Joined at the Hip: A History of Jazz in the Twin Cities, by Jay Goetting with a foreword by Leigh Kamman, is the story of jazz music, musicians, and venues in Minneapolis and St. Paul from the early days through Prohibition and the Swing Era, then to bebop and beyond.
Jay and Leigh will be at the Artists’ Quarter this Saturday, May 7, from 8:00 to 9:00 p.m. to discuss and sign their book. Books will be available for sale courtesy of Common Good Books. After the event, stay at the club to enjoy the music of Atlantis Quartet. (Book event is free; $10 cover for the show.)
Listen to Jay on Minnesota Public Radio
Here’s an excerpt from the chapter titled “The Clubs”
Finding live jazz in the Twin Cities today requires some planning. Gone are the days when nightspots clustered in the two downtowns or in neighborhoods like the Near Northside. The Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis and the Artists’ Quarter in St. Paul have regular offerings, but what else? Rossi’s, Jazzmines, and the Times are past tense. Occasional venues include the Riverview Cafe, the West Bank School of Music, O’Gara’s Garage, Famous Dave’s, and the Capri and Old Log Theaters. There are others, to be sure, but most spots feature jazz interspersed with an eclectic mix of R&B, pop, rock, and hip-hop, sometimes to the confusion of would-be patrons who are not sure what to expect or who arrive expecting jazz and get something else. But there was a time when listeners knew what they wanted and where to get it, and they returned again and again to hear first-rate talent at well-known local clubs and large venues.
For a long time, the tiny community of Mendota on the river bluff was a locus for jazz. Jax Lucas, a professor and a stringer for DownBeat magazine, once dubbed Mitch’s “the Nick’s of the Midwest,” after the famous Dixieland house in Greenwich Village. Herman Mitch first opened the club in 1939, having previously run the Silver Stripe at Dale and Selby in St. Paul. Pianist Red Dougherty served as mayor of the hamlet in the late thirties and early forties. He also owned the popular Parker House restaurant, an upscale eatery that became Axel’s River Grille.
In 1949 Leigh Kamman’s Dixieland Caravan emanated from the reopened Mitch’s, run by Herman’s son, Bob. The program featured the Mendota Buzzards, Harry Blons’s band with Eddie Tolck on drums and vibes. Tolck said, “Those were fun days. Anybody that meant anything who was in town would be there. Bob Eberle, [Jack] Teagarden, [Lawrence] Welk’s sidemen. The program was somewhat scripted but informal.” Also in Blons’s new band were several players from the first Mitch’s, Hal Runyon, bassist Willie Sutton, and saxophonist Dick Pendleton. The newcomers included Lyle Smith, Russ Moore, and Warren Thewis, successively, on drums, Jerry Mayeron followed by Hod Russell on piano, and Bob Greunenfelder on trumpet. Shortly after, however, highway construction closed the club for good in October 1950.
Mendota had more than its per capita share of clubs over the years. There was Doc Evans’s Rampart Street Club (1958–61), which had been the Bow and Arrow and later morphed to become a rock club, Ragin’ Cajun. There was also the Colonial, Gay Paree, and the Hollywood. Listeners found the nearby River Road Club—known for its unruly clientele and the music of Cornbread Harris and Augie Garcia—by taking a shortcut through the Emporium’s parking lot. Prior to the club’s closing, several people misjudged the road and ended up in the river.
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St. Paul also had its live-music clubs. It hosted the Dakota beginning in the 1980s before the club left Bandana Square for its posh digs on the Nicollet Mall. The city is still home to one of the Twin Cities’ premier listening rooms, the Artists’ Quarter, now in its second downtown location since leaving Twenty-sixth and Lake Street in Minneapolis. Drummer Kenny Horst, who runs the Artists’ Quarter, quipped during the recent economic downturn, “The good thing about jazz is you don’t notice the recession. It’s never great, but the audience is steady.” Horst also noted changes in the jazz-club scene: “You used to get Bill Evans or Dizzy Gillespie for two weeks. Now, you’re lucky if you can book someone for a couple of nights.” Horst adds that musicians call him from New York and elsewhere offering to play for a percentage of the door: “In our day, we wanted a guarantee. Now, club owners want a guarantee. There are not a lot of people out there that can draw.”
Jazz historian Kent Hazen says that Horst has had a keen sense for programming: “Kenny was very entrepreneurial in his ability to seek out a backer or talk some club owner into having a jazz quality. He was very persistent and has kept the public awareness of jazz at as high a level as it could be with little or no help.” Horst now co-owns the Artists’ Quarter along with musicians Billy and Ricky Peterson and Hod Boyen, plus Jerry Kennelly.
The Artists’ Quarter has managed to bring in some big names in jazz as well as some familiar visitors who were once a part of the local jazz fabric.
From Joined at the Hip: A History of Jazz in the Twin Cities by Jay Goetting