Music for the First Week in December – 11.30 – 12.6

November 30, 2011

We are blessed with a cornucopia of music and arts here in the Twin Cities, and, it seems, we have enough music fans to support regular appearances from musicians that call other parts of the world home. It is more than even an avid fan can follow. This week we have a couple of CD release parties as well as jazz vocalists, improvised music, roots, Americana, and old school R&B from which to choose. Enjoy yourself.


Ms Ammons

Wednesday, November 30

Lila Ammons Jazz Quintet @ Honey, NE Minneapolis. 7pm ($5). with Ted Godbout, piano; Azhary Warpinski, bs; Tim Zhorne, drums; and Dean Brewington, sax. A rare chance to see Ms Ammons, who spends much of her performing time in Europe. As a vocalist, Ammons is equally conversant in blues and jazz. I’ve seen her scat bebop tunes with ease, and turn around and kill a blues.

Mary Louise Knutson CD Release @ The Dakota, Minneapolis. 7pm ($5). Last week’s Saint Paul release party was a blast. Now you who live in the West Metro can enjoy an evening of her warm, soulful playing. See my recent interview with her below.

Thursday, December 1

Christine Rosholt “Pazz” Release Party @ The Dakota, Minneapolis 7pm ($16) An evening of pop and jazz from chanteuse Rosholt. It’s a celebration of her transatlantic collaboration with British songwriter Kevin Hall. Instead of singing standards, she’s got this trove of originals that she’s interpreted, and quite successfully, I may add. The evening will feature many Twin Cities musicians, including The Hornheads, JD Steele, Randy Sabien, Sophia Shorai, Graydon Peterson, Mac Santiago, Vince Hyman, Zacc Harris, and more….  The performance will feature the music from the CD in its entirety, as well as some added surprises.

Ellen Lease & Pat Moriarty. Photo by John Whiting

Friday, December 2

Community Pool @ The Black Dog, Saint Paul. 8pm (Tip jar). Not only will Nathan Hanson (sax) and Brian Roessler (bass) perform their duo magic, but they’ll be joined by Pat Moriarty (sax) and Ellen Lease (piano) for an evening of two duos and a quartet. Improvised composing doesn’t get any better – adventurous and accessible.

Friday, Saturday, December 2, 3

What Would Monk Do? @ The Artists’ Quarter, Saint Paul. 9pm ($10) No it’s not a new bumper sticker, though that’s an idea for an entrepreneur. It’s a quartet of Twin Cities ace musicians, exploring the music of the brilliant Thelonious Monk. Steve Kenny, trumpet; Peter Schimke, piano; Billy Peterson, bass; and Kenny Horst, drums. Sure to be fun.

Saturday, December 3

JazZen @ The Nicollet, Minneapolis. 8pm (tip jar). Flautist Bob Fantauzzo has added a keyboard player to the group, which includes a drummer and electric cellist. It’s sure to add to the already interesting music that Bob creates on wooden flutes from around the world. Nice to see The Nicollet having jazz on the occasional Saturdays as well as Tuesdays.

Sunday, December 4

PipJazz Sunday @ The Landmark Center, Saint Paul. 5pm ($20) Vocalist  Pippi Ardennia continues her monthly residency at the Landmark Center. Her musical guests today include former MN Viking Esera Tualo, and high school student Zosha Warpeha, who is an inventive, melodic improviser on the violin. Ardennia is an engaging vocalist, who successfully takes chances with rhythm and melody. Her warm, welcoming demeanor is a big part of what makes these events family-friendly.

Wolff Jabbr @ Red Stag, NE Minneapolis. 9pm (No Cover)  Three multi-instrumentalists who emerged from the Minneapolis Free Music Society events at the Acadia Cafe. Their website says they create “adventurous instrumental music that fluctuates between minimalism, lyricism, and discordance.” At a recent Black Dog appearance I found them swinging quite a bit more than that description implies.

Monday, December 5

Catherine Russell @ The Dakota, Minneapolis. 7pm ($25) What a treat. Russell is an accomplished singer who has done backup vocals for Al Kooper and Steely Dan, to name just two. She was in town a few months ago and stole the show as part of a Grateful Dead tribute at Orchestra Hall, and has appeared on Marian McPartland’s piano jazz show. In her recent CD, “Inside this Heart of Mine,” she evokes wistfulness, playfulness, and braggadocio. It’s spent a lot of time on my CD player.

Tuesday, December 6

Joel Shapira @ The Nicollet, Minneapolis. 7pm – 9pm. Though a number of venues in town have Tuesday residencies, the Nicollet has an ever-changing roster of talented folks. The acoustics are very good, which will allow you to clearly hear Shapira’s nylon guitar, and appreciate his facile fretwork.

For a comprehensive listing of jazz events, go to KBEM’s calendar.

 Roots, Blues, Other…

Wednesday, November 30

Taylor Baggott on the House Party and @ The 331 Club, Minneapolis. 5pm (KFAI 90.3 & 106.7FM) and 7pm – 9pm (331 Club). A couple of months ago, when Harold asked me to host today’s House Party, I immediately thought of having Baggott as my guest. He’s a soulful singer, with an appreciation for classics, and a winning way on stage. He just released an EP and packed the house at the Dakota. Baggott will be on KFAI during the 5 o’clock hour, and then scoot over to the 331 Club for the 7pm show.

Friday, December 2

Yulefest IV, Feat. The Eddies, Patrick O’Brien, & Barra @ The Hat Trick Lounge, Downtown Saint Paul. 7:30pm. ($10) It’s an evening of festivities to benefit the Minnesota Food Shelf. Join others in the intimate music room for Celtic music and more, including almost acapella ruminations on love, life, work, and death from The Eddies.

Heating things up. Photo by Marc Monaghan

Mississippi Heat @ Wilebski’s, Rice & Larpenteur, Saint Paul. 8pm ($10) Powered by the harp of Pierre Lacocque, this Chicago band delivers electrified blues that draws on the heritage of its hometown, as well as the Delta. With their ability to fill a dance floor, this is a fitting band to play the newly re-opened bar.

Friday, Saturday, December 2,3

Kelly HuntKelly Hunt@ The Dakota, Minneapolis. 8pm ($20) Hunt has steadily built a fan base here and throughout the country with her hard work and good humor, not to mention boundless talent. It would be easy to call her piano playing boogie-woogie, but that wouldn’t begin to encompass her gifts. Even the record charts list her in multiple genres – blues, Americana, and Adult Alternative, among others. Hunt is a piano-pounder, for sure, but this powerful singer will entrance and delight, all the while keeping your kiester moving as she lays out a ferocious beat with her left hand.

Saturday, December 3

Brass Messengers CD Release Party @ The Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis. 8pm. Ain’t no party like a Brass Messengers party. With a repertoire that stretches from the Balkans to New Orleans, and beyond, and an attitude that’s part circus, part vaudeville, and completely irreverent, the Messengers are simply like no other band in town. Should be mucho fun, what with dancing, etc.

Scottie Miller @ The Loring Theater, Minneapolis. 8pm ($30) Scottie hasn’t been playing in the area too much lately, as he has been touring far and wide as a member of Ruthie Foster’s band, and as a leader of his own funky, soulful group. As a pianist, he proudly calls upon New Orleans piano professors for inspiration, and does them proud. Tonight he’s bringing his game up a notch, by combining the music of his band with string arrangements by composer/arranger Victor Zupanc, and featuring the critically acclaimed violinist Margaret Humphrey.

Alvin Youngblood Hart w/Staving Chain @ Bayport BBQ, Bayport. 8pm ($25) Here’s a chance to see acoustic bluesman Hart, a Grammy Winner, in a very intimate setting and get some good BBQ to boot. Seating is very limited, so reservations are highy recommended (call 651-955-6337)

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, December 6,7,8

Tower of Power @ The Dakota, Minneapolis. 7pm ($45 – $70) “What is Hip?” Going “Down to The Nighclub.” The ten-piece band with the tight horn section has been delivering their unique brand of soul for forty some odd years now, and, judging by their last appearance, can still bring on the funk. If “You’re Still A Young Man,” you can find out where modern bands like the Dap-Kings, Kings Go Forth, and the Soul Investigators got some of their influences.

For a more comprehensive listing of blues events, see the Minnesota Blues Society calendar.

Mary Louise Knutson

November 27, 2011

Performing a song from In the Bubble. Photo by Howard Gitelson

Pianist Mary Louise Knutson has been a staple of the Twin Cities jazz scene for almost two decades. Her melodic soloing and her rhythmic sensibilities have led to her performing with quite a few visiting artists, including Dizzy Gillespie, Bobby McFerrin, Nicolas Payton, Diane Reeves, and Doc Severinsen. She’s also played for shows by artists like Smokey Robinson, Sam Moore (of Sam & Dave), and  Trisha Yearwood.

When she isn’t performing with visiting artists, Knutson works with a number of Twin Cities groups including the JazzMN Orchestra and vocalists such as Connie Evingson and Debbie Duncan. She also  leads her own trio, with the seamless rhythm section of Gordon Johnson on bass and Phil Hey on drums. It is this configuration which drives her new CD, In the Bubble, though drummers Greg Schutte and Craig O’Hara step in for a few tunes.  The CD contains Knutson originals as well as standards. The result is a swinging affair, with moods that range from meditative to joyous, all buoyed by Knutson’s warm, soulful touch. This is an album that will undoubtedly receive airplay on stations throughout the nation. Ms Knutson stopped by Rhythm and Grooves on Saturday, November 19, 2011 to talk about upcoming CD release parties at The Artists’ Quarter in Saint Paul and the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis. This is a slightly edited version of our interview.

LE:     I want to welcome to the KFAI Studio Mary Louise Knutson. How are you today?

MLK:  Great Larry, I’m just getting up though. (laughs)

LE:     Is that musician’s time?

MLK:  Oh yeah. Absolutely

LE:     You have a brand new album out called In the Bubble. You notice I’m calling it an album and not a CD.

MLK:  Oh, I do. I like the way that sounds.

LE:      You’ve been around a bit, but people don’t necessarily find out about your background unless they go to your website. Give us a little bit of your background, and when you came to the Twin Cities, that sort of thing.

MLK:  Okay. Well… I actually grew up being a classical pianist. I started playing piano when I was four, and took lessons all the way through college. I got a degree in classical music. While I was at college I was exposed to jazz, and really started liking it and got involved in some of the jazz ensembles. I didn’t know how to play it at all, but at that level they usually give you written-out music anyway.  So I could read it and play in a big band or other groups, and by the end of college I knew I wanted to be a jazz pianist.

LE:     What was it about jazz that intrigued you so much?

MLK:  Just the feel of it. I could feel something. Being able to play with my friends also was a factor.  Here’s something we could do together. I guess in the classical world, we could play quartets or I could accompany people or whatever. We could do that there, but I don’t know. There was just a sort of fun energy about it (jazz) that I appreciated. I loved the voicing’s on the piano, the rich harmonies and the rhythms – all that. So I knew I wanted to be a jazz pianist and after I graduated I thought I’m just going to sit down and study this music. That’s what I did. I moved to Minneapolis. At that point I was going to school at Lawrence University in Appleton Wisconsin and I moved to Minneapolis. Didn’t know anyone here. I just found an apartment and had a little keyboard and started practicing. I knew at some point I needed to start going to jam sessions. I mean… it was hard. I was totally new at it. It was frightening to improvise. But I’ve worked at it over the years and I should know a little bit about it by now. (laughs) Twenty years I’ve been playing jazz.

LE:     You’ve also shown talent at composition and have gotten awards for your writing. Is that something you studied separately? Did it come out of what you learned as a classical pianist? How did that come about?

MLK:  Well, let me mention a great teacher of mine, Chris Granias. Chris is actually a teacher here in the Twin Cities, at the Perpich Center for the Arts, but I grew up in Wisconsin, and he was there teaching. He taught me and he was the first one to ask me to try composing. He gave me an assignment and he came back and was very supportive. He opened that possibility in me, and then from there I took a couple of composition and arranging classes at college, and really enjoy exploring what is in me and what I have to say. It’s an enjoyable act to work on compositions.

LE:    How did this album come about?

MLK:  Well, I produced a CD (Call Me When You Get There) ten years ago, almost to the date. That was my first CD as a leader with my trio. It’s been ten years. It was time. I’ve worked on a lot of other people’s projects in the meantime, but I really wanted to get back to composing again, and just sort of documenting where I am now. It’s been a while so it really is mostly about that – wanting to document and wanting to share something with people that they could take home with them.

LE:    The first track on the CD is “It Could Happen to You,” a Jimmy Van Huesen tune that you’ve arranged with a couple of significant tempo changes. Gordy Johnson is on bass and Phil Hey is on drums. Was it fun to work out your arrangement?

MLK:  It sure was. That arrangement I always think of as a Ray Brown Trio arrangement. I just love the way he used to arrange all his tunes. I was very influenced by that and that was what I was thinking when arranging that tune

Mary Louise Knutson, Gordy Johnson, and Phil Hey at the Artists' Quarter, Saint Paul. Photo by Howard Gitelson

LE:     You’ve had the opportunity to play with many visiting artists as well as almost all the artists in town, and you’ve done some touring. What happens when you play with a visiting artist? What do you take out of that?

MLK:  The biggest thing I think is the energy that they play with. That inspires me. I watch them walk on stage. That’s one thing – how they carry themselves. Often these are national, international stars. They have a way of carrying themselves and then when they perform you can feel their energy. I pay attention to that and think, if that’s where I want to be, what do I have to do to step up my game to match that. If I’m playing with them, I want to bring my energy up to that level, or do that on a consistent basis from now on. I love that about playing with national artists. I learn a lot.

LE:     Do you find it difficult to match that energy?

MLK:  Usually, they’re very gracious. I’m thinking back to a time years ago when I studied with Kenny Werner, just a lesson or two, and I remember standing behind him. The energy he played with, the volume he played with – not just that you want to play loud – he was just playing with his whole being. That inspired me. I thought, oh, that’s the level of energy or emotion that you need to put out when you’re playing. It sort of gave me permission to let more of myself out. And so when I play with national artists, they’re giving a lot of their own energy, and I’m reminded to do that. Every time I play with them it’s just: put it all out there on the table.

LE:     You were talking about visiting artists. Will you be playing with someone who’s coming in soon?

MLK:  I’ ll be playing with Doc Severinsen, coming up Friday the 9th of December, and Sunday the 11th of December at Orchestra Hall. He actually asked me to go on tour with him this last summer, but the tour never materialized, so I didn’t get to go.

LE:     But that was great that you were asked.

MLK:  Yeah, what a treat.

LE:     One of your original compositions on the new CD is “Can You Hear Me Now.” What’s the inspiration for this one?

MLK:  Well, there is a little story behind this. One time when I was trying to compose some new music, I was really stuck. I was sitting at the piano for days and weeks and nothing was coming to me, and I decided to use a sort of composing trick that I swore I never would use. It’s where you assign numbers to the pitches.  Take a scale, and the first step of the scale is number one, then number two, three four, all the way up the scale. Then you take a series of numbers, like your social security number, or your phone number, and see if those numbers make a melody. So, I was desperate, and took my cell phone number, and tried to see if it made a melody, and it did. I worked with it for a while, and am really happy with the tune that came out of it. I titled it “Can You Hear Me Now” after the ad. I was glad to use it and to get out of my rut. It does work sometimes.

Cover of the New CD

LE:     How long did it take you to put this album (In the Bubble) together?

MLK:  I started composing and arranging for it about five years ago. With a full time job as a musician, there’s a lot to do. People might not think that, but it’s busy. You’re always practicing and rehearsing for other people’s shows and stuff. So I was trying to squeeze in composing and arranging. I kept saying, oh, I’ll have an album out. I’ll have an album out next year. It just kept going on and on. It felt like it took a long time. It did take a long time to put it together.

LE:     Once you got into the studio, did that go fairly quickly?

MLK:  I actually recorded about eight of the tunes in 2009 and didn’t like any of them. So I scrapped them all and went back in 2010. I tweaked some of the arrangements, and practiced some of the soloing. I had something else in mind, so I came back and redid everything and it came back much better this time.  Although I have to say I did use some of the tracks from the original recording. After having some time away from them I actually liked hearing them. (laughs)

LE:     We’re always our own worst critics, aren’t we?

MLK:  It’s true.

LE:     Thank you so very much for coming by. This has been delightful.

MLK:  Thank you very much.

Thanksgiving Week Music. Nov 23 – 29

November 23, 2011

Whether visiting the Twin Cities, or living here, you may appreciate the chance to get out and hear music as the holiday season descends on us. Here are but a few ideas.


Wednesday, November 23

Cover of the New CD

Mary Louise Knutson CD Release Party @ The Artists’ Quarter, Saint Paul. 7:30pm ($5) Ms Knutson is an in-demand pianist for vocalists as well as visiting artists like Doc Severinson. The new CD is In the Bubble. It’s a warm, swinging affair from the talented pianist, with plenty of soul on display. Gordy Johnson is on bass, while Phil Hey, Greg Schutte, and Craig Hara take turns on drums. Tonight she’ll have Gordy and Phil with her. Note the early start time for this Saint Paul version of the CD Release. The Minneapolis version occurs next week. You can hear a couple of tunes from the CD and my interview with Mary Louise by going here and clicking the Listen Now button for 11/19/11.

Maurice Jaycox @ The Red Stag, NE Minneapolis. 10pm. (no cover). Stay up late to catch Maurice. After all, you most likely have the day off tomorrow. Maurice is best known for his R&B work with Willie & The Bees, The Butanes Soul Revue, and The Soul Tight Committee (See Video), but he’s also been stopping into the AQ to jam (Video here), performing a Nat King Cole Tribute, and otherwise showcasing his vocal talents. He’s had some mighty talented friends along with him lately.

Wednesday, Thursday, November 22, 23

Davina & The Vagabonds @ The Dakota, Minneapolis. 7pm ($12) I’m always unsure of where to place Davina – Jazz or Blues. In actuality, she’s a little bit of both. Her raucous playing includes a huge nod to traditional jazz and New Orleans R&B, and her crackerjack horn players are always improvising. At any rate, she’s turning heads and ears from the East Metro to East Europe, from Minneapolis to Montana. Go and find out why. Even if you don’t dance, you’re likely to shake off some turkey Thursday night listening to her exuberant singing.

Friday, November 26

Peter & Mr. Smooth Himself. Photo by Andrea Canter

Irv Williams and Peter Schimke @ The Dakota, Minneapolis. 4:30 – 6:30 (No cover) Whether or not you’ve been shopping all day, do yourself a favor and relax to the sounds of “Mr Smooth,” as Irv is called, and his compadre, the ever inventive Peter Schimke on piano. Together they create music that soothes and inspires. Plus, it’s happy hour.

Friday, Saturday, November 25, 26

Pat Mallinger CD Release Party @ The Artists’ Quarter, Saint Paul. 9pm. ($12) The new CD is “Home on Richmond,” and features fellow Twin Cites-to-Chicago transplant Bill Carrothers on piano, while Mallinger handles reeds. It was recorded live at the Green Mill in Chicago, and, as you might expect, is a blowing affair. Tonight’s quartet includes Bryan Nichols, piano; Graydon Peterson, bass; and Kenny Horst, drums. Pamela Espeland was kind enough to post an interview that I did with Pat on excellent Bebopified blog back in 2010, before I had my own blog. Now that I have my own blog, I’ve reposted it below.

Tuesday, November 29

The Michael Gold Group @ The Nicollet, Franklin & Nicollet, Minneapolis. 7pm – 9pm. (Tip Jar) The Nicollet is a fine little place to hear jazz, with good acoustics, coffee and pastries, plus, a wood dance floor that is often populated by swing dancers, though fox trotters and simply slow dancers get there turns as well. Check it out.

For a comprehensive listing of jazz, go to KBEM’s jazz calendar.

Roots, Blues, Other…

Wednesday, November 22

Nikki & The Ruemates @ the 331 Club and on KFAI, Minneapolis. 7pm – 9pm (331 Club – tip jar); 5pm hour (KFAI 90.3 & 106.7FM) This is an annual event. Harold Tremblay of the House Party bring’s Nikki & the crew onto his show and then presents them at the 331 Club. Nikki’s clarion voice brings new meaning to classic country blues, and their originals fit right in. If you haven’t heard them lately, you’ll be surprised at contribution made by the standup bass.

Just Mash 'Em

Mashed Potatoes @ Palmers, Minneapolis. 10pm (no cover) So you’ve got the house cleaned as much as it needs to be (heck, its family & friends). The turkey is thawing. Desserts have been made (or bought), and tomorrow you’ll be on automatic as you prepare dinner. Get out tonight and listen to the warm sounds of vinyl from DJ’s Steely and O.D. Have a designated driver if you’re drinking alcohol, cuz it sneaks up on you at Palmers.

Friday, November 25

4th Annual Swamp Pop Marathon on KFAI (90.3 and 106.7FM) Noon ’til 4pm. What happened when Cajun teenagers first heard Fats Domino in the 50s? Why, they created Swamp Pop. Karl Smelker and Mick Novak, of Louisiana Rhythms, will be joined by David Cummings of Rockin’ in Rhythm, Blanche Fubar, of Ominverse fame, while yours truly will also make an appearance. We’ll play music by Cookie & the Cupcakes, Warren Storm, Rod Bernard, The Lil’ Band of Gold, Jimmy Clanton, The Dukes of Rhythm, and more. Expect funny musical stories and verbal hi-jinx.

Randy Weeks and Molly Maher & Her Band of Disbelievers @ The 331 Club, NE Minneapolis. 10pm (No cover) The Sweethearts of the Radio (Jackson and Angie) are having an Anniversary Party that will appeal to lovers of Americana, and perhaps lovers in general. Randy Weeks is a Texan who visits the Twin Cities a few times a year, and has been gaining quite the following here. You may know his song “Can’t Let Go,” recorded by Lucinda Williams and others. Molly is a Twin Cities Treasure whose recently released CD, “Merry Come Up” is quickly becoming a turntable favorite.

Bernard Allison @ Wilebski’s Re-Opening, Saint Paul. 8pm ($10) The Blues Saloon at Rice & Larpenteur is opening after a two-month hiatus, and they’ve got Luther’s son to bring you back. Bernard started playing with his father while still in high school. Though his sound on the guitar is a bit thicker than his late dad, he plays and performs with the same high energy.

Saturday, November 26

4th Annual Swamp Pop Extravaganza @ The Eagles Club, 25th and 25th, Minneapolis. 8pm – Midnight. An all-star band of TC Swamp Poppers (Poppas?) gather again to raise money for Second Harvest Heartland. The band includes Dan Newton, Dan Rowles, Scott Yoho, Paul Gagner, Joe Luoma, and Karl Smelker. They’ll be backing guest vocalists Becky Thompson, Tom Lieberman, Dan “Daddy Squeeze” Newton, Rich Lewis, Jon Rodine and Lucinda Plaisance. Expect a set from the Rockin’ Pinecones as well. Last year they raised enough money to provide 16,000 meals. This year they’re shooting to raise enough for 20,000. Have fun for a good cause.

Hot Pants 45 RPM Dance Party @ The Nomad, Minneapolis. 9pm ($5) Dance off some of those turkey pounds to rare funk and soul played as loud as possible.

Tuesday, November 29

Marcia Ball @ The Hopkins Center for the Arts, Hopkins. 7pm ($28) Long Tall Marcia Ball brings her rollickin’ roadhouse blend of blues and New Orleans R&B to Hopkins. Ball can always be depended upon for a great musical experience. There’s a social hour a 6pm with complimentary hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar.

For a listing of blues events, check out the Calendar of the Greater Twin Cities Blues Society.

Pat Mallinger, Saxophonist, Educator

November 20, 2011

Pat Mallinger at Home

Pat Mallinger is a multi-reed virtuoso who is very active in Chicago, playing in various configurations around town and leading the late-night house band at the Green Mill.  In 2000, he and his quartet played the 25th North Sea Jazz Festival in The Netherlands and released a recording of the concert as Moorean Moon.

Mallinger is originally from St. Paul and returns once or twice a year, when he usually plays a gig at the Artists’ Quarter. In July of 2010 he was in town to promote his third CD, Dragon Fish (Chicago Sessions, 2009), an elegant musical conversation between Mallinger and pianist Dan Trudell. He stopped by Rhythm and Grooves on Saturday, July 3rd. We played some cuts off the new album and talked. This is a lightly edited version of that interview, and was originally published in Pamela Espeland’s fine blog, Bebopified. At that time I did not have my own blog.

Now, in November of 2011 he has a new album with his quartet, Home On Richmond, recorded live at the Green Mill. Since he will return to the Artists’ Quarter Friday and Saturday November 25 and 26, I thought I would publish the interview from 2010 here.

LE: You grew up in Saint Paul.
PM: Indeed, I grew up in West Saint Paul and I went to Sibley High School and before that to Grass Junior High, which had a reputation for a fine jazz program.

LE: Was it in junior high that you decided you wanted to become a jazz musician?
PM: Yeah, it was kind of funny. It was about 7th grade. Exactly 7th grade.  I remember I wanted to be a dentist for about a minute, and then the bug hit me and I quickly decided I would switch from being a dentist to being a jazz musician.

LE: You went on to school at North Texas?
PM: Actually, I went to the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire for a year and then transferred down to Denton for North Texas State.

LE: They have a wonderful jazz program there.
PM: At the time, it was the second largest jazz program in the country. It still is pretty large.

LE: You’ve had a career that’s taken you around the world, literally. Sometimes on ships, I understand.
PM: Exactly. Right after school, I jumped on a ship for about a year and played with some great musicians. I went to Boston after that and was with a bunch of friends. They were on the ships together, so we kind of formed a group together and jammed everyday. For about four years I jumped on the Artie Shaw band and the Woody Herman Orchestra and went the road awhile and then moved to Chicago. So I’ve been in Chicago almost 20 years. This November (2010) will be my 20-year anniversary of being in Chicago.

LE: You’re very active in the Chicago scene, with a weekly gig at the Green Mill leading Sabretooth.
PM: Sabretooth has been there for 17 1/2 years. In fact, someone was asking if Sabretooth was taking a break. I said no, Sabretooth doesn’t take a break. In the 17 years we’ve been doing this, we’ve been there each and every Saturday night. We start the late shift at midnight and go to a quarter to 5. 12:30 til quarter to five.

LE: So you sleep in on Sundays.
PM: If I can. My family is pretty helpful with that.

LE: You have a new recording out. It’s a wonderful recording that’s really a duo with Dan Trudell.
PM: I met Dan in my second year at North Texas. He came from Wisconsin as well. Ironically, we were born a day apart, hence the title of the CD, Dragon Fish. Dragon coming from the Chinese calendar for 1964, and Fish because we’re both Pisces. That’s where we got the name.

LE: How did you come to compose and record the CD?
PM: Chicago Sessions, a relatively new label out of Chicago, approached me about a year ago.  Their mission is to record local artists and original music. They asked what I’d like to do, and I thought for a minute about my quartet with Billy Carrothers. I thought there would be some logistic issues with that, so I asked what they thought about a duo recording. I had recently done a couple of duo performances with Dan and a couple of people put that in my ear. They thought it would be a good idea. When I mentioned it to Nick Ipers of Chicago Sessions, he was thrilled with the idea. I call Dan and Dan thought it was a good idea as well, and so Dragon Fish was born.

LE: The idea was to do original music. You came up with some. Did Dan come up with ideas as well?
PM: There are two tunes that Dan and I co-wrote.  “Adventures” is one of the tunes we co-wrote specifically for the album. It’s our tongue-in-cheek rock tune. [Laughs.] If there can be such as thing as a rock tune done as a piano/sax duo.

LE: The way you interact is so seamless, it’s obvious you have been playing together for a long time.
PM: Really continuous since college, North Texas, where we first met in 1984.

LE: How did you go about composing Dragon Fish?
PM: Well, I can pretty much trace all or most of my compositions to, funny enough, airline flights. When I’m flying—I don’t know if it’s the altitude, or if it’s just being contained in one spot for a certain time with nothing to do—I bring a little manuscript sheet with me that fits in my pocket so I can scribble ideas while I’m in-flight. These ideas ultimately turn into tunes. Dragon Fish is one of them.

LE: When you went into the studio, what happened then?
PM: At Chicago Sessions, they want to record new material. When I talked to Dan about tunes, I basically went through my most recent compositions. The ones that haven’t been recorded. Most of these have been written in the last year. So I gave Dan the tunes and he really shedded these tunes for a good month. We got together a few times to rehearse. He put in a lot of time into learning the tunes. I’ve been told they’re not easy tunes to learn. [Laughs.] I can attest to that because I have to improvise over them.

LE: What do you think it is it about your writing that makes them difficult? Are you just attracted to particular chords or particular progressions?
PM: Yeah, that’s probably correct. Maybe my chord choices, or the progressions. It’s hard to say exactly. The tunes don’t seem too difficult to me when I’m at the piano and working out the chords as I finish them up from my notes from the plane. But when you get on the bandstand or we’re rehearsing them, navigating through the chord changes, that’s when I become aware, these aren’t easy tunes.

LE: Do you approach things differently at that time? Does the meter or tempo change?
PM: Not too much. I’m not a huge fan of big meter changes or hard things to navigate when you’re playing melodies.

LE: Do you sometimes wonder what it would be like to play something slow at a faster tempo or vice versa?
PM: On occasion, but most of the time what I come up with on a flight is what I think in my head is what the tempo and feel should be. When I wrote “Just Give It a Chance,” I had in mind a Jobim feel for it. I’m not sure if that’s the way it came out.

LE: You play tenor, alto, and soprano saxes, as well as flute. What are the differences in playing each of the instruments you use?
PM: I approach them differently. I’ve got my influences on tenor, Coltrane and such. Alto, I’ve been influenced by Paul Desmond and Charlie Parker and such. So I approach each instrument slightly differently.

LE: Does the physical difference of each instrument make for differences in fingering?
PM: It does. Each has its own idiosyncracies. That’s probably why a lot of saxophone players prefer to play one or the other. I began as an alto player and picked up tenor in college. Really didn’t play the alto for awhile, but then brought it back into my life. The soprano snuck in there somewhere in college.

LE: Let’s talk about another aspect of your musical life, the Ravinia Jazz Mentor Program.
PM: I’ve been involved with the Ravinia Jazz Mentor program for 17 years now, about as long as I’ve been at the Green Mill. Ravinia started this great program and I was on board since its inception. It was created by Ramsey Lewis. The tradition of jazz education has been imparted through mentorship. For me there was no exception. I was mentored by Brian Grivna here in town, and Eddie Berger was a mentor of mine. Of course, there was my uncle Tommy Bauer, who played with Tommy Dorsey and Glen Miller. So, this mentorship program has meant a lot to Chicago public school students. Right now we’re involved in 19 Chicago public high schools.

LE: How does it work?
PM: Basically, we have a mentor on each instrument. Bobby Broom is our guitar mentor, Willie Pickens is our piano mentor. We go into each school and we give performances, clinics, and workshops to each school.  There are two separate aspects to it. We have the scholar program, where we pick the best students out of auditions in October, and rehearse twice a week with them. It’s like a mini jazz camp. Then, at the end of the year, we perform at Ravinia in June with them, and have a big picnic on the lawn. For those who aren’t familiar with it, Ravinia has a big festival on the North Shore of Chicago. We also bring the scholars to jazz camp. We’re going to the Jamey Aebersold jazz camp, so we’ll be bringing them to Kentucky in a couple of weeks.

The other aspect of the program is our in-school visits ,where we give our workshops and reach as many kids as possible and try to teach the about jazz and the love of music.

LE: That sounds like a terrific program, and it’s impressive it’s been going on for so many years.
PM: It’s great that Ravinia continues to support it.

LE: Thank you very much for coming in.
PM: Thank you and your audience.

Anthony Gourdine, aka Little Anthony

November 18, 2011

Interview conducted Monday, November 14, 2011

The Cover of The Imperials' First Album

Little Anthony and the Imperials were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009. The group (Anthony Gourdine, lead vocals; Clarence Collins, baritone and founder of the group; Ernest Wright, tenor, writer; and Sammy Stain, tenor) were inducted based on their string of hits over twelve years, at least one of which, Goin’ Out of My Head, has become a 20th Century standard.

Little Anthony was first in a group called The Duponts, and was recruited by Clarence Collins to be the The Chesters (the original name of The Imperials). The Imperials first gained national attention during the summer of 1958, when Tears On My Pillow took over the airwaves. There wasn’t much air-conditioning then, and you couldn’t walk down a street in the Bronx, where I grew up, without hearing Anthony’s plaintive voice coming off the radio and hi-fis in homes and businesses. The song was a hit throughout the nation, and they appeared on American Bandstand and The Ed Sullivan Show.  It was obvious that these Brooklyn-born singers were a few cuts above all the other young singing groups that were one-hit wonders. In fact, Two People In The World, the B-side of Tears, was also a hit.

They soon were part of national touring packages and featured performers for the Alan Freed extravaganzas and Murray the K’s Revues at the Brooklyn Paramount and Brooklyn Fox. In 1960 they had a million seller with a nonsensical dance tune called Shimmy Shimmy KoKo Bop, a song Anthony dislikes to this day, but happily sings. As the sixties came on, many young groups disappeared, but Anthony & the Imperials signed on with Teddy Randazzo and had a string of hits, including Hurt So Bad, On the Outside Looking In and the aforementioned Goin’ Out of My Head.

Anthony and the Imperials went their separate ways in the early 70s, only to reunite in 1990 for an oldies show. They had so much fun that they’ve continued performing ever since. Four years ago Stain retired, and was replaced by Robert LeBlanc, a veteran back-up singer for folks such as Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin, among others.

The four appeared at The Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis last June, and asked for an opportunity to come back, which the owner was happy to oblige. Their show is professionally done. In addition to their hits, they performed a Philly-style new song called You’ll Never Know, as well as Kiss, by Prince, Sting’s I’ll Be Watching You, and I Heard It Through the Grapevine. The songs and skits reveal the groups versatility, and it’s obvious that these older gentlemen (Anthony is 70) have found a fountain of youth in performing. He can still hit the high notes, and with some power, though he may not hold them as long as he did 50 years ago. The harmonies (and occasional lead vocals) provided by the Imperials are spot-on.

Having fun on stage at The Dakota. Photo by Brian Gately

When the opportunity to have an on-air phone interview with Anthony presented itself, Pete Lee, host of Bop Street on KFAI, asked that I do the interview while he handled the engineering. Pete provides a wonderful mix of older music on his show, with special love for vocal group harmony, and I was happy to participate. It was an easy interview. Obviously, with over 50 years of experience, Anthony has done many interviews and has much to say. I’d ask a question and then have to get out of the way. I’ve edited this slightly for clarity.

LE: Welcome to Minnesota. We’re pleased to have you back. It was so much fun last time. You and the Imperials seem to have a lot of fun on stage.

AG: We do. We’ve been doin’ it for 54 years. Almost 54. Collectively, Clarence, Ernest, and myself have over 150 years of experience

LE: When you started out, what was it that inspired you to be a singer?

AG: I was born to be a singer. That’s a godly gift. I didn’t wake up one day and say I’m going to sing, though people do that. In my case, my mother and my aunts tell me stories that as a little boy  – 3 years old – I used to sing all the time. My mother was a gospel singer and my father was a jazz musician, who played alto and tenor sax. My brothers are all talented. And my great grandfather was known as a great singer and my other grandfather was a singer. So it was genes. Genetic.

LE: Okay. Were you performing before you got into high school?

AG: Absolutely. I was doing off-Broadway shows as a child. Legitimate theater.

LE: Wow!

AG: People don’t know that. I’m going to write this book. We’ve got publishers to put it out. So it will be about who I really am. Not who you perceive that I am, but who I really am, and where I came from. Yes, I was in the theater as a young boy. Then I was in different singing groups. You know how kids are today, even the rap guys are like that, they find other guys that can rap and they run around and do that too. So it was no different. It was something that you did all the time. The good part about it was it kept me out of trouble. (chuckles)

LE: You and your buddies weren’t getting into trouble?

AG: Somewhat. Just slightly. It could have been worse (laughs)

LE: Well sure. You grew up in the Fort Greene neighborhood in Brooklyn, wasn’t it?

AG: Yeah, with all the different gangs and stuff, but the one thing that really would give you a pass everywhere you’d go was if you could sing. Nobody would bother you.

LE: I suppose it helped attract young women as well.

AG: Absolutely, especially in the summertime, when we loved to go to the parks, and sing on the benches at night. It was where all the kids were hanging out. You know, it’s hot, summer; they’re out of school so they stay out at the park late. And they’d look for different groups that may have been in the area to come and sing. It would be like a battle of the groups. You want to see which group gets the most applause, which the people liked the most.

LE: You were in The Chesters, and had a little bit of a hit on the East Coast on Apollo Records.

AG: Yeah, The Fires Burn No More. In fact, I have to tell the audience that the Chesters were really the Imperials. The record company (End Records) changed our name.

LE: That was with Richard Barrett

AG: Yeah. When we went with Richard Barrett in ’58. They didn’t change my name. As legend goes, Alan Freed, well the record promoters brought in the record Tears On My Pillow, and they played it for him, to get it played on the radio, and he said, “Who’s that girl? Wow that’s really great.”  And they said, “That’s not a girl, that’s a guy.” Freed asked “What’s his name.” They told him Anthony Gourdine, so he started saying Little Anthony.

LE: I have to admit, that the very first time I heard Tears on My Pillow I was wondering the same thing. Your voice is so high and clear, and so full of heartache it’s no wonder it became such a huge, huge hit for you.

AG: You know. Teddy Randazzo was really the highlight of my career. He wrote from his heart, from what he was experiencing in his relationships. He once told me “You’re going to be my voice.” He was really a well-known singer at that time. He used to be with a group called The Chuckles. They were very popular, like The Four Lads.

LE: How did you know Teddy?

AG: I met him in 1956. I was with a group called The Duponts, and they needed an opening act. It just so happened that the people promoting that show with Alan Freed were our managers. They got us on the show as an opening act and that’s where I met Teddy. He was on the same show.

LE: Obviously at that time in New York City, if you wanted a hit, he was the guy to go to.

AG: He was the guy to go to in the United States of America. (laughs)

LE: That’s true. He had shows that came out here to the Twin Cities too.

AG: He actually started in Cleveland, and he was known then as Moondog, but some cat sued him because he said his name was Moondog.

LE: Yeah, a street character who created classical music.

AG: Yeah, anyway Freed changed (his radio show) and changed it to The Big Beat

LE: You and the Imperials were one of the few groups that were able to transition between the vocal group harmony of the 50s – what’s become known as doo-wop – and soul music of the 60s. How did you work that out?

AG: Let me correct something. I do it a lot, because I was there. Doo-wop. There was no such thing. Nobody knew what doo-wop was called. Doo-wop came from a disc jockey in New York in 1973. He was trying to describe whatever style it was. And really, he was basically talking about groups like The Elegants, The Duprees, groups like Dion and the Belmonts. They were singing a whole different style than the black groups were. We were singing R&B, street corner music.

LE: I recall thinking of it as rhythm and blues back in those days.

AG: Yeah, it really was rhythm and blues. We didn’t know what a doo-wop was. But what happened, they broad stroked everything, with a broad brush. “We’ll call it Doo-wop.” Because that’s the way they heard it. But really, you’ve got groups like The Flamingos, with I Only Have Eyes for You, that’s doo-wop? The Moonglows with Most of All, and Sincerely. I don’t think so.

LE: What I’m trying to figure out. How did you go from the rhythm and blues of the 50s to the rhythm and blues of the 60s, which was beginning to be called soul music?

AG: Each Imperial was very talented in and of himself. Clarence (Collins) played piano. He was an organizer, a group guy, knew harmonies, and has perfect pitch. Ernest (Wright) was singing with the Fresh Air Club, one of the biggest choirs in New York. So they had talent. I again, was working off-Broadway shows as a boy. So we didn’t walk in like kids off the street and didn’t know what we were doing. We knew exactly what we were doing.

LE: Okay.

AG: And we were always surrounded by great people. The great Otis Blackwell, who wrote a lot of Elvis Presley’s hits – he was a neighbor. We used to go to his house and work on chords. Then we met other people in our lives that influenced us, plus, when we really got going as Little Anthony and the Imperials, we caught the tail end of the Chitlin’ Circuit, which was the last of vaudeville. So on that show were people like Redd Foxx, Flamingos, Little Willie John, and all these greats. You know what I mean? And you learn from watching them. We really were going to school. I would stand in the wings and watch, and see how they did it, and what they did. They would give us advice, so we were way ahead of that gang that came out at that time.

Even the kids then knew we were just a bit different than them, you know? We were starting to sing four-part modern harmony in 1960 – the Hi-Los, the Four Freshmen, and stuff like that. In fact, Otis, of the Temptation, told me, “Man we heard you and had to go back into the shed.” We really weren’t the same as everybody else. Our music was different. Our intonation was different.

Here’s one of the things I always say in an interview. We knew that we could not stay recording stars forever. We had to make a transition into becoming performing stars. Once we learned the art of show business, the art of entering and exiting, and all the things you need to know, plus the fact that I was acting, so I had a lot of experience in that area, it’s a very natural thing to do what we do. I think people are sometimes startled. They think you’re just the same like all other groups – doo doppa doo doppa doo – no. Man, I’m getting ready to sing a Michel Legrand tune. I’m working on that. If you’ve seen our show, you can’t really define it. We don’t know either. (laughs)

Three of the original Imperials - Ernest Wright, "Little" Anthony Gourdine, Clarence Collins

LE: What I do know is that you’re having a good time on stage.

AG: Oh, we do.

LE: It’s obvious that the three of you have been together for a long time, and you know each other very well, and enjoy each other’s jokes even now. That’s terrific.

AG: Yeah, it’s all show business, and shtick. It’s kind of been lost. I’ve been told my many artists today – we did the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the reunion thing at Madison Square Garden last year – one of the things they all said, was “you inspired us by how versatile you are.”

LE: You mentioned playing Madison Square Garden. Most of the time you’re playing larger halls, so this date is unusual. I know you play Feinstein’s in New York and here at the Dakota so this is an unusual date.

AG: Yeah, we got into the Dakota when the owner, Lowell read a New York Times review and said he’d never seen reviews that good, especially from the guy that wrote it, so he was curious. Now, we’re starting to get offers around the country, because to play a jazz club, usually its jazz singers or something close. So it’s an honor. There’s not that many places like the Dakota anymore. Only a few now, when there were so many of them. It’s an honor. It’s also a challenge because we’re used to traveling with 13 pieces. We don’t have the horns, we don’t have that big stuff, and it puts you in a situation of let’s see what you can do now.

A scene from The Jeffersons episode in which Anthony appeared. Is that him in the background?

LE: I’d like to find out more about your acting career, but that can wait until another time.

AG: Well, you know, it’ll probably be in the book. I did lots of stuff. The only guy that ever found out about that was Eddie Levert of the O’Jays. He happened to be watching TV one day and saw the Jeffersons and I was on there. I was wearing a mustache, the whole bit, and you couldn’t really tell. I talked with a much deeper voice, and my acting experience comes out. He said he made a bet, with Marvin Gaye or somebody who said (using a deep voice) “Oh man, that wasn’t him.”  (laughs)

LE: It’s been a pleasure to talk with you. We want to let you prepare for tonight’s show.

AG: We had a lot of fun last time. Thanks a lot.

Music ideas for the week of November 16 – 22

November 16, 2011

A varied bit of music here in the Twin Cities this week, ranging from straight ahead jazz, to swinging vocalists, to zydeco, rockabilly, and more, including a film about four jazz albums released in 1959.


Wednesday, November 16

Gary Berg Quartet @ The Artists’ Quarter, Saint Paul. 9pm ($10). I first heard Gary many years ago, when he was playing with a Brazilian group. I was impressed by his warm tone on the tenor sax, and his facility at improvising. I later found out he’s a bit of a bebopper as well. Well, he still has a warm tone. Still is a great improviser. He’s appeared on a number of albums by Twin Cities artists, and has been known to pull out a chromatic harmonica and apply his considerable chops to that instrument as well. To see a video of him at the Artists’ Quarter, go here.

Small City Trio @ Red Stag, NE Minneapolis. 10pm. (no cover). Jeremy Walker is back and town for a while, and the talented pianist/composer has been busy playing with Jeff Brueske, bass, and Tim Zhone, drums. His compositions have been called quirky, and compared to Monk and Mingus. Decide for yourself in a new venue for them.

Thursday, November 17

REEL Jazz presents “1959: The Year That Changed Jazz” @ The Trylon Microcinema, Minneapolis. 7pm & 9:30pm ($10). The year 1959 saw the release of four albums that changed the way many people thought about Jazz: Time Out by Dave Brubeck; Mingus Ah Um, by Charles Mingus; the Shape of Jazz to Come, by Ornette Coleman; and Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. This film examines the impact of those albums and their creators. Don’t bother with the 7pm show – it’s sold out. There are seats available in the small (50 seats) theater for the second screening, however.

Friday, November 18

Community Pool @ The Black Dog Coffee & Wine Bar, Lowertown Saint Paul. 8pm (tip jar). Every other week Brian Roessler (bass) and Nathan Hanson (tenor sax) host adventurous musicians. Tonight they’ll be joined by Pat O’Keefe (Zeitgeist) on clarinet and visual artist Ta Cumba Aiken on percussion and vocals. There’s no telling where their music will take us, but the journey will be memorable and fun.

Saturday, November 19

Regina Marie Williams Sings Nina Simone @ The Capri Theater, 2027 West Broadway, Minneapolis 7pm – 8:30pm ($25). Williams was outstanding in her role as Dinah Washington (Dinah Was) at the Ordway. Tonight she takes on the music of Simone, a force of nature. Williams will be accompanied by Sanford Moore, piano; Jay Young, bass; and Kevin Washington, drums.

Emily Green @ Eagles Club #34, 25th & 25th, , Minneapolis. 7:30pm – Midnight ($10) It’s swing dance night at the Eagles Club, with lessons at 7:30 and music beginning at 8:30. Emily Green is a fine singer, with great phrasing, who doesn’t play out enough. She’ll have a kickin’ rhythm section backing her. The Eagle’s great wooden dance floor responds nicely to the pounding of many shoes, and drink prices are very, very reasonable.

Zacc Harris Group @ Studio Z, 275 East 4th Street, Saint Paul. (free open rehearsal – 1pm)  7pm performance ($10). Zacc Harris has been curating this monthly series, Jazz at Studio Z,  featuring a lively mixture of jazz from today’s players. This time he’s leading his own group, which is preparing to record an album. Besides Harris on guitar, the group includes Bryan Nichols, piano; the Bates brothers on bass and drums, and special guest Brandon Wozniak on sax. A special feature of this series are the open rehearsals on the day of the performance, where anyone can see what goes into preparing for a performance and ask questions.

Monday, November 20

Always and Forever CD Release @ The Dakota, Minneapolis. 7pm ($7). In 1996, the Illusion Theater presented this musical revue about the male side of relationships, and ended up with a sold-out show for three months. It was revived in 2020 with original cast members T. Michael Rambo, Dennis Spears, and Julius Collins III, along with newcomer Jackson Hurst. The directors and producers decided to record a CD featuring songs from the Revue, and tonight they are celebrating it’s release.

Tuesday, November 22

“Autumn –  and Change” @ The Nicollet Coffee House, Minneapolis. With Vicky Mountain, Teresa Manzella, Karen Quroz, and Maggie Diebel. The little coffeehouse on the corner of Franklin & Nicollet continues its jazz programming with a quartet of stellar singers, all from the Jazz Vocalists of Minnesota. There’ll likely be some bebop, swing, and Brazilian tunes. The owners have applied for a beer and wine license, but even without one, it’s still a swinging venue.

For a comprehensive listing of jazz events, go to:

Roots, Blues, Other

Thursday, November 17

Taylor Baggot EP  Release Party @ The Dakota, Minneapolis. 7pm ($5) I first came across Taylor Baggott when he sang at the Landmark Center last center, and subsequently saw him opening for Bettye Lavette. He’s an engaging singer-songwriter who mines old school soul for inspiration. Though Taylor’s singing might be called “blue-eyed soul” that doesn’t do him justice. He’s managed to get Michael Bland (Prince, Mambo’s combo) and Ryan Liesman (Jonas Bros) as producers for this effort, which includes musical contributions from other Twin Cities veterans. I like him well enough to have booked him as a guest when I host Harold’s House Party on Kfai on November 30.

The "Rockabilly Filly"

Rosie Flores @ Lee’s Liquor Lounge, Minneapolis. 11pm. ($8). With the Reckless Ones (9pm), and Adam Lee & The Dead Horse Sound (10pm). Slick up your pompadours and get your cat clothes out. It’s rockabilly time! Rosie has been at it now for 20 years or so, and is an exciting performer. As are the Reckless Ones, local boys who’ve actually done quite well for themselves in Europe, though they remain relatively unknown here in town.

Friday, November 18

Up From the Delta @ The Ritz Theater, Minneapolis. 8pm ($10)  Fattenin’ Frogs and Boys in the Barrels celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the movie soundtrack for “O Brother Where Art Thou.” They’ll be joined by Javier Matos, of the Innocent Sons, and others for an evening of songs inspired by and from the soundtrack. Lotsa Americana. Originally scheduled for the Loring, this has been moved.

Saturday, November 19

Joe Hall & the Louisiana Kane Cutters @ the Knights of Columbus, 1114 West American Blvd, Bloomington. 7pm ($12). The Krewe de Walleye are having another event featuring a Louisiana band. Hall and his crew play insistent, sweat-inducing zydeco with verve and panache. Lessons at 7pm, for those who want to learn the slip/slide shuffle to go with the music.

Paul Cebar @ Lee’s Liquor Lounge, Minneapolis. 9:30pm. ($10) Another chance to get out your dancing shoes, as Milwaukee’s charming and rhythmful Cebar brings his infectious blend of R&B, New Orleans, and Caribbean music to Lee’s. Get there early to get a table.

Phil Heywood @ Riverview Wine Bar, Minneapolis. 8pm ($13) Here’s a chance to hear renowned fingerstyle guitarist Heywood in his hometown. He’s toured with Leo Kottke, played with Chet Atkins on Prairie Home Companion, recorded five CDs, and has won two different national fingerstyle championships.  If you like your fingerstyle playing with a soupçon of Leadbelly, this is the place to be tonight.  Here is a video of him performing.

Tuesday, November 22

Still Black, Still Proud, An African Tribute to James Brown @ The Ordway, Saint Paul. 7:30 ($20 – $38 + fees). Back in 1973, James Brown toured Africa as part of the build-up to the Foreman-Ali “Rumble in the Jungle.” He was already a worldwide star, and the tour only solidified his influence on the continent. This show pairs former Brown sidemen Pee Wee Ellis and Maceo Parker with Vusi Mahlasela, a soulful singer, and Cheikh Lo, among others, to present a “pan-continental funk-soul super group.” When a slightly different version of this show was at the Dakota a year or so back it was a joyous, rhythmic affair that had people dancing in the aisles, between tables, and wherever they could find a spot. Should be lots of fun. Check out my interview with Maceo from last spring here.

For a more complete listing of blues events, go to:

Dobet Gnahoré at The Dakota

November 10, 2011

A regal presence on stage

Tonight I had the opportunity to see and hear Dobet Gnahoré, a singer from the Ivory Coast, now living in France. I have to admit that I hadn’t heard her before and had no idea what to expect. She was, in a word, extraordinary.

I had the good fortune to be seated close to the stage at the Dakota Jazz Club, a 250 seat venue in Minneapolis. I could see the muscles tense in her arms as she sang. I could see feel the stage reverberate with her dancing. I could see the passion in her eyes, and plainly feel the passion in her voice. Singing in a number of languages I don’t understand, she nevertheless commanded attention with the ferocity of her emotions. She stalked the stage. Her dancing seemed to be filled with abandon, though in reality she had great control. She gave the spotlight to members of her groove-centric trio. The guitarist, Colin Laroche de Feline, has been a long time collaborator with Gnahore. His light, airy touch was executed with an assuredness and  facility that belied the fact he is from France and not Africa.

Gnahoré sang Congolese Rumbas, as well as Hi-Life, Afrobeat, and other African styles, most of which I don’t know. But they all sounded great coming from her strong voice. Then there was her dancing. Acrobatic, yet seeming to include many styles associated with what little I know of African dance – wide legged, kicking high, and at one point jumping about three feet above the stage. She was lithe, and barely breathing hard for all the energy she expended on those dances. Awesome. It made the twists and turns of James Brown and Michael Jackson seem like sedate waltzes by comparison. She was so inspirational, my wife leaned over and said, “I’ve got to join the Y.” Gnahoré set a confident example of a woman who is both powerful and comfortable with herself.

It was an uplifting evening.

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