Monday, December 16, 2013

Pleased and flipped 14: Memories of the Artists’ Quarter: Larry Englund, Steve Heckler, Gary Raynor

Fourteenth 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.

Larry Englund, host of “Rhythm and Grooves,” KFAI Fresh Air Radio

Courtesy Larry Englund and Andrea Canter
I have many good memories from the AQ, including Jazz Festival jams and seeing Mose Allison, Roy Haynes, and others. However, the three that come to top of mind include:

Broadcasting live. In 2008, my radio show on KFAI, “Rhythm and Grooves,” aired on Tuesday nights, which was when the Tuesday Night Band played. From February through May, I’d broadcast from the AQ on the first Tuesday of the month. Billy Franze, “Downtown” Bill Brown, and [AQ owner] Kenny [Horst] would tear through their repertoire and invite guests such as Gary Berg, Donald Thomas, Maurice Jacox, and others to sit in. I interviewed both players and customers during the band’s breaks, including members of the touring production of “Cabaret,” which was in town. One customer noted that his son in Ohio was listening on the internet, while back at the station, we received a number of very positive phone calls.

The Dave Karr Trio. Dave had a monthly gig for years with a quartet, but one September night in 2011, the pianist didn’t show up for some reason. Unfazed, Dave, Billy Peterson, and Kenny seemed to be particularly inspired as they played such bop standards as “Tangerine,” “Oleo,” and “Relaxing at Camarillo.” The small crowd that evening heard some brilliant playing by three consummate professionals.

The first time I saw Happy Apple was in the Jackson Street incarnation of the club. Since I was living out of town during the band’s formation and early growth, I had no idea what to expect. The club was packed, and Dave King was doing his usual stream-of-consciousness banter. Their approach was new to my ears at the time, but damn, it was exciting, and it was jazz that brought out a young crowd. That’s always a good thing.

Steve Heckler, executive director, Twin Cities Jazz Festival

Courtesy Andrea Canter
My first memory of the AQ was in the early 1990s, when I went to see Jack McDuff. Walking down those stairs into the basement club in the historic Jackson Street location made it clear the club was going after more then just the music but capturing the importance of the jazz experience. I’ve been a fan ever since.

In late 1999, I approached Kenny Horst with a concept of bringing a jazz festival back to the Twin Cities. His response was “How can I help?” 

Over the past 16 years, Kenny has been a partner of the jazz festival and is a major reason why the event is a success. Kenny has assisted with bookings and themes and has allowed the AQ to be a venue to the event, including post-event jam sessions.

Gary Raynor, bassist

Gary Raynor by John Whiting
My best memories of the Artists’ Quarter were of coming down after playing a show(1) about 10:45 or 11:00 at night during the week and listening to Bobby Peterson – often with a trio, sometimes a quartet. Exquisite music and hardly anyone in the place. Coming from New York, I know people would have paid significant cover charges and drink minimums in order to hear music of this caliber.

I was also fortunate to play with one of the greatest sax players on the planet – Dave Karr, with his tenor book, or his Gerry Mulligan book, or with Brian Grivna. I have occasionally been called to accompany national artists, and I would also accompany my good friend Debbie Duncan and other local performers.

As a teacher at McNally Smith College of Music, I, along with the students, have given end-of-semester concerts there. The Artists’ Quarter has provided an indispensable showcase both for our students’ endeavors, and to introduce them to quality world-class musicians.

Last but certainly not least is the pleasure of my conversations with Davis Wilson, a totally unique feature of one of the best jazz clubs in the world.


Note: (1) By “shows,” Gary means “A Prairie Home Companion,” on which he has been a regular performer for 13 years, and dozens of Broadway touring shows that have come through the Twin Cities.

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