Friday, June 24, 2011

The Last Masters: The 2012 NEA Jazz Masters are announced

Talk about bittersweet. The official press release arrived in today’s email, naming the recipients of the 2012 NEA Jazz Masters Award, our nation’s highest honor in jazz. Each of the five recipients will receive $25,000 and be feted in January at an awards ceremony and concert at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Hall. Those tickets will go fast, because after the 2012 awards, the Jazz Masters program becomes the Museum of Jazz Masters.

This year’s honorees, the Last Masters, are drummer Jack DeJohnette, saxophonist Von Freeman, bassist Charlie Haden, vocalist Sheila Jordan, and trumpeter/educator Jimmy Owens. As of 2012, the 30-year-old program will be defunct, crossed off the NEA’s budget, replaced by the watered-down “American Artist of the Year Awards,” in which jazz artists (like, for example, Dave Holland) will compete for recognition alongside dancers, actors, filmmakers, visual artists, and all kinds of musicians, not to mention basketweavers and quiltmakers. The chances of a jazz artist rising to the top are similar to those of Esperanza Spalding winning the Best New Artist Grammy. True, she won it, but how unlikely was that? Lightning-strike unlikely.

Howard Mandel has much to say about the new Jazz Masters and the end of the program. The press release, on the other hand, says nothing about the end of the program, probably because no one wants to rain on the winners’ parade. That’s understandable. Let’s give them the spotlight, the applause, and the acclaim they all deserve for their hard work, dedication, brilliance, musicianship, creativity, and no doubt plenty of sacrifice and suffering incurred during their many years of service to jazz.

Once a Jazz Master, always a Jazz Master, and there are now 124 men and women who bear that title. And hundreds more who will never bear it. Great artists now in their 40s and 50s, young artists still in their teens, kids practicing their Hanon finger exercises. It matters when a nation honors its artists. And it matters when a nation doesn’t.

This week’s jazz picks for Minneapolis-St. Paul

Friday and Saturday in St. Paul's Lowertown. This weekend is all about the 13th Annual Twin Cities Jazz Festival. It’s one of the few that is still a real jazz festivalnot a rock/blues festival with sides of jazz. All three outdoor festival stages are free. Some of the clubs charge a small cover.

Of the 60-some performances scheduled, here's what I'd do. I encourage you to check the schedule and choose what interests you. That's what jazz festivals are for.

5:30 on the 6th Street Stage: Young drummer Miguel Hurtado’s new group includes Marquis Hill, Zacc Harris (guitar), and Jeremy Boettcher (bass)
7:30 at the Hat Trick Lounge: JazZEN (Bobb Fantauzzo studied with R. Carlos Nakai and plays Native American flutes, among others)
8:30 at the Mears Park Main Stage: the New Gary Burton Quartet (Burton on vibes, Julian Lage on guitar, Scott Colley on bass, Antonio Sanchez on drums)
10:00 at Studio Z: Viv Corringham (voice), Scott Miller (electronics), and members of the new music group Zeitgeist
After that: The afterparty at the Artists’ Quarter, emceed by pianist/brainiac/festival stalwart Jon Weber

Thursday, June 23, 2011

St. Paul, Minnesota: Where a jazz festival is still a jazz festival

The 13th Annual Twin Cities Jazz Festival starts today. And guess what: It’s an actual jazz festival. Not just in name, but in the artists booked to perform. And not just the artists who will play on the main stages, but those being featured at other downtown St. Paul clubs during the festival. 

It seems that everyone is on board with the idea of throwing a real jazz party, not a so-called jazz party fronted by rock-and-roll bands. Our headliners are Danilo Perez (playing with John Patitucci and Adam Cruz) and Gary Burton (Scott Colley, Antonio Sanchez, Julian Lage). Heavy hitters and respected jazz musicians.

It’s our own little miracle. If I were wearing a hat, I’d tip it to festival president/executive director Steve Heckler and his board. Since I’m not wearing a hat, I’ll blow them all kisses.

Admittedly, ours is a small festival. Just one weekend in a small city park (Mears Park is the size of a city block). And yet, it must have been tempting to the festival organizers to see what big names outside of jazz might be available. Why not? Everybody’s doing it. The Montreal Jazz Festival recently added Prince to its lineup and announced it would give this year’s Spirit Award to Robert Plant.

Friday, June 17, 2011

This week’s jazz picks for Minneapolis-St. Paul

Friday: Patty Peterson and Friends at the Dakota in Minneapolis. Patty will sing with her family posse—Paul on bass and vocals, Ricky on B3 and vocals (he performs with David Sanborn, Stevie Nicks, and Bonnie Raitt), Jason on piano and vocals—plus other non-Petersons to round out her band. 8 p.m. Friday, June 17, $12.

Friday and Saturday: Tommy O’Donnell Trio at the Artists’ Quarter in St. Paul. O’Donnell is known as the pianist in town who can play like Erroll Garner. He’s joined by Gordy Johnson on bass, Phil Hey on drums, both back from Birdland in NYC, where they played for Stacey Kent. 9 p.m. Friday, June 17, $10.

Saturday: The Ginger Commodore Quartet at the Dakota. Bruce Henry was originally scheduled for tonight; sadly, his father passed away. Ginger and Bobby will make a point of remembering Bruce’s father—of honoring all fathers—and will perform some of Bruce’s favorite songs. 8 p.m. Saturday, June 18, $10.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Improvised music in the Twin Cities: Always changing, also growing?

After a dense and intense performance by Charcoal + 1 at Homewood Studios on Sunday night, I spoke briefly with John O’Brien. I thanked him for playing and mentioned I’d also seen him at Studio Z in March. He said he’d be back there at the end of this month and added (in words to this effect), “The improvised music scene seems to be growing.”

I’ve been so focused on the sudden death of the long-running Jazz Implosion series at the Clown, the petering out of the iQuit series at the Rogue Buddha, and the changes at Maude that I haven’t stepped back to see the bigger picture. But I think O'Brien is right. Improvised music in the Twin Cities is alive and kicking hard.

The scene looks different than it did in January 2010, when I first compiled a list of venues that feature improvised music (now revised and updated). The Clown Lounge is defunct, but the Black Dog in St. Paul has become an epicenter for improvised music, thanks to Nathan Hanson and Brian Roessler's weekly Community Pool: Deep End series. Also in St. Paul, Zeitgeist’s terrific performance space, Studio Z, has opened its doors to improvised music (and I hear it’s an affordable rental). During this year’s Twin Cities Jazz Festival, Studio Z will present a series of free improv/free jazz concerts, a first for the Jazz Fest.

Where to find improvised music in the Twin Cities

Improvised music, free jazz, experimental music, avant-garde jazz, free improvisation, spontaneous composition: Whatever you call it, the Twin Cities has more of it than you might expect. 

Here's where to find it. Many of these venues have Facebook and Myspace pages and Twitter accounts you can link to from their websites. 

What am I missing? Please let me know. By definition, this is a work in progress.

329 Cedar Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55454

The fourth Sunday of each month belongs to the Minneapolis Free Music Society, an improvisational music collective of area musicians. Like them on Facebook for regular updates. 

408 St. Peter St.
St. Paul, MN 55102

At their regular AQ gigs, the Phil Hey Quartet, Eric Kamau Gravatt's Source Code, and How Birds Work all play improvised music along with straight-ahead jazz and standards. Happy Apple makes frequent appearances. Check the online calendar to see who’s coming through town. From the home page, you can like the AQ on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, visit their Myspace page, and go to Don Berryman's growing collection of live performance videos.

Friday, June 10, 2011

This week's jazz picks for Minneapolis-St. Paul

Friday: Lee Engele and Joan Griffith at the Mendoberri Café and Wine Bar in Mendota. Two reasons to pick this: vocalist Engele and guitarist Griffith will make beautiful music, and Mendoberri is a new venue, sort of--it's in the old Sage Wine Bar space. If you're out that way, stop in and let them know you're glad they're featuring live music. 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 10, no cover.

Friday and Saturday: Eric Kamau Gravatt and Source Code Trio at the Artist's Quarter in St. Paul.  A lot of people are surprised to learn that the great drummer who worked with Weather Report and still tours with McCoy Tyner lives right here in St. Paul. Every so often, not often enough, he gathers his band Source Code for plays a thunderous weekend at the AQ. This one is most unusual: Gravatt in a trio format with Bryan Nichols on keys and Ron Evaniuk on bass. It will definitely be a whole new sound. 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, June 10–11, $12. [Thanks to Bryan Nichols for the update.]

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Southern is still alive

I'm resisting adding "just barely." After posting last week about music director Kate Nordstrum's departure, and wondering aloud this week about the Southern's transparency, I read this afternoon's email from Gary Peterson with mixed feelings.

Peterson has been the executive director; he's stepping down and joining the board. The Southern will now have one full-time employee, Damon Runnals, who has been the production and operations manager since 2008. Earlier this year, the theater set a goal of raising $400,000, which would have allowed it to meet its current and future obligations; it raised just $95,000 from its annual fundraiser and online gifts by donors. There was buzz about the possibility of bigger support but apparently it never materialized.

The "Plan for a Sustainable Southern" projects 40 weeks of "performance activity" and a first-year budget of $165,600. Since 2008, the theater had been presenting 28-47 annual engagements, with a budget of about $1.1 million.

So the budget has been greatly reduced, there's no more artistic staff, and the theater (plus office space) will be available for rent. But the doors will stay open.

This week’s jazz picks for Minneapolis-St. Paul

Friday and Saturday: Debbie Duncan at the Artists’ Quarter

Miss Debbie Duncan is a real jazz singer—one who uses her voice as an instrument, who sings with  authentic emotion, who’s all about the truth. “I Gotta Be Me” used to be her theme song. To her, it means “Do it now, do it righteous. Live, don’t just survive.”

9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, June 3–4, Artists’ Quarter ($10)

Late night Saturday: Todd Clouser and Dean Magraw at the Dakota

Two guitarists with rock-god genes. Clouser has been on tour with his terrific new CD, A Love Electric; Magraw recently celebrated the release of his group Red Planet’s Space Dust. They could go all Celtic but it seems doubtful. Shredding is more likely.

11 p.m. Saturday, June 4, Dakota ($5)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Bad Plus Play Stravinsky: A concert review in seven movements

When: Friday–Saturday, May 20–21, 2011 • Where: Loring TheaterWho: The Bad Plus: Ethan Iverson, piano; Reid Anderson, bass; Dave King, drums


•  Bruce Abbott thrives on musical immersion. He is a database designer and bass clarinetist (“Deep Burble”).
•  Don Berryman is webmaster of the Jazz Police website and a videographer. His Youtube channel, Jazzarazzi, documents the Twin Cities jazz scene.
•  Larry Englund hosts the weekly radio show “Rhythm and Grooves” for KFAI Radio Without Boundaries. As DJ Larry Englund, he spins everything from jazz to soul, funk, world beats, and rock of many kinds.
•  Kip Jones is a violinist and composer hard at work here in the Twin Cities. His latest CD, Hallazgo, features 11 songs written for solo violin with voice.
•  Bill Kempe is a composer, conductor, singer, and ardent Stravinsky fan.
•  Bonnie Marshall is vice president of development for the American Composers Forum.

Comments are published in the order received.

Larry Englund

It was many, many years ago that I watched Maurice Bejart’s ballet of The Rite of Spring, a powerful spectacle featuring what seemed like hundreds of dancers on stage. With only three musicians on stage Saturday night, The Bad Plus created an aural spectacle rather than a visual one. I especially like the way that Reid Anderson’s bass would be turned up at various times, creating a trio sound that seemed much greater than the sum of its parts. The accompanying video was at times a bit distracting, as I found myself wondering what music the upside-down dancer was hearing. Dave King’s drum work, coupled with Ethan Iverson’s attack on the piano, soon brought me back to full attention to their performance. I’ve no idea what a classical musician might think of their performance, but as a jazz fan, I enjoyed it.