Friday, December 6, 2013

Pleased and flipped 7: Memories of the Artists’ Quarter: Pat Mallinger, Nathan Norman, Jeremy Walker

Seventh 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.

Pat Mallinger, saxophonist

Pat Mallinger by John Whiting
My first memory of the AQ is from the [original] location on 26th and Nicollet in 1980. I went with my Grass Jr. High buddy Joe to see Richie Cole. I returned with my high school friends a number of times, and each was very memorable and inspirational for a teenager listening to great jazz in Minneapolis.

At the second AQ location in Lowertown, a fond memory was going with my brother Pete and his wife Lynn to hear Bill Carrothers and reuniting with Bill during a visit back home while I was living out east. Although I received the impression that downtown St. Paul was a ghost town at night, I thought it was so cool there was this nice jazz club featuring straight-ahead jazz.

My favorite memories of the AQ location in the Hamm building are all the after-hour hangs with [AQ owner] Kenny [Horst], Davis, Dan, David, my friend Bobby Hooper, and occasionally Dawn or Vanessa, having a drink and eating food, chatting and listening to jazz. Adding to the experience, sometimes finishing the evening with a trip to Mickey's Diner.

Nathan Norman, drummer

Courtesy Andrea Canter
Let’s start with the first and only time I saw Tony Williams live … 26th and Nicollet, big yellow Gretsch drums, my high school friend Wallace Roney along with Ira Coleman, Mulgrew Miller, and Billy Pierce. It was standing room only. I couldn’t believe the volume and energy they produced. Tony’s playing was furiously loud and swinging, yet the ballad/soft spots of the show were beautifully subtle. I was floored.

The first and only time I saw Billy Higgins live was also at the AQ. I believe it was at the Jackson Street location. He was with Cedar Walton and it was stunning! The swing was so hard and effortless, with Billy smiling the whole time. I distinctly remember hearing Kenny in the background during the show – “Yeah Billy!” then “Yeah Cedar!” above the many shouts of excitement from the crowd. Ellis Marsalis happened to be in town and stopped by. I saw these giants greet each other during the break and from a distance, the camaraderie was absolutely endearing.

Finally, I can’t count how many times I’ve been blown away by local folks performing at the current location [in the Hamm Bldg.]. I’m just sayin’ – Irv Williams, Atlantis Quartet, Happy Apple, Dave Karr, the Phil Hey Quartet, Debbie Duncan, Fat Kid Wednesdays, Eric Gravatt, the Tuesday Night Band, Pete Whitman’s X-tet, the Bad Plus, Red Planet and so many others … C’mon, man!

Thanks for all you’ve done, Kenny!

Jeremy Walker, pianist

Jeremy Walker by John Whiting
It’s difficult to parse all my memories of the AQ. I love playing there, and listening there, and hanging there. The hang is so great. But to pick three, ok. Here they are.

The first time I went there has to be one. It was at the Nicollet Ave. spot and I was 15 or 16 at the time. I went to hear Ricky Ford. I don’t remember much about the space except for the intensity of the feeling of walking in there. I went with my older brother and we had to promise not to try to drink. I was so overwhelmed to be sitting in a club listening to live jazz. I loved it, the feeling of sophistication and the welcome, just all of it. I remember talking to Ricky after and talking about studying jazz at whatever school he was teaching. He gave me his home number. That kind of thing makes an impression.

Next, talking to Benny Golson at the bar at the Fifth and Jackson location. We talked for a while and he told me about how he and Coltrane used to practice together in Philly and work over how each note sounded against a given chord – just getting to know that sound. I was floored by that kind of insider information, and I still work on it. Quick Sweets Edison story: I talked to him for a bit after his gig and asked him his secret to jazz. He said it was women, but he was more specific in his verbiage. Where are you going to learn that outside of a jazz club?

Finally, I have to choose between memories of the Saturday jam sessions we all frequented and a recent night. I will go with a few weeks ago. I went out for Lew Tabackin. And I will never forget the clarity of his playing, and the utter pleasure us musicians took in not just his playing but in hearing Kenny in fine form, and [bassist] Brian Courage stepping up to the plate and dealing beautifully with this demanding and masterful saxophonist. There were a lot of us there and then there is the hang. That is what I will remember most, all the nights I never would have had and musicians I never would have heard live without the AQ, and the feeling of sharing those nights with my musical family.(1)


Note: (1) Jeremy Walker – composer, pianist, former saxophonist, former owner of the St. Paul jazz club Brilliant Corners, cofounder of Jazz is NOW! – writes about jazz and culture for, a website developed as a partnership between the Walker Art Center and the McKnight Foundation. In an article titled “Roll Call,” he writes of the AQ: 
After all those musical highs and business lows, it’s closing. Owner Kenny Horst has done hero’s work night after night; he gave us all something precious, and soon, it will be gone with nothing to take its place … Where are we in this, as a culture? I can’t understand. I can’t make myself fathom why music that gives so much, that is so resilient and so welcoming, is yet again being thrown out so blithely … There is no other full-time music club here like the AQ. It’s a listening room, a feeling room, a creating room. It’s a lab and a clubhouse for our music. And once it is gone … Well, what?

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