Friday, January 29, 2010

Improvised Music in the Twin Cities

UPDATED June 14, 2011. Click here for the latest version.

Formerly "Free Jazz in the Twin Cities," this is a work in progress. Your feedback is welcome.

Improvised music is/has been known by many names—free jazz, experimental music, free music, free-form jazz, avant-garde jazz, avant jazz, postmodern jazz, outside music, energy music, free improvisation, instant composing, “The New Thing.” In an article for, musician Edward Schneider calls it "nameless music."

The people who make the music don't all call it the same thing, and some don't call it anything. Labels are too limiting. Language is too limiting. Those of us who use words as instruments do the best we can. Examples:

Paul Berliner, Thinking in Jazz: The Infinite Art of Improvisation: “From the performance’s first beat, improvisers enter a rich, constantly changing musical stream of their own creation, a vibrant mix of shimmering cymbal patterns, fragmentary bass lines, luxuriant chords, and surging melodies, all winding in time through the channels of a composition’s general form. Over its course, players are perpetually occupied: they must take in the immediate inventions around them while leading their own performances toward emerging musical images, retaining, for the sake of continuity, the features of a quickly receding trail of sound. They constantly interpret one another’s ideas, anticipating them on the basis of the music’s predetermined harmonic events. Without warning, however, anyone in the group can suddenly take the music in a direction that defies expectation, requiring others to make decisions as to the development of their own parts. When pausing to consider an option or take a rest, the musician’s impression is of a 'great rush of sounds' passing by, and the player must have the presence of mind to track its precise course before adding his or her powers of musical invention to the group’s performance. Every manoeuvre or response leaves its momentary trace in the music. By journey’s end, the group has fashioned a composition anew, an original product of their interaction.”

Tom Piazza, Understanding Jazz: "In jazz, [improvisation] means to make intelligent choices spontaneously, based on knowledge and experience."

Steve Lacy: "The difference between composition and improvisation is that in composition you have all the time you want to decide what to say in fifteen seconds, while in improvisation you have fifteen seconds."

I've just begun a series of Conversations on Improvisation with artists who live in Minnesota. The series is being published on, a joint project of the McKnight Foundation and the Walker Art Center.
Conversations on Improvisation: Adam Linz


Here's where to find improvised music in the Twin Cities. Many of these venues have Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace pages you can link to from their websites.

Acadia Café
329 Cedar Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55454
email sign-up
The last Sunday of each month belongs to the Minneapolis Free Music Society, an improvisational music collective of about 35 area musicians. Their Myspace page is more up-to-date (at this writing) than their web page.

Art of This Gallery
3506 Nicollet Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55408
This nonprofit, artist-run art space in south Minneapolis hosts the long-running Tuesday Series for performers of (and listeners to) experimental and improvised music. Read Edward Schneider's article about the series here.

Artists’ Quarter
408 St. Peter St.
St. Paul, MN 55102
email sign-up
At their regular AQ gigs, the Phil Hey Quartet, Eric Kamau Gravatt's Source Code, and How Birds Work all wander into free jazz territory from time to time. Happy Apple makes frequent appearances. Check the online calendar often to see who’s coming through town. Past performers have included Astral Project, Lee Konitz, and Dewey Redman.

Black Dog Coffee and Wine Bar
Corner of 4th and Broadway
Lowertown, St. Paul
Every Friday is Fantastic Friday, often featuring the Fantastic Merlins.

Blue Nile Restaurant & Lounge
2027 Franklin Ave. E.
Minneapolis, MN 55404
Drummer Kevin Washington and hip-hop artist Desdemona host a Tuesday-night open mic jam session for musicians and poets. Sign-up starts at 10 p.m. 18+.

Café Maude
5411 Penn Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55419
Live music every Friday and Saturday night from 9 p.m. to midnight, no cover, no reservations needed after 10 p.m. Lots of free/improvisational music. Click "Music" for the calendar.

Cedar Cultural Center
416 Cedar Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN
email signup on home page
Mostly folk/world music with occasional surprises like Happy Apple and GloryLand PonyCat.

Clown Lounge
1601 University Ave. W.
St. Paul, MN 55104
In the basement of the Turf Club. The place to be every Monday night starting around 10:30 p.m. and going late. The house band is Fat Kid Wednesdays which is all anyone really needs to say. A Tuesday series launched in December 2009. The music starts a bit earlier—tennish.

Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant
1010 Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis, MN 55403
email signup on home page
Some of the national acts the Dakota brings in venture into experimental/improvised music territory. Most such music happens during its late-night series (11:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays). The Bad Plus comes for 2–3 days each year around Christmas. Check the online calendar.

Homewood Studios
2400 Plymouth Ave. N.
Minneapolis, MN 55411
email signup
Milo Fine hosts and curates the long-running Improvised Music at Homewood Studios series. Second Monday, every other month, 7:00 p.m. Check the online calendar. For me, this series has been Free Music School.

MacPhail Center for Music
501 South 2nd St.
Minneapolis, MN 55401
email signup on home page
The Jazz Thursdays series begun by Kelly Rossum continues under the direction of new jazz coordinator Adam Linz of Fat Kid Wednesdays. Should be interesting.

Northrop Jazz/Music Season
Launched in 1993 by Dale Schatzlein, continued today by Ben Johnson, the Northrop Jazz Season has always presented a broad spectrum of jazz. Past performers have included Cecil Taylor, Julius Hemphill, Tim Berne’s Bloodcount, the Sun Ra Arkestra, John Zorn’s Masada, Ornette Coleman, and the Bad Plus; the 2009–10 season opened with the Larry Ochs Sax & Drumming Core. The season begins in the fall and runs through the spring. Various venues.

Rogue Buddha Gallery
357 13th Ave. NE
Minneapolis, MN 55413
This small, intimate Nordeast gallery hosts the iQuit Experimental Music Happenings series. Third Thursday, every month, 9:00 p.m. Description from website: “Music that draws on the diverse styles and influences of the makers of electronic, electro-acoustic, jazz, free, avant garde, and experimental music.” I’ve seen some very cool music at the Buddha.

Southern Theater
1420 Washington Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55454-1038
email signup
One of my favorite venues (love the old stone archway at the back of the stage), the Southern programs interesting, edgy music. “Free jazz” might not be the best description (if it ever is), but much of it is improvisational. The Southern is the Minneapolis home of the Wordless Music Series.

Studio Z
275 E. Fourth Street (Northwestern Building)
Lowertown, St.Paul, MN
(look for the big red neon Z in the window)
Studio Z, the home of the new music ensemble Zeitgeist (free classical?), hosts visiting artists like the Ellen Lease/Pat Moriarty Group, George Cartwright’s GloryLand PonyCat, and Trio Raro (Milo Fine, Andrew Raffo Dewar, Davu Seru). Click on Calendar up top.

Walker Art Center
1750 Hennepin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55403
email signup
The Walker’s annual Performing Arts Program always features up-to-date music (as well as dance and theater). Some of the music is copresented with the Northrop Jazz Season. The 2009-10 calendar includes Bill Frisell/Rahim AlHaj/Eyvind Kang (a Walker commission), Erik Friedlander, and a two-day celebration of Bad Plus/Happy Apple drummer Dave King.

West Bank School of Music
1813 South 6th St.
Minneapolis, MN 55454
The Milo Fine Free Jazz Ensemble performs on the first Friday of every other month, 8:00 p.m. Click Events & Calendar, then Jazz Thursdays.


The European Free Improvisation website includes links to artists' sites, labels, video clips, organizations, concert venues, and much more. The home page is often updated with news about CD releases.

The Free Improvisation & Experimental Music Resource is "dedicated to finding all the sites and networks for free improvisational music." So far it includes links to artists, labels, online magazines, radio stations, and informational sites.

"Devoted to the music of the moment," The Improvisor is a resource for musicians and composers of free improvisation and the web presence for The Improvisor: The International Journal of Free Improvisation. Founded in 1980, The Improviser went from photocopied newsletter to printed journal to web. Articles, reviews, links.

ISIM: International Society for Improvised Music “promotes performance, education, and research in improvised music, and illuminates connections between musical improvisation and creativity across fields.” ISIM hosts an annual festival/conference.

Signal to Noise: The Quarterly Journal of Improvised, Experimental & Unusual Music
. Still on paper, though they do have a blog.


  1. Thanks, Pamela! It looks to me like there's a lot of cool stuff going on where you are. I need to make it out there.


  2. Thanks,Chris. When you do make it out here, let me know so I can run you around town.



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