Quartet.

Earlier this year, on February 19, the night before the “Dedicated to You” tour came to the Ted Mann Theater in Minneapolis as part of the Northrop Jazz Season, Janis Lane-Ewart and I did a live on-air interview with Elling for KFAI Radio. In celebration of the CD release, here’s the transcript, complete and unedited.

KFAI: Mr. Elling, are you there?

Kurt Elling: I sure am. How are you guys doing tonight?

KFAI: We’re fabulous and happy to have you join the Twin Cities community just a few…22 hours before you are arriving in town to share with us the John Coltrane/Johnny Hartman concert.

KE: Mmm-hmm.

KFAI: Looking forward to that—I will mention that I saw it in Monterey last September; I think that was the second time you performed it. Enjoyed it very much and looking forward to seeing it again.

KE: Oh, great. We’ve got some new arrangements that we weren’t able to put into that show. And we’ve recorded it now.

KFAI: I heard about that. At the Allen Room?

KE: Mmm-hmm.

KFAI: Looking forward to hearing that. Janis and I were wondering, and we thought our listeners might be interested to know, what drew you to this project in the first place?

KE: This came about initially at the behest of the Chicago Jazz Festival, which gave me a call about three years ago now inviting me to do something with the Johnny Hartman/John Coltrane material as an opening act for Josh Redman, who was going to be doing the Africa/Brass [a 1961 album by Coltrane]. They wanted to do something that was two sides of John Coltrane.

And, you know, whenever I get a request like that, I’m always interested to entertain it, but I always take it with the proviso that I’m not very interested in the simple reiteration of great music, or even a classic record like this. That doesn’t seem very interesting to me, it doesn’t seem very interesting to the audience… if you want to hear that specific thing, wouldn’t you just want to hear Johnny Hartman do it?

So I was working with a good friend from Chicago named Jim Gailloreto at that time on arrangements for his own recording for his own group featuring saxophone, voice, string quartet, and bass, and it was such an interesting sound that I hadn’t really considered before that I immediately said, well, let’s get some string quartet on this, because it updates the flavor, or it changes it around, or it puts it into a new space in such a way that it maintains the, what, the sort of ballad-neighborhood intensity. So that’s how it started.

We had Ari Brown, a really wonderful tenor player out of Chicago, on that initial thing, and we’ve had Bob Mintzer play it with us a number of times in different configurations, Carnegie Hall and such, and then, as you mentioned, we recorded it just the other week at Lincoln Center with Ernie Watts, who will be with us in Minneapolis this time. It’s just gonna be thrilling.

KFAI: He was with you in Monterey as well.

KE: Mmm-hmm.

KFAI: So the string quartet was a really interesting idea. Did you know the ETHEL—you’re using the ETHEL string quartet in your performances and I assume the recording as well—was there a particular reason you went with them?

KE: Well, you know, they have a musical flexibility that is purposeful. You think string quartet, you think four people who are very, very serious, man, who are going to be doing Beethoven’s such-and-such or other, and they can certainly blow like that, but they’re also very interested and they spend a lot of their time doing new music with some very hip people, big pop stars and new music people and Charles Ives things and just crazy stuff, and they can swing, too.

So their musical approach seemed to be to be the right kind of flexibility, and then when we got together and actually tried to play some of the stuff, they sounded great, and they’re wonderful people to work with, too, so it all falls together.

KFAI: They were at the Southern theater in Minneapolis not too long, ago, Janis; do you remember that?

KE: Oh!

KFAI: I do. And I also, having come from Chicago and served on the board of the Jazz Institute and on the programming committee as well, that makes a variety of decisions about programming for the festival, and having heard you describe the musicians that you have performed with on this particular project, I’m also curious about what this particular work means to you at this point in time. It was originally presented to you three years ago, and now three years hence, when we are in a different historical moment, you have decided to not only record the work but are also touring with it. Is there some connection that’s happening for you now in terms of this period of time?

KE: I don’t know if there’s anything as deep as all that specifically happening as much as there is an opportunity for me in between studio recordings…. I had never really intended to record this material, this is more of a special project for me, and people who have followed me in the past know that when I do a special project, it really usually only lasts a couple of nights or a month, or a small tour later or what have you, and then it goes the way of all things, but in this case—

This has been kind of a big deal. You’re doing this through April, correct?

Yeah, it’s definitely blossomed of its own accord. And, I mean, you know, it’s my thing, if any number of my other special projects would have had lives as extensive as this, including some of the theatrical things, the things that I’ve done with the Steppenwolf Theatre, the things that I’ve done with dancers and what not, if any of those had come across with the kind of velocity that we seem to be getting with this, I would have been happy about that, too.

You try your hardest to make interesting, beautiful, creative things, and for them to be seen by the broadest number of people. In this case, it seems like people really like to hear it, and thanks to people—you mentioned Monterey before, and a number of different places that just really like the concept, and then when they hear the music they really want to support it, who am I to say no to that?

KFAI: You mentioned that you had some new arrangements for us this time, and I was wondering how else has this project evolved for you since you started performing it?

KE: Well, you know, I think we’ve got a pretty good set list together, for one thing [laughs]. We’ve all grown accustomed to each other, it’s been…. I’ll tell you, one of the really significant ways, because of the number of dates we’ve done, and now the recording, we’ve had the opportunity to get to know Ernie Watts a lot better than we would have had we only done the show a couple of times, and the level of musicianship, and the velocity of his music, and the energy that’s coming out of him, and he’s sharing with us and with the audience, is just a wonderful and overpowering thing. I really can’t say enough about what a pleasure it is, and how inspiring it is, to have him with us every night.

KFAI: In the work that you’re doing now, Mr. Elling, it’s evolved over time, and I know, having come from Chicago, that a lot of your work is in some regards in development through the Wednesday night sessions that you do or have done at the Green Mill. Have you found a similar home for your new development or further development while you’re now in New York?

KE: I haven’t really, but then I haven’t really had that much time to actually be home. We’re on the road so much, we were just counting up the nights from last year, and it was about 180 nights on the road doing dates, so by the time you get to that number of dates and you come home, you’ve done a lot of developing [laughs]. You’re ready to sit down on a Wednesday night and act like a normal person.

KFAI: I want to mention for people who are interested in knowing where you’re touring, and reading your lyrics, and learning about your band, that you have a really excellent, very friendly, accessible, information-packed website at KurtElling.com and I would suggest that people go there.

KE: Yeah. Thank you.

KFAI: We know that you are on Eastern coast time and so we don’t want to keep you up knowing that you’re traveling tomorrow. I do want to ask you if there’s anything else that we’ve not touched upon that you’d like to share with our listeners here in the Twin Cities.

KE: Well, you know, every time I come back to the Twin Cities, it’s a very, very special occasion for me. I have so many wonderful friends and so many memories.

I’m a graduate of Gustavus Adolphus [a college in St. Peter, MN] and I really have a deep, deep love and kinship with Minnesota and with that part of the world. Some of my most wonderful memories, developing, not just as a person but as a musician, at Gustavus and the number of nights we got to sing together—that kind of thing. It’s really a beautiful thing.

I’m so, so pleased to be able to come home again and present such a pretty thing to you. I really hope people will come out and brave that which must be braved. [Elling's reference is to winter in Minnesota.]

KFAI: It’s not so bad at the moment.

KE: We’ll definitely play as well as we can for you.

KFAI: We look forward to hearing you tomorrow night, and tonight’s program will continue with the music you have shared with listeners on various recordings and thjat also provide our listeners with a continuation of the celebration of African-American history here on KFAI.

KE: Beautiful.

KFAI: Thank you very much. We look forward to welcoming you back tomorrow.

KE: Marvelous. Thanks so much.

KFAI: See you then. You’re welcome. Travel safely.

P.S. The set list for the rest of the program included music by Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane, and recordings by Elling of songs by African-American composers or musicians. (This show aired during African-American History Month.) We ended with Elling’s “Tanganyika Dance” from Bob Belden’s Shades of Blue, a gem from 1994 based on McCoy Tyner’s “Man from Tanganyika” (Tender Moments, 1967) for which Elling wrote lyrics. Shades of Blue came out the year before Elling released his first CD as leader, Close Your Eyes (1995).

At last week’s Jazz Awards in New York, Elling was named Male Vocalist of the Year.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Hiromi’s playhouse at the Dakota

When: Sunday, June 21 • Where: DakotaWho: Hiromi’s Sonicbloom: Hiromi Uehara, piano and keyboards; David “Fuze” Fiuczynski, guitar; Tony Grey, bass; Mauricio Zottarelli, drums

What a fun show. Not in the sense of silly or lacking seriousness, but in the sense of playful, imaginative, high-energy, and entertaining. And flat-out amazing. What begins with three slow piano chords bursts into nearly 90 minutes of nonstop music-making fun.

Born in 1979, Hiromi started playing piano at age 6. A meeting with Chick Corea in Tokyo when she was 17 opened doors. (She recently released a double CD with Corea called Duet. Just the two of them, all-acoustic.) One of her mentors is Ahmad Jamal, who describes her as “one of the most spectacular talents in the world.”

For a time she sported a two-tone ponytail. When she walks on stage, her bouncy demeanor, megawatt smile, and little-girl voice can fool you into thinking she’s a Japanese teenager on her way to the Hello Kitty store. Then she starts to play and the thuds you hear are jaws hitting tables.

Her hair is shorter now, and curly (except for her bangs), and tonight she wears a black fabric flower tucked into one side, and a patterned silk shift. She’s the most animated performer I have ever seen. She turns from the piano to an electronic keyboard at her right, two more on top of the piano; sometimes she plays two at once. She can't sit still.

Apparently she draws from everything she has ever heard or dreamed—classical, jazz, jingles, rock, blues, metal, video games—and sometimes her music is a bit too fusiony for me. Except for the drums and the acoustic piano, all of the instruments are wired: Grey plays electric bass, Fiuczynski electric guitar. Sounds are amplified and manipulated and sometimes you can’t tell who’s playing what, especially when one of Hiromi’s keyboards wails like a guitar. But I quibble.

We hear her originals “Time Travel” and “Deep Into the Night,” both from Time Control (2007), the latter a blend of intensity and lyricism. Hiromi makes room—a lot of room—for Fiuczynski, who wields his two-necked axe like Rambo’s machine gun.

It's quite a guitar. Twelve strings on the top, seven on the bottom. Guitar companies like Campbell America, First Act, and Sweden’s Johan Gustavsson custom-make instruments for Fiuczynski and name them FuZix, Fuzilla, Fuzeblaster. Tonight he’s playing the Fuzeblaster. I picture him on stage with Steve Smith. That would be something to see.

“Sukiyaki” is next. Who remembers that weird 1963 hit by Japanese crooner Kyu Sakamoto? Unfortunately, I do. (What was with 1963? That was also the year of Rolf Harris’s “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport,” “Dominique” by the Singing Nun, and Allen Sherman’s “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh.” Thank God we were about to be invaded by the Brits.) Hiromi makes me like this song. She makes it funky. Fiuczynski takes the ending and draws it out and out, finally strumming the 12-string part of the Fuzebeast with the sound turned down. Dry, distant strings. (Earlier he made them squeak like balloons.) It’s hilarious. The whole band has a sense of humor. (On Sonicbloom's latest CD, Beyond Standard, "Sukiyaki" goes by its original name, “Ue Wo Muite Aruko.”)

Fiuczynski, Grey, and Zottarelli exit through the curtain, leaving Hiromi alone on stage. Her solo during the first set, as reported later by Andrea Swensson for City Pages, was “I’ve Got Rhythm,” which “then transitioned into a sprawling, banging collage of blues scales and melodies, including Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue.’” We get Pachelbel’s greatest hit, the Canon in D, that overplayed classical cliché, only Hiromi turns it into a manic romp, her fingers so fast that the keyboard of the Dakota’s Yamaha is in danger of melting. She is a seriously speedy player. Take a look at this. Note the blurs.

The band returns and Fiuczynski launches into some heavy riffs (his other bands include the Screaming Headless Torsos and Lunar Crush, with John Medeski) that morph into Duke Ellington’s “Caravan,” another track from Beyond Standard. Hiromi plays the piano with her hands and elbows and forearms, bashing out blocks of notes. Here’s where one of the electronic keyboards on top of the piano sounds like a guitar. Zottarelli, who’s been working hard at the back of the stage all night, finally gets a solo, a good one. Hiromi dances and claps at the side of the stage.

A fiery encore—don’t know what it is—and they’re done. I bring home a copy of Beyond Standard signed by all four members of this global band: Hiromi, born in Japan, educated there and at Berklee in Boston; Fiuczynski, from New Jersey via Germany (with stops at Jupiter and Saturn); Grey, from Newcastle, England; Zottarelli, from Brazil. Listening now to Debussy’s “Clair de Lune.” Electric moonlight.

Photos by John Whiting.

The Capri reopens with a tribute to Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, and Joe Williams

When: Sunday, June 21 • Where: Capri TheatreWho: Dennis Spears, Debbie Duncan, Charmin Michelle, vocals; The Wolverines Classic Jazz Trio: Rick Carlson, piano; Keith Boyles, bass; Dick Bortolussi, drums

There should have been a parade on West Broadway this weekend to announce the reopening of the Capri Theatre. Formerly the Paradise Theater, once one of 13 movie theaters in North Minneapolis and the only one still standing, the 82-year-old building, now owned by the Plymouth Christian Youth Center, is being reborn as a performance venue and, in the words of Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, “a beacon for changing times on West Broadway.”

North Minneapolis has seen its share of troubles—gangs, crime, violence, foreclosures. You wouldn’t know it inside the Capri, with its renovated lobby and auditorium. A capital campaign calls for $9–$12 million to renovate and expand the building; current economic conditions made it necessary to do what could be done now, for under $1 million, as quickly as possible. After a “Tribute to Jeanne Arland Peterson” concert on Sunday, April 19, the Capri closed and the contractors moved in. Two months later, the lights came on for a “Tribute to Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, and Joe Williams.” The premiere on Saturday night sold out; the matinee on Sunday was nearly a full house.

I’d never been to the Capri before but I liked what I saw. A brightly-lit marquee, a welcoming lobby, an intimate 240-seat theater, and some of my favorite performers on stage. A poised young PCYC graduate welcomed the crowd, director Anne Long told us a bit about the center and the Capri, and the Wolverines Classic Jazz Trio began with Neal Hefti’s upbeat “Cute.”

Charmin Michelle sang songs made famous by Lena Horne, Dennis Spears channeled Joe Williams, and Debbie Duncan brought us Ella Fitzgerald. Everyone looked fabulous, dressed to the nines. On stage were a giant vase of white calla lilies and a white chaise lounge. The band wore red boutonnieres. Classy.

Jazz education was part of the program; each singer was introduced with a bit of history about the legend to whom he or she was paying tribute. The audience, unlike most jazz audiences, was mixed, which gave Spears the green light for attempting a little call-and-response with the crowd. “Ain’t nothin’ deep about it, Minnesota,” Spears gently chided. “When we call, you respond!” By the end of the song he had most of the crowd singing “Hey, hey, the Capri’s all right!”

Michelle was her velvety self on “Stormy Weather” and “From This Moment On,” Spears brought Joe Williams home with “Every Day I Have the Blues” and “I Was Telling Her About You,” during which he displayed his acting skills. I won’t say Duncan stole the show because I enjoyed Charmin and Dennis very much, but she definitely ratcheted up the energy with Ella’s “Mr. Paganini.” Then she took us to Berlin for Ella’s 1960 performance of “Mack the Knife.” Ella won a Grammy for forgetting most of the words and famously improvising the lyrics (“And now Ella, Ella and her fellas/We’re making a wreck, what a wreck of Mack the Knife”). Duncan had to do a bit more improvising than she expected; her mic failed midway through the song. She moved to another without missing a beat.

There were a few glitches with the sound and the lighting but nothing most people probably noticed much or cared about. Two encores, “Summertime” and “Squeeze Me,” both sung by all three, brought the show to a little over an hour. Perfect matinee length IMHO. We heard hints of events to come: the return of Sanford Moore, a live recording by Spears, a “Hot Jazz Summer Nights” program starring Michelle. At a reception in the lobby afterward, people were promising to buy season tickets.

Photos from the Capri website. Photo of Charmin Michelle, Dennis Spears, and Debbie Duncan not from this performance.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Jazz Night Out

There's live music at 16 clubs and restaurants tonight, and a free trolley to take you from one to the next and the next after that. You can hear singers, straight-ahead jazz, piano jazz, salsa with soul, some blues and roots, improvisation, and the Great American Songbook. You can take your beer on the trolley. Are you in New Orleans? New York? Surely not St. Paul, Minnesota.

When the Twin Cities Jazz Festival moved this year from mostly Minneapolis to exclusively St. Paul, it brought along one of my favorite parts: the Jazz Night Out that opens the festival. Buy a button for $15, ride around free from 8:30 pm to 12:30 am, get in free everywhere, save a buck on beer and rail drinks. A fun way to spend a summer evening.

We have dinner at the Bulldog, then go to the Camp Bar for the Jazz Vocalists of Minnesota show (where we hear Gregg Marquardt, Tommy Bruce, Connie Dusseau, and Lucia Newell...Lucia, will you please record some of those Betty Carter songs? Arne and Nancy, will you forgive us for leaving before you sang?). From there to the Black Dog (via a circuitous trolley route) for the Fantastic Merlins with Nathan Hanson, Brian Roessler, and Pete Hennig. From there to Rumours & Innuendo for Framework with Chris Olson, Chris Bates, and Jay Epstein. Dance music thumps up from downstairs. Olson plays his iPod guitar. We drink more beer.

From there (for some of us) to the Artists' Quarter for a rare appearance by The Five with Kenny Horst, Dave Karr, Steve Kenny, Tom Lewis, and Mikkel Romstad. HH and I head home so I can be relatively bright-eyed for my 8:30 am Friday radio date with Ed Jones, which turns out to be an 8:10 am date--good thing I get up early and check my email.

The Jazz Festival continues through Saturday night. It looks like a good weekend for live music in Mears Park.

Photos: The $15 button. Jazz Police Chief Don Berryman on the trolley but not, as he noted, on the wagon.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Jazz at the White House

A good-news press release from Jazz at Lincoln Center. Amazing: Jazz at the White House and it's not even Black History Month. Amazing x 2: Jazz education at the White House. Amazing x 3: A music education series that starts with jazz. What's next, a garden on the White House grounds?

Sean Jones, who's dear to us in Minnesota and the Dakota (and who played "Happy Birthday" to HH last year around this time), will be part of the program. Go Sean!

White House Music Series Begins with Jazz Hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama
June 11, 2009

First Lady Michelle Obama will introduce the White House Music Series which will feature artists of all ages who will perform, educate and interact with young people. The series will begin with the Jazz Studio on Monday followed by country and classical music events this summer and fall.

On Monday, June 15th, 150 students will participate in classes led by jazz experts including Wynton, Branford and Ellis Marsalis. They will then attend a concert featuring jazz greats, Paquito D’Rivera and child protégés Tony Madruga with his ensemble…

Jazz at Lincoln Center is honored to participate with Mrs. Michelle Obama in the launch of the White House Music Series: The Jazz Studio. The series presents educational events that demonstrate the importance of arts education to reinvigorate the creativity and innovation that has made this country great.

Through the Jazz Studio educational workshops, young students will come to the White House to celebrate this uniquely American art form and learn from and interact with some of the world’s most renowned jazz musicians.

Musicians and educators leading the Jazz at Lincoln Center produced workshops include: Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, Delfeayo Marsalis, Ellis Marsalis, Jason Marsalis, Sean Jones, Stephen C. Massey, Todd Williams, Eli Yamin and others.

The White House has brought together a number of organizations to participate and Jazz at Lincoln Center is proud to collaborate with the following: Duke Ellington School for the Performing Arts; Duke Ellington Jazz Festival; Levine School of Music; New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts; SITAR Arts Center; Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz; WPAS Capitol Jazz Project.

The Jazz Studio workshop themes include exploration of the core elements of jazz: American History and Jazz; The Syntax of Jazz; Improvisation; The Blues Experience and Jazz; Duke Ellington and Swing. The audience will include 150 instrumental middle school and high school students from the collaborating organizations.

The Jazz Studio culminates with a concert featuring Paquito D’Rivera, Artistic Director of the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival, with Tony Madruga, Zach Brown, Kush Abadey and Elijah Easton.

Source: JALC

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Hats for Cats Headcount

In October 07 I decided to make Dave King a hat. I like his music, he shaves his head and lives in Minnesota--why not do my part to keep his head warm? The whole thing snowballed, or yarn-balled, after that. Making hats for jazz musicians and others in the jazz world became an ongoing thing. It's basically an excuse for watching Law & Order reruns.

Here's the list of people who have Hats for Cats so far. If you happen to find a black hat with a green stripe and a Hats for Cats label inside, please return it to Dan Eikmeier at the Dakota. It was stolen from his car last year.

Reid AndersonChris Bates • Leah Beach • Don BerrymanBrian Blade • Walter Blanding • Leon “Chocolate” BrownAndrea Canter • James Cammack • Laura Caviani • Larry Clothier • Pat Courtemanche • Joe Doermann • John Economos • Craig Eichhorn • Dan EikmeierMichael Ekhaus • Douglas Ewart • Arne Fogel • Scott Fultz • Larry FullerVincent GardnerAlvester GarnettRick GermansonTed GioiaBenny Green • Doug Haining • Roy HargroveCarlos Henriquez • Kenny Horst • Ethan IversonGordy JohnsonSean JonesStanley Jordan • Jason Jungbluth • Dave KingMary Lewis • Michael Lewis • Adam Linz • Dean Magraw • Wynton Marsalis • Charnett Moffett • Kristen MorsPhil Palombi • Lowell Pickett • Joshua Redman • Justin Robinson • Reuben Rogers • Kelly Rossum • Maria Schneider • Lilly Schwartz • Jaleel Shaw • Greg Skaff • Maryann Sullivan • Chris Thomson • Deborah Upchurch • Jeremy WalkerMarsha Walker • John Whiting • Davis Wilson

Updated 8-23-09

Photo: Michael Lewis in his hat (actually hat #2, long story), taken with his iPhone

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Dakota Combo on 3-Minute Egg

Matt Peiken, former arts reporter for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, former managing editor of Walker magazine at the Walker Art Center, is now producing mini-videos called 3-Minute Eggs about the Twin Cities arts scene (as he says, "the Twin Cities arts seen"). The ones I've watched have been terrific--beautifully produced, informative, intriguing, just long enough to make you feel you've learned something and whet your appetite for more.

Recently Peiken made an Egg on the Dakota Combo's performance at MacPhail Center for Music. There doesn't seem to be a direct link to it, but if you go to Peiken's website and scroll down to 28 May 09 you'll find it.

The Dakota Combo is an elite group of area high school musicians, chosen annually by audition, who have spent the past year learning and rehearsing with MacPhail jazz coordinator Kelly Rossum. Now that Adam Linz has been named to lead the jazz program at MacPhail, he'll take over Combo duties.

Hat tip to Tom Trow, who saw David Brauer's piece on MinnPost, which I somehow missed. You can also watch the Egg on MinnPost. Twin Cities Public Television is now airing Eggs. That's great news, except TPT isn't paying Peiken. Can't they pay him something? Really?

Image from Matt Peiken's video.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Talking with Adam Linz

Bassist Adam Linz (Fat Kid Wednesdays) has been tapped to head MacPhail's jazz program when Kelly Rossum leaves for NYC at summer's end. Read about it on MinnPost. Here's more from our interview.

PLE: Who were your influences?
AL: Those players that kind of blurred the lines between playing a lot of different stuff—somebody like Gary Peacock, Henry Grimes, Charlie Haden, Dave Holland definitely. Also I'm a big fan of Andy Simpkins, who played in the Three Sounds. And I was a fan of the lesser-known players...Israel Crosby, who played with Ahmad Jamal for a long time. I wasn't a kid who was like, there's Ray Brown and Larry Grenadier.... I kept my distance from the normal.

PLE: When did you start playing?
AL: I was a late starter. Electric when I was 16, double bass when I was 19. I grew up on rock and roll. When I was a really young kid, I saw a couple of band videos where the guitar players all had black guitars and the bassists all had white basses. I wanted to play the white bass. People thought I should be a guitar player; they thought my hands were too thick and chunky to play guitar. But my uncle was a bass player and the bass player seemed like the hippest player in the band..... I got into music through hip-hop, rock, and metal. The first three cassettes I bought were Run-D.M.C.'s "Raising Hell," Van Halen, and "Miles Davis: Greatest Hits." I definitely as not a musical kid. I did other things. I was in all kinds of sports, karate, BMX racing, skateboarding. I came to study music late in life but to appreciate it a lot earlier. I still have a huge record collection. I'm a listener.

PLE: What are you listening to lately?
AL: Today, a Gary Peacock/Bill Frisell duet record called "Just So Happens." I've been listening to this great singer/songwriter Sam Amidon, "All Is Well." He's on a label out of Iceland called Bedroom Community. The arrangements are lush. It's one of the best records I've heard all year.... An electronic duo from japan called Tennis Coats. They're awesome. I've been listening to Eliot Carter, the classical composer. Just his first symphony. I've been listening to the last Jim Black No Access record, "Dogs of Great Indifference." It's on the Winter Winter label.

PLE: You're following Kelly Rossum as head of MacPhail's jazz program, but I'm not going to ask the hair question. [Rossum famously wears a mohawk. Linz has a regular haircut.]
AL: I had dreads for twelve or thirteen years. I cut them off and sent them to Atlanta so the cancer society could make a dreads wig for this lady.

PLE: Free jazz, avant-garde jazz, left-of-center jazz.... What do you call it?
AL: Just playing for me.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

When a jazz venue closes

Earlier today I was interviewing bassist Adam Linz when he told me that the upscale Italian restaurant D’Amico Cucina was closing. I hadn’t yet seen the StarTribune story or read the company press release. Now I know the reasons: the times, the economy, parking problems, the proximity of the new Twins stadium.

Both the Strib story and the press release talk about the restaurant’s history, reputation, food and wine. Neither mentions that for 22 years D’Amico Cucina was a jazz venue. Not a jazz club, but a place where you could go to hear jazz on the weekends because owner Richard D’Amico liked it.

For 22 years, bassist Gordy Johnson and pianist Benny Weinbeck played there. For 15 years, starting when he was 19, Linz had a regular gig there. So did pianist Tommy O'Donnell.

All those years, all those weekends, all that music. The regular gig. The loss of these things makes me sad.

Whenever HH and I went to NYC, we would make our way to Ruth’s Chris on West 51st, where pianist Rick Germanson had a regular gig in the bar. We would sit at the bar for dinner, the better to hear him play. That ended several months ago.

Last year, Cue restaurant at the Guthrie featured jazz every weekend for several months. It has new owners and no one believes the music will return. The Phil Aaron Trio (with Tom Lewis and Jay Epstein) had a regular gig in the Chez Colette Lounge at the Hotel Sofitel for many years. Saxophonist Irv Williams ("Mr. Smooth") played the Top of the Hilton in St. Paul from 1968–74. Where are the regular gigs these days? Will anyone ever play anywhere again for 5 or 10 or 20 years?

Upscale restaurants are great places for live jazz. Piano jazz, or piano-bass jazz, or even piano-bass-drums jazz (as long as the drums aren’t too crashy) makes fine food taste better. It adds excitement to the air. It’s sensuous and unpredictable. It makes you want to start off with a dry martini, then order a bottle of wine, then work your way down the menu, simply because everything goes so well together. Piano and steak. Piano and lobster. Piano and bass and gnocchi and chocolate truffle cake. You enjoy your cocktail and smile at your dinner partner and converse in lower-than-usual tones and laugh, and once in a while you look over at the musician or musicians, men in suits and (less frequently) women who have taken time with their hair and makeup, and one is seated at a grand piano and one is embracing a double bass and it’s all good. Maybe they take requests and maybe they don’t, but chances are they play something you know, and on the way out you leave a tip in the jar on the piano.

Lose the live music and you lose more than the music. You lose the sophistication, the energy, the elegance, and the surprise that live performance adds to the ambience and the air itself. Pipe music in and it's like buying your food from a vending machine.

Everyone at D’Amico, including staff and musicians, got the news about the closing yesterday or today. Linz called it “a great ride…really one of the best gigs I’ve ever been fortunate to play.” Weinbeck called it “awesome.” Johnson is in NYC this week playing at Birdland with Stacey Kent. I hope he knows…I hope he doesn’t.

D'Amico closes its doors for good on June 27. There will be many opportunities between today (June 4) and then to hear Linz and Weinbeck and Johnson. Check the live jazz calendar at the top of the blog.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Interview with Fred Hersh on jazz.com

I keep asking people who enjoy and follow jazz, "Do you know the website jazz.com?" and they give me blank looks. That has got to stop. Ted Gioia's site has become one of my favorites for many reasons. It's wide-ranging, articulate, well-edited, and well-written. It has a growing encyclopedia of jazz musicians, many, many reviews of individual jazz tracks (rather than review whole albums, jazz.com addresses tracks, an approach that makes sense in the age of digital downloads), a Visual Jazz section (jazz art), and some of the best interviews I have ever read. Including Ted Panken's with the great pianist Fred Hersch, posted May 19. A taste:

"I've used the analogy that what I do, or what jazz improvisation is, is if you take the analogy of a tune being like a glass mixing bowl, you can put rocks into it, take out the rocks, put a goldfish into it, take out the goldfish, put in jello, take out the jello—but the container stays the same size and it's transparent, but it's solid. That's what tunes are to me."

Roy Hargrove Quintet at the Dakota

When: Monday, June 1 • Where: DakotaWho: Roy Hargrove, trumpet and flugelhorn; Sullivan Fortner, piano; Justin Robinson, saxophone; Dwayne Burno, bass; Montez Coleman, drums

As always, Roy Hargrove made us glad we went to see him. And his new pianist, Sullivan Fortner, is a knockout. Read a review of last night's late set on MinnPost.


"I'm Not So Sure"
"The Stinger"
"Speak Low"
"Bring It on Home to Me"

Photos by John Whiting.