Thursday, December 19, 2013

Pleased and flipped 22: Memories of the Artists’ Quarter: Michael Lewis, Stuart Loughridge, Dean Magraw

Twenty-second 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.

Michael Lewis, saxophonist

Michael Lewis by John Whiting
Maybe I was 5, give or take. My father(1) doesn’t precisely recall either, and I’m sure it wasn’t the only time he’d brought me to a club, but it’s one of the earliest memories I have, and my only memory of the first AQ. I remember the acrid smell of smoke, the strange glow, and music … loud and brash and alive.

We were there to see Dick Oatts, who had agreed to be my godfather the day I was born, which was also the day he moved to New York to play with Thad [Jones] and Mel [Lewis] in June of 1977. There hadn’t been a day in my life I hadn’t heard music, but that’s the first memory I have of hearing it in a club, and I have no doubt of its role in what would become a cherished lifelong affliction.

All through high school I had a growing obsession with Joe Lovano, so when I found his record “Sounds of Joy” with Ed Blackwell and our own Anthony Cox, I had the obvious reaction: Holy shit! I know that guy!! When “that guy” [Anthony] asked me to come home from out East, where I was in school, to play a weekend in a new band he wanted me in with Dave King and Dean Granros, I was over the moon.(2)

No sooner had I arrived than all three of my horns got stolen, a violation as vile as you’d imagine, especially given what I’d brought them home for … but: borrowed a horn from Dave Brattain, climbed out of the hole I was hiding in, and had it all out at Fifth and Jackson. Sorrow, rage, healing. Thank god for that room that weekend.

Same band, same AQ, about a year later. Finished the first set and went in back. Jack McDuff walks in. I didn’t hear how it started, but I did hear him ask if some or all of us knew “the difference between chicken salad and chicken shit.” Probably safe to say he wasn’t feeling it. Should that have been devastating, coming from such a brilliant and storied musician? Maybe … but it wasn’t. It was funny. Not funny in an antagonistic way, just funny.

Perhaps we weren’t killing it that night, I don't know … I felt like we were, but this music is strange. It always has been. Strange, beautiful music played by strange, beautiful weirdos. Tom Harrell filling the room with the most beautiful trumpet sound I’ve ever heard, and then freezing on stage, suddenly unable to play. Bill Carrothers playing piano with a parachute on.

We’re all f****** deranged in one way or another, but we make a community and try to find a safe place to live. That safe place has always been the Artists’ Quarter, and our gratitude is beyond measure.

Stuart Loughridge, artist

Courtesy of the artist
I love to sit at the bar, a candle faintly illuminating my sketch paper, throw down some color that is mixed by memory rather than accuracy due to the improper lighting, and see where it goes. There is urgency in my brush, a mix of instrumental sounds moving quickly, and colors pooling upon my paper.

I get lost listening to the music, and I am lost even more while sketching it. 

A color that looks reddish and warm to all who glance at the sketch during that evening, the next morning may actually be green, under proper lighting. What is proper lighting then, if that color was so effectively misleading the night before to all who gazed at it?

The proper lighting is the lighting these are painted under, which is the candlelight at the Artists’ Quarter.

Thank you to those who have made the Artists’ Quarter what it is. I am truly grateful.

[Ed. note: See below for a selection of sketches by Stuart.]

Dean Magraw, guitarist

Dean Magraw by John Whiting.
Nice hat.
Memory 1: Playing at the first Artists’ Quarter. It was a cool, clear, great night. I was feeling good. I even found a great parking space right in front of the club on 26th. Once I was in the Artists’ Quarter, the vibe was so intense and the sounds so happening and the interpersonal dynamics so enlivening that the catharsis exploded over a long night of great music. (I don’t know who was playing … might have been the Organ Grinder Review or Tribute to Mingus or Latin Jazz Combo or ??) When I went outside with my gear to head home after the show, there was two feet of fresh snow on the ground, and my car had been towed. It took me all the next day to get it out and cost me three hundred dollars. Ah, f*** it – it was well worth it!

Memory 2: It’s impossible for me to think about the Jackson St. Artists’ Quarter without hearing the sounds from Anthony Cox’s acoustic bass guitar mixing with the sound of my acoustic guitar on one particular night when the stars seemed to be aligned. The audience, the room, the players, the people, we were all transformed from our individual selves into the great mystery of the music.

Memory 3: Three CDs launched at the St. Peter St. AQ.

1. The release of “Unseen Rain” with Jim Anton and JT Bates.

2. The release of “Space Dust” with Jay Epstein and Chris Bates.

3. The release party for “How the Light Gets In” with Marcus Wise on tabla. This night had especial meaning because I was just returning to the music scene while still recovering from a bone marrow transplant. And it was a particularly emotional night for me, as the Artists’ Quarter was the scene of a benefit that generous musicians and patrons had thrown to support the healing.

So now I must say: Deep gratitude to you, my brothers and sisters, especially Kenny and Dawn Horst, Davis, Jennifer, Dan, David Horst, and all the other people that made the Artists’ Quarter the launching pad for some of the greatest music I ever heard, whether as an audience member or a stage performer. Thank you, thank you, thank you. You have changed our world for the benefit of us all!!!

love and peace,
brother dean



(1) Michael Lewis’s father is the trumpeter Greg Lewis.

(2) Unless I’m sadly mistaken, Michael is talking about the group Starry Eyed Lovelies.

Sketches by Stuart Loughridge, made at the Artists' Quarter
All images used with permission of the artist.

Dean Granros by Stuart Loughridge
The Dexter Gordon poster on the wall of the AQ,
by Stuart Loughridge
Lew Tabackin by Stuart Loughridge
Davis by Stuart Loughridge

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