Thursday, December 19, 2013

Pleased and flipped 23: Memories of the Artists’ Quarter: Jay Epstein, John Raymond, Jon Weber

Twenty-third 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.

Jay Epstein, drummer

Jay Epstein by John Whiting
Thank you, Kenny and Dawn Horst, for your lifetime of selfless dedication to offer up the Artists’ Quarter, fostering such great music and unity in the Twin Cities jazz community. Personally, it has meant so much to me to have been able to share countless hours of 8th notes with many brilliant, creative comrades including Sheila Jordan, Terry Gibbs, JoAnne Brackeen, Bill Carrothers, Karrin Allyson, and Lynne Arriale.

In addition to the three decades of AQ incarnations, I must say I’m also very grateful for the myriad clubs in which Kenny championed our music through the 1970’s that few around might remember, including Davey Jones’ Locker, Williams’ Pub, The Roxy, et al.

One anecdote from the first AQ in Minneapolis: It’s 1978, and as I remember, I’m with guitarist Wayne Johnson and bassist Jimmy (Flim) Johnson, playing Wayne’s originals (Metheny-esque) with diverse dynamic leaps from the fortissimo of cannon-roars to the pianissimo of a mouse pissing on cotton. There’s a drunk, loudmouth boor tossing them back at the bar all night, ruining the ambiance we’re trying to create, interjecting his own personal, selfish patter at the quiet moments.

Just another common jazz saloon night, except at the end of the gig when we’re packing up, the glorious god of karmic vengeance alights and fulfills my prayers: Out of the corner of my eye, I see the guy reel on the bar stool, and in a drunken stupor, fall off, crash onto the floor screaming, then lie there writhing in pain with a broken arm! Someone (certainly not me, in my schadenfreude and delight) calls the paramedics and they come and take him away as I’m carrying my bass drum out the door. A lovely moment in time, infused with pure poetic justice.

So, many thanks, Kenny, for all these years of joy and meaning that you’ve given to me and so much of the music community through your heroic efforts, against all odds.

John Raymond, trumpeter

John Raymond by John Whiting
While I grew up in the Twin Cities, I really didn’t know much about the AQ until I got to high school. Once I really started diving into music my sophomore year or so, I remember starting to go down to the club a bunch. Specifically, I remember seeing this young trumpet player who was going to school in New York at the time – Greg Paulus. I’d heard a lot about him from some of my friends and I wanted to go hear him. 

Paulus was probably 18 or 19 at the time, so not really much older than me. But I remember seeing him and being totally blown away. To see someone that was so close to my age play with that kind of intensity, vocabulary, and swagger (especially someone on my instrument) inspired me so much. (I'm almost positive I bootlegged that show and transcribed a bunch of things from it). And I thought it was the coolest thing that he was playing with Kenny and the other older cats (I don’t remember who the rest of the band was), and clearly he was hanging with them in a way that I couldn’t. 

I checked out Paulus a bunch of times at the AQ – whenever he’d come back into town from New York – and each time was memorable for me. Now, I look back on those moments and realize how awesome it is that Kenny has routinely brought guys in from New York to play at the AQ. (I specifically remember hearing/meeting guitarist Gilad Hekselman there for the first time. Now he’s one of my closest friends and we play together all the time!) Kenny has been committed to making the AQ a home for world-class musicians for as long I’ve known the club, and that in it of itself is something he should be forever proud of.

Another memory I have was from my first weekend at the AQ. This was fairly recently – back in July of 2012, and I had been out in NY for a few years at that point. But get this … before then I had only done one gig at the AQ as a leader. Crazy, right?! And I’ll be honest and say that hardly anyone showed up for that first one. So to think that Kenny would even consider having me back is a miracle in itself! But he graciously did, and I got to do two nights at the place I’d seen so many amazing musicians perform at before. 

For one, having two nights at ANY club is an incredible luxury. But second of all, I got to play with some great musicians who I’d be developing a little vibe with (Bryan Nichols, Vinnie Rose, Jeremy Boettcher and Miguel Hurtado). I’d been doing a bunch of gigs in NY doing the same music that we did that weekend, but there was a serious energy and hunger that these Minneapolis cats played with that I hadn’t felt playing in NY. These guys gave every ounce of themselves to the music, and the result was a fiery and spontaneous few nights that I’ll never forget.

Lastly, and my most recent memory, was what might end up being my last time at the AQ. I was back in town for some gigs around Thanksgiving this year, and I got to check out Pat Mallinger’s group with Bill Carrothers for a set that weekend. 

First, hearing Bill Carrothers do anything is an incredible experience – let’s just say that. But specifically, they did a ballad (I can’t remember the tune) that Bill and Billy Peterson both soloed on, and the magic in the room during those moments was breathtaking. Here was a packed house (which was also special to be a part of) that was totally engaged with every nuance of music that was happening on stage. 

It’s in those moments that the AQ has again and again provided a place for music to transcend the rest of life, and it’s those moments that remind us why music-first venues NEED to (and will) exist in the Twin Cities for generations to come.

Jon Weber, pianist, host of NPR’s Piano Jazz Rising Stars

Jon Weber by John Whiting
After Joe Lovano and Bobby Watson smoked the Mears Park Main Stage on June 20, 2010,(1) little did we know that a mind-blowing encore awaited us at Kenny Horst’s Artists’ Quarter.

About 11 p.m., I asked Mr. Lovano if he’d grace our AQ jam session with a number. Two choruses of B-flat blues would’ve sent me over the moon, but Joe had much bigger plans. He delivered a tenor sax clinic onstage at the AQ – for more than two spectacular hours – with an inexhaustible Kenny Horst at the drums for the lion’s share of that marathon. Jason Marsalis relieved Kenny only because he couldn’t resist the magic that was happening onstage with Mr. Lovano and alto sax headliner Bobby Watson. The tempos, the ideas, the energy, the connection between artist and audience was like no other. Festival founder Steve Heckler and Jazz88’s Kevin Barnes shook their heads in amazement with every chorus.

I’ve always felt that the Artists’ Quarter was no ordinary jazz club and that Kenny Horst was no ordinary club owner, but that night raised the jazz fest into another bracket. I have yet to hear any of that evening’s after hours jam on YouTube, but it plays in my head every day.

The kindest, smartest, most receptive audiences for whom I’ve ever played are at the Artists’ Quarter. Whether I perform with world-class bassists Gordy Johnson or Billy Peterson or all alone, Kenny Horst has always provided me with a musical home at the AQ. I always lose track of time there – because I feel special and musically empowered every moment that I am onstage.

Thank you, Kenny, for giving me this tremendous forum of the Artists’ Quarter stage, through which so much joy has been exchanged. You brought a lot of people together for all of the right reasons. 



(1) Lovano and Watson were the headliners at that year’s Twin Cities Jazz Festival. Weber has been a regular part of the festival since 2000, when he happened to be in Minneapolis on another gig and was asked to help out. (He lived at the time in Chicago; today he’s in New York.) He can pretty much play anything with anyone in any key, and tell you the names of the people who wrote the original music, and their birthdays.

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