Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Northrop Jazz Season returns, relocated and reinvented

Originally published at MinnPost.com, Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2010

Jazz fans who have been wondering about the Northrop Jazz Season — is it alive? Is it dead? If it’s alive, when is it happening and what artists are coming? — got some but not all of the answers in an email late last week.

Sent to previous jazz season subscribers a few hours before a general press release, the email announced “the new Northrop Jazz Live at the Campus Club.” The first event, scheduled for Friday, Oct. 22, will pair multicultural singer/songwriter Somi with area vocalist/actress Thomasina Petrus.
The other three events in the season will be announced that night, and series tickets to those events will be available then.

In short: New venue (no more Ted Mann Concert Hall), much smaller venue (the Campus Club seats 200 compared to the Ted Mann’s 1,250), new ambiance, new programming approach.

Change was inevitable

Some loyal regulars may feel that change is not good, but anyone who attended a Northrop Jazz Season event in the past couple of years must have known that change was inevitable. With the jazz audience shrinking, the Ted Mann was feeling ever more cavernous and cold. It was depressing to see the sparse attendance earlier this year for violinist Regina Carter’s elegant “Reverse Thread” concert and pianist Danilo Perez’s all-star band. Behind the music, you could hear the sound of money spiraling down a drain.

“What was happening wasn’t working,” says Ben Johnson, director of concerts and lectures at Northrop and the man responsible for both the jazz and dance seasons. “I had two options: reinvent or stop. The whole thing needed a fresh coat of paint.”

Located on the fourth floor of Coffman Memorial Union — which doesn’t sound very high until you get inside — the Campus Club has a spectacular view of the Minneapolis skyline and, closer in, the Frank Gehry-designed Weisman Art Museum, now undergoing expansion. It feels a bit like the Allen Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York, with its big windows and perspective on Columbus Circle.

Which is precisely what Johnson had in mind. “That, and the romantic feel of the Village Vanguard,” he says. “This will be an alternative to the other jazz spaces in the Twin Cities, with amenities people have grown accustomed to having. We’re now in the business of crafting experiences.”

Seating will be general admission, cabaret-style, with linens on the tables. A full bar and small-plate, locally-sourced food will be available. The club is creating a special cocktail menu for Northrop jazz events.

Emerging musicians, interesting local talent

What about the music? “We’re going to match where I think jazz is going — New York musicians, emerging musicians, people starting to be featured on major rosters in performing arts series across America — with interesting local musicians, and they won’t just be the opening act.”
In fact, the Oct. 22 show puts Somi first, followed by an hourlong set with Petrus and possibly, Johnson hints, a collaboration between them.

“I’m interested in fresh, new voices in jazz, and trying to link that to the energy, vitality, and intellectual curiosity of the university,” he explains. “We’re also investing more in local artists.” Johnson and his staff are looking for ways (and funding) to commission new work from local artists, with plans to present world premieres.

Tickets went on sale Monday, Aug. 9, for the Oct. 22 event. One night, one seating, only 200 seats. It could be a snooze-lose. Johnson would be fine with that. “Having demand for a sold-out show is not a bad thing.”
 
Northrop Jazz Live at the Campus Club: Somi and Thomasina Petrus. Campus Club, Coffman Memorial Union, 4th Floor, East Bank, University of Minnesota. Friday, Oct. 22, 8 p.m. ($35). General admission, cabaret seating only. Tickets online, by phone (612-624-2345), or in person at the Northrop Ticket Office.

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