Friday, December 31, 2010

José James sings Coltrane


Earlier this year, while backgrounding José James for a piece I was writing, I came across a video of him singing lyrics to John Coltrane’s “Resolution.”

Until then, the only singer I knew who had tackled this gorgeous beast was Kurt Elling, whose vocalese version (with his original lyrics) sends chills up my spine each time I hear it.

But there was James, singing “Resolution” with different lyrics, and killing it.

What was the story?

In 2006, James made a demo EP that included two original songs (one was “The Dreamer”) and three covers of songs by Coltrane: “Central Park West,” “Equinox,” and “Resolution.” He brought copies to the UK when he went there for a jazz competition, and one ended up in the hands of Gilles Peterson of Brownswood, a UK-based label.

“Equinox” is one of Peterson’s favorite Coltrane songs, and before long, James was signed to Brownswood. In 2007, 500 10-inch, white-labeled, numbered copies of a test pressing including “Equinox” on one side and “Resolution” on the other were issued. Both were supposed to be included on James’s first CD. 

The day before the CD was scheduled to go to the pressing plant, Peterson and James learned that the Coltrane estate would not grant permission for the new vocal versions. The release date was postponed while James wrote and recorded three new tunes.

James later told an interviewer for the London dance club The End, “Alice Coltrane had a lot more say when she was alive, I think it was just her making all the decisions in fact, then after she died things got way more complicated – I think there were six kids or something like that. I was really disappointed actually, and Gilles was heartbroken, man, because that was kind of the whole reason we both wanted to do the project. 

"I was talking to Dwight Trible about the same thing about two weeks ago and he agreed, it seems they want people to remember him and have tributes and stuff, but they don’t really want the work changed, it’s like this whole yes-you-can-no-you-can’t thing…it’s a shame.”

Singer Trible recorded Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” on an EP called “Acknowledgment for J.C.,” released in 2008 on Kindred Spirits.

Side note: Elling secured the rights for his version from Alice Coltrane when she was still alive. He explained at a concert at Gustavus Adolphus college in October 2009: “Mrs. Coltrane did not cotton to people writing lyrics to her husband’s music.” He sent her a tape and heard back: “The first word is ‘God’ and I like that and that’s right, so he can record this—but no more from anybody.”

You can’t buy a CD of James singing “Equinox” and “Resolution.” But you can hear both in their entirety, and Coltrane’s “Central Park West,” with James’ lyrics, on his website. Go here, scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page, and enjoy. (Just above: an entire concert of James and pianist Jef Neve playing the music of Coltrane.)

Image of 10" pressing #205 from the Breath of Life website, where Mtume ya Salaam and Kalamu ya Salaam love James and his "Equinox."

Photo of José James by John Whiting.

Last-minute picks for a jazzy New Year’s Eve

If you have waited this long to make plans for New Year’s Eve, here’s help in the form of the very latest news about where and when to find jazz tonight. See the live jazz calendar at your right for even more options.

5 p.m. Black Dog Coffee and Wine Bar, St. Paul. “Fantastic Fogie New Year’s Eve,” a.k.a. “New Year’s Eve for early birds and old buzzards.” A little live music, a little champagne, and home by 10 p.m.—or you could go somewhere else after. Music by Todd Harper, Nathan Hanson, Brian Roessler, and Pete Hennig. Don’t take “old buzzards” too literally; the Black Dog welcomes an all-ages crowd, including kids. No cover. Corner of 4th and Broadway in Lowertown, St. Paul. 651-228-9274.

6 p.m. Honey Lounge, Minneapolis. A New Year’s Eve dinner show with singer Maud Hixson and pianist Rick Carlson will feature “classic female songwriters of the flapper, swing and bebop eras.” You can never, ever go wrong in the company of Maud and Rick. 205 E. Hennepin, Minneapolis. $10 cover, plus whatever you spend on dinner. For reservations, call 612-746-0306.

7:30 p.m. Hyatt Regency Minneapolis. A big shebang of a show with Patty Peterson on vocals, Peter Schimke on piano, Billy Peterson bass and vocals, Bobby Vandell on drums and vocals, Jason Weisman on sax and vocals, and special guest Ricky Peterson on keyboards and vocals. Until yesterday (Thursday), this event was available only as a dinner show ($200/couple) or dinner-plus-room deal ($269) but a show-only option was just added at $25/person, which includes both the 10 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. sets. Call 612-596-4663.

9 p.m. Artists’ Quarter, St. Paul. An AQ tradition since 1995, this is a warm and wonderful evening, complete with quirky hors d’oeuvres (usually including Swedish meatballs and Junior Mints), a champagne toast, and party favors. With Gary Berg on saxophone, Phil Aaron on piano, Dean Magraw on guitar, Jay Young on bass, Kenny Horst on drums, and the ever young and luminous Carole Martin at the mic, who will sing (I learned last night) despite an injured hip. The crowd will clamor for Dawn Horst to join her mom, Carole, onstage for “Evil Woman.” $45. 408 St. Peter St., St. Paul. Call 651-292-1359 this minute if you’re interested.

9 p.m. Café Maude, Minneapolis. Patty and the Buttons (with the phenomenal Patrick Harison on accordion) bring in 2001 in relaxed, leisurely style. Maude’s usual late-night leisure hour cocktail prices apply, and there will be a dance floor. $40/person for a lovely dinner of champagne, beer, or wine, smoked salmon tartar, wood grilled pork tenderloin, and shortbread cookies with pomegranate port cream. 5411 Penn Ave. S.. Call 612-822-5411.

10 p.m. Red Stag Supper Club, Minneapolis. The third annual Secrets of the City New Year’s Eve bash features indie/folk/pop man Brad Senne from 11 until midnight and sultry jazzer Sophia Shorai from midnight on. Truffled popcorn, champagne at the turn of the year. No cover. 509 1st Ave. NE, Minneapolis. The restaurant will be open for dinner; call 612-767-7766 for table reservations.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dr. Billy Taylor on the music of freedom, and more

The great jazz pianist, composer, and educator Dr. Billy Taylor has passed. I had the opportunity and the privilege to interview him in February 2009, when he came to the Twin Cities to perform his work Peaceful Warrior with VocalEssence led by Philip Brunelle. We spoke by phone ahead of time, and I attended both the performance at the Ordway on Feb. 15 (which was stirring and beautiful) and a presentation Dr. Taylor gave for educators at Plymouth Church the next day. Drawn from my notes from the interview and the presentation, these are his words.

Laura Caviani with Dr. Taylor, 2/16/2009
"I was born a musician, born into the Baptist church. I wanted to play stride. Someone gave me a record by Art Tatum and I wondered, 'Who are those two guys?' I wanted to play like my Uncle Bob—stride learned by ear—then realized I had to do what my dad wanted me to do and pay attention to my music teacher. She prevailed."

"When I first started working on 52nd Street [in NYC], I had all the history of jazz around me. There were 25 clubs in a two-block area, playing Dixieland, show music, dance music... Everything happening in jazz was there. I would talk to all of these guys. I had to learn to capture the moment—to say 'This is what I want to learn from you.' Many people who teach jazz [today] make it unnecessarily complicated.... I'm nostalgic for the days when music meant dancing."

"In high schools and colleges alone, we have over 40,000 jazz programs around this country, and I'm probably undercounting. People come here from Israel, from Greece, from a lot of places [to study jazz]. They're attracted to the music and want to use it as a means of personal expression. Where we're having a problem now is I have more [students] from those places than I have from Harlem."

"When I was touring, I tried to be one of the best advocates [for jazz] I could be. People would ask me, 'Why don't the people at home support you like we do?' The first time I was away from [the United States] after World War II, I was supposed to go for six weeks but stayed eight months. People I met in Paris, Belgium, and the Scandinavian countries made me more patriotic than I had been before. This served me well for the rest of my life. All of the places I've gone, I've been able to say, 'Despite what you may have heard or read about us, I wouldn't trade.' Many of us found that even though some of the things we did were not appreciated at home, we have freedom. The music speaks of freedom."

Here's what Peter Keepnews wrote about Dr. Taylor for the New York Times. Here's Matt Schudel for the Washington Post. Here's NPR's "A Blog Supreme."

Friday, December 24, 2010

Monterey then, written as now

Michael Parrish has just written a fascinating review of the Monterey Jazz Festival. Not this year's festival, but the one that happened in 1969.

Did he discover old notes, or an old program, or a photograph that awoke 40-year-old memories? Writing about events that happened so long ago, he treats time as if yesterday and today are all the same. It's like watching a concert through a pair of binoculars that can view both time and distance. Zoom in to then, zoom out to now. It would have made me dizzy if it hadn't been done so well.

In Parrish's piece, the Modern Jazz Quartet is still together, still alive--and recording on the Beatles' Apple label. Roberta Flack is not yet a ballad singer. Bitches' Brew hasn't been released, but it's on the horizon. And you don't need press credentials to walk up to the front of the Arena stage and take pictures.

Makes me wonder if more reviews should be written from a distance. Makes me feel better about the many reviews I haven't yet written, the notes still in my pile of notebooks, waiting.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Live jazz to see in Minneapolis-St. Paul on Christmas weekend and beyond

KBEM's holiday broadcasts are automated, so I won't be on the radio with Ed Jones this Friday (Dec. 24) or next Friday (Dec. 31). We'll be back at 8:30 am on Friday, January 7.

Many clubs and cafes are closed on Christmas Eve and day, including the Artists’ Quarter, Café Maude, Honey, and the Red Stag. The Dakota is closed on Christmas Eve. If you plan to visit a favorite venue, call first.

The Bad Plus by Cameron Wittig
Saturday–Monday, December 25–27: The Bad Plus. It wouldn’t be Christmas in Minnesota without Holidazzle on the mall and The Bad Plus—pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson, and drummer Dave King—at the Dakota. The trio first appeared at the old Dakota in Bandana Square as “The Bad Plus featuring Dave King” in 2000. That was before These Are the Vistas (released on Columbia in 2003) earned raves and caused a ruckus (“The Bad Plus is saving jazz!” “The Bad Plus is killing jazz!” “The Bad Plus is the new direction of jazz!” “The Bad Plus isn’t jazz at all!” yadda yadda). Since then, they have released several more albums, left Columbia, started their own label, and continued to do their own thing, which may not be as shocking as it once seemed but remains as intriguing and musically rewarding as ever. Their latest album, Never Stop (2010), is all originals, no covers, but if we don’t hear their signature takes on “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” or “Iron Man,” I will be just a hair disappointed. Three nights, two sets each, 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., Dakota ($40). Tickets online or call 612-332-JAZZ (5299).

Connie Evingson by Tray Hirez
Sunday, December 26: Connie Evingson’s Holiday Songbook. Hear the songs of the season and learn the stories behind their creation. (For example, Mel Torme and Bob Wells wrote “The Christmas Song in 45 minutes on a blistering hot day in Los Angeles. I did not know that.) One of the Twin Cities’ favorite and most consistently satisfying singers, Evingson has done a series of performances this year in the intimate, inviting Jungle Theater. Her program on Sunday will include popular and lesser-known holiday songs and selections from her award-winning CD, The Secret of Christmas. One day, two performances, 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Jungle Theater ($25). Tickets online or call 612-822-7063.

Maud Hixson by Judd Sather
Monday, December 27: Maud Hixson and Rick Carlson at the Loring Pasta Bar. The Loring Pasta Bar is hosting a new series on Mondays called “Musique Mystique dans la Chambre Rouge”—Mystical Music in the Red Room, upstairs from the main Pasta Bar space. Each Monday they’re featuring a different female vocalist from the Twin Cities, and we’re fortunate to have so many. This week it’s the always elegant Maud Hixson, joined by her husband, Rick Carlson, a pianist much in demand by singers for knowing precisely how to be a perfect accompanist. 7 p.m., Loring Pasta Bar, Dinkytown, no cover.

Faye Washington
Wednesday, December 29: Capri Big Band Holiday Concert. Snowed out on December 11, this worthy event was rescheduled. Faye Washington leads the Capri Big Band in its third annual Christmas concert, “Home for the Holidays.” With vocalists Charles “Chako” Andrea and Aja Pridgen. Proceeds support the band’s twice-monthly rehearsals at the Capri. 7 p.m., Capri Theater, 2027 West Broadway, Minneapolis ($10). Tickets online or call 866-811-4111.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

CD Review: "Matt Wilson's Christmas Tree-O"

I’d rather hear jazz artists perform Christmas songs than the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (way rather than Mannheim Steamroller or, just shoot me, Mariah Carey) and have somehow accumulated several holiday CDs over the years. You have to love An Oscar Peterson Christmas and Marcus Roberts’ Prayer for Peace, Chet Baker’s icy-cool Silent Nights, and the great Joe Williams’ warm and swinging That Holiday Feelin’. 

Actually, I thought I had all the Christmas jazz albums I would ever need, and then came Matt Wilson’s Christmas Tree-O, just out on Palmetto.

I’ve seen Wilson play live several times and he always makes me happy. Some musicians—Dave Holland is another—exude genuine joy when they play, and when you’re in the room, you feel it. Christmas Tree-O is a good-natured collection, and good-humored, putting “The Chipmunk Song” side-by-side with “Winter Wonderland,” tossing in “Mele Kalikimaki” (in a surprising klezmer arrangement) and speeding through “Little Drummer Boy,” a song that was utterly ruined for me the day I heard a plodding and deadly Celtic version. 

Each song is taken seriously as music, none is treated as a joke, and all are turned into real jazz, creative and unpredictable. Who else would merge Albert Ayler’s “Angels” with “Angels We Have Heard on High” and add toy piano? Or turn Handel’s revered “Hallelujah Chorus” into free jazz?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Live jazz to see in Minneapolis-St. Paul: This week’s picks

Are you in your car or near a radio at 8:30 CST on Friday mornings? Tune to KBEM to hear me and Mr. Jones—Jazz 88 "Morning Show" host Ed Jones—talk about these events and more. 88.5 FM in the Twin Cities; streaming live on the Web.

Friday, Dec. 17: Dee Dee Bridgewater and Irvin Mayfield with the Minnesota Orchestra at Orchestra Hall

The cover of "Eleanora Fagan"
One stage, two jazz stars (maybe more). Vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater has a mantel full of serious music awards—a pair of Grammys, France’s Victoire de la Musique, a Tony for her turn as Glinda the Good Witch in The Wiz—and she’s exciting to see in person, passionate and uninhibited. She sings, she scats, and she makes jazz standards new again; on her latest CD, Eleanora Fagan (1915–1959): To Billie with Love from Dee Dee (Emarcy, 2010), she conveys the spirit of Billie Holiday without imitating her.

Irvin Mayfield
New Orleans-based trumpeter and composer Irvin Mayfield has been the face of the Minnesota Orchestra’s jazz series since being named its first Artistic Director of Jazz in 2008, a position he still holds. (He has since gone on to win a Grammy and a seat on the National Council on the Arts, which advises the NEA.) Founder and artistic director of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra (NOJO), he serves as cultural ambassador for his city and proud papa of Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse, a club on Bourbon Street.

On Friday, both artists will perform with Mayfield's rhythm section—Ronald Markham on piano, Neal Caine on bass, Jaz Sawyer on drums—and the Minnesota Orchestra led by Sarah Hicks.

The first part of the concert will feature Mayfield playing a program of holiday faves including “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” He may be joined by a special guest. I can't get more specific than that, but (big hint) who else is in town this week playing at Orchestra Hall?

Following the intermission, Bridgewater will sing "The Christmas Song" and other classics, plus jazz and pop standards including “The Way We Were” and Ellington’s “Mood Indigo.” It's likely that Mayfield will be at her side for at least part of her set.

The final concert is still in the works. I spoke with Lilly Schwartz, the Orchestra's Director of Pops and Special Projects, on Thursday morning, and she put it this way: "It's jazz, It's always improvised. You go in with a plan and it creates itself. The concert itself becomes a jazz song."

8 p.m. Friday, Orchestra Hall, 1111 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis ($22–$50, $60 VIP). Tickets online or call 612-371-5656.

Friday-Saturday, Dec. 17–18: Red Planet at the Artists’ Quarter

If memory serves and my notebooks don’t lie, I last saw Red Planet—the trio of Dean Magraw on electric guitar, Chris Bates on bass, and Jay Epstein on drums—in February 2009. Not long after, Magraw dropped out of sight to battle a life-threatening disease.

Red Planet's latest CD
He’s back with a new immune system and two new CDs, the just-released How the Light Gets In with tabla player Marcus Wise (Red House, 2010) and last year’s Space Dust with Red Planet (GoneJazz, 2009), which I’m counting as new because it came out during Magraw’s absence and hasn’t yet gotten the celebration it deserves. Featuring original compositions by Magraw and Bates and “deep-space tributes” to Coltrane (“Africa”), Hendrix (“Little Wing”), and Solomon Linda (“The Lion Sleeps Tonight”), it’s part poetry, part rock-and-roll, part flamethrower.

I saw Magraw play at Café Maude a couple of weeks ago and he looks and sounds great.

9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Artists’ Quarter,  in the basement of the Hamm Building in St. Paul ($10). Tickets at the door.

Saturday, Dec. 18: Zacc Harris, Adam Linz, and Babatunde Lea at Café Maude

Jazz guitarist Zacc Harris and bassist Adam Linz are familiar faces around town, but Babatunde Lea? The Afro-Cuban jazz/world beat drummer/percussionist who has played with Pharoah Sanders, Stan Getz, McCoy Tyner, Steve Turre, Ernie Watts, and Van Morrison, to name just a few?* What brings him to Maude in south Minneapolis? I called Harris to find out.

Lea from the cover of his "Soul Pools" CD
“I was doing a restaurant gig in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and during our last set a drummer asked if he could sit in,” Harris said. “We were like, all right, sure, and he came up and swung like crazy. Turns out he’s moving to western Wisconsin. We exchanged information, and later I went and checked out his website. He’s a heavy, but I knew that from playing with him. Since then, I’ve called him a couple of times to see when he would be in town. This gig [at Maude] was around the holidays, so I thought there was a good chance he’d be around.”

How would Harris describe Lea’s style? “Hard swinging, with a hard bop vibe going on, and a lot of world influences.”

The plan: Meet at Maude (with no rehearsal ahead of time), introduce Lea to Linz (the two have never played together before), play some standards, see what happens. Given the musicians, it’s bound to be good, it has the potential to be really good, and it’s definitely going to be as new as it gets. 

* Lea is not a household name; he's mostly known around the Bay area, where he spent several years. I happen to have heard him because someone gave me his Soul Pools CD a few years back, and I learned more about him then.  So there's no implication here that Zacc Harris doesn't know his drummers.

9 p.m. Saturday, Café Maude, 5411 Penn Ave. S., Minneapolis. No cover, but reservations are recommended: 612-822-5411.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The new and improved live jazz calendar

The Live Jazz in the Twin Cities calendar can now be found in two places: at the right, in agenda format, and on its own page, in standard calendar grid format (which you can change to agenda if you want, using the tab at the upper right).

Each entry contains a lot of information, and the way that information is organized has changed. Events are now listed by artist, not venue. Every listing is still a hot link, but when you click on it, the Where is the name and city of the venue, the map link usually leads to a real map (depending on whether Google Maps knows about the venue), and the Description now includes complete contact information for the venue: address, phone, URL.

I'm making these changes day-by-day going forward; not every event follows the new format yet, but eventually all will.

Sorry, this is calendar geek-speak, but I thought it might be helpful to people who use the calendar regularly.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Big Band Holiday Concerts

Jerry Swanberg, host of KBEM's "Big Band Scene," has compiled a list of Big Band Holiday and Christmas Concerts happening in Minneapolis-St. Paul. The first few have passed (the KC Gospel Orchestra and choirs on December 3-4 and the Classics Big Band on December 10), and another--the Century Jazz Ensemble on December 12--was postponed due to Snowmageddon and will be rescheduled. (I'm guessing the same is true for the Just Friends Big Band show, originally scheduled for December 12.) There's still plenty left to choose from. What Jerry says:
 
• The RUSS PETERSON BIG BAND will celebrate Christmas with a concert called “Swinging All The Way”, featuring vocalists Debbie Duncan, Patty Peterson, Bob Glenn, and Russ’s son Damon Peterson, plus pianist Jeanne Arland Peterson. The concert takes place on Monday, 12/13 at the Old Log Theater in Excelsior, at 7:30 PM. For tickets call 952-474-5951.

Friday, December 10, 2010

News about e.s.t.

The great Swedish trio e.s.t. no longer exists, following the untimely death of pianist and leader Esbjorn Svensson in June 2008, but I'll keep reporting news about the other members as I learn it. This just in from B.H. Hopper Management in London:


Magnus Öström will soon release the first album as a leader of his career. “Thread of Life” will get released worldwide on February 25, 2011.

After more than two years of silence Magnus went back to his favorite studio, the Atlantis Studio in Stockholm. He joined up with his old friend, sound engineer Janne Hansson, to record some brand new compositions that he had written during the period following Esbjörn Svensson´s untimely passing and the dissolution of e.s.t..

Live jazz to see in Minneapolis-St. Paul: This week's picks

For those of you who used to read the weekly jazz picks in MinnPost's now-defunct Arts Arena, welcome to their new home.

SATURDAY CANCELLED DUE TO SNOWSTORM Friday-Saturday: Bryan Nichols Quintet. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen pianist/composer Nichols play in the past few years. I go to a lot of his gigs. He plays interesting music with interesting musicians, including some I also follow around town. It’s nice when they’re together on the same stage and I don’t have to choose. Increasingly, Nichols' music is original, his own compositions. The quintet includes Michael Lewis and Brandon Wozniak on multiple saxophones, Eric Fratzke on electric bass (Fratzke is standing in for the quintet’s usual bassist, James Buckley, who’s on the road with the Blenders), and JT Bates on drums. Gentlemen, start your engines. Here’s a very recent interview with Nichols. (We spoke on Thursday morning.) Friday-Saturday, Dec. 10-11, 9 p.m., Artists’ Quarter, in the basement of the Hamm Building in St. Paul ($10).

Thursday, December 9, 2010

James Moody, 1925-2010

From Jazzcorner.com:

A jazz giant passes: James Moody, 1925-2010.

John took this photo during Moody's last visit to the Dakota, January 2009.

Talking with jazz pianist and composer Bryan Nichols

Bryan Nichols by John Whiting
It’s a good time to be Bryan Nichols. Earlier this year, he won a prestigious McKnight Artist Fellowship for Performing Musicians. He’s about to go into the studio for his first two recordings as leader. He just bought a new piano, a Boston grand, replacing his ancient Steinway upright.

He has his own trio, quartet, quintet, and large group (called We Are Many) and plays in several other bands including Gang Font, Off the Map, the James Buckley Trio, and the Zacc Harris Quartet. Plus he and his wife, optometrist Marcie Nichols, are expecting their first child in July.

His quintet—Nichols on piano, Michael Lewis and Brandon Wozniak on saxophones, Eric Fratzke (stepping in for James Buckley) on bass, JT Bates on drums—will play the Artists’ Quarter in St. Paul this weekend. We spoke about music and musicians, McKnights and composing.

PLE: Why a quintet?

Bryan Nichols: One of the things I love about music is the social aspect. I like the possibilities of having more musicians, more interaction. We’d been playing as a quartet with a mixed cast—[saxophonists] Mike Lewis or Brandon Wozniak, [bassists] Adam Linz or James Buckley, [drummers] JT Bates or sometimes Sean Carey. Brandon and Mike have such interesting individual styles and musical approaches that I thought, maybe I should try to get both of them when they’re in town. So that solidified the concept. It offers opportunities for things to happen that wouldn’t otherwise. And if someone’s gone—if Mike is out with [Andrew] Bird or Brandon’s gone with the Dave King Trucking Company—we can do a quartet.

Jazz Top 10 lists

It’s that time of year, when jazz writers, critics, bloggers and fans post their annual Top 10 lists. I’ve never made such a list—I know what I’ve been listening to, and I know what I like right now, at this moment, but I always suspect that two or three really great CDs are somewhere in the pile of things I haven’t yet gotten around to listening to. (For example, I'm listening to saxophonist John Devine's brand-new CD, A Little o' That, as I write this, and I like it a lot.) So I’m content to read other people’s lists and the contentious, incredulous, and occasionally rude comments they generate.

For those who also enjoy reading such lists, here’s a sampling. Some include links to other lists, so don’t blame me if you emerge, dehydrated and blinking, several hours after reading the first one. Or if you suddenly realize you’ve just spent a lot of money at Amazon.com or iTunes.

NPR’s A Blog Supreme. Patrick Jarenwattananon leads with Jason Moran’s Ten. Bill Carrothers’ Joy Spring takes the #4 spot. No argument here.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Changes coming to the live jazz calendar

Starting now, all new entries to the live jazz calendar will begin with the artists' name, not the venue. Many upcoming events have already been entered into the calendar, and I'll change those as time allows. I'm doing this so I can include an agenda version of the calendar here, as Dean Minderman does on his St. Louis Jazz Notes blog. The full calendar will still be available on its usual page.

I've asked a very few people (all jazz artists) what they think of this change. Some say do it, others say don't. If you have strong opinions one way or the other, please chime in.

Comments

Comments to bebopified are now open. There's a brief word-verification thing you have to do before you leave a comment, but you no longer have to be registered or have a Google account.

Yours truly, interviewed on KBEM's Corner Jazz

Maryann Sullivan, host of KBEM's "Corner Jazz" program (which airs live on Saturday nights from 8-11 p.m.), invited me into the studio last month for an interview. Portions aired in November, and now the whole edited interview is up on KBEM's website. We talk about jazz and jazz writing, learning curves and listening, how I got started, that sort of thing. I'm pleased with how it turned out, and grateful. I left the studio feeling I had been a boring blabbermouth, but Maryann's editing made me sound like a reasonably intelligent and thoughtful sort of person.

Maryann is a warm, smart, and gracious interviewer. Anyone she asks to speak with should say yes and be glad. She once told me that when she's preparing to interview someone, she writes down one question and lets the rest come naturally. That would scare the bejesus out of me.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Adios, MinnPost Arts Arena

A little over three years after my first MinnPost article was published, the Arts Arena is no more. Starting today and going forward, the very smart and capable Max Sparber will be covering all arts and culture in his daily column, “Max About Town.” I’ve been asked to stay on as a contributing journalist (which I have been all along) and write an article on jazz every four to six weeks, and I’m happy to do so.

I’m not so happy that arts coverage in the Twin Cities continues to shrink. I’m not saying that Sparber can’t write about anything his heart desires, just that I miss the classical music writers, and the dance writers, and the theater writers—people who developed expertise in specific areas. All arts writing is not alike.

And I’m not questioning MinnPost’s decision. In fact, I’m surprised that I was allowed to inhabit my merry little jazz corner for as long as I did. Most readers go to MinnPost for news about politics, public policy, and the media. The fact that I was paid to write about jazz (not a lot, but I was paid) for more than 150 weeks is pretty GD amazing, in retrospect. 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Concert review: Black Dub at the Cedar

Blade, Lanois, Whitley, Johnson: Official Black Dub  photo
When: Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2010 • Where: The Cedar Cultural Center • Who: Daniel Lanois, guitar; Jim Wilson, bass; Trixie Whitley, vocals; Brian Blade, drums

Would I travel across town during a Minnesota winter weather advisory to crowd into the Cedar and stand in the back of the room, craning my neck for glimpses of the band? I would if the band included Brian Blade, and did.

I learned earlier this week that Blade would be in town as part of Black Dub, Daniel Lanois’ latest project. Until now I have only heard Blade play jazz, “only” in this case being a word as big as the sun, given the people he plays with (Wayne Shorter, his own Fellowship Band) and has played with (Herbie Hancock, Joshua Redman, Kenny Garrett, Bill Frisell, Chris Potter, Chick Corea and Christian McBride). Before last night, my latest Blade sighting was at the Monterey Jazz Festival with Billy Childs.

Lanois describes Black Dub as “kind of a rock thing, steeped in the Jamaican culture of dub.” I know little about dub but noticed a lot of rock, some country and blues in the part of the show we arrived in time for. By then the Cedar was SRO (the band had specified fewer than usual chairs; they wanted a standing crowd) and steamy hot. On stage were Lanois on guitar, Trixie Whitley (daughter of the late blues artist Chris Whitley) on vocals, Jim Wilson on bass, and Blade on drums.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

On jazz accordion, accordionists, and the Northeast Accordion Festival

Anonymous young accordionist
As a former student of the squeezebox, I love how much accordion we're hearing these days in all kinds of music, including jazz. This year alone I've heard Will Holshouser play with Regina Carter, Ted Reichman with the Claudia Quintet, and Richard Galliano with Kurt Elling (I had to fly to New York for that and it was worth it). I've driven to Zumbrota for the annual Accordion-O-Rama extravaganza, gone to the Loring Pasta Bar to hear Dan Newton, headed to Fireside Pizza for Denny Malmberg, and followed Patrick Harison around town.

In years past I've seen Gary Versace with Maria Schneider, Fausto Beccalossi with Al Di Meola, Marcel Loeffler with Dorado Schmitt, and Charlie Giordano with James Carter, when Carter was on his "Chasin' the Gypsy" tour. I think I've seen Vinicius Cantuaria perform with an accordionist but I can't remember who it was. My point being, if there has to be one, that a band with an accordion generally gets my attention.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Jazz/pop/hip-hop concert review: “Lush Life” at the Southern

The end of the show: a "Moon River" sing-along.
When: Sunday, Nov. 14, 2010 • Where: Southern Theater • Who (deep breath): Devon Gray (dVRG), piano; Josh Peterson, guitar; Sean McPherson (Twinkie Jiggles), bass; Peter Leggett, drums; Chris Thomson, saxophone/clarinet; Steve Roehm, vibraphone; Adam Levy and DJ Jake Rudh, hosts and vocals; Janey Winterbauer, Mayda, Toki Wright, Bethany Larson, Omaur Bliss, Ashley Still, Carnage the Executioner and Desdamona (Ill Chemistry), vocals

It could have been ironic. It might have been a mess. Instead, it was courageous and entertaining, fresh and sincere.

On Sunday night, some of the Twin Cities’ top pop and hip-hop artists gathered at the Southern Theater to explore the American jazz canon. Specifically, the Great American Songbook, what co-host Adam Levy calls our “free lunch” and our “vast cultural inheritance, shaping not only our notions of American music and the popular song but our very ideas of romance, love and morality."

The sold-out show felt like a gathering of friends, a jam session in someone’s living room, complete with a sing-along at the end. Not every performance was successful, but some were revelatory and all came from the same place of wanting to know more about the music and treat it right.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Jimmy Scott, for Maud Hixson

Seeing Jimmy Scott perform live at the Montreal Jazz Festival several years ago made Maud Hixson decide to be a jazz singer.

Seeing Jimmy Scott perform live at the Dakota several years ago made me decide to write about jazz, or try. I was so moved by the experience that I wanted to put something in writing so I could look back later and remember.

Last night, Maud heard me tell my how-I-became-a-jazz-writer story on Maryann Sullivan's radio show,"Corner Jazz," on KBEM. She wanted to read what I had written about Jimmy. Since the article is five years old, it's a bit hard to find on the Jazz Police website, where it was originally published, so I've pulled it into Bebopified. Here it is on Jazz Police as well.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Jazz concert review: Regina Carter’s “Reverse Thread” at the Dakota

Regina Carter
When: Nov. 2, 2010 • Where: DakotaWho: Regina Carter, violin; Yacouba Sissoka, kora; Will Holshouser, accordion; Chris Lightcap, bass; Alvester Garnett, drums 

If you saw Regina Carter’s “Reverse Thread” at the Ted Mann Concert Hall last March, when she and her band came to the Twin Cities as part of the Northrop Jazz Series, you don’t know the music. If you own the CD and have memorized every melody and phrase, you don’t know the music. The only way to experience these African folk tunes—field recordings from the Ugandan Jews, and music of the African Diaspora that Carter has discovered, deeply researched, and embraced—is to hear her play them live right now, today.

Interview with Paul Bollenback

By Larry Englund

Larry Englund hosts the weekly radio show "Rhythm and Grooves" for KFAI Radio Without Boundaries. This interview originally aired on Saturday, October 30, 2010. bb


Paul Bollenback
Guitarist Paul Bollenback was in town over the Halloween weekend to play at the Artists’ Quarter.

Like every young guitarist of the 60s and 70s, Bollenback was enamored with rock and roll. Then he heard Miles Davis and delved into fusion.

While living in Washington, DC, he was exposed to more traditional jazz, as well as organ jazz, and studied composition and performance. He made his first record with Gary Thomas in 1987 and met Joey DeFrancesco in 1990, establishing a relationship that lasts to this day.

After being named Musician of the Year for the Washington Area in 1997, he moved to New York City, where he now resides.

He dropped by KFAI on Saturday morning, October 30. This is a slightly edited version of the on-air discussion we had.

Talking with Honeydog Adam Levy about jazz, hip-hop and Sunday's "Lush Life" gig

Originally published at MinnPost.com, Thursday, Nov. 11, 2010

Adam Levy
Jazz and hip-hop get along famously, even if some jazz purists don’t approve. Hip-hop artists have long mined the jazz catalog for samples, and many jazz artists who grew up with hip-hop flavor their music with beats, sound bites and scratching. Both genres include elements of improvisation; spontaneous composition and conversation in jazz, freestyling, DJing and emceeing in hip-hop.
 
This Sunday at the Southern Theater, some of the Twin Cities’ most popular and accomplished hip-hop artists — Mayda, Ill Chemistry (Desdamona and Carnage the Executioner), Toki Wright, Omaur Bliss and others — will offer their takes on classic jazz songs in a program called “Lush Life: Interpretations of the American jazz canon.”

The instrumentalists of Heiruspecs are the house band; keyboardist DeVon Gray (dVRG) is the music director. Adam Levy (The Honeydogs, Liminal Phase, Hookers & Blow) and DJ Jake Rudh (Transmission) will host.

“Lush Life” is the first show in a three-part new music series called “Southern Songbook.” The series continues on Feb. 14 with “Desire and Death: New love songs on yearning and loss” and April 14 with “The Rites of String: The intersection of song, songwriter and strings.”

MinnPost spoke with Adam Levy by phone earlier this week.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Jazz concert review: Brad Mehldau's "Highway Rider" at the Walker, world premiere

by John Scherrer

This past weekend, the Walker Art Center hosted a true event in the world of jazz: the world premiere of Brad Mehldau’s Highway Rider. With Mehldau’s latest work, there is much to say—and much is said.

No jazz pianist 40 and under has garnered so much attention. Witness the early comparisons to Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett, the sometimes hyperbolic praise of Mehldau’s concerts and recordings, and the commentators who complain Mehldau is overly cerebral or too indulgent. 

I myself cannot say I’ve escaped Mehldau—nor would I want to. With the exception of Theodore Walter Rollins, Mehldau is the musician to whom I most often listen. I suspect one reason is the wide range of moods he creates. These emotional responses might stem from the incessant swing on “Rejoice” (see Joshua Redman’s Moodswing), the tour de force of “All the Things You Are” (Art of the Trio, Volume 4), the playfulness injected into “Monk’s Dream” from Live in Tokyo (listen for the “Linus and Lucy” quote), the “Tumbleweed” funk found on Michael Brecker’s Pilgrimage, or the romantic balladry displayed on “The Very Thought of You” from his last trio record.  

Monday, November 8, 2010

The making of a radio show, part 2: In the studio with Maud Hixson and Rick Carlson

More in this series: Part 1 (Nancy Harms), Part 3 (Debbie Duncan)


Clockwise from top: Arne Fogel, Maud Hixson, Rick Carlson, hamming it up
Maud Hixson is not happy with her latest take of “Laura.” She makes that abundantly clear with words never heard in a Johnny Mercer song.

It’s one of several funny moments during this afternoon’s session at Wild Sound studio. Recording is hard work but there’s an easy, relaxed feel to this group: vocalist Hixson and her husband, Rick Carlson, on piano, Wild Sound’s Matthew Zimmerman at the board, singer/radio show host Arne Fogel calling the shots.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

"My Funny Valentine" has a verse?

There's more than we know to many songs in the Great American Songbook. Specifically, the verse—the part that precedes the chorus ("chorus," aka "refrain," being that part many of us think of as the "verse").

It's kind of the introduction to the song, the stage-setter, the explanation, sung once at the start and (unlike the chorus) never repeated.

I like verses. Some are charmingly old-fashioned. Some reveal "facts" (if there are such things) about a song that give it an entirely different spin and meaning.

For example, the verse to "Tea for Two" (music by Vincent Youmans, lyrics by Irving Caesar):

I'm discontented with homes that I rented
So I have invented my own.
Darling, this place is a lover's oasis
Where life's weary chase is unknown.
Far from the cry of the city,
Where flowers pretty caress the streams,
Cozy to hide in, to live side by side in,

Don't let it abide in my dreams.

(Then the chorus begins:) 

Picture me upon your knee
Just tea for two, and two for tea,
Just me for you, and you for me alone....

What we find out from the verse is the perfect life the singer imagines is all in her head. She's alone, lonely, and bitter.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The making of a radio show, part 1: In the studio with Nancy Harms and Tanner Taylor

More in this series: Part 2 (Maud Hixson), Part 3 (Debbie Duncan)

Nancy Harms and Tanner Taylor
Singer and radio host Arne Fogel is creating a new series for public radio station KBEM called (working title) Minnesota Voices: Certain Standards. Tentatively scheduled for spring 2011, it will run for 13 weeks, 5 days/week.

Listeners will hear songs from the Great American Songbook sung by Twin Cities vocalists Debbie Duncan, Connie Evingson, Nancy Harms, Maud Hixson, and Fogel himself, plus Fogel's stories about the songs.

It's an ambitious project that should add much to our understanding of these songs and their importance. Each singer is recording 13 songs; each weekday will feature a different singer.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Paul Metsa is writing a book

I can't wait to read this. I'm expecting colorful with a capital C. Both the stories and the writing.

Here's the press release:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE OCTOBER 21, 2010
MINNESOTA SINGER-SONGWRITER
TELLS HIS OWN STORY

Minneapolis-based singer-songwriter Paul Metsa signed a book deal yesterday with the University of Minnesota Press to publish Metsa's memoirs, tentatively titled Sometime Over the Rainbow.

The book, which is scheduled for publication in the fall of 2011, chronicles Metsa's life and times—from his childhood on the Iron Range in Northern Minnesota and coming of age in the psychedelic Seventies, to honing his craft in Minneapolis in the Eighties, where he shared the same musical battleground as the Replacements, Hüsker Dü, and the artist once again known as Prince.

Metsa, who long ago dropped out of the University of Minnesota, remarked, “There’s a lesson here somewhere.”

To request an interview with Paul Metsa, please contact Kevin Avery at Mere Words Media Relations: 347.236.2649 or kevin@merewordsmedia.com. Visit the artist’s website at www.paulmetsa.com.


Photo of Paul Metsa by John Whiting. This was taken when Metsa opened for John Hammond at the Dakota in March 2010.

Jazz concert review: George Cartwright and Crux

When: Friday, Oct. 29 • Where: Whiteroom • Who: Crux: George Cartwright, saxophones; Andrew Broder, guitar; Tim Glenn, drums

Shortly before leaving for Jekyll and Hyde Come Alive at MacPhail, I saw a facebook posting from drummer Tim Glenn for “An Evening of Transparent Radiation” at a place called the Whiteroom on Jackson Street. Lights and production by Wonderhaus, sounds and drone by DJ Overzealous, three bands: Delta Lyrae, Crux, Dallas Orbiter.

It was Crux that pulled us there: George Cartwright, Andrew Broder, Tim Glenn. Cartwright, a saxophone and improvising monster, once a fixture in NYC at the Knitting Factory and now living in the Twin Cities, plays out too seldom (and updates his online calendar even less often, hint). The last time we saw him, at the Acadia with Davu Seru and Josh Granowski, the music was good but the room was bad. The new Acadia has shoved its stage into an acoustically crappy corner, and the people who sat directly in front of the stage were disrespectful. They behaved as if the three musicians playing their a**es off were a television someone had left on by mistake, so it was okay to laugh and talk loudly and carry on.

Back to Crux: Since we didn’t get out of MacPhail until after 10, I thought we might be too late, but we arrived just in time for their set.

Jazz concert review: Jekyll and Hyde Come Alive

When: Friday, Oct. 29 • Where: MacPhail Center for MusicWho: Nicollet Circus Band: Kelly Rossum, trumpet/director; Scott Agster, trombone; Chris Thomson, saxophones; Brandon Wozniak, saxophones; Bryan Nichols, piano; Brian Roessler, bass; Eric Strom, percussion; Steve Roehm, drumset

More jazz musicians are writing and performing live scores to silent movies, a kind of performance art that merges two worlds, jazz and film. My first taste of this was in February 2006 at the Walker Art Center, when John Zorn and Electric Masada played Zorn’s scores to experimental American films from the Walker's collection including Joseph Cornell’s Rose Hobart. Avant-garde art films plus avant-garde music doubled the fun.

In April 2009, we went to the Armatage Room (now closed) to see Patrick Harison play his score to Vittorio De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief. It was extraordinary, not only because of the music—solo accordion all the way—but also because this was my first time seeing an extended performance by Harison, one of the most consistently interesting artists on the Twin Cities music scene.

Earlier this month, Dave Douglas and Bill Morrison brought their Spark of Being project to the Walker. Trumpeter/composer Douglas and his band Keystone played Douglas’s music to Morrison’s film, a pastiche of archival and found footage retelling the Frankenstein myth. Both Douglas and Morrison used Shelley’s Frankenstein as “loose inspiration.” Neither the music nor the film was narrative, but it was a complete and provocative experience. Not just a movie with a soundtrack, but denser, more complex, often puzzling.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Marcus Printup's Hat


Marcus Printup rocks his hat, but then, he's Marcus Printup. He'd look cool and composed with a fake arrow through his head.

The Hats for Cats project abides. Coming soon: hats for Maud Hixson, Fred Hersch, and Craig Taborn.

The latest list of cats with hats:

Reid Anderson • Paul Aschenbrenner • Chris Bates • JT Bates • Leah Beach • Tim Berne • Don Berryman • Brian Blade • Walter Blanding • Leon “Chocolate” Brown • Andrea Canter • James Cammack • Laura Caviani • Larry Clothier • Pat Courtemanche • Chris Crenshaw • Dan Cunningham • Joe Doermann • John Economos • Craig Eichhorn • Dan Eikmeier • Michael Ekhaus • Kurt Elling • Jay Epstein • Douglas Ewart • Milo Fine • Arne Fogel • Scott Fultz • Larry Fuller • Vincent Gardner • Alvester Garnett • Rick Germanson • Ted Gioia • Dave Graf • Benny Green • Doug Haining • Roy Hargrove • Patrick Harison • Nancy Harms • Carlos Henriquez • Ruth Hiland • Laurence Hobgood • Kenny Horst • Ethan Iverson • Ali Jackson • Ahmad Jamal • Willard Jenkins • Gordy Johnson • Sean Jones • Stanley Jordan • Jason Jungbluth • Stefan Kac • Dave King • Mary Lewis • Michael Lewis • Wendy Lewis • Adam Linz • Dean Magraw • Wynton Marsalis • Charnett Moffett • Kristen Mors • Bryan Nichols • Phil Palombi • Lowell Pickett • Marcus Printup • Joshua Redman • Hank Roberts • Justin Robinson • Reuben Rogers • Christine Rosholt • Kelly Rossum • Maria Schneider • Lilly Schwartz • Jaleel Shaw • James Singleton • Greg Skaff • Tim Sparks • Maryann Sullivan • Chris Thomson • Deborah Upchurch • Jeremy Walker • Marsha Walker • Pete Whitman • John Whiting • Davis Wilson • Miguel Zenon

How strange and serendipitous that the email immediately following the one from Marcus included a link to a NYTimes review of a new book by Stephen Sondheim called Finishing the Hat. That is also the title of a Sondheim song with these lyrics:

However you live,
There's a part of you always standing by,
Mapping out the sky,
Finishing a hat...
Starting on a hat...
Finishing a hat...
Look I made a hat...
Where there never was a hat.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Fred Hersch on "Selling New York"

"Selling New York" is a realty reality show on HGTV in which teams of realtors (no, I will not capitalize that word) show and try to sell very high-end properties. It's condo porn, plain and simple, but oh so tasty.

In Episode HSNY-107H, "Extra Special Spaces," agents drum up interest in a $13 million Soho loft by inviting top brokers to a charity event in the space. The evening includes a performance by the great jazz pianist/composer Fred Hersch. He's not mentioned by name or listed in the credits but there he is at a lovely old Steinway starting at the -03:29 mark, near the end of the show.

Watch closely and you can glimpse him earlier, standing around and chatting. He plays for about ten seconds.

Jazz classes in Minneapolis

KBEM/Jazz88 is partnering with Minneapolis Community Education to offer a series of classes led by show hosts from the radio station. Three classes have already happened: "REEL Jazz" hosted by Ed Jones, "The Big Band Scene" hosted by Jerry Swanberg, and "Hillbilly Jazz" hosted by Phil Nusbaum and Kevin Barnes.

Coming up:
• Wednesday, October 27: "Women in Jazz" with Maryann Sullivan, host of "Corner Jazz," and vocalist Maud Hixson. Washburn High School, 7 pm–9 pm.
Wednesday, November 3: "Jazzin' the Blues" with Calvin Worthen, host of "Blue Friday."  Northeast Middle School, 7 pm–9 pm.
Wednesday, November 10: "Bing, Frank and how the microphone changed singing
forever" with Arne Fogel, host of "The Bing Shift."
Northeast Middle School, 7 pm–9 pm.
Wednesday, November 17: "Jazz in the Spirit" with Michele Jansen and Steve Blons, hosts of "Jazz and the Spirit." Northeast Middle School, 7 pm–9 pm.

Cost for each class: $15, $10 for current Jazz88 members. Register online at Minneapolis Community Education. Jazz88 members, call the sites directly to register and receive the member discount.

Stefan Kac is teaching a Jazz History and Listening class at the West Bank School of Music starting Wednesday, November 3. The class meets weekly from Nov. 3–Dec. 22, 7:30 pm–9 pm. His description: "Explore the history of recorded jazz music from its origins through the present day. Listening will be interspersed with discussion of relevant historical and technical topics." Cost for the series (12 hours): $145. I'm taking this class.

Milo Fine and Stefan Kac are teaching an Improvised Music Workshop at Walker Community Church beginning Monday, November 15, and continuing weekly through December 13, 6:30 pm–9 pm. The five sessions will include private coaching, group sessions, and a concert performance. Cost for the workshop: $125. Open to musicians and would-be musicians at all levels of technique and experience. More information here.

Accordion-O-Rama Photos

Ready to go
Four accordions on one stage in a former Carnegie library in Zumbrota. I had heard about Accordion-O-Rama for years but we finally made it down ("down" meaning about 65 miles south of the Twin Cities) on Saturday night, Oct. 23. I was thoroughly charmed by the whole experience. Here are some photos from the evening. And here's my review.

The crowd gathers
L2R: Dan Newton, Patrick Harison, Simone Perrin, Denny Malmberg
Patrick Harison
Dan Newton

Denny Malmberg
Simone Perrin
L2R: Dan Newton, Patrick Harison, Simone Perrin, Denny Malmberg
 All performance photos by John Whiting.

Concert review: Accordion-O-Rama: Magic on a moonlit night in Minnesota

Originally published at MinnPost.com, Monday, Oct. 25, 2010 

Live music is about the music, of course, and the musicians, but it’s also about the setting. We all have our favorite place to hear music, whether it’s a booth at the Dakota or a bar stool at the Artists’ Quarter, the main floor at First Ave. or a corner table at a coffee shop.

Last Saturday night, the setting for Accordion-O-Rama was a Carnegie library in Zumbrota turned art gallery/concert hall, where nearly 100 people gathered to hear four accordionists from the Twin Cities.

Accordion-O-Rama, an annual event with a tongue-in-cheek name, was conceived in 2004 by Dan Newton, a.k.a. Daddy Squeeze, and Marie Marvin, who runs Crossings at Carnegie. The idea was to hold a miniature accordion festival, showcasing different musicians and musical styles, in a town where people were likely to show up, a stronghold of Polish and German heritage and polka.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Happy birthday, KBEM

Originally published at MinnPost.com, Thursday, Oct. 21, 2010

Radio station KBEM, a.k.a. Jazz 88, turns 40 this year. This weekend, the station will throw a two-day party for itself, with a little help from its friends.

On Saturday, Oct. 23, celebrants will gather at International Market Square for food by D’Amico Catering and Three Tiers Bakery, a silent auction, and music by the very danceable Wolverines Big Band. On Sunday, Oct. 24, the festivities move to Vic’s restaurant on the riverfront for a five-course dinner with wine pairing, dessert by Three Tiers, and music by Grammy-nominated vocalist Karrin Allyson and the Laura Caviani Trio plus one: Caviani on piano, Phil Hey on drums, Gordy Johnson on bass, Pete Whitman on saxophones.

Both events are fundraisers because KBEM, like MPR but on a far smaller scale, is a public radio station that depends on donations and memberships.

Currently KBEM is one of only 30 full-time jazz radio stations operating in the United States. It hasn’t always been a jazz radio station; when it opened in 1970 in a vocational high school, it played a mix of news, music, and educational programs. By 1983, it had moved to North Community High School and made jazz its main focus.

Housed by the Minneapolis Public Schools, licensed to the Minneapolis Board of Education but paid not a dime by the district, the station has a strong educational commitment, training students in broadcast communications and putting them on the air. It also has an active community presence, sponsoring the Twin Cities Jazz Festival, presenting the REEL Jazz film series, supporting summer jazz events at the Lake Harriet bandshell, hosting monthly RestauranTours and offering community education classes on jazz.

Many people know KBEM as the station they tune to during drive time for live, up-to-the-minute, often chatty traffic reports. The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) has had an almost 20-year partnership with KBEM, paying the station to broadcast its reports and contributing a sizable chunk to the station’s annual budget. When MnDOT announced in December 2004 that it would end the partnership for cost-cutting reasons, there was enough of a public outcry that the state continued the contract.

Even though KBEM station manager Michele Jansen is up to her eyeballs this week with party and personal plans, she made time to answer questions by email.

MinnPost: Why do you think KBEM is important to our community?

Michele Jansen: Jazz 88 provides programming that no other Twin Cities station provides; jazz in all its beautiful colors. We also offer a totally unique educational experience for the students of the Minneapolis Public Schools. It’s important that students learn skills for the 21st century: technology skills, but also communication skills. And they’re learning about jazz! Jazz needs to be played on the radio locally so that local artists can be heard and promoted.

MP: Why do you think KBEM has survived when so many other jazz radio stations have failed?

MJ: The Twin Cities has a great jazz community, so the TC audience knows this genre and wants to hear it on the radio. It has also received the support of the Minneapolis Public Schools for a very long time. They’ve never pressured the station to change format or tried to sell the station, and they could’ve many times over. So I have to credit MPS for keeping us on the air.

MP: What sets KBEM apart from other jazz radio stations? What makes it unique?

MJ: That’s easy ... clearly the student program is what makes KBEM unique. There are other radio stations owned by school districts, in high schools, with high school students on the air, but none that are jazz. We have this great opportunity to teach a new generation about this great American art form.

MP: What are the greatest challenges KBEM faces?

MJ: The economy has been very hard on nonprofits because the foundation support has practically gone away. Donors are becoming much more discerning about how to spend their philanthropic dollars. School districts are in flux. Keeping pace and staying relevant in the educational arena is always challenging. Traditional media is also in flux. Audiences have so many more choices now, and also immediate access to anything they’re looking for.

MP: What are you most looking forward to as station manager?

MJ: I’m always looking forward to see who the next radio star will be. There are always certain kids that connect with me, and I never can predict who that will be. I would love to see KBEM grow beyond our expectations, in terms of listeners, students and the quality of music we play. We’re always working on all of that.

MP: Are there any new developments on the North High situation that you care to share? [Last week, Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson proposed closing North High at the end of the 2013-14 school year. KBEM pays no rent for its space at North High.]

MJ: We continue to have the support of the school board and the Minneapolis Public Schools. We will be in North High as long as it's open. Ultimately, MPS will decide if we move to another location, but I am confident KBEM will be fully involved in this decision. While North High is obviously our main source for students in our educational program, we've been reaching out to other schools through our online classes (which has an in-studio requirement), our after-school program, and our summer internship program.

***
KBEM’s 40th Anniversary Gala, Saturday-Sunday, Oct. 23-24. Saturday: 6 p.m., International Market Square, 275 Market Street, Minneapolis. $88.50 per person. Register online. Sunday: 6 p.m. Vic’s, 201 Main Street SE, Minneapolis. $125 per person. Register online.