Thursday, December 22, 2011

New radio series reveals St. Paul’s lively musical side

Larry Englund
A lot of Minnesotans, especially those of us who live in Minneapolis, think that St. Paul rolls up its sidewalks at night and plays dead.

Not so, says Larry Englund, producer of “St. Paul Live!,” a radio series that features live music performances recorded in several venues around the city. The series airs on KBEM starting January 2.

“That’s exactly the reason I’m doing this series,” Englund says. “A few years back, I thought—there’s more going on in this city than people realize. 

“I approached Joe Spencer, the director of arts and culture for St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, and he encouraged me. He’s a big supporter of live music. Then I sat down with Kevin Barnes and Michele Jansen at KBEM and got down to brass tacks. We wrote a Cultural STAR grant and it was approved.”

St. Paul’s Cultural STAR program promotes economic growth in the city by strengthening the arts and cultural sector, and by supporting downtown St. Paul as a vital cultural center.

The series also received underwriting support from Oak Grove Capital, a national mortgage lender based in St. Paul.

Englund and his wife, Liz, have lived in St. Paul since December 1997. He served as a member of the Downtown District Council for 10 years. “This project allowed me to take my interests in music and in promoting St. Paul and put them together,” he says.

Englund began recording live performances for the series during the summer. Over the next several months, he recorded more than 100 musicians in 24 groups performing in 11 different venues, as well as the 10th annual Selby Avenue Music Festival.

“Most of the recordings are jazz—there’s a lot of jazz going on in St. Paul,” Englund says. “But we decided to expand a bit beyond jazz, into roots, blues, and R&B.”

Recordings took place at the Artists’ Quarter, the Black Dog, Studio Z, the Hat Trick Lounge, the Lobby Bar of the Saint Paul Hotel, the Wabasha Street Caves, O’Gara’s, the Minnesota Music Café, the Turf Club, Amsterdam Bar & Hall, and outdoors in the Selby and Rondo neighborhoods.

Englund is known as the host of the “Rhythm and Grooves” radio program on KBEM's sister station KFAI, but he doesn’t host “St. Paul Live!” Students do—some from the Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Arts, some from Minneapolis’s North High School, home of KBEM. “We thought people might get confused if they heard me on two stations,” Englund says. “Plus KBEM is involved with young people, teaching communication arts, so it made sense to have students do the announcing.”

The 13-week series will air each Monday from 7–8 p.m. on KBEM, then repeat for a total of 26 weeks. It will also be made available to outstate radio stations in the AMPERS network of independent community radio stations in Minnesota. Most shows are two half-hour segments, each featuring a different artist or group.

Looking back on recording the series, what were the high points for Englund? “Lucia Newell’s performance, simply because she’s such a good singer. Going to the Wabasha Caves and seeing people swing dance. Dave Karr. And Julie Johnson and the No-Accounts. She plays the flute and bass flute. Her vocalist, Doug Otto, has a voice straight out of the 1930s in terms of tiredness and hopefulness. She was a real discovery.”

Here’s the broadcast schedule, with brief comments by Englund about each performance.

January 2, 2012: Lucia Newell (recorded at the Artists’ Quarter): “One of the finest, if not the finest, jazz singers in town.” Pete Whitman’s X-Tet (also recorded at the Artists’ Quarter): “Great energy. A terrific improvising jazz band.”

January 9: Butch Thompson and Spider John Koerner (Artists’ Quarter): “Both take traditional music—for Butch, ragtime/stride, and for Spider John, early acoustic music—and give it life.” Jack Brass Band (Hat Trick Lounge): “Able to go from traditional New Orleans-style brass band music into modern-day R&B. Lots of fun.”

January 16: The JoAnn Funk Trio (Saint Paul Hotel Lobby Bar): “JoAnn is a charming singer and a great piano player, able to carry on despite the many distractions of a hotel lobby.” The Dave Karr Trio (Artists’ Quarter): “This was a very special night. Dave was supposed to have a quartet, but the piano player couldn’t show up. So Dave did extended blowing—long songs. Bassist Billy Peterson and drummer Kenny Horst rose to the occasion.”

January 23: Peter Lang (Turf Club): “A good storyteller and a really fine fingerpicker.” Dean Magraw and Davu Seru (Black Dog): “The communication between them is amazing. You never know quite where they will go.”

January 30: Pippi Ardennia with Irv Williams (Landmark Center): “Pippi’s stage personality is so welcoming, and she takes fun chances with melody lines. Irv was amazing that particular day, blowing terrific lines.” Moonlight Serenaders with Lee Engele (Wabasha Caves): “They’ve got the big band book down well. The swing dancers sure enjoy them.”

February 6: Willie Walker (Minnesota Music Café): “The Twin Cities’ original soul man. He can take any soul song and make it his own.” Atlantis Quartet (Artists’ Quarter): “Twenty-first century jazz. Great improvisers, lots of energy, and something that reminds me of rock-and-roll.”

February 13: Zeitgeist Cabaret: Zeitgeist, Anti-Gravity, Julie Johnson and the No-Accounts (Studio Z): “The Cabaret is an annual event, featuring many performers over three nights. We have a delightful piece from the Zeitgeist new music group, and selections from the performance by the improvising music group Anti-Gravity, which is fascinating for the use of Steve Goldstein’s laptop percussion. Julie Johnson and her group play old folk songs, specifically from the Minnesota area.”

February 20: Debbie Duncan and the Tuesday Night Band (Artists’ Quarter): “The band is just so tight. And Debbie Duncan, another great jazz singer, goes wherever she wants to go.” Jef Lee Johnson and Friends (Black Dog): “The only non-Minnesota performer; Johnson is from Philadelphia. Very innovative. Guitarists have asked me for a copy of this show.”

February 27: Illicit Sextet (Artists’ Quarter): “All original music. Great stuff, good energy, terrific soloing.” Seven Steps to Havana (Studio Z): “Marvelous Cuban music. They played some numbers with horns only.”

March 5: Jack Brass Band (Hat Trick Lounge): More from the performance heard on January 9. Beasley’s Big Band with Christine Rosholt (O’Gara’s): “This 18-piece band regularly brings 50–60 people to O’Gara’s on the first Tuesday of the month.”

March 12: Pete Whitman’s X-Tet (Artist’s Quarter): More from the performance heard on January 2. Insurgent (Studio Z): “Pat Moriarty on saxophone, Ellen Lease on piano, Phil Hey on drums. They’ve known each other for 30 years, and the interplay between them is magical.”

March 19: Mary Cutrufello Duo (Amsterdam): “In the late 1990s, Mary was a rocker out of Texas who was being compared to Springsteen and folks like that. Now she works mostly as a solo acoustic guitarist, doing bluesy, folksy music. The night we recorded her, she had Greg Schutte on drums.” Butch Thompson and Spider John Koerner (Artists’ Quarter): More from the performance heard on January 9.

March 26: Walker West’s Urban Legends, Salsa del Soul (both recorded at the Selby Jazz Festival): “Walker West’s Urban Legends is Donald Thomas, Lincoln Berry, Felix James, and a number of young people. Salsa del Soul was hot that night, getting people up and dancing. This is perhaps not a perfect live recording, but it’s a perfect example of a live neighborhood music festival.”

Hear "St. Paul Live" every Monday at 7 p.m. for 26 weeks starting on January 2. In the Twin Cities, tune to 88.5 fm on your radio dial. Or stream online at

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