Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Pleased and flipped 18: Memories of the Artists’ Quarter: Dave Graf, Phil Hey, Tom Hubbard

Eighteenth 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.

Dave Graf, trombonist

Dave Graf by John Whiting
At the original AQ at 26th and Nicollet: Many great memories, including getting to hear some of my heroes like Eddie Berger, Bob Rockwell, Gary Berg, Dave Karr, etc. And getting to hear and meet legends like Julian Priester and Harry "Sweets" Edison.

One funny story, then an unfunny one.

I was in the original house band at the old Carlton Celebrity Room in Bloomington. One night I had carpooled to the show with trombonist and old friend Chuck Gustafson (no longer with us, unfortunately) and he wanted to stop at the AQ and hear Eddie Berger and maybe sit in. 

We both had our horns with us, obviously. So there we are, in our jobbers uniforms – black suit, long tie – and as soon as there’s a break in the action, Chuck goes up to ask Eddie if we can sit in. Eddie looks us over disdainfully and says, “Why don’t you go sit in with Frank Sinatra?” Chuck was incensed and stormed out. I had to follow him because he was my ride, but I thought it was both funny and educational.

Ed could be delightfully salty when the situation called for it. I understood his message.

Another memory that stands out for me from the original AQ: Trumpeter Bernie Edstrom had a big band in there Sunday afternoons for a while in the late ’80s. It was freewheeling and a lot of fun, made up of longtime friends from the big band scene. One particular Sunday, there was a pianist/arranger/composer who had just moved to town. He was going to sit in, and he had brought a few charts for us to sight read. We read down charts on “Bag’s Groove” and “Old Devil Moon” and they were wonderful, creative charts, fun to play, and this guy played terrific piano. I was really impressed and excited by this auspicious debut. His name? Adi Yeshaya.

At the second AQ on Jackson: One night I got a call from Kenny, wanting to know if I’d be interested in playing a weekend at the AQ with Slide Hampton. At first I thought he was putting me on. But he was serious. He had booked Slide and asked him what he wanted for a band, and Slide told him, “Just get another bone player and we’ll do two bones and rhythm.” So I got to play a weekend with one of my musical and trombone heroes. The rhythm section was pretty majestic as well: Kenny himself on drums, Billy Peterson on bass, and the late Bobby Peterson on piano. 

I finagled the job of picking Slide up from his hotel and bringing him to the job each of the three nights. I found him to be serious and quiet, yet a very warm and kind man. His playing was phenomenal, of course. I wish I had some pictures of it, because I still have a hard time believing it actually happened.

At the latest AQ that we all know and love: SO many great playing and listening memories. Numerous appearances of Valves Meet Slide with Brad Bellows; the AQ gave us a home. My own CD release party – I never even considered having it anywhere but the AQ. Kenny, Dawn, and crew hosted a benefit for me (organized by Brad Bellows) when I had an accident and was out of work for several months; I was so touched by their kindness and support. 

Hearing legends like Lee Konitz, Roy Haynes, and Ira Sullivan. Getting to play with the great Eric Grávátt. Wonderful conversations with Davis and Kenny after the gig. Vanessa and her delicious tacos. Knowing anytime I went in there, I’d be among friends. These are things I’ll always remember and hold dear.

Artists’ Quarter, what will we be without you? Right up there with The Village Vanguard or Birdland as a place of legend, place of a million stories, place that will never be forgotten. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being there for all of us.

Phil Hey, drummer

Phil Hey by John Whiting
Tom [Hubbard] stole my story! He tells it better, anyway. [Ed. note: See below.]

Another Ed Berger story. There are dozens. A GREAT musician who mentored many. Fellow Philadelphian, too.

Tom Hubbard, Mikkel Romstad, and I were Ed’s primary rhythm section after he had established the AQ on 26th and Nicollet as a Jazz joint. It had been Merimac’s prior to the [Minneapolis] College of Art and Design’s expansion and redesign. The owner thought to capitalize on the art students’ proximity, but the original clientele was loyal. Hard-drinking bunch!

Ed started off with Sunday nights. During one of our sets, one of the neighborhood denizens leaned unsteadily across the wooden railing that separated the band from the customers. He peered at Ed’s music stand, at Ed, at us, at the stand, etc., for several minutes before indignantly announcing to the crowd: “Hey! They’re just making it up! Anyone can do that! Hell, I can do that!” Then stormed out.

Ed turned to us and said, “Finally, someone who gets this stuff.”

I heard so much great music at the various incarnations of the AQ, and I was even on stage for some of it.

The first time I played with Benny Golson at the Jackson Street location was a total pleasure and thrill. Playing “Stablemates,” “Whisper Not,” “Are You Real," et al. with the composer was unbelievable. At our afternoon rehearsal, Mikkel Romstad, Tom Lewis, and I asked Benny if he wanted to play “Killer Joe.” He replied in the negative, saying he was sorry he’d ever written it (!) and, besides, it wouldn’t work without the muted trumpet. Fine.

Of course, on the first break, Benny’s many fans all requested it, strenuously and at length. Benny turned to me and said, “You handle this,” and walked away. I stammered that Mr. Golson had wanted to play “Joe,” but, ah, “we didn’t know it.” Silence. Then, a multitude: “That's all right, Young Blood!” “You’re doing a fine job!” “You'll get there, son!” etc.

Benny, walking past, murmured, “That was slick.” We were friends from then on.

The next time plus one I played with him, “The Terminal” (starring Tom Hanks) had just been released. Benny had a major role in the movie and played a truncated “Killer Joe” on screen. It had now become the featured tune in the set, accompanied by reminiscences about Hanks. It was amazing to play it with him, and continues to be so.

No one loves this music more than Kenny Horst, and no one has done more than he to keep it alive in the Twin Cities. The Artists’ Quarter has been incalculably valuable for dozens (hundreds?) of musicians. A lot of us truly learned to play at the AQ, starting in 1979.

I have dozens (hundreds!) more AQ tales, but my typing skills are not up to the telling. Ours is mostly an oral tradition, and we’ll keep telling tales forever. I'll look forward to seeing some of them written down.



Tom Hubbard, bassist

Courtesy Tom Hubbard
I’m Tom Hubbard. I played bass with Ed Berger for many years. Phil Hey asked me to submit a story about the AQ. This one stands out in my mind, so I’ll tell it here.

Phil Hey, Jan Jacobsen, and I had just finished a gig with Ed Berger at the old AQ at 26th and Nicollet in Minneapolis. If I remember correctly, it was the early hours of New Year’s Day. While we were loading our instruments into our cars, we witnessed a two-car chase going the wrong way on 26th, then the wrong way down 1st Avenue. We passed it off as the usual late-night lunacy when, on their second pass around the block, the lead car pulls into the AQ parking lot with the chase car on its tail.

The driver of the lead car jumps out, opens his driver’s side back door, grabs a shotgun by the trigger, and blasts his upholstery into oblivion. At this point, Phil and I are running for the door of the club and safety, but we both distinctly remember Jan – who was, let’s say, an avid conversationalist – standing pat and attempting to talk the gunman down from his rage. The chase car, seeing the blast, hightailed it out of the lot and the wrong way down First Ave. The gunman got back in his car and took chase.

Jan’s proclivities for verbiage were well known, but we never thought that they would save someone’s life one day.

We never heard what happened as a result of the chase, but as it didn’t make the papers, we’re assuming that the only casualty was the car interior.

Moving from days long past to the present day, I would also like to thank Kenny for keeping the club going all these years. Anytime I would visit the Twin Cities, it was always the place to go to reconnect with the local jazz community. I always valued that immensely.

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