Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Pleased and flipped 20: Memories of the Artists’ Quarter: Zacc Harris, Miguel Hurtado, Dave Schmalenberger

 Twentieth 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.

Zacc Harris, guitarist

Zacc Harris by John Whiting
I first went to the AQ with [the woman who would become] my wife, just a couple of days after moving to the Twin Cities in the summer of 2005.

The Tuesday Night Band was playing, with Gary Berg on sax, Billy Franze on guitar, Bill Brown on organ, and, of course, Kenny Horst on drums. I was in heaven, in a real jazz club, dark, smoky (pre ban), and swingin'. No chatter, no fancy food … just a bar and a band. We stayed all night.

A few months later, we went back, and I proposed while the Tuesday Night Band played.

A couple weeks ago, we went to the AQ fundraiser and took our baby daughter, Maya. The three of us sat at the same table where I proposed to her. It was a heavy moment, knowing the club was closing and this little spot that was a part of my family’s history would soon be gone. But the joy of music that the AQ gave will continue to live deep in our hearts and in the hearts of countless others.

On one of the first gigs I played with Kenny, we were all discussing who played on some record or another. I went to look it up on my phone and Kenny said something like, “Man, I miss the days before smartphones when people used to just argue about shit!” Kenny, old school, got to love him. That’s one of my favorite quotes ever.

The first time I played the AQ was with Atlantis Quartet in the winter of 2009. It was a weekday in January, and I remember it was cold outside – ten below, maybe – and we were a bit worried about getting a crowd. In the end, it was a great crowd. Not as full as we’ve had it by any means, but there were a few dozen folks there who braved the weather.

The magic of the AQ is that the audience is so close, so focused on the music, it only takes a handful of people to make it a special show, one where you know you connected with people. Once you’re down in that basement and the band is swinging, it doesn’t matter what’s happening outside, because you’re in another world.

I’ve had a lot of great nights playing at the AQ. There have been some especially magical shows with Atlantis Quartet, but one of my favorite nights was during the 2010 jazz fest.(1) I had played earlier that day at the festival and then hung out the rest of the night. I was pretty tuned up when I finally made it over to the AQ, and after sitting there for a bit, in walked [festival headliner] Joe Lovano.

He came up to the bar to get a drink and mentioned something about the Dodgers, noticing the shirt I was wearing. We had one of the best conversations about baseball that I’ve ever had. Lovano then went on stage and blew everyone’s mind, as usual, along with a half-dozen other out-of-town performers from the festival. It was one of many great nights of music at the club, and certainly one I’ll never forget.

We did a live recording with Atlantis Quartet there in May 2011, right after getting back from a tour out to New York. While we were away, City Pages gave us the gracious nod of Jazz Artist of the Year, and when we did the live recording, the house was packed! Both nights. Standing room only.

Having just played something like eight shows in 10 days with those guys [on tour], the band was on fire and the energy of those two nights was electric. You could feel it buzzing in the room. But as crowded as it was, you could hear a pin drop at times. The best part is that we’ve got it all recorded, and it ended up being our third album, “Lines In the Sand.”

Miguel Hurtado, drummer

Miguel Hurtado by John Whiting
One of my most memorable moments as a musician has to be the first time I played at the AQ with a group called Second Nature. It was a Sunday afternoon, and we must’ve all been in the range of 13 to 15 years old: Javier Santiago on piano, Joe Hartnett on sax, Dylan Shamat on bass, and myself. Our repertoire consisted of jazz standards, some more obscure than others. The audience was mostly family. We were all very nervous that day; at least I know I was. That was the first time I met Kenny. I remember feeling a strong sense of tradition in the surroundings and a love for jazz music. And that’s what kept me coming back for years to come.

The summer after finishing my undergraduate degree in music, I returned to the Twin Cities and played a couple gigs with Dylan and a saxophonist friend of mine from school. Afterwards, we went to Dylan’s house to hang, and he put on a recording he happened to have of Second Nature live at the AQ. For the rest of the night, we laughed uncontrollably at how terrible everyone sounded that day. So special thanks to Kenny for putting up with us and allowing whatever that was to go down at his club with the kids.

Throughout high school, I remember going to hear Greg Paulus at the AQ, whenever he was back from school. It was inspiring to hear a musician so young and so risk-taking. That was the way he played, and that was why I always went to hear him.

Getting paid in Kenny’s office is a strong memory. I’d never been in Kenny's office. It was my first time leading a band at a club for a weekend, and Kenny showed me how to count the money. A big moment for me.

Thanks to Kenny for nurturing young musicians, letting us in the club for free when we were kids, and giving us a chance to play and develop our music.

Dave Schmalenberger, drummer
Dave Schmalenberger by John Whiting
I have so many great memories of the AQ, particularly Roy Haynes and his Fountain of Youth band, and every time I heard Eric Kamau Grávatt.

It’s been a great place to hear and play music – truly a cultural treasure. The vibe there was always so cool, and the focus was on the music rather than the other trappings.

A BIG thanks to Kenny for creating such an inviting, inspirational, supportive environment for all these years!



(1) Zacc is referring to the Twin Cities Jazz Festival.

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