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.
Brad Bellows, trombonist
|Brad Bellows by John Whiting|
My association with the Artists’ Quarter goes back to sitting in as a young valve trombonist with the great Eddie Berger in the late 1970s, when the club was at 26th & Nicollet. Eddie was my friend and mentor and allowed me to play with him a lot when I would visit from my home in Boston. After I moved here in 1981 and throughout the 1980s, I refused to play the Artists’ Quarter because the pay scale was too low and I was trying to only play gigs that paid at least union scale, which was low to begin with. At the time, I was frustrated that a club owned and run by musicians could not market itself well enough to pay better.
Sometime in the middle 1990s, I got schooled by the great musician Bobby Peterson. Bobby and his wife Gail had been friends of mine since 1972, before I joined the “jazz life,” and Bobby and I were playing in Paul Lagos’s band Children of the Night. Bobby was playing a lot for little money at the AQ, and when I asked him why, he explained that the joint was “our bar” where we could play anything we wanted without management constraints. And as far as the economics were concerned, the ownership wasn’t making any money either. I saw the light.
At that time, I had been playing that other “jazz” club and various small gigs with my sextet (with Eddie and trumpeter Gene Adams) and Paul’s band. After a brutal experience at that other “jazz” club, when we were asked to add a female vocalist to the band – after the gig was booked without one, and did, to play the room – I called [AQ owner] Kenny [Horst} and moved all of my jazz music endeavors to what has proven to be the only true jazz club in our fair cities.
Subsequently, I have played all of my important gigs at the Artists’ Quarter, from my sextet and quintet with Eddie and duo with Dean Granros to my trombone-centric bands Locally Damaging Winds and Valves Meet Slide. I continue to support my friends and their bands at the “Q” and I hope the club can somehow continue into the future with the same commitment to local and international jazz musicians that has made it a performance space and jazz hangout equal to any other jazz club in the world.
Don Berryman, founder, Jazz Police
|Courtesy Don Berryman|
The Artists’ Quarter reopened(1) when Beverly and I were first dating. It soon became “our place” and we went there frequently. At Fifth and Jackson, most of the tables were in front of the stage, but there was also a small seating area to the left, and we favored the first table there. It provided a great view of the keys, and I always prefer watching horn players in profile. We would ask for it specifically when making reservations and even the staff started referring to it as “the Berryman table.” One night we were looking forward to hearing Dave Frishberg and had made our reservation early. We called back on that day to mention that we might be a little late and were told, “We must have lost your reservation.” I said, “If we can’t get our regular table, just put us anywhere.” Byron [Nelson, the bartender] said, “You don’t understand, there isn’t a seat in the house.” Then he added, “Don’t worry, come on down and we’ll fit you in somehow.” When we showed up expecting to be in a corner in the back, we were shown to table in front of our usual table - a round tabletop which had been placed on a serving tray stand. We were indeed pleased and flipped.
Some of my favorite musical memories were listening to the late Bobby Peterson, who played the AQ frequently with Billy Peterson and Kenny Horst. On one particular Thursday night, I was struck with the intricate beauty of his playing, how each phrase led to the next, and following choruses built upon that foundation to construct an elegant aural structure. Listening was like examining fractal geometry sets where the closer you look, the more complexity and beauty is revealed. That night, I realized that I had only been listening on the surface (which was still very cool) and this music is much deeper than it often appears. It changed the way I have listened to music ever since. I talked to Bobby at the break and told him how I loved what he was playing, He humbly thanked me and said he’d been working on things. The truth is, my ears had finally caught up to what he had been doing all along.
Another night we went to the AQ to see a particular artist and Kenny told us that they had canceled. I was disappointed and asked who was playing instead. Kenny said, “Dave Hagedorn, artist in residence at St. Olaf [college in Northfield]. Don’t worry, you’ll dig him.” We sat at our table and were a little dubious when he came to the stage. I turned to Beverly and said, “That’s about the palest-looking guy I’ve ever seen.” But when he started on the vibes, all apprehension was dispelled as I went into a trance listening. Hagedorn is a monster player. Almost a decade later, after the AQ moved to the Hamm Building, the great Eric Kamau Grávátt was leading his band Source Code one night in 2005 when Hagedorn brought in a chart for Eric Dolphy’s “Hat and Beard” from the seminal album “Out to Lunch.” They read it on the spot and it sounded amazing. I was delighted to hear someone revive this unjustly neglected body of work. Dave went on to form the Out to Lunch Quintet, which performed more music of Eric Dolphy.(2) Hagedorn is also part of the renowned Phil Hey Quartet, which, like Source Code, almost exclusively played the AQ.
Dave King, drummer
|Dave King by John Whiting|
1995 when i first moved back to the twin cities from los angeles i went to the artists’ quarter on new year’s eve and by accident saw anthony cox playing bass who i didn’t even know lived in the twin cities! that led to an 18-year playing and recording relationship with him and having many laughs and bands over the years.
1996 when kenny horst took a chance on some young attitude-laden doofs named happy apple and gave us the holy grail at the time – a wednesday night at the a.q.!!! we built a real following of beautiful creative music supporters in that room over the years and it helped us become a recognized jazz group on the international stage. incredible that it started from a feeling of being included in a scene on a lonely wednesday night in lowertown st. paul.
1996 i saw jt bates and the rest of the motion poets play some great music and that birthed a bond over trying to get some f****** respect from the older cats! much like i’m sure some young cats are gonna have to try in some other way with out the a.q.!!!! that sucks!!!!!
played so many great shows with dean granros (my childhood idol) and scott fultz in the band f.k.g. when barely anyone was there. it didn’t matter. kenny brought us back whenever we wanted. so f****** cool with no financial rationale. it’s just all about the music and being able to develop somewhere and having people get it and VALIDATE IT!
played many nights with bill carrothers and argued over his fashion choices as well :-)
thanks artists’ quarter!!!!
btw first ever bad plus gigs EVER!! Artists’ quarter may 2000!!! I am so grateful for that stage!!
Notes: (1) The Artists’ Quarter first opened in Minneapolis in the late 1970s, at 26th and Nicollet in Minneapolis. It closed in 1990. In 1995, Kenny Horst (who had worked at but not owned the original) moved the club to the corner of Fifth and Jackson in St. Paul. That’s what Don means by “reopened.” In 2001, the AQ moved from Jackson St. to the basement of the Hamm Bldg. at 408 St. Peter Street. (2) Don modestly neglects to mention that he produced a CD of the Out to Lunch Quintet playing Dolphy’s music, recorded live at the Artists’ Quarter in 2006. You can buy it at cdbaby.com. It’s one of several recordings made in the club over the years.