Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Pleased and flipped 12: Memories of the Artists’ Quarter: Al Iverson, Chris Lomheim, Graydon Peterson

Twelfth 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.

Al Iverson, AQ webmaster 1998-2006

Courtesy Al Iverson
[AQ owner] Kenny Horst was pretty damn good to me. From late 1998 to mid 2006, he kindly let me consider the Artists’ Quarter my second home. Not being a musician myself, I had absolutely nothing to add to the club’s roster directly, but I he let me help out here and there, just the same. The flyers, the website, occasionally manning the door when Davis Wilson was off for the evening. Most of my memories stem from these background interactions: behind the scenes. Away from the music.

There came a point when I found out that truly, people were reading the weekly email blasts. All I had to do was accidentally make a typo in a cover charge for a given evening (usually omitting a zero), and it would nearly guarantee that the first dozen or two through the door would ask for the lower price. It was a wonderful sort of backhanded compliment that it took this occasional error to prove that something was working, that we really were reaching other people.

The music was always amazing. The musicians, great people. I didn’t always get very close to them; I think a lot of them already had phonies and weirdos trying to vie for their attention, and I didn’t want to be perceived similarly. But hang around long enough, and you get to know people well, and you get to observe their true selves, and so many of the people [who came] to play at the AQ had good souls.

Here’s just one of them: Bobby Peterson. He was one of my all-time favorite piano players to have seen at the AQ. Once upon a time, he’d play Sunday nights, and it would be so slow that by the end of the night, I’d be one of three people in the audience. He’d come and hang out and tell a dumb joke or two. And he wasn’t above teasing somebody from the piano, if they deserved it. I was there once when a customer requested a song, and Bobby graciously started to play it. I forget which song, of course. Anyway, the customer must have been a bit tipsy, because he thought it was karaoke night and jumped up on stage and grabbed the microphone. Bobby’s response was to mash the piano keys like a dog mashing a telephone keypad with its nose. The poor gentleman had no idea what to make of it, and I was undoubtedly a horrible person for sitting at the back of the bar trying not to laugh at the absurdity of it all.

There was so much good music and so many good people there that I get a bit overwhelmed if I stop and try to filter it down to my favorite specific experiences. So I think I’ll just leave it there.

Chris Lomheim, pianist

Chris Lomheim by John Whiting
I’d like to take a moment to extend my deepest appreciation and thanks to Kenny Horst for his decades-long commitment to live jazz in the Twin Cities.

Kenny has always been very gracious and generous to me, allowing me countless opportunities to play with local jazz heroes and legends such as Dave Karr, Gary Berg, Brian Grivna, and Billy Peterson.

I have also had the distinct honor of playing with many national artists at the AQ including Eric Alexander, Jim Rotondi, Greg Tardy, Curtis Fuller, Herbie Lewis, and many other wonderful musicians.

The Artists’ Quarter was also a safe haven for my trio to play tribute concerts in honor of Bill Evans almost every year. The audiences during these concerts were unlike any I’ve ever experienced anywhere. You could hear a pin drop during ballads, they were so respectful and engaged in the music – truly an artist’s dream audience to perform for.

Thank you, Davis, Kenny and Dawn, and all the staff at the AQ for your many years of love and support.

Graydon Peterson, bassist

Graydon Peterson by John Whiting
I first learned about the Artists’ Quarter while I was in high school. I had just joined the [school] jazz ensemble and wanted to start learning about jazz. My band director at the time told me to check out the Artists’ Quarter in St. Paul. So one weekend night I went down to the club, the one on Mears Park.(1) Bill Carrothers was playing with Tom Harrell and Kenny Horst.

I had no idea what to expect. The small room and intimate crowd were very appealing to me. The audience, including myself, was completely enthralled by the performance. I had never heard or seen musicians perform music where it was obvious that the music was streaming out from within them. They were putting themselves into the music rather than just reading notes on a page. They were creating it on the spot.  It was a powerfully motivating experience.

I was blown away, and especially with Bill Carrothers’ harmonies.  I was completely mesmerized by his playing. Not only by the notes he was playing, but by his creative concept as well. I had never heard anything like it before.

I learned a lot about jazz and art that night. The band wasn’t just playing tunes, they were collectively creating something. Thank you, Artists’ Quarter, for showing me what creating art is like.  Thank you, Artists’ Quarter, for providing a place for learning and enjoying jazz music. 


Notes: (1) Graydon is referring to the Fifth and Jackson location, the AQ’s first home in St. Paul.

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