Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Pleased and flipped 11: Memories of the Artists’ Quarter: James Buckley, Greg Paulus, Kelly Rossum

Eleventh in a series. After almost 20 years in St. Paul – first on Jackson Street in Lowertown, then in the Hamm Building near Rice Park – the esteemed and beloved Artists’ Quarter jazz club will close January 1. As we near the end of a jazz era, we’re asking musicians (and a few others) whose lives have been shaped by experiences at the AQ to share their three favorite memories of the place, the people, and the music.

James Buckley, bassist

James Buckley by John Whiting
The old AQ, circa 1999,(1) had the best cold cut sandwiches. Thick cut provolone. Hard salami. Being 21 at the time, I often would go out without eating hardly anything. Saved me more than once.

My first gig at the AQ was in the early summer of 1999. I had just moved to town only a few months previous to this. It was with Adi Yeshaya and Jay Epstein. I felt like I had already made a little mark, since I was so new, playing with such great players at such a notable venue. [AQ owner] Kenny [Horst] has always been super supportive of the new guys in town. I’m very grateful for that. It certainly helped me gain confidence and build a little momentum for myself and my career in the Twin Cities.

I had a trio gig with Dean Magraw and Kenny a few years ago down at the new location.(2) Dean brought a bunch of really cool and challenging tunes to the table. Some traditional jazz standards, a few Meters tunes, even some old folk music. It was a pleasure to see it come together with this group. It was some of my favorite playing I have ever had a chance to do with either of those players. About halfway through the gig, a man rushed into the room. We were in the middle of a pretty esoteric segment of one of the pieces that Dean had selected. I remember looking up after hearing a loud yell. “You can’t be in here! You have to go!” We just kept on playing, hoping the distraction would resolve itself. Eventually things escalated, and we stopped playing as soon as we saw (and heard) an officer taser the crazy guy running around the AQ. Seriously, it took three pretty big cops to take this guy down.(3) What I most remember is Kenny and Dean insisting on playing more, after the whole thing went down. I’m glad we did. It made me feel better, and able to make some sense of it all.

Greg Paulus, trumpeter

Greg Paulus by John Whiting
1. the first time i actually played at the artists quarter was something very special. just by chance kenny had seen me playing at a jam session at cleopatra’s needle in new york and asked me to come play a weekend at the AQ. I was obviously honored and thrilled, as it was a club that i grew up in. somehow the papers caught on to the whole thing (maybe because i was so young) and it ended up being a massive weekend. i was so humbled to play with kenny and billy peterson and chris lomheim and peter schimke. these were musicians that i had been looking up to since my parents let me go to the AQ and i had been studying their technique for a while. these guys are the best of the best and i was just as happy as can be. the vibe was great, they helped me sound better than i ever had and the whole thing was a fantastic musical journey that we would repeat many times after.

2. Davis. Well i’m sure i’m one of a million praising this legendary soul, but as i have grown up in the business of music i have learned how important it is to have a warm, knowledgeable, caring, and gentle person handling the door. pardon if this is too frank, but when people enter a place where they have to pay money, there is often a moment of second guessing or uncertainty. but when you have someone like Davis manning the helm of the ship, anyone with a soul knows they have to just go in and experience a great evening. i believe this is essential to the existence of any nightclub or club, venue, whatever … when u enter an establishment and the vibe is already set in such a friendly, sophisticated way, you know you are going to have a great night and that is what we all live for. oh and by the way i spent half of my time at the AQ hanging at the door just absorbing the immense musical knowledge and history that is Davis. 

3. Tuesday nights! Some of the most fun i ever had in my life. Billy Holloman was crushing, he always let me sit in, i played my hardest and those nights went off. Gary Berg, a consummate professional and outright legend, was teaching me how to really play. as someone in their early twenties i was so fortunate to be able to learn from these guys, not just about music but about life and its ups and downs and all the pitfalls you encounter as an artist of the night. it was just like i imagined 52nd st. in NYC during the bebop era: young people, hanging out drinking, smoking, having a blast … none of this silent, martini-sipping jazz style we see today so often, but real people getting down to the music. i think about these times often.

Kelly Rossum, trumpeter

Kelly Rossum by John Whiting
My most vivid memory is during the release show for the Out to Lunch Quintet’s “Live at the Artists’ Quarter” recording. If you know the club, you know about the back wall, the one on the far side of the bar from the stage, which is covered in record jackets. That night, as I looked out from the stage, I couldn’t see the bottom few rows. There were too many people, standing two to three deep, all the way at the back of the club. Solid. We’re talking fire-hazard full. Here’s the thing, we were playing an entire evening dedicated to the music of Eric Dolphy. Let me repeat, ERIC DOLPHY! Where else in the Western hemisphere would a music club dare host a full weekend of Dolphy’s music, let alone pack the house? Seriously. AQ!

I consider the first night Davis introduced my band a truly significant moment in my career as a musician.

Yet the most important memory I have, [and it’s one] I’m sure many others share, is the “every-single-damn-time-I-went-into-the-AQ-feeling.” You would descend from the cold, harsh real world and enter into a strangely different place, held in time and space, where the rules of life are suspended. Enter through the exterior doors, go down the stairs, wind right, glimpses of jazz photos, eventually finding your way to the airlock: the final chamber separating this hallowed space from the rat race. Here sits an odd mixture of Willy Wonka, Santa, and Jack Kerouac, with a beard and beret, welcoming you to wonderland with a broad smile and a handshake.(4) As you step through the magic archway into this alternate reality, you can sense in the air that something is going to happen. There’s a purpose, even a reverence amongst the people in this room; they’re here for a reason. Music. This, this is a Jazz Club. It’s about the music. If you’re lucky, you may even get to meet the Wizard of Oz himself.


Notes: (1) By “old AQ,” Buckley means the first St. Paul location, on Fifth and Jackson. The original AQ was at 26th and Nicollet in Minneapolis. (2) The “new location” is the Hamm Bldg. (3) Given the AQ’s location – in a basement that’s otherwise deserted at night, in a building facing a pedestrian mall that’s also largely deserted except for panhandlers, in a part of St. Paul with very little night life – it’s probably a miracle this sort of thing hasn’t happened more often. Davis Wilson, the doorman and MC, was robbed at knifepoint at least once and had a bandaged hand to prove it. I suspect that Davis and Kenny, bartenders David and Dan and the rest of the staff acted as a sort of Homeland Security for the musicians and the audience, handling all kinds of trouble without our ever knowing it. (4) Kelly is referring to Davis, where the AQ experience always begins.

The albums wall at the AQ. Photo by Andrea Canter.


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